Most folks either love or hate packing, but it’s one of my favorite parts of travel (I know, I’m goofy). I can be packed and ready for a quick trip within an hours’ notice. However, for extended travel, I start packing a month before departure.

No matter how long I’ll be living from a suitcase or the trunk of my Honda, I always include ‘must-have’ devices and gadgets that keep me organized, clean, and safe. I’ve found those ‘I can’t travel without’ gizmos in retail luggage shops, airline magazines, department stores, sporting goods outlets, and online. A few years ago, while in a hardware store shopping for house paint, I saw high-quality carabiners for a quarter of the price I had recently paid in a sporting goods store. 

A new travel gadget shopping outlet was born—hardware stores. Here are some of my favorites and how I use them.

Shoe covers will keep your socks clean while standing with your shoes in your hands at the airport.

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

1. Shoe Covers

Hardware store shoe covers are made for workers to put over their boots when working inside a finished house. They keep the outside dirt from floors and carpets. But I have found many travel uses for them. They are disposable but you can rinse them in the bathroom sink if needed. They are extremely lightweight and take up a tiny amount of space. Best of all, they are inexpensive. I’ve seen them for less than $5 for three pairs.

  • Keep your socks clean when you remove your shoes at airport security. While waiting in line, I slip off my shoes and put on the covers I stashed in my day pack’s outside pocket.
  • Covers for shoes and boots in my luggage, like the photo above.
  • Emergency slippers. Forgot your slippers? I’m not a fan of walking with my bare feet on hotel room carpets. However, the shoe covers have saved me more than once when slippers were left behind.

Look in the paint department for shoe covers.


Carabiners, a traveler’s best friend

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

2. Carabiners

These metal devices are favored by mountain climbers as coupling links with a lock closure. However, construction workers and DIYers also use them because they are easy to find in a hardware store.

I find them useful in many ways. For example, I use them to attach my daypack to my carry-on bag. Likewise, you can securely attach things like water bottles and hats to a daypack, camera bag, or handbag.

While traveling by train or bus, I’ll use a carabiner to secure my travel bags in the overhead rack. It keeps them from sliding around as the motor coach rambles around corners. Also, when someone accidentally grabs your bag, being attached to the railing will make them take notice and realize their mistake.

hero clip on luggage

The Hero Clip is perfect for marrying two carry-on bags.

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

My favorite is the Hero Clip, the unfolded blue carabiner in the photo above. I think it’s the smartest carabiner ever made. I bought mine at a hardware store about five years ago. I never travel without it. I now have one in my day pack, camera bag, and toiletry bag. I’ve used this handy gadget in tents and five-star hotels.

I found carabiners in the rope and chain section but they might also be in the camping gear department.

3. Travel Door Alarms

No matter how many stars your hotel has, a small door alarm will add to your safety and peace of mind. The same goes for vacation rental and RV folks.

Recently in a big box hardware store, I saw nine styles that are lightweight, small, and under $15. I like the Lewis and Clark brand. The alarm weighs .09 ounces, is palm-sized, and comes with two lithium button cell batteries. Easy to use and very loud.

I found door alarms in the door hardware section 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 depend on the grocery store to buy those clear one-quart sized bags to get my liquids through airport security. The hardware store had them for about half the price. In addition, clear plastic bags were available 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. So while wrinkles might be a problem, the space you save will be a bonus. The bags were in the closet/storage department. I also found some in the housewares section.

5. Luggage Locks

I was surprised to find TSA-approved luggage locks in a nearby big box hardware store. There were so many to choose from. Ranging in price from $9-39 while most were under $10. I strongly recommend a TSA-approved, keyless style. The models that allow you to set your own combination are much easier on your memory.

Luggage locks were in a large hardware retailer’s lock and key section.

Elastic, self-pinning clothes line

Elastic, self-pinning clothes line for travel found in a hardware store

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

6. Laundry Line And Clothes Pins

Have you sent things to the hotel laundry only to get a bill for cleaning your shirt that was more than dinner? After doing your laundry in the bathroom sink, you’ll need a way to hang it to dry.

In the bed and bath area, I found an elastic clothesline with suction cups or velcro straps for attaching clothing to the walls of a shower or to the shower curtain rod. You don’t need clothes pins. Instead, pull the entwined elastic apart and insert a small section of garment.

Even though this handy widget doesn’t use clothes pins, I always have three or four in my bag. They are helpful for hanging or clipping a thousand things. For example, it is convenient for closing that little aggravating light crack on the drapes. Again, the bed and bath is the first place to look for all types of clothes pins. I suggest plastic and stainless steel to avoid rust and wood stains.

Pro Tip: A large, sturdy plastic zip lock bag (see #4 above) makes a great washing machine.

Bungee cords on display in a hardware store.

Bungee cords on display in a hardware store

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

7. Bungee Cords

Bungee cords aren’t just for backpackers and campers. I always have one at the bottom of my day pack. It’s a real champ standing in for a broken strap or handle. I pull out the bungee when I need to secure an unexpected purchase for my bike. At your getaway cabin, use a bungee to bundle kindling as you are gathering. Use them to secure luggage on a long train or bus journey. Bind things together, hold items down.

Bungees are available in loads of stores, but hardware 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 department.

8. First Aid Kit

Once again, the hardware store really surprised me with first-aid kits. Everything from a small envelope-sized set of band-aids, alcohol wipes, and antiseptic cream to substantial kits meant for commercial use.

What size kit you need depends on how many people are in your party and how far you will be from emergency medical care. While walking in a city or town, a small kit to care for minor abrasions, cuts, and blisters will do nicely. When in unpopulated areas, it’s wise to be able to deal with more severe injuries until help arrives. Here are some suggestions for a well-stocked first-aid kit from the American Red Cross.

I found the first-aid kits in the Home Security Department of hardware stores, large and small.

Suction-powered reusable hooks

Suction-powered reusable hooks

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

9. Hooks

When sharing a space with another, do you ever have enough places to hang things in a hotel room? No. That’s why suction cup hooks are my best friend when traveling.

While wandering through the bath department, I spotted a two-pack of reusable hooks that used suction cups to attach them to a slick surface. With the hook in the upwards position, you place the moistened suction cup in position and pull the hook down. When ready to go, push the hook up, releasing it without damage.

Over the door hooks are also helpful, taking very little room and being 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 are thin, will fit on most doors, and allow them to close

I found many suitcase-friendly portable hooks in the bed and bath, closet, and storage departments.

Stanley beverage bottle, hot or cold

Stanley beverage bottle, hot or cold

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

10. Beverage Bottles

Who doesn’t travel without some sort of beverage in a bottle? I decided to stop buying plastic bottled water 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, you guessed it, the hardware store.

Stanley is a brand associated with hard-working people. I recall my Uncle Bob and his Stanley thermos filled with hot coffee. He took it with him to the barn each morning. Then, around nine, he’d stop working and have a cup of coffee from the stainless steel cap/cup on the green, scratched old metal flask.

They still make those thermoses in Seattle, Washington. Stanley still stands by their slogan, “Built For Life.” Stanley has added many other products for keeping beverages hot or cold.

There will be many brands and styles of beverage containers in the outdoors section.

11. Bandanas, Hats, And Head Coverings

Hats are essential travel gear. Sun, wind, rain, and pollution can harm your head and hair. For me, three things make a good hat—a good fit, keeping the sun from my 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 in a hardware store.

Every traveler needs a bandana. Bandanas are essential travel gear. Wear it as a scarf, head covering, or as a sweatband. Use it as a washcloth or towel. Tie two or three together for a halter top. Drain and strain with it when cooking. Use it as a signal flag. The list is long, and I bet you could add some favorites of your own.

Look in the apparel department for bandanas, hats, and head coverings. You might also check the gardening department.

Travel-sized toiletries

Travel-sized toiletries

Photo credit: Mary Charlebois

Other Travel Packing Hack Sources

One of my favorites are the stores where everything is a dollar (now $1.25 in California). The sample size rack is perfect for traveling toiletries. In my town, these $1.25 items are $3.25 down the street at a drugstore.

If you aren’t lucky enough to have a hardware store to explore near you, try one of your favorites online, or give one of the mega online shopping sites a chance.

For more tips on travel picking, click here: