When I worked in the music industry in the early 2000s before its Internet-driven decline, my job in promotions and marketing meant that I had to go on tours with musicians to make sure that everything went according to plan. Of course, that rarely happened. After I survived a few promo tours, which often lasted up to two weeks and crisscrossed around multiple countries, I learned to pack some unexpected-yet-crucial items that I still bring with me whenever I travel. These essentials have seen me through some dodgy situations in cities around the world and don’t take up too much luggage space, and they won’t fail you either.
Duct tape is the MacGyver of travel items. It’s only fitting that I learned about its versatility from the MacGyvers of concert tours: roadies.
I’ve stuck it to the soles of people’s shoes to add grip on wet surfaces. I’ve bound together broken footwear, luggage, bags, and musical equipment. I’ve taped it over windows for privacy. With a piece of tissue to soak up the blood, duct tape makes for a hardy temporary bandage.
When I traveled across Europe on my own, I used duct tape to bind my backpack to my body while I slept on trains and in train stations. (As a bonus, when you peel the duct tape off your clothes, any dirt or hair from petting street cats also comes off.) You can also line the interior of backpack pockets with duct tape as a defense against bag slashers. In Mongolia, duct tape served me well when I had to visit an outhouse in the middle of the night. I taped my flashlight to my hat and not only did I keep my hands free, I didn’t have to worry about dropping the flashlight while doing my business.
This adhesive clay, or putty that sticks to almost any dry surface, is the backup band to duct tape’s rock star. I learned about Blu Tack from a cameraman who stuck it to the bottom of chairs and tripods to make them steadier and less likely to move.
It’s also good for holding up phones for group selfies and for sticking paper cups and bottles to armrests in cars and buses, and, if you’re hiding cash in your shoe, Blu Tack will ensure it stays in place even if your shoe accidentally slips off.
On long flights where the tour manager wouldn’t stop complaining and also during sound checks, Blu Tack could be made into a great set of earplugs. Blu Tack feels more comfortable than regular earplugs too. Since it’s waterproof, you can use it when you go diving or surfing to help prevent swimmer’s ear.
Nylon fishing line
Hanging out with bodyguards was much more fun than spending time with musicians; the bodyguards have better stories and are more emotionally stable. One of them, a former Secret Service agent, showed me how incredibly strong nylon fishing line is by tying it around a doorknob as a makeshift lock. The door was almost impossible to budge.
“You’d be surprised,” he told me, “at how practical these [nylon fishing lines] are. I use them all the time.”
“You kill people with this,” I said, awed.
“I was going to say that it works as a clothesline in a pinch.”
And it’s true: some nylon fishing lines can hold up to 30 pounds of weight, and you don’t even need clothespins. You simply thread the fishing line through arm and leg holes. For smaller pieces like socks, simply thread it through the fabric itself.
While it doesn’t have as many practical uses as the other items, a rubber duck can have the most impact. Careers are made or broken with promo tours, and I found they were often very emotional. It’s already a test of endurance to go through the grind of doing promotions, which often start very early in the morning with live radio interviews. Then there are the late-night TV variety shows, and on top of that, there’s usually a showcase performance. Now imagine doing that in city after city, country after country. There was usually at least one person having a meltdown from the pressure of fulfilling contract obligations, not to mention the infectious panic whenever there was an equipment malfunction or logistics failure.
It was another bodyguard, an ex-Marine, who taught me about the importance of a rubber duck during a grueling, multi-country tour. After a frustrating day of bad interviews with hostile journalists and a meet and greet that turned into an unruly mob, everyone was feeling exhausted and upset. But before things escalated, the bodyguard whipped out a rubber duck, handed it to the person next to him and said to squeeze it and then pass it around.
It’s almost impossible not to feel better when you’ve got a rubber duck squeaking in your hand. Traveling doesn’t always go well, and a rubber duck is a foolproof way of defusing tension. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use it, but you’ll always be glad to have it when a situation arises. A rubber duck could mean the difference between a tantrum and a smile if you’re traveling with kids (and even some adults). It’s also a great conversation starter if you’re looking to make friends, and you’ll end up leaving people with a smile on their faces. After all, who wouldn’t want to be known as the rubber-duck traveler?