5 Essential Travel Tools

Photo: narvikk

You’re packing up and moving on out, hitting the trails, expanding your horizons. And you’re looking for ways to pare down your belongings to the requisite two pieces of low-weight luggage you’re allowed to bring on the plane. Or maybe you’re going for the most simplistic of travel styles and tossing it all into a single backpack. No matter which way you do it, there are a few essential tools you have to pack.

Duct Tape

Another more multi-functional travel item has yet to be invented. This gem of a tool operates not only as a lint remover, but a repairer of pretty much any non-electronic item that can break on the road. Got a hole in your luggage? Reinforce it with duct tape on both sides and you’re all set. Need more support at the bottom of your pack? Rip your jeans while scaling a mountain in South America somewhere? Duct tape to the rescue. In fact, if you tear anything and aren’t worried about having a bit of adhesive stuck to it, this is your easy-to-find, simple-to-pack, and fairly cheap answer.

Duct tape. Don’t leave home without it.

Wire Hanger

Ranking right up there with duct tape is the wire hanger. It’s your basic binding tool for all things mechanical. Zipper on your bag stop working? No worries. Use the wire to poke holes in and out of the fabric and tie it all back together. Exhaust pipe fall out of your old car while you’re driving down the highway checking out the California coast? Wire is your buddy, at least until you can get to an auto mechanic. Need to hand wash your clothes and hang them to dry, but drying racks aren’t anywhere to be seen? Once again, the wire hanger is there for you. Plus, it’s cheap and it can fit into any type of luggage you’re using.

Bend it, scrunch it, tie it around things. The wire hanger is your traveling friend.

Swiss Army Knife

Not just for the mega-outdoorsy type, this mother of the all-in-one tools comes in handy in several urban settings. Stuck in a room in a remote part of the world with no electricity, no cooked food, and no way to cook the raw stuff you just bought? Crack out the canned goods, whip out your Swiss army knife can opener, and get eating. Got a new pair of shoes that have no traction, causing you to slip and slide all over the nicely slick and impossible to walk on sheets of ice outside? The knife makes a good impromptu sander. Use it to carve some traction into your treads so you can walk tall through town. And, of course, if you do hit the trails, it rocks as the best thing around for cutting up some kindling for a campfire or whittling some wood to roast marshmallows.

A Swiss army knife is best tool for all types of travelers. And it fits right in your back pocket.

Hand Sanitizer

Keeping clean on the road can be a challenge. Soap is hard to come by, especially if you’re trekking through roads less traveled or hitting up the cheapest bus rides and digs around. Witness the long plane trips around the world where the cushions before and around you seem to be emitting strange and unrecognizable smells or the random and unnerving pit stops the cross-country bus line makes through their less-than-sparkling bus stations. Who knows when that spot was last scrubbed? You don’t want to know. And you don’t need to — if you have a bottle of hand sanitizer with you.

Sanitize early and often. Your health will thank you for it.

Toilet Paper

You just can't ever be sure that there will be toilet paper where you're going. It's one of those things that you won't ever be sorry you carried.

No toilet paper? Bad scene. ‘Nuf said.

So stock up, throw it in your luggage and head out. It’s time to hit the road.


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Guest's picture

Good list, although I'd mention that you need to be careful with a Swiss Army Knife. I agree that it's pretty much a necessity, but these days, where people are checking luggage less and less and only using carryon bags, you won't be able to bring a pocketknife with you. This only applies if you're flying, of course.

Guest's picture

Additional comment on Swiss Army Knife, if packing to fly be sure to put it in something. By putting it in a toiletry bag, in a pair of socks or shoes it is less likely to fall out if your bag is opened at security.

Guest's picture

I'm always weary of bringing a knife with me. Though it is handy, people can get the wrong impression of somebody with a knife.

Guest's picture

I suggest you *not* use duct tape. Gaffer's tape is much superior simply because the adhesive comes off when you want it to without leaving the gunky build-up of duct tape.

Gaffer's tape is so named because movie set riggers use it to hold scenery and lighting together as long as need be, but it comes off when they're through.


Sasha A. Rae's picture

@Nick, @Karen604, @Johnny Good points about the Swiss army knife. Whether to bring one or not is definitely a judgment call.  It's great for domestic trips if you aren't flying. I also found it invaluable when I traveled in remote areas of Asia, but I also checked it through in my luggage without a problem.

@David Good call on the Gaffer tape. I hadn't thought of that. It *is* better than duct tape when you're traveling. Thanks for the tip!

Guest's picture

zip ties. i had a rolling suitcase broken off its frame on the flight to europe for a two week multi city trip. held it together with cable ties long enough to enjoy the trip and get home. the duct tape was good for other things but wouldn't stick to the suitcase fabric long enough to do any good, whereas i poked holes in the fabric and slipped zip ties through and around what was left of the frame and they held quite well.

cable ties are also good for closing your suitcase zippers before and after the TSA is done with it [although they will often replace your cable ties if they cut them, in my experience] and for slipping around the handles of several shopping bags full of souvenirs to make sure you don't leave any behind at the restaurant when you stop for lunch. [also keeps just one of them from walking away]

i actually found reusable zip ties. you can undo it, add a bag, reconnect it. these are even good for attaching your purse/luggage/laptop bag strap to your seat when you don't want to have to eyeball it or keep your foot in the strap the whole time you are sitting down at a restaurant or airport departure lounge

nail brush for scrubbing mud off your shoes or spots off a shirt you have to wear again.

if you plan to do rinse and wear items in the bathroom sink, take a flat rubber drain cover. takes no room in the bag and the plug kinds don't fit all drains.

extra dental floss. it doubles as suitcase repair [broke that suitcase in the caribbean and the sewing kit thread wasn't strong enough] and in a pinch it's strong enough for a clothesline for one or two light pieces

Sasha A. Rae's picture

@Catastrophegirl -- Fantastic additions. Thanks for sharing that information!

Guest's picture

Yes i agree with the author. This tools can be really handful for any one for a successful travel. you can also get more ideas, views about how to arrange a successful travel from Hank Freid . there are many other key factors to arrange a successful travel like accommodation etc

Guest's picture

Ziploc bags in different sizes. After the TSA pawed through our luggage a couple of times we started packing our *unmentionables* in jumbo-sized ziploc bags. They are like mini-space bags if you lean on them when you zip them up. And travelling with ziplocs is great for packing wet bathing suits, protecting electronics, carrying snacks around, packing nasty laundry, carrying used travel mugs, and holding dirty shoes. You can also add a little detergent, add the a clothing item (like aforementioned unmentionables), zip it up, knead your item clean, and rinse.