What Not to Pack
To protect packed bottles from breakage, you could shell out $7.52 plus shipping on Amazon.com for a couple of protective sleeves from WineSkin -- they're basically bubble wrap in the shape of wine bottles to cushion your merlot and cabernet. Here's how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You've just saved $7.52.
Most comforters, sheets and pillowcases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble "packing cubes," zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they're pretty much the exact same product. You can save a Jackson by saving your sheet casings: a set of three packing cubes retails for $17.99 plus shipping on RickSteves.com. I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.
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At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they're good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as disposable airline seat covers (these cost $14.99 from PlaneSheets.com and look very much like large towels), airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables).
Commandeer your teenage son's drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillowcase -- it's time he advances to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don't throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.
Quiz: What's Your Packing Personality?
If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don't toss 'em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint ... unless they have disposable paper shoes, which are permitted by the TSA. You can purchase disposable shoes from companies like MyTravelFeet.com ($8.99 plus shipping for a pack of 10 pairs). Or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.
If you go through a new wallet every year or two, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you're traveling. Keep most of your money and credit cards in a second "real" wallet or money belt, and then put some small bills in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway.
Egg Carton Tray
A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn't appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it's free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.
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Duct tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item -- but nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to bind up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification in baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!
Browsing on travel supply Web sites, I came across the innovative "Tie Caddy" ($7.99), which keeps packed ties wrinkle-free. There's also the "Scarf Caddy" for ladies. Both products are clear tubes filled with a "patented winding mechanism" that curls scarves and ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don't have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don't mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Make sure you clean out the yogurt container before you stick your husband's tie in there (unless he's been acting like a jerk lately).
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--written by Caroline Costello