When I was 13 years old and attending a friend’s Bat Mitzvah, my friends and I were trying to request the song “Jack and Diane” by John Cougar Mellencamp, but the DJ informed us that he would only accept written requests. (I suspect he just didn’t want to play the song.) None of us had a pen, so we found ourselves trying to spell out the interminable number of letters in “Mellencamp” with cheese dip on a cocktail napkin. In that moment, I made the lifelong resolution to become the sort of person who always has a pen on me.
While hearing a favorite song at a party could hardly be considered an emergency, this frustrating experience began my quest to always have the tool I might need in jam. And like the pen I always carry, the following eight items don’t take up a great deal of room, and they just might help someone out in a crisis.
There are few small items that are as useful and versatile as the handkerchief. While their primary purpose is for nose-blowing, brow-mopping, and tear-catching, hankies can be used for cleaning, as a makeshift bandage or tourniquet, a potholder, a method of keeping cool when soaked in cold water and applied to the skin, or even for self-defense if you tie a handful of loose change into it. Not even a jumbo-pack of travel tissues can claim such levels of versatility.
2. First aid kit
It’s easy to find (or make) a miniature first aid kit to keep in your purse or car. Such a kit should include: bandages, antiseptic, antibiotic ointment, and some painkillers. For those who don’t carry a purse, it’s entirely possible to create a nearly flat first aid kit composed of bandages and travel-size packets of antiseptic wipes, ointment, and pain medication. You never know when someone might need some immediate and minor medical attention. (See also: 6 Must-Haves for Your Travel First Aid Kit)
Whether you need to slice open a package, remove a splinter, or cut up an apple, having a Swiss Army knife or multi-tool on hand can really make your day more convenient. However, a pocket knife is also a great tool to have on hand in case of a serious emergency. For instance, seat belts can often get stuck after an accident, potentially trapping a person in a car. Having a knife with you can ensure that you and anyone in your car can escape the vehicle after a wreck.
Similarly, the butt end of a pocket knife can be used as a window punch in a vehicular emergency. If your car has electric windows and becomes submerged in water, being able to punch out the windows could be a life-or-death concern.
4. Reusable water bottle
It’s smart to always have a source of water with you in case of emergency. The most obvious emergency you might encounter is thirst or heat stroke. However, a water bottle can also offer the ability to clean a wound, sterilize equipment (if you’re able to boil the water), or clean off the dirt-encrusted windows in the house you are holed up in during the zombie apocalypse so that you can see what’s coming before it arrives.
While you can buy disposable bottles of water, investing in a reusable water bottle that you always keep with you is a more environmental option. (See also: 5 Low-Cost Travel Items That Can Save You Big On Your Next Trip)
5. Feminine hygiene products
Aunt Flo is not always predictable, so it’s a good idea to keep some pads or tampons on hand in case she decides to visit at the most inconvenient of times.
And before men (and others who do not menstruate) think that they are exempt from carrying this particular emergency item, there are two reasons why you should do so:
Wound care: Tampons (and pads) are made of sterile and absorbent cotton, which means they are ideal for dealing with any kind of puncture wound and can be unraveled to use as a dressing for a burn or graze.
Help a lady out: You know someone who menstruates and who might be caught in an awkward situation. Save her day and offer her a tampon or pad in a pinch.
6. Safety pins
Having safety pins available means you can keep a shirt closed if you pop a button, rig a closure for a bag with a broken zipper, or even provide a temporary fix for a necklace with a broken clasp.
Safety pins have a number of other important uses, from keeping hotel room curtains fully closed to securing keys in your pocket (if you’re about to ride roller coasters or worry about pickpockets), to eliminating static cling. So in the event of pretty much anything out of the ordinary, a safety pin can fix the problem.
While nearly everyone is carrying a portable light source in the form of a smartphone these days, it’s still a good idea to have a dedicated flashlight available. For one thing, what happens if it’s your phone that you need to search for under a car at night?
You can find small, lightweight LED flashlights that take up very little room but offer a great deal of illumination. Simply keep one in your car or attached to your keys.
Gone are the days when everyone needed a lighter for cigarettes, and letting the cover band know just how much they are enjoying “Free Bird.” However, a lighter is still a useful tool to carry with you at all times. If you are in an emergency, having a lighter means you can more easily sterilize needles, light candles and torches, and of course, start a fire for warmth and to cook food.
In addition, a lighter is very helpful for doing things like fixing a frayed shoelace and lighting birthday candles. While neither of those might constitute an emergency, being able to provide the necessary spark will certainly make you a hero that day.
What you carry every day can make a difference
In general, you probably won’t need most of the items on this list on a day-to-day basis. But you never know when you’ll have to deal with a power outage, a medical emergency, a wardrobe malfunction, or a reluctant DJ — and when you do, you’ll be glad you have the necessary tool to deal with the problem.