As an aviation journalist and travel enthusiast, I have worked and played my way around the world. This year, I’ve logged almost 60,000 miles in travel across the United States and to Barcelona, Iceland, the Bahamas, Montreal and two cities in China.
All that travel requires certain key items for my health and comfort. But, inspired by my grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression and still enjoyed the finer things in life, I know I don’t have to pay top dollar for those essentials.
Instead, I buy them at my favorite local dollar store, Dollar Tree, which carries many familiar name-brand items. Here are the dollar-store travel accessories I always pick up before a trip.
1. Sleep Essentials
I’m old enough to remember a time when the airlines gave away free eye masks, socks and earbuds on long-haul flights, but those days are gone.
But for $3, you can buy a lined eye mask, soft and comfortable socks, and earbuds that do a great job.
2. In-Flight Snacks
On the ground, there’s expensive airport food. On your flight, you’re lucky if there are for-purchase food options (I refuse to pay) or tiny packs of peanuts and pretzels.
So I always bring my own food when I travel.
Dollar Tree has a large selection of candies to satisfy my sweet tooth. It also has plane-friendly foods like trail mix, raisins, jerky, mixed nuts and granola bars.
3. Travel Coffee Mugs
Once in the air, I enjoy having a cup of coffee or tea, but I also worry about turbulence or a fellow passenger causing a spill on me or my laptop.
To prevent potential messes, I take my own insulated coffee mug, which also tends to be larger than the airline’s cups.
4. Refillable Water Bottles
If coffee or tea isn’t your thing, pick up an empty water bottle. Many airports have installed free hydration stations where anyone with an empty bottle can fill up before a flight, or you can always use a water fountain.
And if you’re nice to the flight attendants, they may even fill your bottle during the flight.
5. Zip-Top Bags for Liquids
The Transportation Security Administration requires travelers to hold their carry-on liquids in a quart-sized bag.
I’m a fan of zip-top freezer bags, which tend to be thicker and sturdier than standard zip-top bags. And there’s plenty of room for all your liquids.
6. Travel-Size Bottles
I’ve gone to stores and seen sets of TSA-friendly bottles for lotion, shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap selling for anywhere from $4.99 to more than $20. Stores like Walmart and Target have aisles full of TSA-friendly packages of deodorant and toothpaste.
None of those items can beat buying sets of bottles for $1 and filling them with supplies you already have at home.
7. First Aid Supplies
There’s nothing worse than being sick while traveling. Be prepared by packing health stalwarts like cough drops, allergy relief medication, cough syrup, cold and flu liquid capsules, and travel-size facial tissues.
Hold medications like Aleve, Tylenol, aspirin and vitamins in a handy seven-day pill case that doesn’t take up a lot of room in a carry-on.
Take care of minor cuts, sprains and aches with items like antibiotic ointment, hydrocortisone cream, rolled bandages, plastic bandages, heat and cold patches, medical tape, and arm or /leg braces.
Dollar Tree sells myriad toothbrushes, but my two favorites are the travel toothbrush with a cap, toothpaste and a plastic zip carry case; and the Crest Scope pre-pasted toothbrushes with a pick on the end.
You can also get dental flossers, breath strips and mini travel toothbrushes.
9. Hand Sanitizer, Lotion and Lip Balm
You can feel great and look great without spending a fortune.
As a germophobe, I won’t fly without my 2.8-ounce scented hand sanitizers, which come in a pack of three. I also take Purell wipes, which do double duty as a face refresher and a cloth to wipe down germ-ridden airplane surfaces.
Airplane cabins can get dry, so I’m a big fan of Udderly Smooth Udder Cream and Body Lotion, which is good for face and hands. For dry lips, try a three-pack of Chap Ice lip balm.
Your Turn: Do you buy any of your travel essentials at the dollar store? What do you recommend?
Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel journalist based in Baltimore. One of her favorite movies is “The Terminal,” because Tom Hanks’ character actually achieved her dream of living in an airport.