For the 50+ Traveler

I tend to pack a pretty light suitcase, but as I've read about travelers who’ve needed medical attention overseas due to COVID-19, I’ve decided to add a few more resources to my bag. It’s hard to strike a balance between making sure you’ve got all the emergency supplies you might need while still being reasonable and leaving a bit of room in your bag for clothes and shoes.

As I’ve reexamined my packing list, I’ve decided to add these seven pieces. None are heavy or expensive. Best of all, they’re not task-specific. They would be hugely helpful and comforting if I were seriously ill, but they’d also be good to have on hand for a number of situations.

1. A Digital Thermometer

I can’t count the number of times I’ve convinced myself I had a fever while traveling, only to have my mysterious “fever” disappear within an hour or two. Looking back, I’m pretty sure those “fevers” were just the result of being overheated, overtired, or just really warm in a stuffy airplane. I could have saved myself a lot of needless anxiety if I’d only had a small digital thermometer in my pack.

On the flip side, if I did in fact have a fever, I would have known what the exact reading was, if it was responding to medication, and how it was changing over time. And if the situation became worse, I could have given the doctor a list of my temperatures over time. Even when there’s a language barrier, time and temperature readings are pretty universal. Knowing I’d be in a position to give my doctor critical information with little room for misinterpretation would result in a lot of peace of mind.

2. Single Servings Of Sports Drink Powder

I usually travel with a few single servings of instant hot chocolate and instant vanilla latte powder. Making sure I’m well caffeinated before I leave my room is practically a public service! But these aren’t exactly the most hydrating beverages out there.

Single servings of sports drink powder would be a better choice. I’m not exactly an intimidating athlete who needs frequent doses of electrolytes, but most travelers could stand to amp up their hydration, including me. I have a bad habit of treating jet lag with cappuccinos instead of water! The sports drink powder would supply me with sugar, a pinch of salt, and some much-needed flavor diversity.

Once upon a time, I traveled with something similar. Instead of sports drink powder, I brought along a medical powdered electrolyte solution when I moved to Malawi. It did indeed earn its place in my pack when I came down with a mysterious stomach bug that left me severely dehydrated. I was glad to have the electrolyte solution -- but it tasted horrible! A powdered sports drink isn’t quite the same thing as a medical electrolyte solution, but it’s close, and the improved taste means I’ll be much more likely to use it when I need it.

3. A New Portable Charger

I love to take photos and share endlessly on social media when I travel, and so I usually pack a portable phone charger. But I’ve often left it lingering at the bottom of my suitcase. I’m guilty of having the best of intentions. I want to have the backup power with me, just in case, but I rarely actually bring the charger along. My model dates to 2013, and it’s heavy, chunky, and not exactly amenable to being tossed into a small purse.

Modern portable chargers are much smaller, much lighter, and much more powerful. Bringing along a new portable charger will let me snap and share to my heart’s content, and it will also give me peace of mind in case I ever have to spend time in a hospital or clinic -- or even if I’m just stuck in an airport without a power source.

4. A Stash Of Cash

Even in a world where contact-free payments are prized, cash is king. A surprisingly large number of businesses are still cash-only facilities -- and that includes many hospital cafeterias. Having a stash of cash means you can easily pitch in if a neighbor asks if you need anything from the corner store, or you can easily buy a strip of bus tickets from a sidewalk vendor. Having cash on hand also means you can easily give a tip (or a bribe -- yep, that happens sometimes). American dollars, British pounds, and euros are the universal currencies, and you’ll only need a few twenties tucked away strategically in your kit.

5. Ziploc Bags

Ziploc bags have dozens of practical applications. They’re ideal for isolating damp and dirty clothing or for making a makeshift soaking bag for laundry. You can use them to organize business cards and receipts or for packing a quick snack.

These days, I’ve seen people using them as an invaluable, flexible kind of glove -- just slip your hand in and use the bag as a shield if you’re worried about dirty doorknobs (say, if you’re visiting a friend in the hospital) or unsterilized hotel remotes (trust me, those guys never get scrubbed down). Tear a couple in half lengthwise, and you’ve got a toilet seat cover. Hey, the world can be a filthy place!

I’m used to carrying a few Ziploc bags in my suitcase, but I’ve never added them to my day bag. I’m going to do so going forward.

6. Seasonal Allergy Medication

In a rare lighter moment during the COVID-19 public health crisis, a cheeky Twitter user commented that they couldn’t believe, after all this, that we still have to deal with pollen. Nonstop sneezing and itchy, watery eyes are always annoying, but during a pandemic, they’re worrisome at best (What if I’m getting sick?) and alarming at worst (What’s wrong with that person? Are they contagious?).

As someone who only experiences occasional seasonal allergies, I don’t exactly think of my medication as being essential, but I’m now going to add a strip of the capsules to my travel first-aid kit. The occasional public sneeze or cough will never be looked at the same way again, and I don’t want my sporadic allergies to cause anyone alarm. I also don't want to confuse a minor reaction to pollen with the start of a more serious ailment.

7. My Own Portable Soap Solution

Here’s my yucky travel confession of the day: Sometimes I really dislike washing my hands. It’s not that I don’t realize how important it is. It all comes down to how much I hate most soap. I don’t like how harsh and drying it is -- and don’t even get me started on the scents! It sounds like a strange thing to be picky about, but I bet a lot of people are like me, wrinkling their noses at the communal soap in airports, restaurants, and museums.

But as the COVID-19 public health crisis has proven, thorough hand scrubbing is essential for our health. And an easy solution to the yucky soap problem is to bring your own. Shaving or grating little flakes from your favorite bar of soap makes handwashing a breeze, wherever you are. A plastic Tic Tac mint container works as a soap dispenser. Travel-size body wash samples also make for a gentle and sudsy alternative to solid soap.

Will I be packing gloves and face masks on my next trip? No. They’re best reserved for medical professionals. But I will be thinking about what I can do to protect my health, how I can ensure I’m comfortable and connected should I have to see a doctor, and what products go the distance.