Creating an emergency travel kit must be part of every traveler’s preparation. Don’t leave on any journey without one.
Last week, I discussed how travelers can prepare to handle emergencies while away from home. It’s actually possible to prepare for crises as widespread as COVID-19. Many travelers have found themselves stranded, stuck in hotels, quarantined and forbidden to travel without government permission. Plus, their money and medications may be running low.
The COVID-19 emergency is the most widespread in the last fifty years. It isn’t the only calamity that has affected millions. In the last twenty years alone, people have had to deal with many disasters. Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Maria, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, all come to mind. The Arab Spring, 9/11, the Haiti earthquake, SARS, and the Patagonia and Hong Kong protests, all took place. In each emergency, travelers were caught in their maelstrom.
Travelers can put together an emergency travel kit even though emergency events are random
While the events themselves have been random, the preparation travelers can make by creating an emergency travel kit must be intentional. The items below make up the emergency travel kit I have whenever I’m away from home.
• Smartphone — Smartphones, particularly for international travel, are essential. They enable travelers to make emergency calls during troubled times, contact family and friends and make plans to deal with emergencies, including evacuation. Smartphones can store critical travel documents, such as passports, e-tickets, etc. They can hold and give you access to all kinds of helpful information during emergencies, as well as any time while traveling.
• Waterproof LED flashlight — During power outages, LED flashlights are longer-lasting, lighter, more reliable, have a more powerful light and have a longer life per charge than standard flashlights.
Duct tape can temporarily fix just about anything to help get you through your trip
• Duct Tape — This legendary product can patch tears in luggage, repair fallen hems, or even temporarily bind up just about anything. I bring two travel size rolls (2″ wide x 5 yds long) on every trip.
• Enough medications to last a month beyond the length of the planned trip — You don’t know how long you could be stranded in an emergency. In 2008 in Haiti, for example, some travelers were stranded for weeks. It’s critical to have the medications you need during an emergency. Prescription medications, in particular, are often difficult to obtain at any time when traveling internationally and in an emergency virtually impossible to get.
• ATM/Debit card and cash — During emergencies, travelers may need unanticipated local currency, as hotels, restaurants, shops and other locations might not have the ability to accept debit or credit cards. Having access to cash via bank ATMs can be a godsend while traveling, but during power and communication outages, bank ATM’s might be unusable. Having at least $100–$200 in local cash when electronic systems aren’t functional can be essential.
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After an emergency starts, first aid supplies are quickly sold out
• First Aid kit — First aid supplies to treat common accidents and illnesses while away from home are important, especially in times of emergencies.
• Fingernail clippers — Knives and long scissors aren’t permitted in carry-on luggage. Nail clippers can suffice for scissors in an emergency.
• Spare batteries and backup power for Smartphones — Even during power outages, cell phone systems which normally have backup power will work, at least for a while. It’s critical to be able to keep your smartphone and other devices (flashlight, etc.) working during emergencies.
It’s critical to include hand sanitizer and sanitizer wipes in your kit, as they will be impossible to find in a health crisis
• Hand Sanitizer (alcohol-based) — When I travel, my hygiene starts with handwashing with soap, water, and good technique. When that’s not possible I use a hand sanitizer. While traveling, it’s important to wash or sanitize before eating, before and after using the toilet, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, etc. Hand washing and hand sanitizer use are always important. They are more important on ships, which generally have a higher incidence of norovirus and other gastrointestinal illnesses, than other travel venues.
• Sanitizing Hand Wipes (alcohol-based) — There are times, especially during emergencies, when we have to clean surfaces of bacteria and viruses. When clean water and detergent aren’t available, wipes are great. Use them to clean airplane tray tables and seats, plus dirty surfaces in hotel rooms at any time.
• Travel Toilet Paper — Even when there’s no emergency, travel toilet paper can be crucial to have.
• Emergency snacks/food — Often restaurants, food vendors and markets close. Emergency food is essential. Healthy snacks, fruit, etc., can suffice temporarily. High protein snacks are particularly useful.
• Polypropylene reusable silverware — When stuck in an emergency, having your own silverware to eat can be invaluable.
Having potable water and being able to purify water yourself in a disaster of almost any kind is essential
• SteriPen and spare water — SteriPens use UV light to purify water. Independent tests show they can produce water exceeding US EPA clean drinking water standards. Try to have at least a three-day supply of clean drinking water on hand. (Purchase at your destination.) It can be a lifesaver in an emergency.
• Cards, games, pen, paper, reading material not requiring power — During a prolonged power outage you’ll need to conserve battery power. It is essential for lights, tablets, and smartphones. You won’t be able to use electronic games. Have non-electronic methods of passing the time. Before the electronic age, we all knew how to use a pen and paper to stay occupied.
It isn’t hard to assemble the items in this list for your journeys, although right now hand sanitizer is out of stock across the globe. If you get stuck, stranded or face difficult emergency conditions, you’ll find the items in the list invaluable. I know I have.
After many years working in corporate America as a chemical engineer, executive and eventually CFO of a multinational manufacturer, Ned founded a tech consulting company and later restarted NSL Photography, his photography business. As a well known corporate, travel and wildlife photographer, Ned travels the world writing about travel and photography, as well as running photography workshops, seminars and photowalks. Visit Ned’s Photography Blog and Galleries.