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Where to Buy Travel Supplies, Accessories & Toiletries on a Budget

By Myscha Theriault

travel suitcase packingWe all want to be prepared when we hit the road, and having the right travel gear is a big part of that picture.

I love finding ways to save on these items so that I can find better uses for my vacation dollars.

Here are my three favorite places to shop for cheap supplies, and my top picks for what to purchase once you’re there.

Dollar Stores

Travel gear for a buck? I’m all over that. I’ve had particular success at Dollar Tree, where I was actually able to get all of these at once, cutting down on time and money spent. Here’s a list of great gear I like to pick up at the dollar store.

1. Rain Ponchos
These are great for adventure and business travel alike. I’ve used them with my husband at Machu Picchu, as well as in place of garment bags to protect expensive business outfits. Since they come in packs of two, you’re getting boatloads of moisture protection at fifty cents a pop. Score!

2. Umbrellas
Personally, I like to save the rain ponchos for serious downpours. I love them and all, but showing up to a conference in full rain gear garners some strange looks. Luckily, you can make a more subtle statement by picking up an umbrella for $1.00.

3. Eyeglass Repair Kits
Those teeny, tiny tools and screws are just easier to deal with when they’re in a nice little kit. My husband wears glasses and he doesn’t like to leave on a trip without a spare pair and one of these one-dollar repair kits.

4. Mesh Bags
These come in various sizes suitable for any number of travel uses. The four-for-a-dollar, lime green ones in the auto section of Dollar Tree are great to keep items separated for easy access. (For example, being able to reach into your rucksack while using public transportation and pull out emergency snacks without spillage.)

Multi-packs of zippered lingerie bags keep dirty undergarments out of the daily grab pile and ready to launder safely when you come across a set of public-access machines. If you are on a short business trip, they are ready to toss in as normal once you get home.

5. Sunglasses
Yes, I know you’re dying to wear your uber cool ones on that romantic weekend getaway. But let’s face it, when the tourist monkey rips them off your face and throws them over a cliff in Indonesia (yup, it happened), you’ll regret it. Invest in some cheapies for both you and the kiddos. There’ll be much less stress if they get lost at the beach. Or wherever.

6. Toothbrushes
Dollar stores have single brushes that come with miniature tubes of toothpaste for the solo traveler, or multipacks with caps suitable for an entire family, all for a buck. When you get back from summer vacation, and the brushes have gotten a little sandy, you have a ready-made supply of cleaning brushes (i.e. think bathroom sink handles and the glass threads around the tops of canning jars).

7. Activity Books
Whether it’s the jumbo coloring option, or word puzzles for all ages, you can pick up a variety of activity books at the dollar store. They also have dirt cheap pencils, sharpeners, and other school supplies, making this a one-stop shop for on-the-road entertainment.

Hardware Stores

You might think hardware stores are only for home improvement, but my husband and I pick up a fair amount of travel gear at these places for a song. Frequent stops include Home Depot, Lowes, Ace, and certain sections of Ikea. Here are some of the budget items you’re likely to see in our packs.

1. Key Tags
I usually pick these up at Ace, where I can score them for pennies each. Rather than spend big money on expensive luggage tags, I write my e-mail address on these and thread them onto the zipper pulls of my bags for security purposes. They tend not to get caught and torn like the larger ones, yet are affordably replaced if something does happen to them.

2. S-hooks
These are my favorite backpack to briefcase travel resource. Whether you are on your daily commute, dealing with your luggage in airport restrooms, or in need of a place to hang your toiletry bag while in the hostel shower, s-hooks get the job done. Simply hook one over a door, handle, or pole for on-the-fly storage. You can get s-hooks anywhere, but I’m particularly fond of the ones Ikea carries in their kitchen hardware section. They’re flat and have large curves, making them suitable for a variety of hanging options such as shower poles, or bunk bed rails.

3. Door Wedges
Normally used for propping doors open, these things are great for wedging the doors of el-cheapo hotels closed as well (i.e. cheap accommodations). Ditto for the shared bathroom in that seedy motel you get stuck staying at because you didn’t know there would be a convention in town when you decided to “wing it” without a solid travel plan. I paid less than three bucks for a set of two, and carry them in one of the extra zippered compartments of my back pack.

4. Sink Stoppers
Sooner or later you’ll have to do at least some of your own laundry in the sink, which may or may not have its own plug. These rubber disks pack flat in your luggage and let you hand wash delicates and other items when you aren’t able to find a laundry. It also allows you the luxury of a bath when the “rustic” tub doesn’t have its own drain plug either.

5. Ear Plugs
Ear plugs big bucks in the travel section of the department store, but pennies each from your local hardware guy. We purchase a handful or two at a time, so we always have a fresh supply for airplanes, loud hostels, and hotel rooms that happen to be located next to the local pub. These are also great if you’re traveling with someone who snores loudly at night.

6. Electrical Adapters
You could spend money at those charging stations, or find a lone outlet and slap in an electrical adapter that turns one plug into several. Voila! All your gear can get charged at once, and you can even get some work done while you’re at it. It’s one of many ways to save money at airports.

Discount Pharmacies

In addition to mini toiletry items, I have a few other faves I like to purchase at places like CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens. They include a few items you might not have considered.

1. Lip Liner
Quite frankly, I’m sick of having to stress about fitting all of my cosmetics and make-up into a carry-on bag, only to wonder how the security personnel at the airport will interpret the regulations that day. Ladies, are you with me? When I see discount makeup pencils priced at three for a buck, I pick up a neutral-toned lip liner to use for lip color, blush, and… well, liner. At thirty-three cents a piece, it’s a price that’s hard to argue with.

2. Travel-Sized Emery Boards
These come in multi-packs for roughly sixty-nine cents, and are great for on-the-fly manicure emergencies. Since so many come with one purchase, it’s easy to keep a supply handy for unexpected trips.

3. Cosmetic Pads
When you’ve had to spend six months living out of a daypack, you learn to pay attention to things like space efficiency. If I need to look good and pack light, I purchase flat, round cosmetic pads instead of the fluffier cotton balls. They take up less space, and still get the job done.

4. Pharmaceutical Containers
I picked up a package of three different name brand pain relievers in travel-sized tubes at my neighborhood CVS. Rather than buying more when these run out, I can refill the tubes from my bulk jars at home. Since the security folks like to know what’s in those kinds of containers, this strategy keeps them, and my pocketbook, happy.

Final Word

Is it possible to stock your travel supplies on a budget? Absolutely. Think outside the box and avoid those pricey “travel” departments. You’ll get a lot more for less, leaving you free to spend your vacation money where it will count.

What are your favorite places to purchase affordable travel gear? Please share in the comments!

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

Myscha Theriault
Myscha Theriault is a syndicated columnist with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, best-selling author and professional blogger whose work has appeared on such web sites as Forbes, MSN, the Los Angeles Times and AOL. Print interviews include Better Homes and Gardens, the New York Times, Women’s World and All You magazine. She is the founder of Trek Hound, a site for independent travelers, We Be Sharin', a home living web site, and The Lesson Machine, a site for teachers both Stateside and abroad.

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