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10 Things To Pack on your Trip to Avoid Actual and Existential Disaster

Luke Armstrong | Nov 15, 2016


This blog post was updated on June 3, 2020.

If you have read any of my previous articles about packing for a trip, you know I preach packing light.

Often when hauling gear through the airport, I dream of renouncing all material possessions and traveling with nothing more than an iPhone to write articles on and the clothes on my back. In this fantasy, I am usually dressed in clothes that resemble those donned by Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones managed to travel the world with nothing but the clothes on his back and a small satchel!

But this is not an article that will lighten your load — because some things are simply worth having. This is a list of 10 small, inconsequential items I recommend carrying with you on any trip. These items are especially important if you are going off the beaten path.

1. Pack Superglue and Save Yourself From a Plethora of Emergencies.

You caught me. I've been waiting to use the word "plethora" ever since I started writing for Seven Corners!

But for real, bring a tube. Besides duct tape (oh we'll get to duct tape my friends!), superglue has saved me from more disasters than anything else. Off the top of my head, I have used superglue to fix a smashed charging block, a plastic pack buckle, a broken iPhone case, shoes, eyeglasses (the ones I'm wearing this moment!), and a guitar — all pretty essential if you ask me. Just try not to glue your fingers to things (and if you discover how to successfully do this, please write to me and tell me how).

A favorite survival item discovery this year was finding that Scotch® has four packs of single-use superglue. These mini superglue tubes are simply adorable (I never know whether to pack them or use them to fabricate a little cardboard pram and take them for a walk across my desk.).

Pack a small sewing kit for clothing mishaps that may occur on your trip.

2. Pack a Sewing Kit

I hesitate to even include this on my list because, well, this is not earth shattering news. Travelers have been telling other travelers to pack sewing kits ever since travel and clothes were invented. But this is too important to omit. What if you're invited to a party at Buckingham Palace and because you forgot your sewing kit your pants fall down?

Indian sages say the universe is constantly being destroyed and created. Likewise, buttons fall off, and tears tend to develop in the crotch area of pants — so packing a few buttons, a small spool of thread, and a sewing needle or two is the creative yin to the universe's' destructive yang.

3. Cards are Convenient, Cash is King

So there I was, just arrived in Kenya. Before hitting customs, I marched up to the ATM to withdraw some Kenyan shillings. A bunch of large numbers with many zeros appeared on the screen. What was the exchange rate again? I did some math, something that takes English majors awhile.

Then the ATM machine up and ate my card. Nooo!!!

A slip of paper shot saying that I had taken too long and that my card had been confiscated!? You may not pass go and collect your withdrawal, instead you must go through customs which does not accept credit cards. 

Had I not had my emergency hundred tucked into my passport cover, I would not have had enough money to clear immigration.

What would've happened to me without that emergency hundred? I'm actually not sure. I like to think I would have been imprisoned. People would probably be way more interested in that book than any of the other books I've written.

In our digital world of debit and credit cards, don't forget about your old friend cash money. Having $100 or $200 tucked away somewhere can save you from some really tight situations.

4. Pack Earplugs and a Clock for a Goodnight's Sleep

Where I am from, if your neighbors are blaring loud reggaeton music at 4 AM and shattering bottles on the driveway while yelling at a telephone pole, you can ask them to keep it down and if that doesn't work, you can call the police who will force them to keep it down.

This is a strange concept in much of the world. I clearly have spent too much time in "much of the world," because it seems strange to me that one dude who wants to sleep has the legal power to shut down the noise from 100 people who want to party next door. How is that remotely fair? How is that democracy?

Without getting too deep into Kant's theory on innate rights and how this plays out in political systems across the world, let's just say that two little earplugs can make a big difference in you getting a good night's sleep on your trip.

Keep your pocket stashed with stickers, balloons, temporary tattoos and/or candy to avoid crisis when being confronted by a poor child begging for money.

5. Pack Stickers, Balloons, Temporary Tattoos and/or Candy to Avoid Existential Crisis

Take this one with a grain of salt, it doesn't apply to a lot of Western countries. You can't just roll around Canada giving kids candy — one of those policeman on a horse will likely gallop up to you and have some issue with your behavior.

But in many places in the world, you are likely to have kids coming up to you asking for money. This brings up an ongoing academic discussion on whether or not you should give the kids cash. Are the kids really poor, or are they hustling you? If you give them money aren't you just encouraging them to ask others for money? But if you don't give them money isn't this a very cold and inhumane reaction to someone? Where's the love!

Woofers — such heavy pondering for someone on vacation. So something you can do to show your humanity to these panhandling kids without walking away with your "so sorry!" sad face, is to give them something like a sticker or balloon. For this reason (among some others I can't get into right now), I always keep a dozen or so temporary tattoos in my wallet.

6. Pack A Few Ziploc Bags to Keep Electronics Working  

Finally, they are starting to make smartphones that are water resistant — it only took them a decade!

Water damage is the number one reason that people's phones, cameras, and other electronic devices become unusable. You never know when a rainstorm will sneak up on you or someone will throw you into a pool. Sometimes fate will call upon you to swim across a river to escape thieving monkeys.

Having a plastic bag to put your electronic devices and memory cards in is a sound plan to keep them in commission. 


7. Pack Tweezers

I seem to spend a lot of time asking people if they have tweezers, and it seems that people are always asking me, "Do you have tweezers?"

Moral of the story is tweezers, like duct tape (oh boy, will we get to duct tape amigos) is just good to have around.

8. Pack a Multi-tool

While it's the weightiest item on this light list, having one of those multi-tools that have knives, saws, pliers, screwdrivers, and a plethora (yes, I used it again) of other things is a sound move. Just make sure yours has corkscrew and a bottle opener. As popular as asking, "do you have tweezers?" is asking if you have a corkscrew or a bottle opener. I've seen people without a corkscrew attempt some very dangerous feats in order to open a bottle of wine — don't be a fool, pack a multi-tool.

Be sure to pack a small first aid kit for your next trip.

9. Pack Paper Copies of Important Documents Like Your Insurance Card and Passport Copy

When I was in Vietnam last year, I was having some stomach issues and I went to a clinic to see what was going on.

Seven Corners was the insurance they accepted. But when I showed them my insurance card on my iPhone, they looked at me like I was crazy. They simply refused to accept it. So I had to go to a print shop down the block and print out the same thing I had shown them on my phone. Paper copy in hand, they accepted it without question. To much of the world, having physical documentation of things matters. So whether it's a copy of your passport, your insurance card, or whatever, bring paper copies. 


10. Pack Duct Tape — Always

I would not say I have an unhealthy obsession with duct tape. I think my obsession is healthy and warranted.

Did you know that the U.S. Air Force uses duct tape to fix fighter jets? When your sandals break who steps up and fixes them? If you left your first aid kit at home, how are you going to fix that machete wound that river bandits inflicted on you?

The answer is, and has always been, and always will be duct tape. Wallet stolen? You can make a new one with duct tape. Ran out of clothes? Plenty of people design entire wardrobes from duct tape.

Oh duct tape, you silvery sensei of supreme simplicity, capable of creating the most capable solutions to most nagging problems, please always grace my suitcase with your wonderfulness. Seriously folks, never leave home without a roll, and you will travel the road uncommon. 

About the Author

luke armstrong

Luke Maguire Armstrong is the author of "The Nomad's Nomad." He has spent the last decade traveling, writing and designing, and funding philanthropic programs around the world.


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