Previous Next
Next time you hit the road, pack these reusable, space-saving, and lightweight items.

It seems like airlines are placing new restrictions on luggage everyday. With bag space at a premium, consider packing items that have more than one use.

Reduce clutter and free up space with these 10 multipurpose items.

1) Shampoo

There is no reason to carry four or five bottles of cleansing liquids such as body wash or shampoo. When you get down to it, it’s all soap. So consolidate by choosing a mild shampoo for all your cleaning needs.

  • Body Soap – In addition to using shampoo to wash your hair, you can use it to wash your body and as a facial cleanser.
  • Laundry Detergent – Shampoo works just as well for washing clothes…and it smells better, too.
  • Dish Washing Liquid – Use it to clean dishes in poorly-stocked hostel kitchens.

2) Dental Floss

This waxy string is not only great for getting food out of your teeth, it also has other practical uses.

  • Clothesline – Double up a length of floss and string it across the room for a place to hang socks and undies.
  • Thread – You can use this super-durable string as thread for rips and tears.
  • Knife – Dental floss won’t cut through a steak, but it will nicely slice cheese and bread.

3) 5-in-1 Survival Tool

Weighing in at just 50 grams, this superlight tool is great in emergencies. Check out its multipurpose features below:

  • Waterproof Matchbox
  • Safety Whistle
  • Compass
  • Signal Mirror
  • Fire Starter Flint

4) Sarong

Sarongs are meant to be worn, but there is no limit to other ways this strip of fabric can be used.

  • Use it to towel off.
  • Hang it as a curtain for privacy.
  • Tie the ends to make a bag.
  • Use it as a beach mat or picnic blanket.
  • Never rent sheets at hostels again.

5) Swiss Army Knife

This go-go gadget is a must for travelers. Swiss Army makes pocket widgets that range from a simple knife to a 34-use mega tool.

Attachments for travelers include:

  • Corkscrew
  • Bottle opener
  • Thermometer
  • Compass
  • Scissors
  • Flashlight

Note that airlines will not allow you to carry on a knife so throw this gadget in your checked luggage.

6) Safety Pins

These little metal clasps are a lifesaver when it comes to holding fabric together. But they have a few other uses as well.

  • Clothespins – After stringing up your dental floss clothesline, hang your socks up to dry with a safety pin.
  • Backpack Security – A safety pin won’t replace a lock, but use one to connect a pack’s zippers for a little added security.
  • Needle – Turning a safety pin into a needle is tricky, but it can be done. Use smaller gauge pins to minimize the size of the holes you’ll leave in your clothes.

7) Trailguide Compass Watch

Do more than check the time with this handy gadget which provides additional features below:

  • Alarm – Leave your alarm clock at home and use the wake-up function on the watch instead.
  • Compass – The built-in compass will help keep you headed in the right direction.
  • Thermometer – Helps you monitor the temperature to help pick appropriate clothing.
  • Altimeter – Keep an eye on your altitude with the altimeter function.
  • Timer – Just in case you need one!

8 ) Rain Poncho

Unless you’re heading to a rainy destination, you might pass up the poncho while packing. However, before you do, check out other ways it can be used.

  • Tarp – Lay your poncho beneath your sleeping bag when bedding down underneath the stars.
  • Picnic Blanket – Lay out the picnic spread over your poncho which will keep things dry and is a breeze to clean.
  • Bag Liner – Empty your bag and line it with your poncho to keep wet clothes from seeping through.
  • Emergency Rain Shelter – String it up and use it as a shelter during rainstorms.

9) Waterproof Pelican Dry Case

Pelican makes a line of cases to keep your valuables from getting wet. Higher end cases are tailor-made for cameras and electronics. Smaller micro cases are great choices for backpackers.

  • Keep the Dry Things Dry – Put wet clothes or swimsuits in the case to separate them from dry clothes.
  • Lunchbox – Store leftovers and snacks in the case for long bus rides or picnics.
  • Organization – The boxes can also be used to organize things like socks and camera equipment in your pack.

10) Credit Card Survival Tool

The ultimate multipurpose tool, it is the size of a credit card, made of stainless steel, cheap as chips, and has 11 different uses listed below:

  • Can opener
  • Knife edge
  • Screwdriver
  • Ruler
  • 4 position wrench
  • Butterfly screw wrench
  • Saw blade
  • 2 postion wrench
  • Key chain hole
  • Bottle opener
  • Direction auxiliary indication

Whether you’re packing for a weekend getaway or a year-long venture, travel lighter and smarter by packing items that serve many functions without taking up a ton of space.



About The Author

Rachel Turner

Rachel Turner’s articles have appeared in Japanzine, The Kansai Scene, Weekender Magazine, and The Kyoto Journal. After years spent writing textbooks in the United States, she packed up and moved to a far-flung island in Japan. In her spare time she enjoys exploring her new home and butchering her new language. Check out her blog at

  • geotraveler

    Very interesting list Rachel!. I personally had never heard of the Credit Card Survival tool until recently. Don't anticipate needing a portable "saw" during my travels :) – (hopefully not).

  • Matt

    Great article. I love the multi-tools! FYI, I carry a Swiss+Tech Utilikey on my keychain and it's made it through the airport more than once! Keep up the good work! -Matt

  • Eva

    Great list! I really like the idea of the credit card survival tool. And slicing with dental floss – smart! I've been stuck cutting cheese and veggies with a spoon before, wish I'd thought of the floss. Gotta say, though, one of my packing extravagances is my collection of shampoos (yes, plural), conditioner, face wash, body wash, etc – and I refuse to downsize. Hey, everybody has their weakness! I don't mind going without for a few days, but if I'm traveling for weeks/months, I need to give my skin/hair some love. :P

  • paresh

    nice list, thanks for sharing Rachel.

  • Coops

    The credit card tool looks useful for emergencies. I can see the Security bozo's at the airport confiscating it though. Nice Idea for carrying in your wallet without it getting in the way.

  • RW

    This is a great list, but I would add to it the addition of a small .22 caliber pistol. In the woods, this can be your best survival tool, as you can hunt game for survival and also protect yourself from predators.

  • RW

    I am only joking. My comments apply to wilderness survival.

  • Online Advertising

    cool stuff.

  • sensitive skin girl

    shampoo for face wash? obviously you don't have sensitive skin. (i wish i didn't)

  • Craig

    I think the best survival tool still has to be Wet Wipes.

  • Drew

    A great survival tool is an inflatable raft. Not as a floatation device, but as a bed. It takes up minimal space and can be used as comfortable bedding in villages or airports. Super cheap-$1.88 for two at wal-mart.

  • Internet TV

    Great compliment of stuff to pack. Swiss army knife has a flashlight, I didn't know about that one? I have a knock off or an older version of it and it doesn't have the flashlight. The flint is really important, it seems like you wouldn't need it but starting a fire is considerably difficult and could be vital especially if you're in a situation involving water, rain or moist/humid temperatures. One thing you may want to add is a pair of thick socks, it can be used for a multitude of things including helping you cook as well as worn for warmth on both your hands and feet. A flare is also helpful, but again that's optional and could be dangerous to use pending your situation (I'm thinking it's not the best thing to use in a forest). Any idea on an approximation of how much this all comes to in price? The watch looks the most expensive.

  • ryan

    I would add a multi tool, and a very very sharp knife

  • JPD1941

    Miss Rachel Turner: I truly thank you for these ideas. Thank you, Thank you!!

  • Krazd


  • Pattern Making

    First time i've seen that credit card tool

  • Ryan

    I'm guessing that there's no towel here because it's a given that you'll be carrying one, right?

  • subcorpus

    this is a good list … will be leaving on long one in 2 weeks … i'll be happy if i remember to pack atleast one of the items listed above … hehe …

  • adri

    I just came back from camping, and I miss the a lot the Dish Washing Liquid part And a hammer to fix the tent too , but I guess is not a light tool

  • James

    Why do you need a towel? You have a poncho…not like you are going to be bathing any time soon…right?

  • James

    I think a lot of people missed the part about this being to free up space when packing. It's not a survival list so the flint wouldn't really fit as most hotels carry matches. Also, the dental floss was a good add. I have personally sliced open my fingers when flossing my teeth. When I floss…I do it hardcore!

  • BeyondRandom

    I like that credit card thing! nice list

  • Christie

    Great list. I will definitely review this site on my next vacation, which is coming up very soon. Christie

  • wade

    How about carabiners? They can be used for a multitude of applications such as hooks for your makeshift laundry line, hanging your bag off of a wet floor, trapping, etc.. They also can hook to the outside of your backpack and thus take up little or no packing room.

  • Brett

    Everyone needs to bring a Vacation Vault with them on all their traveling trips…..I find this invention to be the most handy of all my tools…I can lock anything in this small Vault and its portable….it's extremely durable and it has come in handy in so many ways….I have locked the Vacation Vault to my trailer, fences, benches, poles, you name it!

  • 5hadowfax

    Two absolutely MUST HAVE items are: – 1 – Duct tape (partial roll to save weight) 2 – Selection of nylon cable ties With the above you can repair almost anything!

  • Christian Lindmayer

    the credit card survival tool is really great. I'll buy one. ;)

  • Mary

    I realized that I use way too much space for "beauty products" and they are not really necessary. 5hadowfax is right, the tape is a must in my list.

  • Angie

    Duct tape. Always duct tape.

  • Suru

    Just subscribe to the CoolTools Feed…. you'll find tons of stuff there, like this.

  • Sam

    I have to say i think a good quality pen knife is the best tool to have. It doesn't have to be one of the huge thick ones, just one with a good sized knife ( I rarely use the small one), can opener/screwdriver, bottle opener/screwdriver and maybe corkscrew if you like your wine. It doesn't take up much space in your pocket and you'l end up using it numerous times each day! My only issue is that I'm planning on going traveling next year, but just with one carry on bag. Getting a penknife through the airports is going to be….interesting! Any ideas?

  • Ray

    A TV program showed a hostage in India using a saw blade to cut through chains,too early though,,he was found out.

  • Wanderus

    I never thought to use dental floss as a clothes line, but it's genius! Thanks for sharing and I'll be looking for the credit card survival tool.

  • Travel Planner

    A good number of items you should be carrying with you while you travel and those small instruments are fantastic if you consider the wide range of work those can carry out.

  • Karen

    Great list Rachel. I've used some of these, and others have at least occured to me, but the dental floss is inspired!

  • Road Trip Essentials

    Great post. That credit card survival tool looks cool, but a little dangerous! I can imagine it slicing through my wallet. Never thought of packing just shampoo or body wash, but that's a good idea and should lighten my load a little.

  • Rachel

    Actually, I did suggest using a sarong as a towel in item 4. :)

  • Miranda

    Great list Rachel. A word of warning about the Swiss Army knives: Depending on the length of the blade, they are illegal to carry in some parts of Scandinavia – not just at airports, but in general. I had my knife taken away by the police in Denmark, resulting in many difficulties spreading peanut butter and opening beer bottles for the following weeks. They told me that since I was a foreigner I only got a warning, but if I were Danish I would have gone to jail for 7 days for illegal weapon possession. Moral of the story: be aware of the laws before you go. I miss my Swiss Army Knife :-(

  • Dominic Zheng

    schweeeeet how useful! :D


    I'd deep six the SAK in favor of a multi-tool such as the leatherman wave.

  • Kara

    Victorinox/Swiss Army has a great wallet multi-tool called the SwissCard. Although mine was a gift, I've used it hundreds of times & would definately get another if I lost it. I've never had any travel problems with it even after the heightened security measures. I usually toss it in with my electronics when going through any scanners, I'm sure that helps. Here's a direct link, although you can buy it elsewhere: ” target=”_blank”>…

  • Kara

    Toss it in with your electronics if you have any. I keep my camera wires in a bundle with a few odds and ends including a few writing instruments, styli, batteries, and the like. My card tool and pocket knife aren't even noticed.

  • tommy

    1) I’ve had no problem bringing that credit card survival tool on a plane, so that’s a definite plus when traveling.

    2) Suggest Johnson’s Baby Shampoo for travelling. It’s so mild you can use it for anything.

    Great post!


    Great list of items. Not only can you use a product for multiple purposes, you can save on your travel expenses and travel lighter. I never thought about using dental floss as a clothes line. If you’re a backpack traveler, you can use your backpack to sleep and sit on when you travel.

  • Bill

    Credit card size magnifiers are handy to carry in your wallet or purse if your glasses are damaged, lost or to assist in reading very small print on maps, containers etc. Haven’t tried but they may work as fire starters. After finding temperature or air pressure changes causing some liquids to escape from shampoo type containers I pack these items in plastic baggies with sealing seams to prevent contaminating other luggage items. Carrying extra baggies in various sizes can also provide means to store wet items or keep others dry. I also use a pair to store charged camera batteries ln one and discharged in the other.Carrying coins in a baggie helps prevent scratching small pocket size cameras etc. A referee type whistle could help signal rescuers in emergencies.

  • Milander

    From personal experience I learnt long ago to forget all the above and instead invest in several good credit cards and a decent job to pay them off later.

  • sam austin

    Nice list. I’ve traveled much throughout the world, especially 3rd world countries. One of the most useful thing…duct tape!! It can, and it will fix anything and everything that breaks during your trip.

  • jeff

    Duct tape wrap it around a pen.

    Medical records and contact information

    check our our personal health record for the iPhone, “motionPHR” don’t leave home without it

  • jeff

    Your iPhone!

    Place it on airplane mode so you will not be tempted to use the talking park (to expensive) . There are apps for compass, GPS, Skype to talk for free via WIFI, translators, dictionaries, notebooks, it is even a flashlight. Check our MotionPHR the traveler’s personal health record for the phone. it is fully encrypted so you can store your Credit card Number on it also.

    The iphone is one of the best tools that I have ever carried on a trip.

  • Adventure Rob

    I like the tip about shampoo, never thought of using it to clean clothes, I carry a gel detergent with me in a small toothpaste sized container so that can be replaced with shampoo now.
    I don’t think the credit card thing is necessary if you have a swiss army knife (I personally carry a retro leatherman as it was a gift from my uncle who travelled with it years ago).
    I have used a few of the other tips before, I’ve never actually used my poncho yet in the rain but have to sit on a wet floor, and other general wet protection areas when needed.
    The waterproof case seems a bit OTT as well, what’s wrong with a free plastic carrier bag with the handles tied up?

  • Ryan

    I have never seen that Credit Card Tool. That is a really cool gadget!

  • Mary

    Hey is that the real name credit card tool? Where can I get one of those?

  • Jessey

    Cutting cheese with floss is brilliant! I just tried that one in my hostel kitchen in Dublin much to the amazement and confusion of the hungover masses. Thanks!

  • @abscam

    Swiss Army Knife? That is so 70′s. One should look at the multi-tools from Gerber and Leatherman and others. Much more useful.

  • William Wallace

    Some interesting pieces of equipment, especially the credit card tool and of course the Swiss army knife a classic and invaluable item.

  • Markus Demetrius

    While I can agree with the overall intent of the writer, most of the uses portrayed in the article will never be needed! The inexperienced traveller may now feel the need to have ALL of these items to feel adequately prepared – WRONG!

    I do consider a cell phone essential, and since it has the time I stopped wearing watches years ago. I’m sure I’ll survive without an altimeter/thermoneter/timer/compass. The waterproof case could be replaced by cheap ziplock bags. All the survival tools, knives, whistles, and waterproof matches will take up space and probably never, ever be used – although I’m sure “Lost” or “Castaway” devotees will have to have them!

    The packing advise I use: Think ahead, then pack light and take only what you REALLY need, leaving plenty of empty space for shopping purchases.

  • Markus Demetrius

    Rachel was right-on about the sarong, it was better than the hostel sheets I had in BKK!

  • Kevin Post

    When you count the ounces the pounds shed themselves.

  • ScoutMC

    awesome post. floss as a clothes-line…good to know!

  • Kat Kong

    It’s not a good idea to use shampoo on your dishes…

  • Yu Hang

    hey all, is it really true that a shampoo can double as body foam and facial wash? that’d be trippy

  • Mary Norton

    I learned of more useful tools from this article. We travel all the time but the dental floss is new. Thanks.

  • putude

    Don’t forget to bring Grenade, Back pack boom, Mortars. etc (hehehe, just joking)

  • dan

    I have one of those credit card tools in my bag (great bottle/can opener, mini-knife, not a carry-on). We have a travel bag/set (shampoo, soap, toothbrush) will be adding the dental floss and safety pins. Will have to find a sarong and a compass combo – thanks for the suggestions

  • Noah James

    Southpark is quite funny but some of the scenes maybe a bit too morbid even for adults.~–

  • Travel With a Mate

    Some awesome ideas there. On the flip side there are things I carried across Asia for 4 months and never used. I kinda resent carrying extra weight that isn’t useful. The items on your blog at least go some way to reducing that. I’d love to see a list of “Things people take backpacking with them but never use!”

  •  Catnip

    southpark is sometimes very violent and sarcastic***

  • Ron | Active Planet Travels

    Nice List.  I would love to get my hands on one of those credit card survival tools!

You'll never be able to pronounce it, so shove one in your face before you even try.
One common misconception of Burning Man is that it’s a “barter economy.” It’s not.
Do you really need that extra bra?
From a few “mix and match” pieces to a convertible dress, this packing list will keep...
The latest gadget from LG is slick enough for 007 himself.
From pastoral dirt roads in Nicaragua to the busy streets of India, without fail, these...
Discover new ways of using dental floss besides removing remnants of juicy Argentinean...
Here's what every gringo should know before making the trip this summer.
This beautiful, cheap Taiwanese snack is a breakfast savior.
Employers don’t like the idea of bringing in somebody they know isn’t sticking...
Macau and Canton are especially known for their almond biscuit bakeries.