Six Things I Carry Everywhere


Whenever I travel I spent the hours before my flight in a frenzy of charging-up. It seems that travelling light now involves carrying 10 kgs of tech around, and it all has to be filled with ‘the new electricity’, as my great-grandmother called it. But there are a few essential items I need to keep on me…

A notebook. I buy one almost everywhere I go. They’re inexpensive and always different. My Tokyo notebook has shrine gods on its cover. My India notebook is made from recycled elephant dung (actually very elegant). Each one gets used for a particular idea. They are ritually destroyed once I’ve written up the story because I don’t want anyone seeing how rubbish some of my ideas are. Old school, but more fun than writing on a phone.

A pen. Biros and 2HB pencils for notes, a fountain pen for letters (I still send them occasionally) but a special pen – a Mont Blanc, given to me by the spouse, with brown, black or green ink, never blue – that only gets used for signatures. You develop a superstition about these things. I feel gutted if I go to an event without my special pen and have to borrow one.

Headphones. I’m an aural obsessive, partly because I suffer from tinnitus. EarPods like Beats are great but seem to increase sound damage if I wear them for more than a few minutes. Flat-ear over-the-head earphones are best for travel, and the best I’ve found are Bowers & Wilkins. Great sound quality, comfortable fit. Over-ear ‘phones (fully cupping the ear) are perfect for home listening. I’m looking for good bluetooth EarPods now. It’s a minor compulsion; I can handle it, although I’m not sure my wallet can.

A book. Obvs. Non-readers and teenagers need to be told that books calm nerves and remove panic attacks. Books are a benign drug that turns some of us into lifetime addicts. For waiting rooms and train journeys I take a Kindle because you don’t know how long you’ll be (especially if you’re on South Western trains – you could be days, months, possibly years). Embarrassingly, I will sometimes buy a book because I really like the cover. This dates back to when I was ten and bought the above book without quite knowing why. It took another ten years to figure that bit out. Never take a Kindle to the beach. Best not to ask me how I know, okay?


A spare T. My father hardly passed a day of his life in casual clothes. He was tightly buttoned to the throat in a short and tie, and a grey suit. I only ever had a proper job (copywriter) for the first seven years of my working life, and even that was incredibly louche. We’d turn up when we wanted dressed as clowns. I’ve lived in T-shirts since then. This is as close to disposable clothing as you can get. I carry a spare, and chuck ’em the moment they change shape. This is how clothes should be in the 21st century. We don’t need valets to press our trousers anymore. I always admired Chuck Heston in ‘The Omega Man’ because he tore off his shirt and wiped it under his arms before chucking it in the bin. You don’t get women doing that (I don’t think).

Cash. I know we live in a newly cashless society (hardly anyone uses cash in London now – weeks go by with the same change in your pockets). I always keep some cash in my wallet, and always in two currencies, euros and pounds, with the result that I am forever lending dosh to skint mates who, like the Queen, never carry grubby old notes anywhere and complain when they can’t buy a cortado from a street vendor with a credit card. My best pal taught me to always have a fiver on me. You nearly always need it.

Beyond the items on this list, what’s the item you carry everywhere with you?

28 comments on “Six Things I Carry Everywhere”

  1. Anne Billson says:

    Great post!

    I ALWAYS carry the above items (except for the T-shirt) plus:
    small bottle of water (which I only ever seem to need when I forget it)
    an old pashmina shawl
    red lipstick
    a small tube of concentrated Neutrogena hand cream (I stock up on them from SuperDrug). Dry hands bring out the Roderick Usher in me.
    I’m ashamed to say my IPhone, but it also serves as a map, newspaper, book, dictionary (I live in a non-English speaking country), iPod, camera etc

  2. I’m from the West of Scotland so of course I carry an umbrella with me at all times. Notebook, couple of pens, hand cream, lipstick, perfume & my iPhone (for all of the reasons Anne stated, expect the language one)

  3. Porl says:

    Notebook and paper diary – Im incapable of relying on an online dairy!

    A paperback of some kind (still not got round to kindling proper – although Ive a kindle app on the phone with access to some books

    Bluetooth over ear Earphones

    That annoying little plastic calculator thingy from your bank because even with a million password protections in place it still wont let you set up a new payee without it…..

  4. Eva Balogh says:

    Something very strange has just occurred. I thought I was reading an article about writers being topical. But it seems to have changed to this one…Never mind, I like this one as well.

    A friend once told me that applying body lotion intermittently on the flight home helps to preserve the tan. Essential then.
    A pair of knickers.
    A small tube of toothpaste.
    Beats over the ear headphones.
    I-pod nano.
    Pen and post-it notes.
    A marvellous double-sided, 2 zipped, tiny purse that holds 2/3 credit cards one side and cash in the other.
    A lighter and tobacco pouch.
    Reading glasses.
    Lip balm.
    One of those shopping bags that folds up into itself.

    All of which I manage to fit in a diminutive, Italian made, red leather rucksack…

  5. Peter Tromans says:

    Waistcoat with 3 inside pockets: absolutely essential for all the stuff that we have to carry around these days. Plus, it’s cool enough except when it’s very hot and comfortable under a jacket.

    Leather jacket: only type of coat not destroyed by forcing into a back pack.

    Fountain pen: avoid Mont Blanc as they have major issues. I strongly recommend a Parker 51, a brilliant classic, and possibly the only pen to have a fighter plane named after it (very slight exaggeration).

    Hand cream: generally useful, especially for producing a finger print for US immigration.

  6. Brooke says:

    Hand cream for finger prints– haven’t thought of that; must add to limited amount of stuff I carry. Keys, handkerchief and cash. If it doesn’t fit into pockets of baggy trousers, it’s left at home..

  7. Martin Tolley says:

    A small bottle of olive oil, a small bottle of tabasco sauce, and a lemon. I also used to carry those little blue packets of salt that you used to get in packets of crisps, but apparently that’s bad for my blood pressure.

  8. admin says:

    I think Martin wins that round, don’t you chaps? ‘A small bottle of olive oil’ – I’m so with you there. I get through a litre of virgin olive oil a week, I swear.

    Eva, you’re not going mad. I didn’t think the article about writers and topicality worked so I dumped it. Yes, I continually edit myself on the blog.

  9. snowy says:

    6 Things.

    Watch, [if you can see the Sun it will also tell you which direction you are facing.]

    Knife, it’s only tiny and lives on the key ring.

    Spare bootlace, cunningly woven into a key fob, pull the right loop and it turns instantly back into a long cord, [ideal for garrotting your enemies doing all the things that one might with 4′ of cord, like carrying the the dozen books you seem to have inexplicably bought.]

    Stuff sack, fake silk, 20 litres rolls up to the size of a film canister, depending on the season it can be filled with, Apples, Raspberries, Blackberries, Elderberries, Mushrooms, Sloes etc. [Usually full of boring stuff like bread, milk etc.]

    Mechanical pencil, can’t leak, never needs sharpening.

    There is NO sixth thing.

  10. snowy says:

    Oh, I did carry a spare t-shirt in my rucksack, but it always come out looking like scrunched up dishcloth. Until I learned how to fold/roll it into a self-locking “envelope” about the size of a fiizzy drink can.

  11. A small compass, Marmite and Angostura Bitters.

  12. Eva Balogh says:

    Thanks admin. Phew!

    @Martin. Very sensible.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    What issues do Mont Blanc pens have? Curious calligraphers need to know. My go to pen is a Lamy – not expensive, available in a range of colours and nib widths in the italic range. Ink colour: whatever strikes my fancy at the moment since I have a number of bottles ranging from a golden brown to a Japanese pomegranate (that spelling looks wrong somehow) and a grey described as winter rain.
    Other than that: a notebook, the folding shopping bag, keys, wallet, bus card.
    Now if that isn’t the most boring list. I even left out the omni-present book, which doesn’t even have to be a paperback, although I was recently given a little book in the form of a matchbook about the bells of the Ottawa peace tower, good for two minute waits.

  14. SimonB says:

    For me, the essentials on leaving the house are wallet, tissues, keys and sunglasses/normal glasses (whichever pair I’m wearing I will always carry the other as well). If I’m going further than the shop at the end of the road then the phone comes too.

    Optional extras will include earphones (only if I’m alone), current book or kindle, compact or dslr camera, bottle of water, fruit pastilles, paracetamol, bag for life, a couple of LEGO minfigures for photographic purposes and a backpack to carry it all in.

    And of course enough clothing to keep me decent and weather-resistant as appropriate to the season.

  15. Peter Tromans says:

    Mont Blanc fountain pens seem to be the standard these days. The biggest problem I have with them is that if don’t use one for a few weeks, the ink in the feed can dry up and most often they have to be dismantled to clean them. If you might not use one for a while, be sure to thoroughly flush with distilled water. Otherwise….

    In contrast, the Parker 51, after sitting in a draw for a few years, just fill it with distilled water and start writing. Even the $2 Oriental copies of P51s can be very good.

  16. Jay Mackie says:

    Apart from the obvious things like keys, wallet and mobile I always carry:
    Lip balm, e-cigarette, small pack of tissues, hand wipes, sunglasses, note pad/Post It notes and more than one nice writing pen.
    Men’s and ladies’ bags are considerably larger now I’ve generally noticed which must account for the increase in items we can’t go about our daily lives without!
    Also, at one time unless you were a student it was only ladies who carried bags. Nowadays it’s perfectly acceptable for all men to carry some kind of bag across their bodies, on their backs or on the shoulder – without any suggestion of effeminacy. I don’t know any guys who don’t use some kind of bag now and I’d feel odd and ‘naked’ without a bag now.

  17. Vivienne says:

    I never go anywhere without a map.

  18. Bruce Rockwood says:

    Future scholars would want to use your notebooks to document your process. I guess they’ll have to rely on your blog instead. No one writes letters today. Yet we publish the correspondence of writers and famous people in the past. Email is not the same.

  19. Helen Martin says:

    No, Bruce, email is *not* the same. I have a friend who still carries on correspondence with people in New York, in Yorkshire (is that a theme?) and in Oregon (I think). I sometimes get to see some of the letters he receives. He uses one of several fountain pens to write these. The New Yorker also corresponds with people here by email, but since Dale doesn’t own a computer… although there is someone who will pass email messages on. He’s also the one I copy some of Admin’s columns for.
    You’re also correct about people wanting to be able to follow Admin’s thought processes. Perhaps he’ll leave his last set of notes so there will be something recoverable.
    Thank you, Peter for the Mont Blanc info. Not a problem for a regular user. I can recommend a book called “The Social Life of Ink” by Ted Bishop which talks about ballpoint pens and the printer’s ink they used at first, then printing, European pens and inks, Arab writing, Egyptian papyrus, Chinese ink sticks and brushes and, and… It’s a fascinating book which I really have to order for myself. It’s part history, part travelogue.

  20. Patrick Kilgallon says:

    Interesting spelling error in the article – short is what we call a shirt on Tyneside, it’s called a shart in Ashington!!.
    My essential travel items are cough sweets for take offs and landings, asthma inhaler, book by an author I’ve never read before, cash – some toilets in the UK and abroad require cash, and a plectrum – I might get the chance to play somebody’s guitar if I’m missing my own.

  21. Jo W says:

    Since you were impertinent enough to ask,young man, a spare pair of knickers. One never knows when one may get a little too excited.
    (I feel that I can call you ‘young man’ Chris, as last week I made it to three score years and ten.) 😉

  22. Peter Tromans says:

    And things I can no longer take: a pen knife, small adjustable spanner. Nothing dangerous, no weapons of tourism unlike Snowy’s bootlace, but unacceptable to airport security.

  23. Vivienne says:

    Penknives: I had my small Swiss Army knife taken away at the airport to be measured, but they let me take it as the longest blade is less than two inches. However, being fond of it Imwill probably remember to put it into my check in luggage in future.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    I had students who were horrified that I had a Swiss army knife in my purse. Thinking quickly I said it was the easiest way to open book boxes. Since that was what I was doing at the time it was accepted, but really it’s the easiest way to deal with a number of things. I have lost two of them over the years and no longer carry one because they seem to be considered weapons. Ever since my little folding tripod was mistaken for a pistol on an airport scanner I’m very careful about what I carry.

  25. Peter Tromans says:

    It was a sad day when my very small adjustable spanner (shifting wrench) was confiscated at Rome airport. It was about 3 1/2 inches, almost Meccano size, very useful (‘Lord Croker’ may have used something similar for ‘a little more air through the front carburettor’), not to mention bleeding hotel radiators. The security man had the nerve to show me a picture of a 10 inch spanner to prove his point. I thought, but managed not to say, that, if I’d had one that size in my bag, I would have hit him with it.

  26. snowy says:

    A number of people have shifted to carrying ‘Utili-keys’ rather than have their knives confiscated.

  27. Diane Englot says:

    I caused such an uproar at check-in and security on my last trip because I’d brought my rock hammer with me. Will never do THAT again.

  28. Berenice says:

    A book, a notebook, a pen, red lipstick, glasses cleaning cloth (doubles as map of central London or Paris) and a small
    cat amulet.

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