Essential items that everyone who takes transit should consider tossing in a purse or backpack.

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Editor’s note: This story was written for New Yorkers, but we couldn’t help but notice parallels to our own mass-transit needs as the weather heats up. A recent Seattle Times story found buses can’t keep up with demand, meaning ever-tightening crowds. Perhaps this advice from seasoned pros will help us make it through.

In New York, when we walk out of our apartments, we need to be ready for whatever may come our way — stalled trains, heavy rain or a run-in with an old flame.

So we carry our lives in our bags: headphones, reading material, gym clothes, flats. But with each person, you’re also likely to find something unique — an item that has come to the rescue in the past, and which its owner now never leaves home without.

We recently asked readers to recommend items that have helped them out in a pinch, and which cost less than $25. The result? Ten essential items that everyone who takes transit — whether bus, rail or street car — should consider tossing in a purse or backpack.

Personal fan

“[Subway platforms] are stuffy at best and stifling when it’s really hot. Unfortunately, it’s not unusual to wait a long time for a train. Using the fan gives the illusion of air moving.” — Helen Blumenthal, 77, Manhattan

Anker Astro E1 Portable Charger, $20 at
Anker Astro E1 Portable Charger, $20 at

Phone charger

“A pre-charged, portable, quick phone charger is always useful, especially for beach trips or picnics.” — Julien M. DellaPorta, 25, Queens

Nylon tote

“I carry a nylon tote in my purse, and it serves a multitude of uses: as a [shopping bag], as a seat cover when a bench is wet or dirty and as an emergency rain hat!” — Gail Ressler, 58, Brooklyn

Ear plugs

“I never travel without foam earplugs, especially on subways! When I’m riding the train they block out everything from blasting music to the talk of angry people. I keep them handy in an outside pocket of my purse so I can pop them in quickly walking by a construction site, or when an emergency vehicle blares by.” — Monica McHenry, 62, Manhattan

Tape measure

“A small tape measure takes up very little space, and I always seem to find a need for it while shopping. My spouse and I have been on the lookout for a small vintage table, but it has to be less than 12 inches deep. The tape measure in my bag comes in handy to weed out potential table candidates.” — Elizabeth Ward, 42, Brooklyn

Makeup wipes

“Cleans sticky fingers from street vendor food, dirt off bags or shoes, and tables at coffee shops. It’s a cooling cloth when I’m overheating walking uptown. And, of course, cleaning makeup off [after going out] at night — because as soon as I get home, I am collapsing into bed.” — Lauren Parrish, 32, Brooklyn

Dental floss

“Always in my purse: dental floss, which I have on occasion substituted for string. One time my tennis shoe lace broke, so I pulled the dental floss out of my bag and it became an instant shoelace. I was once at a picnic with no knife to cut a cake. Dental floss to the rescue again!” — Rhoda Miller, 64, Virginia, by way of the Bronx

Hip Bottle, $15 at
Hip Bottle, $15 at

Water bottle

“It’s there for me in the winter in dry, overheated buildings. In the stifling heat, I throw in ice cubes so my cold water keeps me from melting on the subway platform. Bonus: I don’t have to spend money or waste plastic buying bottled water.” — Clare Aronow, 43, Manhattan


“Deodorant has a dual purpose — obviously underarm, but if you’re wearing a dress or shorts and you start to chafe, rolling the deodorant on your thighs is a game changer.” — Archer Brinkley, 23, Manhattan

Backup fare

“I carry an extra preloaded MetroCard, always. When the A train is pulling into [the station] and I’m cursing because I knew my balance was low and didn’t refill my card the night before, that extra prefilled card keeps me from a 20 minute wait or Uber fare.” — Ella Ayscue, 32, Brooklyn