Handy Tip: Travel Trays

In general, my mantra is “If you don’t need it, leave it home.” Once in a while, though, I make an exception because the item makes life so much easier.

One such item is the travel tray. They aren’t particularly popular items at travel supply stores so you might have trouble finding them, but you do occasionally run into them in unexpected places. The best one I got was a brown Hello Kitty travel tray for $1 at the dollar store in the San Francisco Japantown a few years ago (OK, so it’s Hello Kitty… but how can you beat a buck?).

Mall store Brookstone offers a no-frills travel tray.

Mall store Brookstone offers a no-frills travel tray. Photo courtesy Brookstone.

What makes these travel trays OK in my book is that when not in use, they’re just completely flat, like a sheet of cardboard. To use it, you pinch the corners together and snap the buttons together, and now you have a little tray.

Maxpedition travel tray.

Maxpedition, an online store that sells a lot of rugged gear, also sells a travel tray. Unlike the one from Brookstone, this one even includes a little pouch on one side for your small items, like rings. Photo courtesy of Maxpedition.com.

Why is a travel tray so convenient that I actually think it’s OK to pack? Because it helps you keep all your stuff together in one place when you get back to your hotel room! Your wallet, your cell phone, your car keys, your hotel key card…

While you might have a place for everything when you’re home (and not even think about it when you go to grab them), staying at a hotel means things aren’t at their ordinary places. It would be so easy to misplace things.

I’ve gone so far as to keep my cell phone in the travel tray while getting it charged!

Fortunately, once you unsnap the corners, these travel trays are pretty travelite-friendly. Just slide them into the side of your carry-on and you’ll barely notice it’s there.


  1. I have used these trays for years to keep my make-up & bath accessories contained when travelling. I have found them in linen stores, kitchen stores, gift shops, etc. (I they use them for serving rolls/breads etc.) They can be bought in a variety of fabric patterns. I’ve also given them as gifts to friends — filled with airline friendly travel accessories. The ones I have tie at the corners & will go flat for packing.

  2. The Hello Kitty model has the additional feature of being hard to miss when you’re packing up. I tend to avoid black travel accessories for that reason.

  3. I had a travel tray from Red Oxx, but it was a bit padded and didn’t travel well. What I bring instead is a folding plate from Orikaso ( http://www.orikaso.com/) that I picked up on clearance at EMS. It packs completely flat, but holds quite a bit, and can double as an actual plate if needed.

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