UPDATE: Never Leave Home Without…

I always intended to write a summary and concluding piece to the list of 10 things you should never leave home without.  Coming a couple of months after the last post was written lends perspective to the exercise.  The intent of this blog was always to validate that the advice given is practical.  If I can’t practice what I preach, then I need to rethink again what it is I am recommending here.  In addition, the perspective of the current “concern” over Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) and a change in season to Spring adds another valuable reality check.

So, here’s my item-by-item review of the list and how I’ve done with it and how I feel the utility of these items holds up:

Bag (Empty)

There is no question in my mind that an empty bag belongs on the list and at the top of it – alphabetical or not.  I have struggled at times to remember to bring one with me.  Honestly, the larger eco-totes that I recommended – like the Staples eco-easy tote, do not fold down to a size that fits in a pocket.  You really need to have another bag to put an empty one in.

Kiva Keychain Backpack

Kiva Keychain Backpack 1/2 size of Wallet

The bag I mentioned in the original post but had not tried out yet – the Kiva Keychain Backpack – is really an excellent solution.  It packs down to an incredibly small size (about half the size of my wallet) that fits in a (front) pants pocket easily.  I try to carry one of these bags with me all the time in that way.  When expanded, it forms a smallish backpack – certainly large enough to carry several items in an emergency, and the material (like parachute nylon) seems pretty strong and durable.  The only issue I’ve had with it is that if you put some heavier items in it, the adjustable shoulder straps tend to slip, but there is no risk of it opening and the bag dropping as it is a closed loop strap.

Flashlight

Maybe it’s just me, but I still find a reason to need a flashlight on a daily basis and I carry two Photon LED flashlights with me all the time – one on my keys and another on a chain around my neck.  I’ve been using the newer Photon Freedom-style lights, and I like the push button on-off much better than the old style (either hold it down or flick a tiny toggle switch to keep it lighted).

LRI Photon X-Light

LRI Photon X-Light

Honestly, the cheapest X-Light micro (at under $10) is sufficient.  So I repeat my advice to get a bunch of these – and pass them around – attach one to your briefcase, regular backpack, go-bag, etc., give one or two to each family member.  It will help you and them to be Living Prepared.

Glasses/Sunglasses

Never leave home without them.  And if I do, I always end up regretting it.  The other day, I was getting out of my car; it was raining.  I had a hat on, as I always do, with my sunglasses perched on the top, as they usually are when I’m not wearing them.  A man walking his dog was passing by, and he paused as he looked at me to comment, “With the hat and the sunglasses, you are ready for anything.”  Amen.

LifeSecure Safety Glasses

LifeSecure Eye Shields

Mindful of the fear of Influenza A – H1N1 (Swine Flu) many people have, protecting your eyes with glasses (sun or clear) or a eye shield can help prevent you from being infected by particulates spewed into the air by people close by who cough or sneeze in your general direction.  I recently ordered some Eye Shields from LifeSecure Emergency Solutions to keep with my household emergency supplies.

Keys

Keys.  Enough said.  Just try going out without them.

I did figure out that two of the small lock keys actually fit the padlock on the cellar hatch outside the front of my house – so one of those has been returned to my keychain.

Smartphone

Still attached to my hip.  Still without a GPS.  I think the GPS functionality that is available is useful, but expensive (both for a GPS-enabled Blackberry and for the service that gives it functionality), and I can’t justify it at the current time.

Stainless Steel Drink Container

Usually still attached to my hand – with tea in the morning, and increasingly a Klean Kanteen for water in the afternoon as the weather is getting warmer.  (We had a mini-heat wave of several days in the high 80s/low 90s in April in NYC).  It’s honestly hard to bring along sometimes without having a bag (not an empty one) to carry it in.

I’m beginning to think of recommending carrying a “mostly” empty bag with you – which provides a means to carry along those items that otherwise do not fit on your face or in your pockets – such as a drink container.  That solves a lot of problems of bulging pockets – especially in the summertime…

My regular backpack I keep stocked with a number of useful items – such as a couple of pens, a folding knife with serrated blade, some Zyrtec (for allergies), and epi-pen (if the allergies get really bad), a larger LED flashlight.  I put a glass case in it to carry whatever pair of glasses (sun or clear) I am not wearing.  If I go out without this backpack, I still have my 10 items with me.

My biggest problem with my double-walled, vacuum insulated Thermos hot drink container is that it does too good a job at keeping my tea hot.  I like my hot drinks warm, not scalding, and it takes hours for my tea to cool enough such that I can enjoy it.  When I have the opportunity, I leave the top off to let it cool down so I can drink it more quickly.  On the plus side, this has cut down dramatically on my caffeine intake, which is probably a good thing.

Swiss Army Knife / Multi-Tool

I still use this multiple times every day and would be totally lost without it.  Just yesterday I used the scissors to cut a reply form off to return to my daughter’s school, the Phillips head screwdriver to replace a battery in my son’s toy train, the small knife to open a package received in the main from Lands End, and the magnifying glass to read the small print on a label.  Oh yeah, and I used the reamer to make an additional hole in a belt I have (I lost 15 pounds due to the chicken pox and some of my clothes are hanging off of me now!)

One reader recommended a different model – that’s a bit less expensive but still has all of the important survival tools.  For me, I use all of the tools on the Swiss Army Champ – including the tweezers – which I’ve used twice in the last week to remove a splinter from my finger and my daughter’s foot.  I even used the pin within the last week to help open up a bottle of Gorilla Glue that had crusted over.

Vehicle Escape Tool

As noted in the original post, this is something you don’t use on a daily basis, and I’ve never used mine.

I did have the opportunity to demonstrate the functions of the ResQMe that I carry on my keychain to two very nice gentlemen from the TSA at JFK Airport, just before I handed it over to them before getting on a flight to Florida a few weeks ago.  I kind of had to tell them that they should be taking it away from me – both because of the seat-belt cutter blade, which although shielded, could be removed from the casing by breaking it open – thus weaponizing it – as well as for the glass breaker, which, although I am not sure it would break an airplane window pane, I would not want to try.  So I was without a ResQMe while deathly ill from the Chicken Pox in Florida.

I got another one out of my stock and have returned it to my keychain.

Wallet

Again, it goes without saying that you need to carry your wallet with you when you go out.

What I need to report on is how I’ve done with keeping the $100 cash in it and not pilfer it when I run out.  I must report positively that I’ve had great success.  I positively have forgotten that I folded up 5 twenty dollar bills and slid it into a side slot behind the credit cards in my wallet – unless I’m thinking about this post.  The credit cards, ID and proof of insurance are easy to maintain.

Whistle

Again, something I don’t use on a daily basis but am glad to have with me.  Mostly, I wear it on a lanyard underneath a shirt – but if visible, it’s a good conversation starter.  As pictures in the original post, I also use the neck lanyard to carry a Photon LED flashlight and a USB drive – which another reader also suggested carrying.  My SanDisk Cruzer holds a ridiculous 16 GB of data.

Honestly, the neck lanyard can be bulky either on top of or underneath a single layer T-shirt when the weather is hot.  So I have honestly gone out from time to time without it.  It’s an item that can be put in your briefcase, backpack or other bag that you carry things in (or the proposed “almost” empty bag alternative), and it also fits into a pants pocket.  So while I try to wear it habitually – I must admit to forgetting it occasionally.

What’s Missing?

USB Drive:

For the digitally inclined and data dependent, a USB drive – the larger the better, is a good thing to carry with you.  I carry one and will load it up with important files from time to time.  More often, it’s used for exchanging data (photos, files) with someone.  In an emergency situation, if you work with computers at all, having a USB drive with you could be extremely valuable.

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

My Fox40 Classic Whistle (in cool camo-color), Photon Freedom LED flashlight, and SanDisk Cruzer on neck lanyard

So if it fits your personal and professional profile, a USB drive is definitely something to consider adding to your list of things to never leave home without.  I do like the SanDisk Cruzer because it contains software to allow you to install and run applications directly off of the drive rather than having to install it on the hard drive of a computer.  So, for example, you can use your Skype account from any computer you can use and plug your drive into, if you have Skype installed on the USB drive.

Hand Sanitizer:

This probably should have been on the original list.  Very useful for cleaning your hands while you are out – especially after riding on public transportation or before eating anything on the go. Also essential to have if you are out with kids.  I usually have a bottle with a pump around the house, but decided to stock up a but because of H1N1.  The 2-oz. bottle size is really convenient for taking with you and I got one for everyone in the family.  The small bottles cost about a dollar at any drugstore and I plan to refill them from the larger (and more economical) bottles I have in the house – especially one big one by the front door so everyone can use it upon entering the house.  When buying Hand Sanitizer, remember to always check the “drug facts” on the bottle to ensure that it contains at least 60% ethyl alcohol.  Any less and it will not be effective as an antiseptic.

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Hand Sanitizer and Tissues

Pocket Pack of Tissues:

Another item inspired by H1N1, I think this item also belongs on the original list.  Tissues are incredibly useful things, even if you or your kids do not have a cold.  They can be used to wipe up things, or wipe off things that you don’t want to touch with your bare hands as they may be dirty or infected.  (Use hand sanitizer afterward anyways).  You can use tissues to dry or clean off your glasses if they get wet (though a glass cleaning cloth is better and won’t leave link on the lenses).  Like water, or bags, tissues have hundreds of potential uses during times of emergency and normalcy.

Summary and Conclusion:

I feel pretty strongly about the original 10 items on this list… and now I’m up to 13 with the USB drive, hand sanitizer and pocket pack of tissues.  I started out this project by stating that I didn’t like top 10 lists and I wasn’t going to be bound by a number; that it was a starting point and an important attempt to place some limit on a list that if it becomes exhaustive becomes less practical and less achievable.  And making this practical and achievable is a key part of what I am trying to accomplish with this blog.

I am still tracking a few challenges with the list.

Mostly, it’s a lot of stuff to stuff into your pockets (keys, wallet, extra bag, hand sanitizer, tissues, flashlight) – especially in the warm weather – or wear around your neck (USB drive, flashlight, whistle), hang on your belt (smart phone, Swiss army knife), or hold in your hand (stainless steel drink container).

A lot of this can be carried alternatively in a backpack, briefcase or other (not empty) bag that you carry with you.  Many of us do carry such bags when we go out – but not every time.  My concern is having these items on your person is that they are always with you – and never left at home.

Changing the empty bag to a “mostly” empty bag – or empty of everything but these 12 or 13 items – may be a solution – as long as you always take this mostly empty bag with you.  I will report in a couple of months on how I am addressing this challenge, and will reconsider again the list of items never to leave home without.

In conclusion, I hope that these posts have proven useful to your own thinking about how you should be Living Prepared™.  I am not so arrogant as to think that everyone has to follow my advice to the letter.  I hope that you learn from my advice and my experience and make it your own.

Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #4: Keys

What is it: Keys are used to open and secure locks – usually but not always on doors – to houses, apartments, offices – but also car ignitions, bike locks, desk drawers, lockers, etc.  Keys can also be electronic key cards or remote radio frequency push buttons (of the type to open car doors).

I don’t get as excited about keys as some of the other items on this list, admittedly, and my family and friends have never heard me rant and rave over the utility of keys – flashlights and empty bags maybe – but never keys.

Keys, especially when you have a lot of them, can be bulky, as the picture of my key ring(s) will attest and the challenge here is to have the ones you need with you at all times.  Especially when you have a few extra items attached to your key ring (such as a flashlight and that other blue device we’ll get to shortly).

Keep all your keys attached to one another – as it makes it less likely that you will leave behind the keys that you need with you that way.  So don’t keep your car keys detached from your office keys detached from your house keys.  Clip them all together.  You are much less likely to lose them this way.

The list of keys you should carry with you at all times includes all of the obvious ones – home, office, car, drawer locks, bike locks, anything that is locked that you might need to get into or get to in an emergency/after a disaster.

I would not include safety deposit box keys on this list – which should be stored somewhere more secure that you can get to as needed in a (personal) emergency – but usually not a disaster – as the type of items stored in a safety deposit box should not be anything you might need after a disaster and you might not be able to get to or into your bank after a disaster.

I also recommend carrying keys to anyplace that you might need to get into following an event that prevents you from returning home (and fetching those keys) – such as your family meeting point outside of your neighborhood or city of residence.  This might be a relative’s or family member’s home or a vacation home or other spot nearby that you have access to.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Keys are about as utilitarian as it gets.  And it is usually hard to go out without them, because if you don’t have them with you, you often find it hard to lock your door, start your car, etc., so you go back for them quickly.  We all use our keys on a daily basis, so I am not going to belabor this point.

My KeysPersonal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared™? Mostly.  For the past few months, our family has been living in a rental apartment while we do some renovations to our home.  I kept the keys for this apartment on a separated ring for a while (see photo under “flashlight”) as it seemed more convenient as sometimes when running out to the corner deli, I just needed these keys to get back in.  But then, wouldn’t you know it, while out, I decided I wanted to fetch something from the back of the car, and I didn’t have my car keys with me.  And I wasn’t Living Prepared.  So I’ve now put them all together (as shown).  But I also had to assess just what keys I was carrying.

Here’s a run-down of the keys I found on my key ring today:

  • House (2 keys for separate upstairs/downstairs locks)
  • Car (wireless/door alarm & ignition)
  • 2 Kryptonite bike locks (2 locks for 2 different bikes)
  • Family Vacation Home in Connecticut (Rally point #1)
  • Mother’s House in Massachusetts (Rally point #2)
  • Bike lock on roof rack of car
  • Rental Apartment (2 keys for inner/outer door) where we are staying here while our house is being renovated.
  • The Club steering wheel lock
  • 3 Unknown small lock keys
  • Duplicate house key for upstairs lock

This was a good exercise – I removed the last five keys from my key ring – as I no longer use the Club – in fact, I don’t even have it anymore; the small lock keys are pretty useless without the matching locks being in use; and a duplicate key serves no purpose on the same key ring.

What is missing from my key ring?  (1) the lock to my fireproof safe; while I normally keep this unlocked, the key for it should be on my key ring – I keep important documents in the safe – including my passport – so I should be able to lock and unlock it without having to look for the key; (2) keys to my mother-in-law’s apartment in New York which are not always left with her doorman.  She spends the winters in Florida and this is a logical in-city relocation place for our family.

Criticality after a disaster: The keys that are important to emphasize here are the keys to places that we don’t use every day, and that we might need after a disaster – such as keys to a relative’s house in the same or a nearby city – or located a safe distance away.

Our family emergency plan includes a strategy to relocate and meet at a shared family vacation home in Connecticut – about 100 miles from New York City – that we all know how to get to and get into – should something happen where it is not safe to stay in the City and we get separated.  Every family’s emergency plan should include a similar rally-point outside of your city of residence.  Both my wife and I carry a key to this place at all times so we can get in when we need to.

There are lots of foreseeable disasters which might force us to temporarily or permanently move out of our homes and seek shelter in another place.  Hurricanes regularly force temporary evacuations from the Carolinas, Florida, Louisiana and Texas; wildfires force residents of San Diego and Los Angeles to temporarily evacuate their homes; and after 9/11, residents of lower Manhattan had to temporarily evacuate their residences.

Not everyone is going to have access to a vacation or second home, but most of us do have immediate family members (parents, siblings or children) or close friends who live elsewhere.  Having a plan and mutual agreement to use each others homes as a rally point and evacuation location is smart.  It’s a lot better off than ending up in a shelter.

Having a key to this place with you when you need it is part of Living Prepared.

See, I was wrong, I can certainly preach about keys if given the opportunity and enough time to think about it.

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The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Keys

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES

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So, carry your keys with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared.