What small comforting things would you bring to a disaster zone?
April 28, 2015 2:34 PM   Subscribe

My SO is leaving for Nepal in less than 24 hrs for an int'l disaster relief org he works for on one of his first overseas disaster trips. I'd like to get some practical ideas on what to add to his bag besides the absolute necessities. We just found out he will be there much longer than we initially thought.

He'll have all the absolute essentials provided and a list of necessities to pack. What I'm wondering is what can I help him pack in the next 12 hours that would be convenient, not take up too much space, and still be practical to have in a disaster zone in a 3rd world country.... assuming there are such things. It will obviously be an intense situation, so I'm trying to think of things that would perhaps be a welcome distraction, small comfort, etc.

Some things we know: communication will be spotty at best and he won't be taking anything too valuable. There will obviously be some amount of downtime over several weeks, though I'm not sure how much. We're pretty certain he'll be camping outside for the entire duration.

So far I've thought of a headlamp + batteries, waterproof notepad/journal, and perhaps a few nice treats like chocolate bars.

I know this question is broad... thank you very much for any ideas!
posted by goodnight moon to Travel & Transportation (28 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A deck of playing cards will be worth its weight in gold if there's any down time. Maybe also small magnetic travel game boards: backgammon, chess, checkers. Wallet-size photos of you and any other loved ones.
posted by Andrhia at 2:40 PM on April 28, 2015 [7 favorites]

A deck of cards and a pack of dice have burned more time for me than anything, ounce-for-ounce.
posted by Etrigan at 2:40 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Solar phone charger, if you can find one in that short amount of time.
posted by gt2 at 2:41 PM on April 28, 2015

(probably a hand crank or similar movement-generated phone charger instead, as the rainy season has started already.)

Maybe one of those hand sanitizers you can attach to your belt? Something like hershey's kisses or other small inexpensive individually-wrapped chocolates which he can share out (or just carry a few on him at a time without messing up pockets). Travel packs of baby wipes plus dog doo bags on a roll so he can safely dispose of them in the trash rather than in whatever toilet facilities will be provided, which will likely be overworked.

one of those 20-pack flat bars of AA batteries will not take up too much space and will also make him very popular and helpful.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:47 PM on April 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

speaking of rainy season, a rain slicker that can fold up into a pocket-sized pack would be great. maybe even a handful of them if you have a dollar store nearby.

also, if he's going to be doing aid work in rural communities rather than KMD proper he'll probably be happy to have 2x as many socks as he thinks he needs.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:49 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Send something like his favorite hard candy, homemade cookies, a box of irradiated milk, orange juice that won't spoil as long as it hasn't been opened yet or packets of instant coffee (if he is a coffee drinker).

My husband was career military. You may not starve while doing field work, but the food is not a treat. It is meant to keep you alive. People start really missing little things like cookies and candies and fresh fruit juice. If you can occasionally send a care package, I was big on sending homemade cookies in a Ziploc bag, a few things of orange juice and that sort of thing.

My husband also used to ask me to buy him a bottle of the smelliest garlic supplements I could find so he could take it with him when he went to the field. Taking a couple of smelly garlic pills daily dramatically cut down on how much he suffered bug bites compared to people around him.

On preview: Chocolate isn't the greatest idea outdoors if there is any possibility of hot weather. You don't appreciate how dependent chocolate is on air conditioning until you spend a lot of time outside. If you want to send chocolate, get something like M&Ms and ALSO stick it in a Ziploc bag before packing it, just in case (you never know how hot the cargo area is -- it could melt before it gets off the plane).
posted by Michele in California at 2:51 PM on April 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Because you'll have limited opportunities to communicate, maybe write him some letters or tuck some other cute reminders (copies of photos, stickers, magazine articles that remind you of him) and stick them into individually sealed envelopes. Then if he's feeling lonely he can open one up for a hit of comfort. When sending candy, choose and package things in a way that will be impervious to heat, moisture and bugs. Also, if he's musically inclined, maybe a cheap harmonica or plastic recorder?
posted by Yellow Silver Maple at 2:56 PM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Some small items to give to children. Not in response to begging, which he will encounter and should not encourage, but just to establish trust with children he may be helping out in some way. Pens and pencils, for example.
posted by beagle at 3:00 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

A megabox of gallon heavyweight (or freezer) zip-top storage bags. So so so many uses. Pack his things IN heavy garbage bags for him to reuse as well. Tape, might as well go with duct or that plastic-fiber packing tape (though you have to have a blade or scissors to cut that stuff). All of that will work for dirt- and water-proofing.

Seconding cards, several decks, and if you can find one of those mini "Hoyle's Rules of Cards" books.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:16 PM on April 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Phone battery charger, doesn't have to be solar powered, but get two if you need them.

Some pictures of his friends and family.

Postcard sized prints of art he likes to personalise the very unpersonalised spaces he will be in.

If he likes music, Bluetooth speakers that can be charged with that spare solar-or-not battery.

TP, much spare tp.

An inflatable travel pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs. Always.

Sleep sack (wards off mosquito's, bed bugs, and can be slept in on buses etc).

Antihistamines, and the usual mosquito repellant.
posted by Elysum at 3:23 PM on April 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

Those cheap solar powered walkway lights you can get by the dozen. They can make campsites much safer and can be used to recharge batteries (not fast but it works). Really good if you can get some that take AA and then AAA also. Almost all of them run on one of these two sizes, but you usually have to crack them open to get to the batteries-and the stock ones suck. Get some eneloop if you can prior to leaving to replace them and remove the bulky stakes-they are pretty compact otherwise. It seems every big box store carries them.

An eton crank powered radio These can be kinda hard to find-most larger sporting good stores would have them. They can also recharge batteries.

A sawyer water filtration system (cabelas has them-probably other large sporting good stores would also). they are cheap enough to buy several and ensure clean water, cause nothing is more comforting than NOT having dysentery.

And in making lemonade out of lemons-things will be incredibly dark at night-allowing great star gazing-maybe some star maps and a good pair of binoculars? which will also have other practical uses.
posted by bartonlong at 3:28 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you know of anywhere locally that carries the waterproof plastic decks of cards, go with those - they hold up SO much better while camping. If that fails, check the camping section for waterproof boxes.
posted by stormyteal at 3:36 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for these thoughtful suggestions and tips. I'm going through each one to see if I can make them work. Cards, things to pass out to children, phone chargers, all things I wouldn't have thought of. Photos/art will be really nice to have also, great suggestions. Thanks!
posted by goodnight moon at 3:38 PM on April 28, 2015

Best answer: Headlamp is great -- I recommend at least one more additional light source (long-lasting flashlight or small lantern). Make sure you choose one with multiple modes (at least one mode that is very low), don't just go for the highest lumens. If you can post or memail me where you can shop (rough metro area, or "just big box stores," is fine), I can tell give you more specific pointers on where/what might work best.

A robust personal first aid kid, including a broad range of products for potential GI troubles. Also melatonin or other sleep aid. And foot blister things! Bandaids, anti-chafe balm, moleskin. Extra socks (especially given the coming rains). Chapstick. Aquaphor ointment or Vaseline.

Pocket knife or Leatherman-type multi-tool. A bundle of plastic cable ties, a small self-wound roll of gaffer's tape (preferable to duct), and a couple of small bungees (for tent repair and anything else). A sharpie always comes in handy.A soft pack of baby wipes in addition to the aforementioned TP.

Multiple bandanas -- a million uses. Plus a hat. And a cheap fanny pack if you have/can borrow one. I'd be inclined to sleep while wearing it (or one of those travel neck wallets) to keep my passport on me no matter what kind of urgent evacuation might be needed (aftershocks, etc. -- it's an old habit of mine from lots of time on boats).

I also like packs of drugstore stickers as something to give to children -- very high quantity (and instant cheeriness) relative to the amount of space they take up. A roll of pennies can be fun to share, too (ask the bank for new/shiny ones).

Some printed-out instructions to non-equipment-based multi-person games like Mafia and Botticelli.

...And all of our wishes for the best to him and everyone he helps.
posted by argonauta at 3:49 PM on April 28, 2015 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Cough lollies, especially the little individually-wrapped ones. If you are in the US, Ricola ones are spot-on. Aside from their intended use, they are also little sweet treats as long as you don't get the menthol kind, can be given to others, especially kids, and if in a situation where water is in short supply, sucking on one helps stimulate saliva production so you feel a bit less thirsty and dry.

If it were me, I would want a small paperback book (not an airport doorstopper) which was a comfort read or something that can take a lot of rereading. It could also be one of those blank books with things that are personally meaningful like quotes or sayings, pictures, poems, little anecdotes written in or glued in. If it's partly blank, it's also useful to write personal thoughts, reflections or work through feelings about some of the tough things he'll be dealing with. And you can rip pages out too if needed.

Good luck and thank him for us. He's doing something many of us wish we could.
posted by Athanassiel at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

As for things to pass out: when I went to Nepal in happier circumstances, I brought a bunch of postcards from my hometown and those went over really well as small gifts.
posted by lunasol at 4:16 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hand/face wipes? If it's going to be hard for him to get to a shower those might make him feel a ton better.
posted by MsMolly at 5:05 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Someone else mentioned Chapstick up thread but if he can also pack medicated Blistex that can make a huge difference for both lips and sores on your face and hands. Some chapsticks have mineral oil in them and will exacerbate chapped lips, not soothe them.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:54 PM on April 28, 2015

Pack everything in his luggage in ziplock bags, really good freezer type ones (the branded types) - hardly adds any weight, and he can reuse them over and over for lots of things during his trip. I always pack a poetry anthology because it's something I can flip through and enjoy re-reading as a comfort object. A pack of little washcloths are great and last longer than wet wipes (these are my favourites - dry fast and hang on a hook). If he likes coffee, an aeropress is very light and packable, and you can get a handgrinder with a stainless steel case to go with it, and beans to start, and Nepal grows local coffee too.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:02 PM on April 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's great that they are giving him a packing list, but give things a reality check -- it sucks having no way to keep your dirty clothes separate from your clean clothes when you are moving every three days, for example, or that you don't have enough clean underwear to last until the next washing day.

The two things that happen in disaster relief, in my experience, is a huge amount of "hurry up and wait" downtime interspersed with frantic and very long working days with zero time to rest. For the first you need books, cards, etc; for the second you need the dry socks and Leatherman-style tools suggested above, along with multivitamins and sleeping pills for being able to get to sleep in a crowded and noisy room.

If he is working with a reputable group, they should be providing the necessaries, but I'd still make sure he has a travel-sized bottle of hand cleaner, some packs of tissues, a couple of granola bars, things like that for when they finally get to the site ten hours after the plane lands, it is dark, and no one knows anything or who to talk to.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:03 PM on April 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Many good ideas listed above. Here are some things I remember from deployment to the Haiti earthquake; The ability to make and share coffee was a special treat during the first days of our team's response. Dried fruit packs can be a really nice snack. Carry a half dozen large size band aids in your wallet - just in case. Extra utility knives like Leatherman to give to locals, they need tools. Toothbrushes to give to the kids. Bandannas to give away, they have a multitude of uses. Plan to leave as much of the clothes and other stuff you take with the locals when you depart. I'll look for our After Action Report (AAR) to see if I can come up with any other things. Hope your 'go-bag' was well packed.

Take care, be safe and thank you for being part of the relief effort.
posted by X4ster at 8:43 PM on April 28, 2015

You're on a very short notice but perhaps this can help. Packing for a Purpose.
posted by X4ster at 8:48 PM on April 28, 2015

harmonica, tabasco, travel scrabble, aspirin, towel (broken-in cotton bandana gets pretty tiny)
posted by j_curiouser at 9:17 PM on April 28, 2015

A lamp or flashlight that can be shaken or cranked to make light- Ikea sells them if delivery time's a problem. Maybe bring a few and leave them behind.
Baby wipes (clean people are happier people)
Baby powder (sprinkle onto clammy damp bedding to make it feel warm and dry, like magic)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:20 PM on April 28, 2015

Response by poster: All of these were helpful; I think I gathered everything I could with my time limitations into his bags. The extra phone charger idea will be so handy, much appreciated.
posted by goodnight moon at 10:30 PM on April 28, 2015

Jelly Belly beans. I took a bulk bag on my long sailing trip and would dole out small handfuls when we were tired of eating food that all tasted the same. So many flavors!
posted by AnnaRat at 3:19 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Although I didn't end up being deployed, I was on a short list for my org's Haiti response team and was told to bring a small tub of Vick's VapoRub. Evidently a small amount applied under the nose helps with decomposition odors.
posted by charmcityblues at 11:54 AM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I realize it is probably too late to help OP on this but here is a great list for travelers for any future readers of this thread.
posted by bartonlong at 4:05 PM on April 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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