Image: Food Yogurt's Progress
Eric Risberg  /  AP
Stow ties and scarves in empty yogurt containers for traveling. Just make sure the insides are clean and dry.
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updated 10/26/2011 9:14:39 AM ET 2011-10-26T13:14:39

Travel supply stores have made a fortune selling things you can get for free. A number of items you might typically throw away, from old towels to empty yogurt containers, make excellent replacements for expensive specialty travel products. Trash — yes, trash — can help you organize your suitcase, stay clean on the road, protect your valuables and more. Plus, finding something to do with your garbage other than tossing it in the bin is an excellent way to go green. Recycle, outsmart the travel supply companies and save some cash by getting creative with your trash.

Bubble wrap
To protect packed bottles from breakage, travel supply companies sell items like WineSkin, a protective sleeve that retails for $9.85 from Magellan's. WineSkin is bubble wrap in the shape of a wine bottle that cushions your merlot and cabernet. Here's how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You've just saved $9.85.

Sheet/bedding casing
Most comforters, sheets and pillowcases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble "packing cubes," zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they're pretty much the exact same product. You can save a Jackson by saving your sheet casings: a set of three packing cubes retails for $17.95 plus shipping on RickSteves.com. I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.

Free samples
Ever notice how the rows of travel-sized toiletries at your local drug store resemble free samples? The only difference is that travel-sized bottles aren't free. They can cost upwards of $4 apiece, and those costs really add up if you purchase a handful of travel-sized items. Instead, stock up on free samples. I'm willing to bet you have a number of sample-sized toiletries sitting in your bathroom cabinets that are fated for the trash can. If you don't have free samples sitting around, it's easy to score some. A number of product Web sites offer free product samples available through the mail, and sites like Walmart.com and Free Samples Blog will show you how to get them. Keep in mind that most companies require you to submit your e-mail address and other contact information in order to obtain a free sample. Be sure to uncheck the "Yes, I'd like to receive product news and offerings" box if you want to stay spam free, and don't enter your contact information on a company Web site without reading (and feeling comfortable with) that company's privacy policy.

Old towels
At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they're good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as disposable airline seat covers (these cost $14.99 from PlaneSheets.com and look very much like large towels), airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables). Got more ideas? Share them on our boards!

Old pillowcase
Commandeer your teenage son's drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillowcase — it's time he advances to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don't throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.

Paper shoes
If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don't toss 'em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint ... unless they have disposable paper shoes, which are permitted by the TSA. You can purchase disposable shoes from companies like Airport Booties ($10 plus $4.95 shipping for a pack of 10 pairs). Or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.

Old wallet
If you go through a new wallet every year or two, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you're traveling. Keep most of your money and credit cards in a second "real" wallet or money belt, and then put some small bills in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway.

Egg carton tray
A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn't appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it's free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.

Nylons
Duct tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item. Nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to bind up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification in baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!

Yogurt container
Browsing on travel supply Web sites, I came across the innovative "Tie Caddy" ($5.95), which keeps packed ties wrinkle-free. There's also the "Scarf Caddy" for ladies. Both products are clear tubes filled with a "patented winding mechanism" that curls scarves and ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don't have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don't mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Make sure you clean out the yogurt container before you stick your husband's tie in there (unless he's been acting like a jerk lately).

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