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 travel gig. This just in case travel kit will have your back wherever your travels take you.
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.
Taking a just in case travel kit is just good common sense, but it’s also golden for another reason. By extending the life of your stuff and therefore reducing waste, it also helps you be a more sustainable traveler.
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.
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.
Just In Case Travel Kit: Personal Items
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. Your just in case travel kit is not complete without this.
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 (“does this taste old to you?”).
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*
I’ve said enough.
Beyond your just in case travel kit, I actually recommend you sneak a vomit big into your messenger bag, bookbag, purse, etc. for daily emergencies. I’ve never needed my vomit bag for me, but it has been used by kids I’ve babysat, (I was a nanny/babysitter for 10+ years) and strangers.
It’s such a comfort to someone who’s ill to not have to be more embarssed. Seriously.
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.
You need this item in your just incase travel kit 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.
Anyone who is prone to motion sickness pack a bottle in their just in case travel kit. For the rest of us blessedly strong stomachs, just take a few tablets as backup.
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 everywhere to wash hands after using the bathroom. I’ve seen many bathrooms that don’t provide soap or have running water.
If it’s your personal norm to do so, then you’re going to want hand sanitizer. I start every trip with two travel size bottles and usually buy more along the way.
5. Liquid IV
It takes constant, intentional effort to stay hydrated when you travel. Bring a little help in the form of Liquid IV.
Liquid IV is an electrolyte powder that provides rapid hydration. It contains glucose, sodium and potassium that “delivers water and other key nutrients directly to your bloodstream, hydrating you faster and more efficiently than water alone.” (more product specifics can be found here from the company themselves)
This is a miracle powder. Staying intentionally hydrated will make you enjoy traveling more. In particular: long-haul flights or bus rides, hiking in extreme conditions, or emergencies like plain old dehydration.
Reflecting on my own experiences, there are so many times when I know I would’ve felt better and enjoyed my surroundings more if I hadn’t been so dehydrated.
The worst offender was a long bus ride from Lima to Cusco in Peru. It was supposed to be about 18 hours, and usually, buses make stops along the way. This bus, for whatever reason, didn’t. And there had been a landslide, so instead of 18 hours, it took 27.
I only had one bottle of water on the trip, and I felt so wrong by the time we arrived. I only peed once on the entire bus ride. Not drinking water or using the bathroom is unhealthy and makes you feel terrible.
Tuck a few Liquid IVs into your just in case travel kit and you’ll be happy you have them.
6. First Aid Kit
There are two types of first aid kits you should have for traveling. The first is a small kit for shorter trips, or for traveling is places where you’ll never be far from help (it’s probably overkill to pack a splint if for just a weekend in Paris, where help could arrive very quickly if an accident were to occur).
I am not a certified first aid expert, so you should consult the American Red Cross’s recommendations for further safety information.
My First Aid Items For Short Trips
My strategy: I take a full first aid kit with me on long trips, but for a week or less I just take the basics (except camping, in which case you should always take a fully loaded first aid kit).
- Multiple sizes of bandaids
- Alcohol cleansing pads
- Benadryl to treat allergies and itches
- Moleskin for blisters
- Antibiotic ointment for treating cuts, burns and reducing the risk of infection
- Eye wash
- Bandage tape
- Liquid IV (for dehydration, diarrhea/food poisoning, etc.)
- Wound closures – this may sound intense, but they’re so tiny and they work so well in closing cuts
- Small scissors – for cutting gauze, Moleskin, or (in extreme cases) clothes off
My First Aid Items For Long Trips
Just so you know: this list does not include every single first aid item you should take in your just in case travel kit. My kit has more than 100 pieces in it, and this is just covering the highlights. You should refer to the American Red Cross for professional advice. Especially if you’ll be in a scenario where help would be delayed (such as on a boat , in the backcountry, etc.).
- Medical gloves
- 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.
- A Sam Splint for stabilizing sprains and bone breaks
- Foil thermal blanket
- Instant ice pack
- A whistle – for the event that you may get lost or need to call for help
- A Sharpie for extreme scenarios in the backcountry. In the event that two people are in the backcountry together and one of them encurrs a life-threatening injury and is unable to move, their partner may have to leave them to seek out help. A Sharpie is used to write information on the injured person, in the event that they lose consciousness and are discovered by someone else. If you’re going into the backcountry, you really should be prepared by taking the American Red Cross Wilderness And Remote First Aid Course.
Personally, I love first aid and preparedness (am I the only one? Do you also get a kick out of being prepared??). But if this seems like too much work, you can buy a premade kit and add any additional pieces yourself to flesh it out.
Just In Case Travel Kit: Practical Items
7. Zipties in an assortment of sizes
These are great for Macgyvering broken items.
A zip tie can become a makeshift shoelace, zipper pull, bag handle – you get it. Endlessly handy to have.
8. Small scissors
If you take scissors, you will find yourself using them. It’s just one of those things! Personally, I like actual scissors over a pocket knife, but a knife will probably tick this box as well in many situations.
Plus, as I mentioned in #5, scissors are an essential part of a complete first aid kit, useful for cutting clothing, gauze, bandages or Moleskin.
9. 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.
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, it can also be handy to tie reflective paracord to backpack. This makes it easy to spot when unloading a bus in the middle of the night or trying to describe your bag to the person returning luggage.
Even if you’re not a smoker, it’s just one of those basics that is good to have. If you do smoke or use a lighter often, consider getting an electric lighter and making it the last lighter you’ll ever need.
That right, locks plural! I take two locks on every trip.
Combination Lock and Cable
The firstlock that you need in your just in case travel kit is a standard combination lock with a cable. When traveling, my husband 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’ve made it a habit to be proactive.
Double-Sided Cable Lock
The second lock ou should always include in your just in case travel kit 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.
13. 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.
This glue is so amazing that I even included it on my holiday gift guide. Glue is a cool gift when it does THIS much!
15. Mini sewing kit
This is worth its weight in gold if (when) 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.
16. Rain Gear For You And Your Backpack
“What do weathermen and politicians have in common? They both get paid to lie.” My grandfather told me that joke probably a thousand times while I was growing up.
There’s a lesson to be learned in there though: never rely on the forecast to be completely accurate.
Your just in case travel kit isn’t ready without some rain gear. It doesn’t have to be bulky or heavy duty. My rain suit is essentially just a glorified garbage bag, but it’s been keeping me dry for years. I recommend something packable that folds into a little pouch and disappears into your bag until yo uneed it.
Now that you’re covered, don’t forget your bag! A wet bag is inconvenient, smelly and I reckon expensive if anything gets ruined and needs replaced. Your just in case travel kit isn’t ready with a rain cover for you bag as well as your body.
17. Miscellaneous Items For Your Just In Case Travel Kit
These are items that have just come in handy and are small enough to toss in.
- Binder clips
- Rubber bands
- Safety pins
Putting Your Just In Case Travel Kit 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.
Just In Case Travel Kit Summary
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.