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10 Carry-On Items That Could Save Your Life

Even when you're trying to travel light, these small items are essential. In fact, they could be real heroes in an expected emergency.

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Tourist arrived in town with a small trolleyOllyy/Shutterstock

The case for carrying on these essentials

Space in a carry-on bag is precious, and even for seasoned travelers who know the smartest ways to pack one, deciding what to bring can be tricky. There are the things you need, the things you’d like to have, and then those little “what if” luxuries that you may not use but sure could come in handy. But what about packable products that could actually help in the event of an emergency? We all hope to complete our travel smoothly and safely, but things happen. Here are the items that are worth the real estate in your carry-on—not just because they’re pragmatic, but because they could actually save your life.

hair tiesvia

Hair ties

For anyone with hair long enough to be pulled back into a ponytail, a hair tie can be a lifesaver, figuratively speaking. However, Patricia Quinlan, MD, an internist at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Pennsylvania, used her hair tie to literally save someone’s life in 2015. When a passenger lost consciousness, Dr. Quinlan determined that his blood pressure was “dangerously low” and he had an irregular heartbeat. The cabin crew supplied 16 ounces of saline solution (commonly found in airplane medical kits), and the good doctor used her hair tie as a tourniquet and whiskey to disinfect the needle so she could administer the solution to stabilize him.

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Multipurpose tool

Planning for the unexpected feels impossible because, well, it’s the unexpected. And a compact, all-in-one tool may make you feel as crafty as MacGyver, but will it make it through airport security? Maybe, maybe not. The Geekey Multi-Tool, however, is TSA-compliant, encompasses more than 16 tools, and is only a little bigger in size than the average house key, making it ideal for travel. What can it do? Geekey can act as a can opener, wire stripper, bottle opener, file, imperial and metric ruler, screwdriver tip, and more.

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Rechargeable flashlight

In many an uncomfortable situation, light is your friend. Not having access to light can make any event more frightening. Saurabh Jindal, CEO of the Talk Travel app, is always on the go. Because of that, a rechargeable flashlight has become a mainstay in his carry-on. “It’s simple and easy to carry,” says Jindal. “It helps a lot when you are in an unknown place and it is dark, and also when hiking through trails.”

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Rescue blanket

You might feel like you’re preparing for doomsday whenever you pack one of these, but a mylar rescue blanket could be key to survival in the event of an emergency. They certainly don’t look cozy and comfy, but they do help reduce bodily heat loss in a pinch. Plus, they’re affordable, compact, and lightweight—meaning there’s virtually no reason why you can’t stash one in your carry-on for those “just in case” moments.

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Personal alarm

When you’re traveling alone, particularly to an unfamiliar place, it’s important to give yourself peace of mind in terms of safety. “A wearable personal safety alarm is a great idea,” says Namita Kulkarni, who runs the yoga and travel blog, Radically Ever After. “It hugely added to my sense of control on many a dark street and crowded public space. I slept with it under my pillow no matter what country I was in.” She recommends the Vigilant Personal Protection System Alarm because it is TSA-approved.

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Portable charger

With our phones acting as our lifelines, traveling with one at low battery can be stress-inducing and, if an emergency occurs, even dangerous. Keeping a portable charger on hand to give your phone the juice it needs to be useful is important, and it won’t take up much space in your bag at all. The peace of mind is worth it. If you’re in a pinch, here’s how to charge your phone as quickly as possible.

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Hand sanitizer

You don’t have to be a germaphobe to be icked out by the concept of just how many of those little buggers reside on airplanes and in airports, not to mention any public space. Plus, they can get you really sick if you’re not careful, ruining your trip or even landing you in the hospital. For this reason, seasoned traveler David Wills, author of World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller, always carries hand sanitizer. “It’s small enough that you barely notice it in a pocket of your bag, and it’s totally fine to take through any airport,” he says. “When it comes to hygiene-related emergencies, you really can’t beat it.” Believe it or not, alcohol-based hand sanitizer can even help you get a fire started, which could, of course, be essential in a survival situation. Here are some other genius uses for hand sanitizer you may have never considered.

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Water purification tablets

If you’re headed somewhere without easy access to drinkable water and a filtered water bottle is too cumbersome for your carry-on, Thrifty Points CEO Ben Packard suggests carrying water purification tablets. “These are small and never questioned,” he says. “Having the ability to purify water in a survival situation can mean the difference between life and death. They can be kept in your pocket, which is handy since you’re not supposed to take anything with you in an emergency situation on a plane.”

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Reusable water bottle with filter

As anyone who’s traveled in the past two decades knows, TSA will confiscate liquids above the 3.4-ounce limit at the security checkpoint. This is problematic considering the way in which flying dehydrates the body. What’s a traveler to do? Carry a reusable water bottle that includes a filter, like this one by LifeStraw. “Easy access to water in case you are short of it, especially in emergency or when in secluded areas, is a lifesaver,” says Jindal. “Again, it’s simple and easy to carry without any issues at the TSA check.”

first aid kitvia

First-aid kit

A no-brainer item that most of us likely overlook is a travel-size first-aid kit. It’s easy to take through TSA, and it’s equipped with useful items for any number of situations. “You can buy kits that are quite small and just leave them in your carry-on bag at all times,” says Michael Anderson, founder of the adventure travel blog Passport Explored. “There’s no need to take them out for TSA or do anything special before bringing one onto the flight. These first aid kits should include items such as band-aids, gauze, disinfectant cream, bug-bite cream, aspirin, and tweezers.” While it’s a good idea to carry these lifesaving items with you at all times, make sure you never do these 5 things in an emergency.

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