High-priced travel specialty shops aren’t always the best places to find must-pack travel products. Drug stores (online and in person) offer a wealth of multi-use items that are affordable, practical and carry-on compliant, from toiletries to tasty snacks. And sites like Amazon and Target carry many of these helpful products as well.
Note: Remedies for common travel ailments are not included in this list, but it’s important that you pack the appropriate medications on your trip. Read more in Medications for Travel.
1. Wrinkle Releaser
Let’s face it: An iron and ironing board are not always readily available in our travels, and most of us cannot afford to buy an entire wardrobe of wrinkle-resistant travel clothes from Magellan’s. When packing for a trip, I’ve often sadly left my favorite dresses and tops behind because I deemed them too wrinkly to take abroad. But no more! I’ve discovered Downy Wrinkle Releaser, and I can now pack whatever I want without looking unkempt on vacation. Downy Wrinkle Releaser works by relaxing fabric fibers so that wrinkles can be smoothed out with your hand, and it’s safe on most fabrics. Just spray on your rumpled shirt, tug, smooth and wear. It’s available in a three-ounce bottle, perfect for travel.
2. Trail Mix or Bars
There’s a reason it’s called trail mix, the healthy blend of nuts, seeds and dried fruit provides plenty of energy for hikers and bikers. But it turns out the stuff may be just as suitable for air travelers as for trail trekkers. A few years ago, The New York Times reported that dried cherries, a common ingredient in many trail mixes, may help reduce the effects of jet lag. Cherries contain melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate sleep patterns. According to Dr. Russel J. Reiter, a well-known authority on melatonin, eating dried cherries before sleep while traveling can increase the body’s natural melatonin levels and may mitigate the effects of jet lag. Check your local drug store for a trail mix (or even better, a granola bar for easier snacking) that contains dried cherries.
Don’t have a taste for trail mix? Find dried cherries at a health food store, or try Kashi Cherry Dark Chocolate granola bars.
3. Disposable Toothbrush
Brush your pearly whites while touring, hiking or flying with no sink needed. Colgate Wisp is a single-use disposable toothbrush with a bristled head that contains a unique “freshening bead.” The brush’s fresh bead does not foam like traditional toothpaste. Instead, it releases a mouth-cleaning liquid that is safe to swallow. The Wisp also has a handy pick at its bottom end for those tricky spaces between your teeth. The brush usually sells in a four-pack and a 16-pack.
Join SmarterTravel Editor Ashley Rossi as she takes on the challenge of packing a personal carry-on using only items from the drug store—for under $25! Remember to subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube for more expert tips and vacation inspiration.
4. Dry Shampoo
Dry shampoo has long been a secret of runway stylists, and although it will not clean your hair quite as thoroughly as a regular shampoo, it’s a fabulous way to freshen up your ‘do in places like airplanes and camping tents, where a hot shower is not available.
I like Oscar Blandi’s one-ounce travel-size dry shampoo because of its lemony scent, non-aerosol packaging and convenient size. Spritz your hair with dry shampoo and comb it through to reduce oil, add body and shine, and eliminate dreaded “airplane head.” Dry shampoo is also perfect for busy vacations with itineraries that leave little time for hair washing.
5. Sunscreen Stick
Coppertone Sport Stick gets my vote for the most packable and portable sunblock protection available on the shelves of your local drug store. The 0.6-ounce sunblock, which resembles a small stick of deodorant, is perfect for carry-on luggage.
Since it’s not a liquid, it doesn’t need to be shoved into your over-stuffed zip-top bag. Plus, when you accidentally leave the cap off you won’t end up with clothes soaked in smelly sunscreen. The product’s non-greasy solid formula provides reliable sun protection without the mess of liquid sunblocks. You can buy it in SPF 55 and it’s particularly good for small spots, such as the face, ears or backs of hands.
6. Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly is the ultimate multi-use beauty product for travelers. It’s a moisturizer, lip balm, make-up remover, first-aid salve and more.
Soak a tissue with petroleum jelly to remove eye make-up (make sure not to get it directly in your eyes), or rub it over blistered feet to soothe. Use a thin layer on wind-burned skin or smooth it on lips to protect them from dry airplane air. Best of all, petroleum jelly is cheap and comes in a carry-on compliant 2.5-ounce size.
7. Disposable Facial Cloths
Replace your bottle of face wash with Olay 2-in-1 or 4-in-1 Daily Facial Cloths and you’ll have one less liquid to squeeze into your carry-on zip-top bag. These disposable cleansing cloths have Olay facial soap soaked right into the fibers. Just add water and scrub your face! The cloths come in a wide range of varieties for all skin types: Normal Skin, Sensitive Skin and Combination/Oily Skin.
Olay also offers Wet Cleansing Cloths, which are moist facial cleansing cloths that you can use without any water (perfect for the plane). Save money by cutting the cloths in half with scissors, you’ll get twice as many for the same price, and purchasing the refill pack.
8. Empty Carry-On Travel Bottle Set
Buyer beware: Travel-sized products can sometimes be full-size rip-offs. For example, I found a 1.7-ounce travel-size bottle of Pert Plus 2 in 1 Shampoo Plus Conditioner that cost about 54 percent of the regular 13.5-ounce bottle of Pert Plus 2 in 1 Shampoo Plus Conditioner at the same drug store. So if I were to buy the travel-size bottle, I’d be paying over four times as much for the exact same product.
It’s true, we recommend some travel-size products on this very list. However, these items are in spray containers, which may be hard to transfer into empty bottles. So instead of stocking up on a dozen overpriced travel-size shampoos and soaps, invest in a high-quality travel bottle set and only buy travel-size items that cannot be easily poured into smaller bottles, like sprays and aerosol cans, plus they’re more environmentally friendly than disposing of these containers time and time again. Create your own set of personalized travel products with your favorite shampoos and lotions, label them how you like, and reuse them on multiple trips. This set of silicone bottles gives you a set of four refillable bottles.
9. Compact Curler/Styler
Bring the ThermaCELL by Conair Cordless Compact Curler on overseas trips and you can leave your flat iron, curling iron, and mess of adapters and converters at home.
The cordless styler is powered by a thermacell energy cell that provides hours of styling time without the need for plugs, which comes in handy when traveling to countries with different electrical sockets. Plus, its medium-size barrel works well for smoothing out coarse hair or giving curly hair defining waves. If you can’t find it at your local drug store, you can purchase it online here. According to the product listing on Amazon, “the TSA and FAA allow one butane cartridge installed in a device in checked or carry-on baggage”.
10. Duct Tape
Many avid travelers know the secrets of duct tape … it’s the closest possible thing to a packable travel cure-all. The countless uses for duct tape include repairing broken luggage, identifying luggage (wrap your bag with colored duct tape for easy spotting in baggage claim), temporarily bandaging wounds, covering blisters on feet, and taping passport and/or money under the hotel bed for security.
11. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a leaf and bark extract that’s been used for decades to help cleanse, tone, moisturize, and balance the pH level of the skin. Undistilled witch hazel is also known to provide antioxidant and antibacterial benefits, so you can use it as an antiseptic as well.
Pack Thayers Trial Size Witch Hazel for your next trip and you’ll be surprised by all of its uses.
12. Face Masks
If you have a long flight on the horizon, grab a few single-use sheet masks to pamper yourself. And if you’re too embarrassed to use one on the plane, they’re great to use in your hotel room to help alleviate jet lag and restore your skin.
13. Oil-Absorbing Sheets
If you have unbalanced or oily skin, oil-absorbing sheets are convenient and travel-friendly solutions that you can pick up at your local drugstore. These dispensable sheets will reduce shine and help balance out your skin.
14. Shower Vapor Tabs
To stay on top of your health while traveling, bring along a pack of shower vapor tablets. These non-medicated tablets react with the water in your shower to release a calming lavender essence. They don’t take up too much space and help you relax before bed, add comfort, and keep you healthy while on the road.
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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.