Travel Survival Kits – Then & Now


Did you ever think what it was like to be a traveler in the mid 1800’s? Travel survival kits of yesteryear were certainly a lot different than they are today. As single moms and dads, we sometimes heave a series of sighs as we pack the accoutrements for ourselves and our young child or children in readiness for a road or airplane trip. Thanks to technology, travelers today have a far easier and more comfortable travel experience. To appreciate this, I did a little research on travel history. Let’s take a peek back in time.

A century and a half ago, both men and women wore more hats or other head covers, as much for protection from the weather as for fashion. Women carried parasols (for sun protection) and fans to keep cool (no air conditioning). People didn’t have as many clothes and there were not low-priced Wal-Mart’s on every corner, so a needle and thread were essential for repairs. A traveler’s survival kit also included candles and bar soap. With no TV or computers, people read more, which meant they traveled with a book. They also wrote letters, so they carried nib pens and a bottle of ink. (Fountain pens were invented in the second part of the 19th century but it took some time before they were widely used).

Regardless of the type of trip, there were no frequent fast food restaurants along the way so folks brought with them dried foods, such as cornmeal (to make mush) and dried meat–your good-ol’ beef jerky. They might also have included a pot and a cup in their survival kit.

Very importantly, there were concerns about safety and security. All travelers, men and women, carried with them some type of weapon, usually a travel-sized Derringer pistol. Easily concealed, these single-shot pistols fit inside a woman’s purse or a man’s pocket.

All throughout the history of humankind, people have worked diligently to alter their consciousness by changing their body chemistry–simply put, people get high. We can assume that the” fear of the unknown” element of travel triggered the same feelings of hypochondria or at least concern for one’s health for the 19th century traveler as is the case today. The convenience of the 19th century patent medicines was that one sip did it all.

According to Barbara Floyd, University Archivist at the University of Toledo (Ohio, not Spain) the most successful patent medicine of the 19th century was Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. Among other things, Lydia’s compound would “cure the ills of suffering women.” It also made them high as a kite as it was 20% alcohol and the rest vegetable extracts. Of course, the booze component did not appear on the label. These patent medicines were secret concoctions protected by, well, patents, of course. Since you ordered them from Sears and Roebuck, and not from your local PCP, they were more quackery than medicine. Other remedies that the 19th century traveler might have carefully packed to help her make it through the trip were laced with cocaine, caffeine, opium, or morphine. People also carried booze. Whereas today we can fill an iced-down cooler with Budweisers, back then it was the flask of liquor. Lastly, for those who liked tobacco but considered smoking it to be too crude, they brought with them snuff bottles from which they inhaled tobacco in its powdered form.

Well, readers, I hope you enjoyed our journey back in time.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Contact Single Parent Travel at 888-2-SPT-KIDS. Visit their website at or send an e-mail to John Frenaye, Chief Single Dad!

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