Travel Like MacGyver: Items to Pack That Solve Problems

MacGyver travel - items to pack that solve problems

Unexpected problems pop up while you’re traveling, no matter how prepared you are. You can’t plan for everything, and you certainly shouldn’t pack enough stuff to cover every imaginable what-if situation. But there are certain items that don’t take up much space and can really help you out in a bind.

Here are some helpful little items to pack that solve problems on the road.

Duct tape

items to pack that solve problems

Possibly the most versatile and helpful item on the list, duct tape helps in more ways than you could imagine.

  • Use it as a bandage or to protect your feet from blisters.
  • Fix holes in anything from shoes to pants to backpacks.
  • Use it to create a rope or clothes line.
  • Mark your luggage with a duct tape tag.
  • Seal leaky bottles or food containers.
  • Use strips of duct tape as fly paper in a buggy hostel room.

>>Read more about why you should travel with duct tape.


sugru for fixing things when you travel

If you haven’t heard of Sugru, we suggest rectifying that issue immediately. Sugru is a moldable glue that turns into rubber once it’s cured. We heard about this magical substance from a member of our Facebook group, and we now think adding a couple packs to your packing list might be a necessity.

Use Sugru to:

  • Patch holes in jackets, bags, shoes, etc.
  • Soften rough spots in shoes, or keep heels from slipping out of shoes.
  • Patch up worn laptop cables or phone chargers.
  • Add some pizzazz to luggage zip pulls for easy identification at baggage claim.
  • Fix broken sunglasses, or create better fitting sunglasses.
  • Repair suitcase handles and wheels.

>> Grab some Sugru from Amazon.


true utility tu30 multitool
True Utility TU30 Multitool

Multi-tools are wonderful gadgets with different pieces all in one. They can definitely get you out of a jam or just make your travel life a little easier.

Most options come with pliers, a knife, a cork screw, a bottle opener, scissors, a file, a screwdriver, and several other tools. These items can help you cut things, repair gear, or make a hole in something. With the right multi-tool, you also never have to worry about having a bottle of wine or beer and not being able to open it.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are enough pieces to a multi-tool that could be considered a weapon. Pack it in your checked luggage so it doesn’t get confiscated at the security checkpoint.

Carabiner clip

items to pack that solve problems

These little clips take up almost no room in your luggage, but they can help you out in many ways.

  • Clip zippers together to deter would-be thieves or simply hold together a zipper that doesn’t want to stay closed.
  • Latch a water bottle or stuff bag onto your daypack or purse.
  • Use it to hang your shoes on the outside of your backpack.
  • A few carabiner clips can hold a sleeping bag, travel pillow, or yoga mat to your backpack, too.

>>See why one HPL reader never travels without carabiner clips.

Clear nail polish

clear nail polish

I hate adding extra liquids to my packing list, but clear nail polish may be worth a little space.

  • If you wear glasses, you know that sometimes those tiny screws can come loose. A little dab of clear nail polish can secure them in place.
  • You can also use clear nail polish to seal a fraying hem, though this is best used on sleeping bags, jackets, and other nylon items.
  • Use it as glue for tags or labels that need to be secured to your suitcase.
  • Relieve insect bites by dabbing on a bit of nail polish.

>>Learn more about how to pack liquids toiletries.

Sarong or Turkish Towel or Scarf

turkish towels from etsy

When it comes to this point, Her Packing List is a bit of a broken record. These sheets of fabric in any form are incredibly useful! Turkish Towels are currently the rage, but the others may prove useful for any of the following:

  • Use as a travel towel or beach towel
  • Use as a picnic blanket in the park
  • Fashion a privacy screen in a hostel dorm
  • Wear as a swimsuit wrap
  • Wear as a scarf for warmth or fashion
  • Use in place of an airplane blanket
  • Tie together for an impromptu hobo-style bag

>> Read more about Turkish towels or sarongs.

Rubber bands or hair ties

items to pack that solve problems

Rubber bands are great, but if you don’t have any around the house, a few extra hair ties will work just as well.

  • Cheap compression. Use rubber bands to bind clothing rolls so they take up less space. (Expect wrinkles, though!)
  • Keep items from falling apart with a rubber band.
  • Containers that open too easily can be kept shut with a rubber band or hair tie.
  • A string of rubber bands can be used as a travel clothesline.
  • Use them to cinch up your cords and cables so they don’t get tangled.
  • Keep bags of food closed up with a rubber band.

Safety pins

items to pack that solve problems

Throw a handful of safety pins into your makeup bag, and you’ll almost certainly find a use for them.

  • In a pinch, a couple of safety pins can close up a hole in your jacket or backpack.
  • Use them to hold together uncooperative hotel curtains.
  • Hold a purse zipper closed with a safety pin as a little added security in a crowd.
  • Use one to replace a zipper pull that’s fallen off.
  • If you get a splinter, sterilize a safety pin and use it to remove the tiny piece of wood.
  • You can even use a safety pin as an emergency fix for a broken flip flop.

String: Twine, Shoelaces, Dental Floss, Etc.


Any type of string will do, from standard twine to some extra shoelaces.

  • String can be used to secure a sleeping bag or yoga mat to the outside of your backpack.
  • Or string up your dirty shoes so you don’t have to pack them inside with your clothes.
  • Tie string around bulky clothing so they take up less space in your bag.
  • Use longer string, or several shorter pieces tied together, as a clothesline for when you hand-wash clothing on the road. Even dental floss works since it’s so strong!
  • Sew up a hole temporarily with dental floss.

Ziplock or Plastic Bags

ziploc toiletries bag

While we definitely don’t recommend relying on ziplocks in place of packing cubes or carry-on liquids bags (they can puncture and tear making them less reusable), having a few stuffed away for emergencies is helpful.

  • Store food for use later.
  • Keep unexpected wet items separated in luggage.
  • Use to compress clothing.
  • Keep items dry in boats or at the beach.

Do you have any other suggestions for items to pack that solve problems?

mcgyver travel tips- little things that solve problems

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Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use


Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.

Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.

Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking! – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Laura says

    Great post! I think I’ll be adding some duct tape to my carry on for my next trip.
    I always take carabiners, safety pins and especially a spare zip-lock bag. I had one unfortunate experience of having my passport damaged by heavy rain and ever since then it lives in a zip-lock bag.
    Dental floss also works for cutting soap into smaller single-use pieces.

  2. Melody says

    ~ Paracord. It can be braided into bracelets or belts or just about anything so it’s useful or decorative when not needed. Use it to tie up luggage, make a clothesline, tie a door/window closed for security, replace a broken shoelace, etc. Tons of uses, and it’s super easy to pack. Use it in combination with carabiners.
    ~ Clothespins. A couple of clothespins take up very little space but can be very useful. Hang up clothes, keep curtains closed, clip your wet socks to your backpack so they can dry, keep papers together, clip your turkish towel around yourself to free your hands, etc.
    ~ Stretchy braided clothesline. Hang clothes to dry, hang sheets/towels over it to create a wall, can be used as a bungee cord, use as a compression strap, etc.

    I’ll think of other things in the middle of the night when I’m supposed to be sleeping.

  3. Rebecca says

    I LOVE carabiners….but I actually had my favourite one confiscated at Charles De Gaul airport because it “could be used as a weapon” since I have small hands and could fit three fingers through the loop. :/

    I would keep a small sewing kit (even one that had been a freebie from a hotel) or just a needle and some thread with me. Duct tape and safety pins only work for so long.

  4. Peggy says

    Love all of this! I once had to use dental floss to cut up a hard boiled egg while on the road! So useful. I also always travel with a heap of zip lock bags! I haven’t heard of Sugru, going to get me some of that stuff!

  5. Deborah C. says

    Very interesting and helpful website, also some items are quite entertaining. Did not know about cutting soap with dental floss for travel size pieces – have unsuccessfully attempted cutting soap with a knife, thank you. Have placed a lot of helpful things to my pinterest … thank you again. Will check back often. From a fellow Canadian.

  6. Xenia says

    Stockings. The heavy duty ones you can buy at supermarkets. Wear under anything to keep warm (cut toes off if you have to wear thongs – sorry – flip flops)… Wear under a skirt if you have to look nice but haven’t shaved your legs, or you’re muddy and have to check in somewhere fancy … Stuff jeans rolled up into them to save space … Dirty shoes to protect your clothes … Dirty clothes to protect clean clothes … Can be stretched across a room for a laundry line … Can be worn as a shrug for travelling (esp. with toes cut off) … Tying stuff together in a pinch … Wrapped around delicate souvenirs for the flight home … Wash rags when they get hole-y … Super useful items with a million uses if you think hard enough! I always have a couple of pairs on hand when I travel 🙂

  7. Xenia says

    Oh, and one last thing … In the past I have cut out the gusset and the toes, and pulled the whole thing over my head as a long sleeved undershirt. Great for chilly planes, cold places where you want to look halfway decent, and importantly for me, to cover tattoos in places where it’s less acceptable. Brilliant! Plus they can be chucked or recycled when you get home since they cost so little. I have some in several different colours!

  8. Owen says

    Great list! Have already packed duct tape and carabiner for my trip in 2 days! Still contemplating if I should bring my Swiss Army Knife though…

  9. Rineke says

    Duck tape, don’t take a full roll with you! I always take some of it with me to roll around a pen a couple times, then you have the right amount with you.

    And a couple zip ties! Very helpfull when somebody in my hostelroom had a backpackstrap that was falling apart.
    I even have some zip ties which are a bit bigger and can be removed/undone. even better to held up stuff and things and can be removed afterwards.

    I also always have a small sturdy yet sharp embroidery scissors with me. Use it a lot during my trips, opening pacages, cutting plastic bags into ponchos, removing strings.

  10. donna says

    Duct tape has been useful. Kept a broken computer case in place, held a hotel window frame in place, kept car top carrier from blowing open when lock failed. Now I need to resupply my pencil with more tape.

  11. RhiannonDay says

    I love this list so much! There’s something here for every contingency! And I love that these things don’t take up much space in your bag, even if you’re short on room. Definitely bookmarking this!

  12. Kat Angeli says

    Agree and have used so much above! Definitely braided rubber clothesline – my bungee cord was confiscated in Argentina at security and I was shown how it can be a weapon. Right after that, one of my bag zippers broke on a checked bag and it had to continue the trip wrapped in clothesline with a carabiner and a zip tie. Made it through twice on luggage carousels. I always carry binder clips in various sizes. Large ones for curtains, 1/4″ ones for turning an oblong scarf into sleeves for hot weather coverage of flappy upper arms, religious sites, and just a change of look – and they are great for grabbing things out of tight places if you don’t carry tweezers. I guess you could also use them for papers, like guidebook pages torn from books. I travel with a lot of artwork and painter’s tape protects glass and corners. Regular tape in the tiny rolls from the back-to-school bins has been great for leaving notes on doors. Actually, one of my most used hacks is my teeny stapler, which has repaired hems and various holes temporarily as well as face mask elastics. And nothing really substitutes for a wee eyeglass kit if you can’t carry any tools. Patiently you can even punch an extra belt hole 🙂

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