Non-Consumer Travel Hacks

by Katy on November 30, 2016 · 29 comments

Travel mug

I’m flying from Oregon to New York City in just a couple of days to visit with my sister. (You may remember that I jumped on a cheap promotional ticket awhile back.) And since I strive to be an organized and deliberate person, my to-do list is both long and detailed. Not only because I don’t want to forget anything important, but also because it takes extra forethought to travel in a non-consumer manner.

My goal is to minimize waste and avoid overpriced food/services. And with a little bit of preparation, these goals are completely attainable.

Non-Consumer travel hacks:

  • Download the free airline app, which allows you to check in using your phone, plus it gives you a digital boarding pass to save on ink and paper. Of course, you should also join the frequent flyer program for the airline.

  • Bring an empty travel mug and water bottle. Although you can’t pass security with more than 4 ounces of liquid, there are always water fountains near the gate. You can then fill your water bottle for the flight. The travel mug can be used for free coffee, tea or even soda on the flight.

  • Pack your own food. Airplane food is both expensive and whatever is the polar opposite of delicious. (Gross? Bland? Yucky?) So plan ahead to have simple meals and snacks on hand to satisfy both boredom and hunger.

  • Pack zero waste items such as bandanas, which can double as paper towels or tissues. Travel is no excuse to mindlessly create extra garbage.

  • Download Netflix shows/movies to your phone ahead of time. This is a new feature, and requires you to have the most up to date version downloaded through the app store. This hack allows you to watch your shows even while in airplane mode. 

  • Pack reading material. Avoid the temptation of the airport booksellers by bringing something from home, even a library book. (I prefer paperbacks when traveling as they take up less space.) For those who use an e-reader, download some free library e-books ahead of time.

  • Borrow instead of buy. Most luggage spends 99.99% of its life in storage, so put the word out among family and friends if you need an extra suitcase or two. My friend and I have been practicing this sharing economy hack for years without even a single incident.

  • Pack lightly. Avoid checked luggage fees by minimizing the stuff that accompanies you on your travels. Choose outfits you can mix and match, and then wear your clunkiest shoes during the flight. (You’ll notice that a large percentage of women wear their boots during travel instead of adding them to their suitcases.) Take advantage of laundry services, or simply wash out your lightweight items by hand.

  • Don’t bother traveling with items that you can borrow. Examples would be scarves, gloves, umbrellas, etc. My sister is a knitter/crocheter, so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can borrow a scarf or gloves from her once I hit my destination.

  • Utilize public transportation. Getting from the airport to your destination isn’t as hard as it sounds. You can research the process ahead of time, which can usually be found online with just a couple clicks of the mouse.

Do you have a favorite non-consumer travel hack to add? Please share them in the comments section below.

Looking for NYC specific frugal travel ideas? Click HERE to read my blog post on that subject.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

Click HERE to follow The Non-Consumer Advocate on Instagram.
Click HERE to join The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook group.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

tia November 30, 2016 at 1:52 pm

great tips! I also bring lightweight washable food containers, like those used when camping. I never order food “to go” I just put it from my plate into my containers and go. Laws don’t allow them to put food directly into your containers and it is amazing all the froo froo waste they package “to go” food in. They still get a tip and the plate gets washed and reused. I also bring a good size zip lock bag so I can put ice from my drink around the food and keep leftovers cool for later. Needless to say I switch out a purse for a small collapsible backpack to stow all my easy access junk while traveling. Add some camping utensils and washcloths for napkins and cleaning stuff.


Mariana November 30, 2016 at 2:07 pm

Always have a couple of tampons of pads just in case. I hate to purchase an entire pack at the airport (or anywhere in that matter) knowing I have loads at home already.


Kelly November 30, 2016 at 2:48 pm

This reminds me of the time my 12-year-old daughter packed an entire carry on full of pads – just in case. I didn’t realize it until we got back from our trip since I was trying to let her have some responsibility over her packing. “A couple” is one thing, “enough for a week” might be overkill. 😉


Michelle H December 13, 2016 at 7:21 pm

I finally started doing this as well, after getting caught by surprise several times. My suitcase has an inside zippered pocket that I now keep stocked just in case.


WilliamB November 30, 2016 at 2:33 pm

If you pack light, it’s much easier to take public transit to the airport.

Buy really cheap paperbacks to take on the trip, and leave them behind when you’re done.


Betty Winslow November 30, 2016 at 5:57 pm

I love to do the “read the paperback and leave it behind” trick! I usually stick a post-it in it before leaving home, that says “I’m through with this – enjoy!” It acts as a bookmark while I’m reading it and then gets stuck on the front when I’m done.


Bee November 30, 2016 at 3:45 pm

**If staying in a hotel, I choose one that serves breakfast. Some also have happy hour and shuttle service. **I never pack a suitcase that is too heavy for me to manage on my own. **Even if I am going to check a bag, I pack my thyroid medication, my tooth brush and tooth paste, clean undergarments and a spare pair of contact lens in my carry-on. You never know what may happen.


Krystal November 30, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Always check ahead of time if the airlines will refill your cups/bottles ahead of time. Alaska has refused the past few times for me, so I come well prepared when I board.


Katy November 30, 2016 at 4:53 pm

I fill my water bottle from the drinking fountain while waiting to board the flight. I’ve already passed security at that point.


Mrs. Picky Pincher November 30, 2016 at 4:46 pm

I love the idea about the bandana; I’d never thought of that!

It’s kind of weird, but I always bring a beach ball with me for long-haul flights. I can blow it up and take a nap on my tray table without hurting my neck. and since beach balls are reusable, there’s no additional waste or cost.


Katy November 30, 2016 at 4:56 pm

I should have added that I always travel with an expandable string bag. Takes up almost zero space in my purse, yet holds a large amount of stuff.


marieann November 30, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Thank you for the tip about a travel mug. I always take a water bottle and I’ve never even though about a mug……I will pick one up (at the thrift shop of course)
and I’ll be able to forgo those paper cups on the plane.
I only fly once a year but I hate all the garbage that is created when I do


AFS December 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm

The stewardess said she HAD to give me a disposable cup, “but you can pour it into your cup if you’d like”
I had filled it myself at the airport but needed a refill in flight.


Betty Winslow November 30, 2016 at 5:59 pm

I carry my black pashmina with me – it doubles as a blanket (or even a light-blocking headwrap) on the flight and a light wrap for A/C restaurants, plus it folds up small and fits in my tote bag better than a sweater.


Laura November 30, 2016 at 7:22 pm

I have Netflix and had not heard of the new download feature. Thanks for the tip!
I am also a big fan of borrowing Ebooks from the library.


LisaC December 1, 2016 at 6:44 am

I like to take a tub of peanut butter from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast to eat with a banana or crackers later.

We use Gas Buddy to find local prices of gas.


JD December 1, 2016 at 7:28 am

I travel little, especially by plane, but one thing my sisters and I do, when going to visit family together, is decide who will bring the flat iron for our crazy hair, who will bring the hair dryer, and who will bring the mini-steamer. Many of our older relatives don’t have those things on hand (they all go to “the shop” for their hairdos) and the mini-steamer is a lot easier and faster than setting up the ironing board. This way we each have only one kind of bulky thing to pack, and we just pass them around when we get there.
I’ve become almost legendary in my family for packing mix and match outfits that take up very little room because everything goes with everything else, so I can take less items. I also plan outfits with the idea of wearing the fewest pairs of shoes. If I can choose shorts, slacks and a skirt that can all use the same shoes, that’s what I pack.
Some of these ideas posted translate well for packing for a car trip, too.


Vickie December 1, 2016 at 7:31 am

*Use a backpack as a carry-on. Mine has several small pockets and compartments and I utilize them well. It also has a pocket for my water bottle & I pack 3-4 small bags of snacks.
*I don’t carry my regular purse. I have a small, black purse with an adjustable shoulder strap, that has several compartments. It folds flat & fits easily into my luggage or backpack and has areas for my ID and other cards, money lipstick, small comb etc.
*I have an Amazon Prime account and can listen to any music I want on my phone, or read from my Kindle app.
*I take one or two pair of earrings that are very versatile – one is a small set with yellow & gold filigree and the other is pair made from natural shell, which has many colors in it; this way I can still look dressed up without carrying much jewelry. I keep them in my backpack, so I don’t worry about them getting stolen.
*I have a black lightweight, jersey blazer that works well for casual or dressing up. I pack one pair of jeans, one pair each of black & khaki slacks and I have two multi-color patterned blouses that will go with all of them. They are pretty enough to be dressy or casual. My blazer & blouses are material blends that don’t wrinkle.
*I wear my boots and take one pair of casual walking shoes.
*I put a small neck pillow into my backpack. It’s comfortable to use no matter how you travel.
I always have a paperback book too. I love to read and they aren’t heavy.


susanna d December 1, 2016 at 7:41 am

If we’re not staying with family, we try to choose hotel rooms with mini-fridges and microwaves. Many hotels have complimentary breakfasts, but having a fridge means being able to store foods for lunches, snacks, and light dinners as well. They’re also handy for storing leftovers if we do eat in a restaurant, since restaurant portions can be way too much to eat in one meal.

Since we retired, most of our traveling involves car trips instead of flying. Like LisaC, we check gasbuddy to find the best gasoline prices. We also take whatever gasoline coupons we have (mainly along the lines of “$1 worth of gasoline free”) so if that gasoline chain has the best price (or almost the best price) we can make a good price a little bit better.


Is it a need or a want December 1, 2016 at 9:08 am

You are my people! In colder weather I bring a black shawl. Great in fluctuating temperatures of airplanes and have used as an extra cover on beds.
Frequently use air B and B , just find its a more reasonable cost for stay and I get ones with breakfasts:)
I always wear black on the plane, one too many spills enroute taught me a lesson.
I also bring a Ziploc bag to cover remotes in hotels. Also pack items in backpack in large ziplock. Can be used if sick on trip.
I pack a small mirror, pain meds,band aids and tweezers. I also bring a pair of very thin slip on slippers from a long ago hotel stay. Just not crazy about walking barefoot on hotel carpets. I wear heaviest boots on plane but if on longer flight will put on a pair of light shoes like Toms for walking around. In an emergency still like to have a secure foot covering.
Depending on where I am travelling , some countries do not give conditioner with shampoo . I have packed it.
I check travel forums if a place/country I have never been to before.
Many times items purchased at flea markets,thrift stores, farmers markets in city I am visiting become Christmas/ birthday ,etcetera gifts.
I have used my shawl over my head and body when sleeping on planes. I have also seen people put hoodies up, squeeze hood shut, except for mouth/nose and fall asleep on planes. I have a blow up pillow.
I bring tea and can make it just about anywhere. One hotel had no breakfast but sent me a thermos with hot water no charge when I asked about hot water/kettle.
I pack granola/energy bars. Never know how trips might unfold.
I put all information. Copies of flights, passport , copies of travel itenary , copies of health cards information, banking info, credit card number and emergency numbers and contact info on a stick. I carry in a secure spot.


Lisa W. December 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

If you have to rent a car (no public transportation in my Kentucky hometown), please take extra steps to protect yourself so that the rental company doesn’t try to hit you with false rental car charges. This happened to me this summer ($3,000!!!), and though I successfully fought it, I could have saved myself a ton of stress and time. Here’s a good guide:


Lisa W. December 1, 2016 at 1:23 pm

*I meant “so that the rental company doesn’t try to hit you with false damage charges.”


Nancy Drew December 1, 2016 at 1:51 pm

We like to save both money and time by pre-arranging an online grocery order for delivery to our hotel room (when travelling without a vehicle). We get things that don’t need refrigeration or dishes (unless I know the room will have those things).

Breakfast is much quicker -and cheaper- when we can enjoy juice boxes, granola bars, cookies, muffins and bananas in the room instead of trekking to a restaurant. Evening treats of chips and chocolate are also very welcome. We’ve even had a bottle of wine delivered this way.


Amelia December 1, 2016 at 2:33 pm

I joined the Portland Minimalists group on Facebook a while back and reached out when I was getting ready to go to Israel for 2 weeks. I normally read library books, but I wanted to use a kindle for the trip. A really nice stranger in the Minimalists group lent me their Kindle Fire and charger for the trip. I was so happy I could borrow instead of buying.


K D December 1, 2016 at 2:58 pm

If you need to rent a car it seems that renting through COSTCO will save you a significant amount of money.

I think you guys have covered all the other basics.


Jenzer December 11, 2016 at 9:29 am

1) I’ve learned the hard way to travel with a small stash of OTC medications and treatments. It’s financially painful to pay $2 for one Claritin tablet at a convenience store, and no fun to scout out salve for a preschooler’s sore backside at 5am in a strange city (been there, done both).

2) For digital entertainment, I download podcast episodes and public library audiobooks. LibriVox is also an option for free listening material.

3) If I want some hand-and-brain activities for an airline flight, I search for free printables online: coloring pages, Sudoku, word searches, logic puzzles. Single-page printouts are less bulky and more cost effective than an entire book of the same activity, especially when I never get around to “consuming” a whole book.

4) My husband tipped me off to this one. Hotels usually have a LOT of electronics chargers that were left behind by previous guests. If you left your power cord at home, ask at the front desk if they have one that will fit your device. Some hotels have wised up to this modern travel quandary and will point you to the chargers for sale in their lobby shops , but it still doesn’t hurt to ask.


Michelle H December 13, 2016 at 7:53 pm

Great tips!

I use a small lunch sized cooler as my toiletries bag. If anything spills it’s contained, and I can empty the contents onto a hotel room counter and use it as an actual cooler.

When flying with the kids everyone has their own backpack with snacks, and a water bottle to fill when we get thru security. A diaper goes into each backpack just in case Mom loses her bag, and everyone carries a change of clothes in a Ziplock bag, even me. (First time I flew with a baby I packed a ton of stuff for him, and he threw up all over me on takeoff and I was stuck for the next 5 hours. Never again!)

We have Kindles, and I load them up with free Prime movies and shows before trips. I bought a splitter that will connect up to 5 sets of headphones to one device, and 3 kids can watch one device to conserve battery power on the others.


Jane Speller August 4, 2017 at 1:53 am

Absolutely great. I’m going to share this. People need to know that we can travel without leaving junk everywhere. Although I do most of the things I have to admit that never thought of travel mug. Will give it a try.
I believe that going zero-waste isn’t so hard and I’m happy to find so many proofs in amazing articles like this one. Thanks!


Coral Clarke December 3, 2022 at 12:09 pm

Great trip about the travel cooler! I also pack my toiletries in a small handbag, as I use a small ( 7 kgs packed) backpack , even for 6 weeks, instead of a suitcase, avoiding checked baggage, and my largest handbag as permitted extra carryon.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: