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A Travel Packing List Secret: Multi-Use Items

When trying to pack light for your long or short term trip, your overarching mantra should be: “Things that are also other things.” Here are some examples of this motto in action to consider for your bag, graciously modeled by Sena Comfort of YCC, Ghana!

Packing a sarong was useful.
Packing a sarong was useful.

1. A sarong or large, lightweight cloth.
Uses: Towel, light sheet on cold bus rides or nights, sleep sack in nasty dorm beds, screen for changing in public places, post-swimming dress, makeshift wrap/bag for dirty laundry.

2. A thin, plain, dark-colored tank top.
Uses: Cute going out top, hiking or exercise shirt, pajamas, undershirt, swimming top for conservative countries.

3. Semi-stretchy knee-length pants.
Uses: Pajama bottoms, exercise-wear, around-the-house/hostel wear, casual bottoms, under-skirt “slip”.

4. Supportive, nice-looking hiking sandals (I swear by the Chaco brand).
Uses: Hiking shoes, daily walking/working sandals, around-the-house wear, cute going out shoes.

Dark, solid color clothes are versatile to pack.
Dark, solid color clothes are versatile to pack.

5. Shampoo.
Uses: Shampoo (duh), body wash, laundry soap, hand-wash for un-equipped bathrooms.

6. Dark, fast-drying hiking pants that are also nice looking and thin enough to roll up to knee-length.
Uses: Hiking Pants, work bottoms, respectable-looking pants for events, travel wear, pajamas in a pinch.

7. A small “netbook” computer.
Uses: Free Internet source (free Wi-Fi is everywhere!), phone (Skype is free!), map, emergency contact system, photo and document backup storage, life organizer (ex: To Do list, calendar, etc.), lifeline and sanity maintainer.

8. A small, dark, fold-able bag.
Uses: Backpack, purse, airplane carry-on, divider for inside a bigger bag, quick cloak for valuables in a hotel room.

A small computer is ideal for travel.
A small computer is ideal for travel.

9. A small notebook of plain or lined paper.
Uses: Stash of paper to rip out, diary, game board, catch-all for important notes (ex: phone numbers, addresses).

10. Short, fast-drying (synthetic) running shorts.
Uses: Pajamas, exercise shorts, boxer-style underwear, swimming bottoms for conservative countries.

11. A plain-looking baseball cap.
Uses: Sunscreen, identity hider (for when you don’t feel like people talking to you), rain hat, mini-purse in a pinch.

12. A nice-looking but durable plain t-shirt.
Uses: Cute shirt, work shirt, exercise shirt, pajamas, undershirt, towel in a pinch.

13. Plastic bags of different sorts.
Uses: Backpack divider (ex: sock “drawer”), dirty laundry bag, protection against toiletry spills, Trash bag, Last-resort purse, barf bag, wet item repository, shoe bag.

Plastic bags help with packing.
Plastic bags help with packing.

14. (For women and Scotsmen) A lightweight, plain but nice-looking knee-length skirt.
Uses: Cute skirt, slip to go under sheer skirts, post-swimming wrap, method to change clothes in a public place.

15. (For women and perhaps jiggly men) A sports bra.
Uses: Exercise essential, swimming top, casual daily bra, girdle to fit into too-small shirts/dresses.

16 and Up: Digital camera, Small scissors, Inflatable travel neck pillow, and more!

The Moral: As you pack, keep asking yourself, “Can I use this item in more than one situation?” If not, think long and hard about whether there is a more versatile item to replace it with. And as for that lime green ballgown? Leave it behind.

Want more details on the brands and specifications of the items I use and adore? Click here for tons of posts on Pre-Trip Packing and Planning!


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Anne Betts

Saturday 17th of June 2017

Tablet towels, those small lightweight circular shapes that explode into a washcloth when introduced to water. Very little water is needed. They can be used as a washcloth or dish towel, cleaning scrapes, wiping up spills, wiping away perspiration, freshening up on a long travel day, emergency toilet paper... I carry a couple in my first-aid kit and "comfort pack."

You Won’t Need a Bellhop | At Home With Didiayer

Monday 13th of July 2015

[…] Marshall from shares her travel packing secret of using multi-use […]

Branajha, Shayla, Ayla

Wednesday 11th of March 2015

Thanks for the tips, Ms. Marshall! They will be super useful.


Wednesday 11th of March 2015

Have a WONDERFUL trip, ladies!

Vagabondette Mandy

Friday 17th of August 2012

I'm trading in my netbook for a google nexus 7" tablet. Half the weight, smaller to pack and does pretty much all the same work as a netbook.

I'm also a fan of the solid shampoo, conditioner and lotion sold by Lush to minimize weight.


Friday 17th of August 2012

Great tips! I've now upgraded from a netbook at a MacBook Air, and I'm so happy with it!


Friday 17th of August 2012

OK, to add to the ones above with a more male twist, I totally agree on the quick-dry underwear and would include quick dry (in addition to or instead of) the smart wool socks. Use them as mittens in a pinch.

On your plain t-shirt, make it a quick dry one. Huge difference. Bring three: Two t-shirts can layer to be as warm as a thin sweater.

For guys, instead of roll-up pants, get zip-offs to use as informal slacks or as shorts. Good ones have security pockets and are also quick dry. Great for swim trunks and in countries like Italy where it may be hot out (wear as shorts) but you need long pants to enter churches or other buildings (just zip on the bottoms).

On your small, dark foldable bag, I use a summit pack, a day pack that rolls up to the size of a small orange but holds everything for a day hike/trip. Then, if I've purchased gifts, etc. on the trip and absolutely have to check a bag, I stuff all my dirty clothes in it and check that bag instead. Carry on the more valuable items in my overhead-fitting main roller bag or main backpack.

Instant oatmeal: Cheap breakfast (just add hot water from tap where water is clean or heat up water as for tea), traction for tires stuck in ice (you don't need much), padding in your case for more fragile items (alas, only at the beginning of the trip since it is consumed by the end!).

Smart phone with local SIM card. Even if you never use it as a phone, it serves as a mini version of your netbook when you have wifi access and also as a camera. Often overlooked feature: voice recorder. Record sounds, interviews with locals and your own thoughts as you have them then transcribe later. For family travel, we always record our highs and lows at the end of each day which makes a great shared experience.

Rockport-like walking shoes (you can actually find decent ones at reasonable prices if you look on sites like Depending on where you go a good pair looks like casual dress shoes and allows you to go to nicer places if needed but also wear them on 20 mile hikes. Hiking/running shoes cover the latter but not the former.

Plain sweater. Goes with anything. Keeps you warm with layers, makes a nice pillow and dresses up your casual clothes for a night out. Also works great as a lumbar support on long flights with C-shaped seats for people with S-shaped spines.

Twistems, zip-ties and duct tape. Twistems are great for tying down the zippers on your day pack in a high pickpocket area. Zip ties can hold together luggage and other things. Duct tape is, well, duct tape. Either get a small travel size or just roll off several feet before you leave and wrap around a pen or small flashlight (also an important item). It will still be sticky when you need it.

I'm sure there's more, but there's my quick thoughts from a guy's perspective!


Friday 17th of August 2012

LOVE these additions!! Huge thanks, Steve!

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