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.


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.


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.  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.


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.


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.


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: #1: A Bag

[First note that I have organized the list alphabetically to avoid discussion of prioritization or ranks within the item list.]

What is it: By a “bag”, I mean an empty or spare bag that you have with you. (You know… a bag… to put things in). It has 100’s nay 1000’s of uses. And it should be empty when you leave home as the value and utility of an empty bag is directly proportional to just how empty it is. An empty bag, folded up and stowed, has maximum utility value, whereas one that is half-full when you leave home has much less value as a “spare”.

The best empty or spare bag to take with you is an “eco-tote” as I call them. These inexpensive, and lightweight bag are themselves usually made of a recyclable material, such as polypropylene or recycled cotton fibers, are increasingly sold almost everywhere as a green alternative to plastic bags.

Well-loved Staples eco-easy bag

My favorite is the “eco-easy” tote from Staples. It is HUGE and decently strong. Most of the ones sold in grocery stores for about a dollar are very small (and much smaller than the average plastic bag they are intended to replace). The Staples “eco-easy” tote only cost about $1 (on sale) or $1.50 (if not).

bn-bagAnother favorite of mine is the slightly smaller eco-tote from Barnes & Noble; it’s got that stylish New York black color and is also only about $1.50. Bags on the Run also sells decently sized eco-friendly bags in batches as low as 10. See http://www.bagsontherun.com/.

There are hundreds of alternatives out there. Pick one (or several) that matches your lifestyle and needs.

When empty, these eco-totes fold down to a very manageable size for fitting into a coat pocket or another bag (say if you carry a backpack, purse or briefcase with you anyway – throw an empty eco-tote in each and every one so you’ll always have one with you; leave them by the door so you can grab one on the way out). In warm shorts & t-shirt weather and climates, this becomes admittedly more troublesome…

landsend_packable_backpackAnother favorite type of bag is a packable backpack from Lands End. These are now available only in the Overstocks section, so these may not be available from this source for much longer, so I would grab one (or three) now in red at $19.99 while they last.  They also come in a packable tote and a packable duffel as well. I love the duffel and I grabbed one of those a while back – great to take olandsend_packable_backpack_packedn trips/vacations where you think you might come home with more stuff than you leave home with – they are now only available in pink, which may work for everyone. The totes are available in a bunch of colors, but I don’t think these totes have anything to offer over eco-totes and are a lot more expensive. Anyway, the best things about the packable backpack is they are truly lightweight, decently sized when open, small when folded up (only 6″Wx1″Dx6 1/2″H), easier to carry when open than a tote or a duffle, and strong enough not to rip when filled up with groceries, drinks or kids toys. Packable bags are also available from many camping and hiking suppliers.

Kiva Keychain BackpackKiva Keychain Backpack - FoldedI’m going to be evaluating the Kiva Keychain Backpack as an alternative to the Lands End one.  It is only about half the cost of the Lands End bag, but doesn’t look as durable to me.  I’ll report on these in a future post.

Utility on a Daily Basis: Bringing your own bags has become a great way of “Living Green” and helps make the practice of taking an empty bag with you when you leave home habitual. In urban living this works great as us City folk often set off on foot in the morning from home, go to work by public transportation, stop for groceries or sundries at a drug store, and run numerous other errands before returning to our homes at night. Having a bag with you is essential to this lifestyle and having an (additional) empty bag with you becomes so valuable you can’t imagine life before the empty bag.

Living in Brooklyn, I am in one of the select places in the country (if not the world) where people don’t take their cars with them wherever they go. But being originally from Massachusetts, I do have the experience of having to drive everywhere – even for a simple bagel, which never seems further than the closest corner here in Brooklyn – but I digress. It should be even easier for those who drive from home to point A to point B to point C to point D to… home again to find great utility in having an empty bag with them during the day.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? I can report that personally, this practice has become very habitual for our whole family once the commitment was made. We bring a bag of eco-totes with us to the grocery store for our scheduled weekly household shopping – most of them eco-easy bags from Staples because of their HUGE size. Because they are so HUGE and decently strong, you can do a HUGE shopping and fit everything into about 8 bags.

Living in Brooklyn, we also run a lot of errands on foot on a daily basis – part of City living – so once the commitment was made to use an eco-tote as part of Living Green – it did become habitual to never leave the house without one.

On those rare days when I run out of the house without an empty bag with me, I usually regret it. Those days are becoming rarer and rarer, but one did occur only yesterday. I ran out in the morning to drop my daughter off at school, then needed to stop at both a drug store and grocery store on the way home to pick up some essentials that we had run out of. Alas, no bag. I ended up with four double-bagged bags (total eight!) plastic ones to carry the admittedly heavy items I purchased. I would have needed two eco-easy bags and having only one with me would have spared the use of four plastic bags. We still find utility in having a few plastic bags around the house, especially around the time it is to clean out the cat’s litterbox.

On the other hand, I have had less success in trying to take an empty packable backpack with me. One of my packable backpacks is used on a daily basis by our babysitter to carry along extra clothing for the kids, as well as drinks and snacks for the kids. Another was taken over by my wife, who loved it because it was so light. I have a third hidden away and take it with me only on longer trips away from home; mostly I do carry an eco-tote with me somewhere.

Criticality after a disaster: I think that the utility of carrying an empty bag with you when you leave home on a daily basis is unquestionable; and it should be considered no less critical following a disaster. As I said before, an empty bag has 100s if not 1000s of uses, and has maximum utility when empty. When a disaster strikes, whether in close proximity to you or not, and you have to respond in some way to it (whether it is to get yourself and your family to safety, to evacuate the place where you are, to not being able to return home), chances are you are going to find yourself wanting or needing or asked to take some of the stuff around you with you.

And your go-bag will not be with you. We will discuss go-bags and the contents of same in other posts. Basically, a go-bag is prepacked with all the stuff you want to take with you when a disaster strikes. It will include things like a flashlight, an emergency radio, a small first aid kit, (and an empty bag ;-> ). But we don’t carry our go-bags with us whenever we go out. It stays at home, easily accessible in a coat closet by the front door, for example. But if disaster strikes when you are not at home and you can’t get home, you are caught out without your go-bag. So what do you do? You scrounge. You might be able to find some of your go-bag items at your workplace, in your car, or even at a nearby store. If only you had something to put them in!!! Oh, that’s right – you do – you have an empty bag with you! Good thinking!


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  Bag

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


So, carry an empty bag with you. If you do, you will be Living Prepared™.