What I Can’t Live Without

Starting a new humanitarian assignment isn’t easy. There’s paperwork to complete, a new language to learn, family and friends to say goodbye to. And then there is the age-old challenge of how to optimise some of the most prized real estate anywhere in the world: the inside of a suitcase. Your contract is two years long, and your weight limit is 23 kg. What are your absolute must-have that have to go with you?  

We asked our colleagues all over the world to tell us the items they simply cannot live without. Here is what they said.

‘My waist bag – it has been 10 years of steadfast companionship! It keeps important items exactly where I need them, and provides access and convenience.” – Richard, Kenya, currently working in the Horn of Africa.

‘A chitenge (sarong wrap). I always have one, especially when I am in the field. I can use it as a skirt / dress, scarf, towel, curtain, sheet, hankerchief, and a sleeping bag. I always have one in my bag!’ – Lute, Zambia, currently working in Jordan.

‘I always bring 30 to 40 sachets of Quaker Oats with me – the best way to start my day! I also take family photos, Settlers of Catan, a deck of cards, and an HDMI-USB-C converter.’ – Damon, France, Global Emergency Response Team.

‘This is an odd one, but it’s true – nice thick, creamy coffee creamer. I like to start each day with the perfect cup of coffee, filter style (like they serve in the USA). The trick to the perfect cup is the right balance between the boldness in the coffee, sweetness in the sugar, and creminess of the creamer. This started for me in 2001 as a 22-year-old, and it has been the same ever since. I usually bring six months of this stuff when I travel.’ – Nate, USA, currently working in Jordan. 

‘Spanish ham and some cosmetics – but if I know I’m going into a remote location, I take toilet paper and a bucket for showering and using as a stool. And mosquito repellant. And a solar rechargable light for my tent. It makes a difference!’ – Gloria, Spain, currently working in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

‘I can’t imagine not having my own locally made Nigerian spice. Having it with me to use on every meal makes me feel at home. I make sure I never run out of it. MY SPICE, MY HOME FEELING.’ – Solomon, Nigeria, currently working in Yemen. 

‘Something sweet (dark chocolate bars) and something salty (inca corn). Yoga mat and exercise apps, an e-reader, dried herbs – and I’m even trying out sprouting! And a Pilot G-2 0.7 blue ink pen for signing purchase requests and payment disbursement forms.’ – Rachel, USA, currently working in Sudan. 

‘I came with powdered injera (a traditional Ethiopian bread) that makes me feel home. It is an enjoyment to cook on weekends with Ethiopian receipes. This helps me to be thoughtful of my wife’s skillful hands in the making.’ – Wondimagegn, Ethiopia, currently working in Yemen.

‘My luggage is often packed with several bags of Huel meal power. I’m regularly made fun of for the constant mixing and shaking, hah, but it’s easy field food that is clean and won’t make you sick!’ – Zach, USA, currently working in Yemen.

‘I stockpile Earl Grey Tea from the UK. I can’t live without my daily tea and love a good chat over a cuppa with friends and colleagues.’ – Lena, Austria, currently working in Yemen. 

‘I always have multiple ways for making coffee. My first choice is a travel-sized French press. If I run out of coffee, I switch to fancy instant coffee sachets. When that runs out, I turn to my last resort: coffee sachets from military MREs (Meal, Ready to Eat) with an expiration date many decades in the future.’ – Joel, Switzerland, Global Support Office. 

‘Baking supplies! No matter where we have lived in the world, my husband and I have always enjoyed baking as a way to spend time together, relax, and share something homemade with our team.’ – Breanna, USA, currently working in Jordan.

‘Oats. It’s something that’s easy to bring wherever you travel, simple to prepare, and can be eaten in the morning to keep you going throughout the day even if you need to skip lunch.’ – Alastair, UK, currently working in Jordan.

‘Cargo trousers! I can put everything in all the pockets: phone, notes, pen, or all the above together. And it keeps the backpack lighter!’ – Elena, one of our expert logisticians, Switzerland, Global Support Office.


This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.