Packing for the Unexpected
Magellan's has written countless articles advising travelers to pack light. We're going to turn the tables here and add to your packing list some essentials to include "just in case." We don't expect you to cram in enough survival gear to trek the Himalayas; but a few handy, compact items tucked in your luggage may mean the difference between an unfortunate-but-tolerable occurrence and a major predicament.
First Aid Kit
A first aid kit is essential. Size and contents will vary depending on whether you are visiting developed or developing destinations. Buy one pre-made or make your own -- just be sure it is appropriately stocked for your destination.
Be sure to pack several days worth of your required medications (in your carry-on bag), even if only planning a one-day trip. A snowstorm can sock in a city for days, stranding you without your meds.
A small flashlight takes up so little space, you really ought to take one wherever you go. Whether you choose the tiny mini-light that attaches to your key ring, a penlight, or one of the thin credit-card style lights, be sure to include one in your bag. Tip: In an emergency, the light from a cell phone or PDA may provide enough light to guide your way.
Most of us have a battery-operated radio at home but may not take it traveling. When the power goes out, whether it is a downed power line in your neighborhood or a citywide blackout, a battery-operated radio can help you determine the severity of the event and inform you of any action that may be needed. Make sure your batteries are fresh.
In today's society, many of us count on ATMs and credit cards to supply our cash needs and minimize the danger of theft. However, during power outages or other widespread communications interruptions, ATMs and credit card verification terminals are usually offline, making cash the only accepted form of payment. A wise traveler will always tuck a few extra bills (in the local currency) in a money belt> or security wallet to use in an emergency.
Simply put, if you have one, bring it. If not, get one. There are numerous places where you can rent a cell phone (check with your rental car company), or you can choose one loaded with pre-paid minutes for occasional use. Many of us love the convenience of a cell phone in our daily lives, but it may also save your life in an emergency. See our related article Staying in Touch Abroad.
Travel Duct Tape
We would be hard-pressed to come up with a story where duct tap actually saved someone's life, but the stuff sure is handy. From repairing torn luggage to holding up fallen hems, duct tape can bind just about anything.
A primary danger in any structure fire or on-ground aircraft incident is smoke inhalation. It may look strange, but an emergency escape hood gives you 15 or more life-saving minutes to escape a fire with your lungs and eyes protected from painful smoke and toxic gasses. This is especially valuable to consider when staying in high-rise hotels.
Whether you need to replace a missing button or mend a small tear, a sewing kit can be invaluable. A well-stocked kit will have a variety of thread colors, several needles, straight pins and safety pins (almost as handy as duct tape!).
A backpacker's staple, the emergency blanket is made of a space-age material that retains up to 80% of your radiated body heat when wrapped around you, yet is smaller than a deck of cards, and weighs about 2 oz. It will keep you warm and dry while you wait for help to arrive.
By now, most of us know not to include one in our carry-on luggage. However, a small Swiss Army® or other multi-purpose pocketknife may be placed in your checked bags. Look for a compact one with lots of doodads like scissors, screwdriver, tweezers and such.
Other Handy Items:
Travel Toilet Tissue
For when nature calls off the beaten path.
Germ killers in a resealable package.
Travel Rain Gear
Stay dry if caught in an unexpected downpour.
Fisher Space Pen
A compact, rugged pen that is always ready to write.
Thin, flexible protective adhesive patches can bring great relief where friction or chafing is a problem.
So you don’t crash into the furniture on your way to the bathroom in a dark hotel room. Must be 220 volts if overseas
Microcassette tape recorder
Record the sounds of your trip: Jazz in a nightclub, wild bird calls, voices of new friends. Kids everywhere love to hear their own voices played back. You can also record a diary, a tour guide’s spiel, notes from museum displays, and so on.
Door stop alarm or portable
Door lock: For hotel rooms, when you’re concerned about security.
Have fun, make new friends. Also serves as platter or shallow basin. Packs flat.
Logo T-shirts and baseball caps
For gifts and thank-you to hosts, guides, concierges, new friends.
American $1 bills
Use virtually anywhere for tips, taxi fares, bribes.
Color photocopies of snapshots
You can fit lots of pictures of your family and friends on one sheet of paper. Show to new acquaintances, hang on the wall in a lonely hotel room.
Dry cleaner bag
Place under drip-drying laundry, use as rain poncho or picnic cloth on dewy grass, etc. Fold up and wrap with a rubber band, place in pocket or day bag.
Don’t Leave Home Without Zip-Top Bags (aka zip-lock):
On the road, zip-top bags can be real lifesavers. For example, a zip-top bag can be:
- A “washing machine” for small items (place in bag, add soap and
water, seal, and agitate with hands; avoids splashing the sink)
- A hot or cold compress (pour very hot water on a hand towel and insert in
bag) or add ice to the towel for a cold compress
- A holder for wet bathing suit or towel
- An exposed film case (makes airport hand inspection easy)
- A separator for coins and currency from different countries
- Lunch! Pack fresh, healthy food for picnics, bus or car rides.