The travel necessity you never knew you needed.

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If you look inside my tote bag right now, you will find: keys, wallet, Field Notes notebooks, a spray can of Eau Avene Thermal water, an unnecessary amount of Topo Chico bottle caps, and a phone charger. But what might appear as brightly printed bean bags floating around in the bottom are indeed some of the more important items I carry every day.

They’re Baggu’s reusable grocery bags. But friends, they can be used for so much for than your Publix run. In fact, I sometimes wonder how I functioned without them for so long.

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Unlike the canvas tote bags and mesh sacks that sit neglected in your pantry, these are made of mega-tough ripstop nylon, and available in a dizzying array of colors and prints from grapefruit halves to blue gingham. But what makes these bags MVP-status is that they quickly deploy from a palm-sized pouch and are just as easy to fold back into their stow-able shape. In three different size from “big” to “baby,” they can fit everything from a wet swimsuit or a six-pack of beer to a weekend’s worth of traveling clothes or a cache of books unexpectedly found at a garage sale.

Here is just a brief list of the ways I have used them:

  1. To contain a bottle of sunscreen with a temperamental lid from leaking all over my clothes and/or car. Did I mention these bags are machine washable?
  2. To replace plastic produce bags especially for herbs that I don’t want to crush. Look, friendly cashier! This item is already bagged.
  3. To quickly, but nonchalantly, conceal a surprise gift while I walked past the person who would ultimately receive the present.
  4. To keep the just-watered base of potted plant purchased at Home Depot from dampening the seat of my car.
  5. To separate dirty clothes from clean on an extended trip.
  6. To keep all my liquids and other items the TSA wants to take a look at in one bag that I quickly whip out of my carry on and place in a bin. The line of travelers behind me in line cheers at my efficiency… in my mind.
  7. To keep paper-wrapped food dry in a cooler.
  8. To contain trash on a long road trip.
  9. As an impromptu umbrella.
  10. As a way to shield my pants/dress from wetness or sand at the park or on the beach.

While spending between $8 to $14 for a shapeless sack might not be high on your shopping list, think of all the other totes and beach bags that have turned blue from rubbing on your jeans or unsalvageable from wetness, dirt, and other general life debris. After months of use, my bags still look just as fresh as the day I got them. Who knows where they’ll carry me next.