My All-Time Favorite Travel Hack Saves Me Time & Money (I Do It Every Trip!)

published Jul 1, 2024
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Woman packing things in the suitcases
Credit: Getty Images /South_agency

A few months ago, I hopped on an Alaskan Airlines flight with a connection in Seattle to Maui. I hadn’t been to Hawaii since I was a kid, so I knew I was going to want to bring plenty of mementos home for myself, friends, and family — not necessarily anything overtly souvenir-y, but items nonetheless (think: Kona coffee, jewelry, smalls from maker markets, and, my favorite thing to bring back from any destination, vintage decor from thrift stores). 

I’m not the only person who likes to shop on a trip, but I feel like I’ve come up with a decent system for transporting back the goods, and it all comes down to a collapsible duffel. I never travel without one anymore — even on weekend or overnight trips — and it comes in handy on the return leg of a journey for packing everything from souvenirs to dirty clothes. The smartest thing about this idea, though, is the money it’s saved me. Instead of paying pricey shipping and packing fees at the UPS store or a FedEx, I turn to my duffel (checking a bag on Alaska, for example, is just $35 for your first bag and way easier than making an extra stop during a trip). Because I always travel with a collapsible bag, I also haven’t had to buy a random suitcase at a discount store, only to offload it later. I’ve seen the same friends do this over and over, and the $50 to $60 here and there really adds up over time.

I first started doing this when I needed a collapsible backpack for hiking on a trip and found it came in handy for corralling the things I acquired while vacationing and was a place to put a bulky item or two, like a sweatshirt or coat. I’ve also traveled with an oversized collapsible tote, too, but ultimately I’ve settled on a duffel because it’s the sturdiest option of the three relative to its size. Ideally, you want something that’s going to be able to go through the checking process, so a strong zipper is key, which many totes and backpacks lack. 

This Osprey duffel fits the bill perfectly; it’s roomy, folds down to nearly nothing, and even has a padded strap that makes transport when it’s full as comfortable as possible. It’s also just $45 and made of sturdy but very lightweight recycled nylon, which is another plus for carrying it, whether empty in your suitcase or loaded with goodies. 

Of course, you’re somewhat limited with what you can buy due to the dimensions of the bag — but this one’s about 19 inches wide, 14 inches high, and almost 9 inches deep when expanded to its limits, so that’s a decent size. What I tend to do personally is use the duffel as a carry-on on the way back and check my carry-on sized suitcase, but I do think the bag would make it through the checking process if you wanted to roll that way. It’s more about the fragility of what you pack at that point. Regardless, it’s time to start traveling with a collapsible duffel. This simple hack’s going to make your life so much easier and it can save you time and money, too. I know it has for me.