14 Travel Essentials That Don’t Weigh Very Much

Photo (cc) by Karithina

For the past two years, I’ve been all about frugal travel. Certain items are always in my suitcase – small, light, extremely practical things that are worth many times their weight in frequent flier miles. They’re the kinds of things you’ll wish you’d remembered – and that, in some cases, would cost money and hassle to find on your own. Assuming that you could…

Plastic stuff…

Plastic knife, fork, and spoon; one or two Ziploc bags; a 5-by-8-inch Rubbermaid container. During a trip to the United Kingdom I mostly ate from the grocery store and produce markets. Having utensils made that possible. If you’re checking a bag, you can bring a small paring knife or your Swiss Army knife.

I’m not saying you have to forgo restaurants entirely. But you can stretch your vacation dollars by buying things like bread, cheese, meat, crackers, hummus, vegetables, fruit, or salad greens for some of your meals. The Tesco Metro I frequented had things like roasted chicken quarters and pasta dishes, which made decent suppers when paired with good bread, a vegetable, and fruit.

Several times I lunched on a pair of cheese and onion rolls (50 pence, or about 82 cents), a carrot, and an apple. At one produce stall, I tried to buy a single carrot and the guy just gave it to me. (“It’s just one,” he said, waving away my coins.)

My utensils go into that Rubbermaid container, which measures about 5 by 8 inches. Also in the container were packets of mustard, butter, salt, and pepper. You may have such things hanging around the house or in the fridge. Look in the company lunchroom too, since some people leave them there after eating takeout. Bonus: finding packets of Parmesan or red-pepper flakes from a pizza run.

Oh, and bring more than one plastic knife since some of them are fairly flimsy. Yet I managed to slice tomatoes by being careful and using only the serrated tip of the blade. Necessity is the mother of scurvy prevention.

The extra Ziploc bags are good for leftover breads or cookies and also as (heaven forbid) ice packs.

Hydrated and organized…

Those “singles” drink mixes. If the water where you’re going tastes a little weird (yo, Philly!), add a sprinkling of powdered drink mix to your water bottle. Wyler’s Light lemonade is my brand: eight packets for a buck at Walgreens. (Neither Wyler’s nor Walgreens paid me to say that. I just like to share deals.) A number of companies offer these drink mixes, in flavors from fruit-tea to good old lip-staining Hawaiian Punch.

The London tap water actually tasted fine, but I flavored it once in a while for the sake of variety. Also to keep myself from buying too many Diet Cokes, which cost as much as $2.44 each thanks to the weak U.S. dollar. (And their bottles are smaller too.) Since I was only using a little bit of a packet at a time I needed a way to keep the rest of it from spilling. Which brings me to my next suggestion.

Paper clips. These weigh practically nothing and can come in really handy. I included one mini-binder clip, which was perfect for keeping those partially used Wyler’s packets securely fastened. A regular paper clip helped me keep a bunch of new-reservation printouts organized after I rebooked myself a hostel room without pod beds. I used another clip to keep tourist brochures all in one place.

An empty envelope; part of a package of Post-It notes. Also on the subject of organization, an envelope lets you keep credit card receipts all in one place. This gives a junk-mail envelope a chance to do an honest job before you recycle it. The Post-Its are invaluable for making lists or leaving notes for traveling buddies. You don’t have to bring an entire block of Post-Its; just peel off a section.

Watch your step…

Keychain flashlight and elastic bandage. Invaluable if there’s a power failure, and really helpful if you have to walk on unfamiliar or on uneven terrain in the evening. My dad gave me an Inova BB-W Microlight, which weighs less than 1 ounce but sheds an amazing amount of light. It sure came in handy when I headed for the hostel toilet at 2 a.m. – I didn’t want to turn on the overhead light and wake my roommates, but I also didn’t want to re-sprain my ankle by tripping on the shoes, backpacks, and other items that sometimes littered the floor.

And if you do fall, either in a hostel room or on slippery cobblestones? You’ll be mighty glad you brought that bandage.

Rubber bands. When traveling I use these to close up sleeves of crackers, a bag of M&Ms and packages of pita. Want more room in your day pack? Roll up that waterproof shell and secure it with a rubber band. Rubber bands will keep that beat-up paperback from falling apart, or secure an ice pack to the ankle you injured because you got up to pee without a flashlight.

About that ice pack: If the hotel or hostel doesn’t have an ice machine, wrap your ankle in that elastic bandage, take one of your extra Ziploc bags and limp off to the nearest convenience store or fast-food restaurant. Politely explain to the manager that you just need a few cubes from the drink machine to deal with an injury and you would of course be willing to pay for them. You might wind up getting them free. If they insist that you pay for a drink, then get the drink – but ask for it to be heavy on ice and short on soda or juice.

OTC medications and baby wipes. You’ll want some ibuprofen with that ankle, or after a hard day of hiking or sightseeing. I sure did. Additionally, I came down with some kind of virus toward the end of my U.K. trip. Some generic cold meds took care of what my doctor would genteelly call “sinus involvement” – essential, since the first leg of my return trip lasted 14 hours. I also brought a few heartburn and anti-diarrhea tablets; happily, I didn’t need either one. Remember that generics work just as well. Watch for them as drugstore loss-leaders (especially nice if combined with coupons and rebates).

Generally you won’t have to bring the whole box – just a few tablets of each in one of those Ziploc-type snack bags. If you think there might be a hassle about out-of-box meds, then by all means carry entire packages.

And the baby wipes? Think of them as “shower in a pouch.” You’ll thank me later. So will the person sitting next to you on the bus.

Other first aid. Do you really want to buy a whole box of bandages to take care of a single cut? And that’s assuming you can find a drugstore handy. Sometimes you can’t. I carried a very small tube of Neosporin and half a dozen Band-Aids. Luckily I didn’t need them either.

Sewing kit. Mine is as cute as a puppy in lace-trimmed pants. It measures only about two inches square but contains needles, thread, safety pins, a couple of buttons, and a teensy pair of scissors. I can’t remember how long I’ve had this or where I got it, but dollar stores may have them.

So do some hotels, if you’re not averse to liberating one. If you are, then ask politely at the front desk if it’s all right to take the kit with you. If they say “of course,” you’re all set. If they say, “We’d rather you didn’t,” then you can just go home and cobble together your own kit. Bet you won’t find scissors as cute as mine, though.

How about it, readers? What do you always pack? Which travel essentials have saved your bacon?

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
What Is Umbrella Insurance, and Do I Need It?
What Is Umbrella Insurance, and Do I Need It?

Umbrella insurance picks up where car and homeowners insurance leaves off. Do you need it? Here’s how to know.

Can My Wife Use My Social Security Benefits While Letting Hers Grow?
Can My Wife Use My Social Security Benefits While Letting Hers Grow?

Your self-discipline in not uttering three little words helps determine whether you can use a key claiming strategy.

30 Purchases That Will Start Saving You Money Immediately
30 Purchases That Will Start Saving You Money Immediately

Sometimes, you’ve got to spend to save. These canny deals are a good bet for savings.

10 Items Every First-Aid Kit Should Have
10 Items Every First-Aid Kit Should Have

Take control of your health and safety by customizing your own first-aid kit with these Amazon purchases.

8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon
8 Things You Can Buy for $1 or Less on Amazon

They say you get what you pay for — but not always. Sometimes, you can uncover a good deal at a great price.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines
Over 50? The CDC Says You Need These 4 Vaccines

Fall is the time to schedule vaccines that can keep you healthy — and even save your life.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous
11 Household Items That Go Bad — or Become Dangerous

When you get the impulse to stockpile these everyday items, pay close attention to their expiration dates.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies
8 Things You Can Get for Free at Pharmacies

In this age of higher-priced drugs and complex health care systems, a trip to the pharmacy can spark worry. Freebies sure do help.

Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk
Why Cloth Masks May Increase Your Coronavirus Risk

A new study finds that wearing a cloth mask can backfire if you don’t clean it properly.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America
The 10 Most Commonly Stolen Vehicles in America

A new model parks atop the list of vehicles that thieves love to pilfer.

This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car
This Is the Cheapest Place to Buy a Used Car

Looking for a good deal on a set of wheels? This should be your first stop.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income
26 States That Do Not Tax Social Security Income

These states won’t tax any of your Social Security income — and in some cases, other types of retirement income.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles
5 Keys to Making Your Car Last for 200,000 Miles

Pushing your car to 200,000 miles — and beyond — can save you piles of cash. Here’s how to get there.

10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62
10 Reasons Why You Should Actually Retire at 62

If you can, here are several good reasons to retire earlier than we’re told to.

7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value
7 Surprising Features That Boost Your Home Value

You can add value to your home without hiring a contractor to do expensive renovations.

5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees
5 Things That Make Life More Meaningful for Retirees

Retirees agree: These are the things that give them purpose and fulfillment in their golden years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.