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Notebooks/MacBookPro: You can’t tell the story if you don’t have the tools. I pack more notebooks than I need and leave what I do not use behind with local journalists. It’s good to quadruple check that you’ve packed the right chargers, electrical converters, batteries and enough pens and pencils (for rainy conditions) to supply a small army.
First Aid Kit: As a former lifeguard, first aid kits excite me. What you bring really depends on where you’re going but basics include compression bandages, syringes (if there is a fear of tainted needles) and don’t underestimate the importance of regular band aids and Polysporin.
Drugs: Anticipate the worst and hope for the best. As a general rule of thumb I try to avoid taking antibiotic big guns like Cipro or use sleeping pills, which can be highly addictive and really attractive if you’re an insomniac. But you’re helpless on the road and quickly dehydrated if you get a bad bug or are sleep-deprived, so both are good to have, along with the usual Gravol and Imodium.
Sunblock and Bug Spray: Obvious, yes. Sounds more like holiday packing, yes. But I once forgot suntan lotion in Sanaa, Yemen and learned the hard way that shooting four hours of midday protests can be mighty painful even if you dodge the flying projectiles. Finding suntan lotion in some countries is not easy. Ditto shopping for bug spray and you’ll be happy you brought it in malaria zones.
Phone: Always have a spare second phone that can take a local SIM card. Also good to have backup when you get, say, mugged of your iPhone in Nairobi, whoops.
Flashlight: This is my bedside friend, whether it’s in the pitch dark tents of Guantanamo’s “Camp Justice,” where journalists sleep, or a fancy hotel in Djibouti that is prone to power outages.
Door Jam: This may be stupid, feel free to mock. But some very tough British ex-marines advised having one of these on hand and if I’m in a dodgy hotel it just feels good to jam it under the door. Other than that, it is handy to have a door propped open if you’re traveling with a film crew and need to haul tons of equipment in and out.
Camera Bag: This is a big secret to reveal but yes, when traveling alone to countries that let’s say are wary of journalists and unaccustomed to lone female travellers, I throw some lacy underwear and feminine products on top of my Nikons. It is amazing how quickly security officials, who inevitably call you over for a secondary check, become embarrassed and hand you back the cameras they may have seized otherwise. Let’s hope they’re not reading this.
Clif Bars: Carrot Cake or Crunchy Peanut Butter are my favourite, although really, after a few weeks on a Clif Bar diet, they all look and taste the same. Drink with lots of bottled water.
Swiss Army Knife: If I have to check my bag, rather than just traveling with a carry on, doesn't hurt to throw this in.