Most people love or hate packing, but it’s one of my favorite parts of traveling (I know I’m stupid). I can be packed and ready for a quick trip within an hour in advance. For longer trips, however, I start packing a month before departure.
No matter how long I live off a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda, I always carry “must-have” gear and gadgets that keep me organized, clean, and safe. I’ve found these “can’t travel without” gizmos in luggage stores, in-flight magazines, department stores, sporting goods stores, and online. When I was shopping for exterior paint at a hardware store a few years ago, I saw quality carabiners for a quarter of the price I recently paid at a sporting goods store.
A new shopping outlet for travel gadgets was born – hardware stores. Here are some of my favorites and how I use them.
Shoe covers from hardware stores are designed for workers to slip over their boots when working in a finished home. They keep outside dirt off floors and carpets. But I have found many travel uses for them. They are disposable but you can rinse them in the sink if needed. They are extremely light and take up little space. Best of all, they’re inexpensive. I’ve seen them for less than $5 for three pairs.
- Keep your socks clean when you take off your shoes at airport security. As I wait in line, I take off my shoes and put on the blankets that I stowed in the outside pocket of my daypack.
- shoe covers and boots in the luggage, as in the photo above.
- emergency slippers. Forgot slippers? I’m not a fan of walking barefoot on hotel room carpets. However, the shoe covers saved me more than once when slippers were left behind.
Look for shoe covers in the color department.
These metal devices are preferred by mountaineers as locking-lock links. But construction workers and do-it-yourselfers also use them because they are easy to find in hardware stores.
I find them useful in many ways. For example, I use them to attach my day pack to my hand luggage. Likewise, you can securely attach things like water bottles and hats to a daypack, camera bag, or purse.
When I travel by train or bus I use a carabiner to secure my holdalls in the luggage rack. It prevents them from sliding around when the coach goes around the corners. If someone accidentally grabs your bag, the attachment to the railing will alert them and realize their mistake.
My favorite is the Hero Clip, the unfolded blue carabiner in the photo above. I think it’s the smartest carbine ever made. I bought mine at a hardware store about five years ago. I never travel without one. I now have one in my day pack, camera bag and toiletry bag. I have used this handy device in tents and five star hotels.
I found carabiners in the rope and chain department, but they could also be in the camping gear department.
3. Travel door alarms
No matter the star rating of your hotel, a small door alarm will help keep you safe and give you peace of mind. The same applies to the rental of holiday apartments and mobile homes.
Recently I saw nine models at a major hardware store that are light, small, and under $15. I like the Lewis and Clark brand. The alarm weighs 0.09 ounces, is palm-sized, and comes with two lithium coin cell batteries. Easy to use and very loud.
I found door alarms in the door hardware area where door knobs are located.
4. Plastic bags
Wow! I was surprised at the variety of plastic bags available at my small town hardware store. I usually rely on the grocery store to buy these 1 liter clear bags to get my liquids through airport security. The hardware store had them for about half the price. Also available were clear plastic bags large enough for a bed pillow and small enough for a watch.
I also found compression bags. They are great for bulky clothing and outerwear. While wrinkles can be an issue, the space you save is a bonus. The bags were in the closet/storage department. I also found some in the housewares department.
5. Luggage locks
I was surprised to find TSA approved luggage locks at a major hardware store nearby. There were so many to choose from. Prices ranged from $9 to $39, while most were under $10. I strongly recommend a TSA approved keyless style. The models where you can set your own combination save a lot on your memory.
Luggage locks were in the locks and keys department of a large hardware store.
6. Clothesline and clothespins
Have you sent things to the hotel laundry just to get a bill for having your shirt cleaned that was more than one dinner? After washing your clothes in the sink, you need a way to hang them out to dry.
In the bed and bath area I found an elastic clothesline with suction cups or velcro straps for attaching clothes to the walls of a shower or to the shower curtain rod. You don’t need clothespins. Instead, pull apart the tangled elastic and paste a small section of the garment.
Although this handy widget doesn’t use clothespins, I always keep three or four in my bag. They are helpful for hanging or fixing a thousand things. For example, it comes in handy to close the small annoying slight tear on the curtains. Again, the bed and bath is the first place to look for all kinds of clothespins. I recommend plastic and stainless steel to avoid rust and wood stains.
pro tip: A large, sturdy, zippered plastic bag (see #4 above) makes a great washing machine.
7. Bungee cords
Bungee cords aren’t just for backpackers and campers. I always keep one under my daypack. It’s a real champion to stand in for a broken strap or handle. I pull out the bungee when I need to secure an unexpected purchase for my bike. In your escape booth, use a bungee to focus the firing while you gather. Use them to secure luggage on a long train or bus journey. Tie things together, hold objects tight.
Bungees are available at many stores, but home improvement stores have a more comprehensive selection of styles and sizes. Of course, the price is competitive.
I found bungee cords in the rope and chain section.
8. First aid kit
The hardware store really surprised me again with first-aid kits. Everything from a small, envelope-sized set of band-aids, alcohol swabs and antiseptic creams to extensive kits for commercial use.
The size you need depends on how many people are in your party and how far away you are from emergency medical care. If you are walking in a town or village, a small kit to care for minor abrasions, cuts and blisters will do just fine. In uninhabited areas, it is advisable to deal with more serious injuries until help arrives. Here are some suggestions for a well-stocked American Red Cross first aid kit.
I found the first aid kits in the home security section of hardware stores large and small.
When sharing a space with others, do you ever have enough space to hang things in a hotel room? no That’s why suction cup hooks are my best friend when traveling.
Wandering through the bathroom department, I discovered a twin pack of reusable hooks that used suction cups to attach to a smooth surface. With the hook in the up position, position the wet suction cup and pull the hook down. When ready, push the hook up and release without damage.
Over the door hooks are also helpful as they take up very little space and are lightweight. I’ve had the two metal ones pictured above for years. I’ve tried plastic versions but they eventually break when the door is closed. I like the metal ones because they’re thin, fit most doors, and lock
I found many suitcase-friendly portable hooks in the bed and bath, closet, and storage departments.
10. Beverage Bottles
Who doesn’t travel without a drink in a bottle? I decided to stop buying water in plastic bottles and travel with a refillable container. After going through dozens over the years, I finally found my hero, a Stanley thermos. I found it at the hardware store, you guessed it.
Stanley is a brand associated with hard working people. I remember my uncle Bob and his Stanley thermos filled with hot coffee. He took it to the barn every morning. Then around nine he stopped work and drank a cup of coffee from the stainless steel cap/cup on the green scratched old metal bottle.
They still make those thermoses in Seattle, Washington. Stanley still stands by its slogan “Built For Life”. Stanley has added many more products to keep drinks hot or cold.
Outdoors, there will be many brands and styles of beverage containers.
11. Bandanas, hats and headgear
hats are essential travel gear. Sun, wind, rain and pollution can damage the head and hair. For me, three things make a good hat – a good fit, protection from the sun for the head and eyes and its foldability. Of course, if it’s machine washable, that’s a bonus. Read the labels to find a good travel hat at a hardware store.
Every traveler needs a bandana. bandanas are essential travel gear. Wear it as a scarf, headwear or as a sweatband. Use it as a washcloth or towel. Tie two or three together for a halter top. Drain and strain while cooking. Use it as a signal flag. The list is long and I bet you could add some of your own favorites.
In the apparel department, look for bandanas, hats, and headwear. You can also check the garden section.
Other Travel Packing Hack Sources
One of my favorites are the stores where everything costs a dollar (now $1.25 in California). The sample shelf is perfect for travel toiletries. In my town, those $1.25 items cost $3.25 at a drug store down the street.
If you’re not lucky enough to explore a local hardware store, try one of your favorites online or give one of the mega online shopping sites a try.
You can find more travel tips here: