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During the Great Depression, there was a slogan: use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without. When you’re far from home, with different resources and limited money, this philosophy is golden.
When you’re out on the road, things will break and go wrong – it’s all a part of the gig. To minimize major inconveniences and costs, I’m very prepared when I travel.
I’ve put together this little kit, I call it my traveling “headquarters,” with items that are handy to have and can save the day.
It also helps you be a more sustainable traveler by reducing waste.
The sustainable side of being prepared: if you have the means to fix things when they break, you save items from the landfill and also the resources and carbon footprint of buying a new product to replace it. Win-win!
This is my personal list, and you’ll probably be able to tell that I love being prepared. This is my favorite blog post ever – combining preparedness with travel and also minimizing waste. These are my three favorite things, so I really hope you enjoy these tips!
If you’re thinking about the “just in case” items you need for a trip, use my list as a guide and take or leave items as they suit you.
1. Vomit bag
I truly hope you’ll never need this vomit bag, but if you feel even a little queasy you’ll be so thankful to have on hand.
I’ve never been car sick in my entire life, until riding in a van up tiny hairpins roads through high elevation in Peru. The different altitude got to me big time.
Food is also a wild card – your stomach may not be used to the cuisine wherever you are, plus not every country has food code (“how old is this pork?”). I’ve said enough.
I met a Canadian man who had been vomited on while traveling – by people he didn’t know – twice. TWICE! Let’s avoid that… *shudders*
Any paper bag will do. If you’ll be flying for your next trip, take some from the plane. Vomit bags should be in the seat-back pockets or you can ask a flight attendant.
For the same reasons as item #1. Just remember to store it somewhere reachable, not in a bag that you’ll be stowing away under the bus or aircraft.
3. Toilet paper
Not all countries provide free toilet paper in bathrooms like a lot of us are used to.
Even in the US, I’ve seen some pretty ragged rest stops that weren’t stocked (I’m looking at you, latrine on the southern border of Arizona that hadn’t seen any love in an unseemly amount of time).
When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, toilet paper on hand or not.
If you’re going on a long trip, I would take a whole roll (squish it flat and store it in a ziplock bag to keep it clean). For a smaller trip, enough for emergencies should be fine.
4. Hand sanitizer
It’s not the norm in many places to wash hands after using the bathroom. I’ve seen many bathrooms that don’t even provide soap or have running water.
If it’s your personal norm to do so, then you’re going to want hand santizier. I start every trip with two travel size bottles and usually buy more along the way.
5. First aid kit
I take a full first aid kit with me on long trips, but for a week or less I just take the basics (unless I’m camping, in which case I always take a full kit).
- Surgical mask – you can buy these in the first aid section of most stores, or even get them for free during flu season. If you’re going anywhere with volcanoes or a chance of earthquakes or wildfires, you should take one. Filling your lungs with ash or dust is painful and damaging.
- Multiple sizes of bandaids
- Alcohol cleansing pads
- Moleskin for blisters
- Antibiotic cream
- Bandage tape
- Wound closures – this may sound intense, but they’re so tiny and they work so well in closing cuts
6. Zipties in an assortment of sizes
These are great for Macgyvering broken items.
A zip tie can become a makeshift shoe lace, zipper pull, bag handle – you get it. Endlessly handy to have.
7. Small scissors
If you take scissors, you will find yourself using them. I like actual scissors over a pocket knife in many situations, but a knife is also very handy.
Scissors are also an essential part of a complete first aid kit, useful for cutting clothing, gauze, bandages or Moleskin.
8. Pen and marker
These might be items you don’t think you’ll need, but if you end up do needing to write something down and don’t have anything, you’re out of luck.
You’ll need a pen to fill out any customs forms if you’re going abroad. A marker is handy for labeling your food in a hostel kitchen, and if you’re going into the back country at all you should definitely have a Sharpie in your first aid kit.
In the event of a life-threatening accident where someone is severely injured and you must leave them in order to get help, you should write information on them with a Sharpie.
Write their vitals and which direction you went for help, so if they lose consciousness and someone else comes across them, they know what’s going on.
I feel like paracord is just one of those things – once you have it, you wonder how you ever survived without it.
It’s handy in mending broken items, or making something new altogether – I have 2 friends that built a makeshift tent out of tarp and paracord when they couldn’t find a hostel for the night.
As a bonus, I always pack a roll of reflective paracord. After a camping snafu where I tied up a bear bag in a tree and then couldn’t find it, I now use the reflective paracord to help mark things.
That can be a bear bag, the entrance to the campsite, small items that are easily overlooked and left behind when packing.
When doing a lot of bus travel, I like to tie some reflective paracord to my big pack that I check, making it easy to spot when unloading a bus in the middle of the night or being able to point it out to the person returning luggage.
You can find normal paracord anywhere with outdoors equipment; I got my reflective paracord on Amazon.
Even if you’re not a smoker, it’s just one of those basics that is good to have.
That right, locks plural! I take two locks on every trip.
Combination Lock and Cable
The first is a standard combination lock with a cable. When traveling, my fiance and I find ourselves spending many nights at airports and bus terminals. If we’re both laying down to sleep, I secure our bags so that we don’t make ourselves easy targets for being robbed.
I loop the cable around both of our packs together, going through zipper pulls or handles to make sure it’s actually connected, then put the ends of the cable on the lock and lock it.
Lastly, I throw a rain coat over the top of the packs for discretion.
If someone came over while we were sleeping, just the sound of pulling the jacket off would probably wake us, but there’d be no way to quickly take off with huge packs tethered together.
This may sound intense to some travelers, but I’ve had my room rummaged through and robbed before so I have a habit of trusting no one! I bought my cable lock from REI, but you can find the same thing on Amazon.
Double-Sided Cable Lock
The second lock I always take is a double-sided cable lock.
First, you lock your bag shut so no one can go through it. The cable is flexible, so if your bag doesn’t have those luggage pulls with the lock holes in it, you can still get it through.
Next, you lock the longer loop through something else, like your seat or the overhead luggage rack, making it impossible to swipe. With this, no one can rummage through your bag or walk off with it.
With enough time and tools, a thief could still cut your bag, etc. but this is a great deterrence for opportunists.
12. Ziplock bags in an assortment of sizes
In my day-to-day life, I never use Ziplocks because of the plastic epidemic, but they’re invaluable when on the road. I take an assortment of sizes.
Some of the best uses: water bag to seal off your electronics during a rain storm, taking food to-go, “packing out” toilet paper if you’re going to the bathroom in the woods, keeping your liquid toiletries separate from everything else in your bag in case something leaks.
You don’t need anything fancy, just something that could maybe repair a broken plastic piece of your pack, or reattach the bottom of your shoe or seal a broken water bottle.
If it’s liquid, make sure it’s in a Ziplock bag so if it breaks it doesn’t damage anything!
I always take a pouch of Sugru glue. It’s super versatile: it’s flexible, mouldable, waterproof and small to carry with you.
14. Mini sewing kit
This is worth it’s weight in gold if you a tear in your clothes. You don’t need to be a skilled seamstress, just being able to sew up a hole or reattach a button is immensely useful and can save you from needing to buy new clothes.
These are items that have just come in handy and are small enough to toss in.
- Binder clips
- Rubber bands
- Safety pins
Putting It All Together
I store all of these items in a small hip pack, but anything will do. Its quite compact. I keep it in the brain, or the topmost part of my big pack, to be easily reached.
On smaller trips with just a book bag, I just toss it into the abyss of my bag.
This is my “just in case” list, and I hope it helps you prepare for whatever exciting trip you have next!
If you’re someone who likes to feel prepared, and who maybe doesn’t have the money to buy a new bags, pair of shoes, etc. if something breaks on the road, then taking these items should give you some peace of mind.