Many of us have invested in learning the skills, stockpiling the tools and supplies, and hiding the caches necessary to survive in the event of a major disaster that impacts our local area, but the reality is that these types of events happen around the world on a daily basis. While skills are useful anywhere and anytime, the best stores and caches are useless if you’re hundreds or even thousands of miles away when a disaster strikes in your current location! While developing my survival strategy, I realized that I had a major gap– I travel a lot on business, both nationally in the U.S. and internationally (80,000+ average flying miles per year, plus driving and trains), and if disaster struck while I was on the road I’d be forced to scramble to get any kind of survival kit together. To give myself a leg up, I decided to use a lot of the advice from various sources to build out a basic kit that can travel with me.
Anyone who has ever traveled knows that modern travel, especially by air, can be tiring and burdensome, so they tend to focus primarily on improving their comfort. I wanted to cover safety and survival as well as comfort, and the good news is that a lot of the material in your kit can help with all three objectives. For any flying trip that is more than a single day trip (there in the AM and back in the PM), I have two bags– my backpack carry-on and a checked bag. The checked bag size depends on the length of the trip. I know a lot of business travelers hate the idea of checking a bag, but in order to get some of your critical survival tools to your destination you’re better off doing it. Note that I’ve flown nearly a million miles in the last 15 years, and my checked bag has only gotten rerouted twice; both times they had it back to me within eight hours. When traveling (even on business) I always dress for comfort/safety/survival first, so I pack my business clothes in the checked bag.
Here’s what’s in my carry-on:
- Work stuff, including a lightweight computer, external hard disk, cables, papers, et cetera.
- Vapur Eclipse (1 litre) water bottle that folds up small and stands when full.
- H2O Survival Water Filter Travel Straw. It is only good for about 18 gallons, but it is the smallest and lightest you can buy (same size as a largish pen). I have a Sawyer Mini in my checked bag for longer-term use.
- Small first aid kit that includes gauze wrap, surgical pads, band-aids, antibiotic ointment, a small bottle of hydrogen peroxide, some Quick-Clot, nitrile gloves, et cetera.
- Kaito KA800 emergency radio that gets AM/FW/weather channels; it’s small, light, and rechargeable from USB.
- Adventure Medical Kits Sol Survival Blanket, which is better than the cheap mylar ones and just as light and compact.
- Fifty feet of 550 paracord; need you ask why?
- Cocoon ultralight travel pillow, which packs smaller than my fist and makes a huge difference if you’re forced to sleep in an airport/gas station/train station/elsewhere overnight. It can also double as a butt cushion if you need to sit on the cold ground or a hard seat overnight.
- Bic lighters in standard type.
- Levin Solstar Solar Panel Charger 5000mAh battery that will recharge my smartphone phone and tablet and can be recharged in the sun (slowly, though). Remember those pictures of people huddled around a generator in NYC after Hurricane Sandy, trying to charge their cell phones?
- Brite Strike ELPI (2 x AAA) & Fenix MC11 (1 x AA) flashlights. The Brite Strike was a gift; it’s very powerful but goes through batteries fast. The Fenix has great light and battery life and can be held/hung/propped-up in a lot of different ways. I also pack extra Lithium batteries.
- Cyalume sticks; a couple are packed because they are great for lighting up a pitch-black hotel room during a power outage, and they provide broader light than a flashlight. Note that these contain liquid, so if you don’t get to go through TSA’s Pre-check lane, you’ll have to put them in your liquids baggie when going through security.
- Offline maps installed on both my cell phone and tablet. Even if cell or Internet service is disrupted, you can still use your smart phone/tablet and GPS for navigation (assuming you have the maps already installed locally). Remember, most terrestrial events won’t impact the GPS system (for a while anyway). I use Maps With Me Pro for Android and have downloaded the maps for all of the lower 48 states, plus whatever other country I happen to be traveling in at the time. Remember that even if you’re flying from NYC to LA, there’s no guarantee you won’t end up somewhere else during an emergency. (Remember what happened with flights on 9/11?)
- Food. I carry some Clif bars, jerky, trail mix, oatmeal, hot chocolate, and powdered drink mix. (I don’t drink coffee, but you could obviously bring some instant.)
- TOAKS Titanium 450ml Cup and a Spork.- Fill cup with hot tap water (or boiling water from the airport coffee shop/hotel room coffee maker) and make oatmeal/hot chocolate/soup.
- Zip ties in small, medium, and large size. They are one of the best travel quick fixes there is, usually faster and stronger than tying, and they can be used for whipping up many emergency items and repairing broken luggage.
- Gorilla tape (1″ wide roll). It’s stronger and has better adhesion than regular duct tape and works well even on uneven and wet surfaces.
- Small toiletry kit– toothpaste, travel toothbrush, soap sheets, deodorant.
- Small travel towel that is great for drying off after a sink bath when you’re stuck in an airport/gas station/truck stop for a few days. They frequently run out of paper towels in stranding situations.
- Cash. I keep a couple of hundred dollars in a small opaque waterproof plastic envelop at all times. Keep $50 or so in your wallet, in case you get mugged.
- Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap, which folds flat and is lightweight and waterproof.
- Waterproof backpack cover.
- Spare underwear and socks.
- Dog tags with my name, blood type, DOB, allergies, and home phone. I keep this on the chain around my neck whenever I travel, along with an emergency whistle. If you’re found unconscious it can make all the difference, and in a plane/train crash at least they can identify your body.
- Acme 636 Safety Whistle can help rescuers locate you or attract attention when you’re in trouble. Also, you can blow it in close proximity to an attacker’s ear and disorient them.
- Gerber GDC Hook Knife that can be used to cut paracord/zip-ties/seat belts/material/more, and TSA has no problem with it. I keep it clipped on the outside of my pack so it’s visible and accessible.
- Byer The Traveller Lite Hammock. Cut off the factory ropes and hardware and just store it folded flat. You can use your own paracord to string it up, and it beats anything out of sleeping on the floor in an airport. Also, it works as a ground cloth/tarp/cover. I sprayed it with extra waterproofing to enhance the protection.
- Schrade Survival Tactical Pen that can be used as a fire starter/whistle/glass breaker/baton. Plus, it writes, too! I carry it in my pocket when I’m out and about town without my kit. I’ve taken it through airport security numerous times with no problem.
- Secret stash Bic lighter stuffed with a bunch of Tinder-Quiks. You can buy a modified lighter on eBay, or you can make it yourself. (Just Google it.) A spark and good-burning tinder can be had in one unobtrusive package.
- Leather work gloves for digging out of rubble, grabbing hot stuff during a fire, breaking windows, knife fights, rappelling down a sheet rope from a burning hotel room window, et cetera. If it’s cold weather, I bring a pair of insulated gloves. (These are are available from Home Depot, treated with leather waterproofing.)
- Vented safety goggles for when you have to move through smoke, dust, et cetera. They can also double as rain/snow goggles, and in a viral outbreak event they can keep airborne bodily fluids out of your eyes. Get the ones with the indirect vents, not the ones with a bunch of holes drilled into them, and treat the inside with anti-fogging liquid you can find at any ski shop. (Home Depot is a good supplier.)
- Antiviral face mask for when you’re sitting next to someone who is sneezing/coughing the whole flight or the next Ebola/SARs/Bird Flu/whatever epidemic. (Walgreens carries these.)
- N95 Dust Mask for when you have to crawl your way through a smoking hallway, walk through a dust storm, et cetera. Note that these won’t stop airborne pathogens, so that’s why you have the antiviral mask.
- A small notepad that, besides writing on, can be torn into small strips and used for kindling, if necessary. While they’re nice, I avoid the Rite-in-the-Rain ones, because the coating prevents the pages from burning easily.
- Frogg Toggs poncho, which is several steps above a cheap plastic one but almost as compact. (Walmart carries these.)
- Waterproof and zip lock bags for my phone, radio, notepad, and so forth in case of a water event.
- Shemagh, which is very useful in any weather, but many people might be leery if you wear it over your face in a non-emergency situation (especially in airports). Stick with using it as a scarf, unless it’s an emergency.
- Small compass.
- Sharpie pen; I use the stainless steel one, just because…
- Small coffee filters, which I use as a first-stage water filter for removing larger particles when drinking from the H2O or filling the Sawyer squeeze bottle from a questionable source.
- For colder weather I also include a pair of lightweight thermal underwear (top & bottom, silk or polypro), a lightweight thermal balaclava, a pair of glove liners, and a small fleece travel blanket in a roll.
- A bunch of 1-gram gold bars, because in a national/global emergency they’ll buy you a lot more than cash will.
All of this fits nicely into my 30L Outdoor Products backpack, with some extra room in case I need to stock up with extras on the run. I use packing cubes and a Gridt-It organizer to hold and organize all of the bits and pieces, so they’re easier to find in an emergency and don’t all fall down to the bottom of the bag. Note that with the computer it’s a bit heavy, but for me (6’, 185 lbs., and in decent shape) it’s perfectly manageable.
Tomorrow, in Part 2, I’ll share what I pack in my checked bag, and I’ll also give you some tips and lessons I’ve learned that might be useful for improving your comfort, safety, and survival when traveling.