Buying Guide: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

Buying Guide: What to Pack in Your Interpreter Bag

By Jillian Winn
Tuesday, September 22, 2015

You’ve probably seen many articles on Signing Savvy by the amazing Brenda Cartwright - she’s a seasoned interpreter, a master teacher, well known presenter, and author of several best selling sign language books. She came up with this great guide of what to pack in your interpreter bag, so when she told us she was giving the keynote address at the Illinois’ Annual Statewide Interpreter Conference, we wanted to show some love to the interpreters by sending a few fully stocked interpreter bags with her for giveaways.

I did all the shopping for these bags, so I thought I would pass along tips for finding and buying the items. I went to several stores when shopping for these bags - Dollar Store, Five Below, Target, Rite Aid, Office Max, Home Depot, Meijer, and Amazon. So, I can save you a few trips by telling you where I found the best items and the best deals! Of course, the availability in your local stores may vary (products in stores like the Dollar Store and Five Below vary by location and season).

Of course, if you just want fast and easy, you can get everything from Amazon (there is a link to every item on Amazon) and if you have Amazon Prime you get unlimited free 2-day shipping (I have to admit we have a bit of an Amazon addiction in our house - you just can't beat free 2 day shipping when you need something fast!). But it really makes more sense (in terms of quantities and price) to buy some items in your local stores (unless you really want a case of gum instead of a single stick!).

Tip: Buy Kits


Items that come in "kits," such as an office supply kit, sewing kit, fresh breath kit, nail kit, and/or first aid kit, are great because they are self-contained - making it easier to stay organized and find things in your bag. Plus, many times kits that include several items are cheaper when purchased as a kit, versus purchasing each item separately. Of course, you should make sure you really want the items in the kit, because a kit doesn’t make sense when you really only want one of the items.

For example, the office supply kit I found includes a mini stapler and was the same price or cheaper than buying a mini stapler by itself (and the kit also included rubber bands, paper clips, tape, sticky notes, AND had it all in a cute case so you’re not digging to the bottom of your bag looking for a paper clip). The only negative of this kit is that everything is miniature sized and you could find higher quality items if you purchased them individually, but I was looking for something inexpensive and small to fit in the bag - it’s just for use on-the-go and not meant to replace full-sized supplies from your office.

Found at the Dollar Store


You gotta love the Dollar Store! You can't go wrong with paying $1... at least most of the time.  Sometimes, there are items that you can actually get for under $1 other places. For example, the pack of travel Kleenex that I got at Target for $2 was a better deal than the $1 pack of travel Kleenex at the Dollar Store because it had more than double the number of Kleenex packages in it (though the Dollar Store Kleenex were fun colors!).

Found at Five Below

  • small umbrella
    We really wanted an umbrella for the bag, but wanted to keep the price down. Umbrella’s can be really pricey! I looked several places for a $5 umbrella and lucked out at Five Below. Home Depot also had a good deal on tall, walking-stick type umbrellas for only $5 (I actually bought one to keep in my car - it is really large, so it can cover me and the kiddos in the rain), but they were too large to put in the bag (although they were tempting!). Five Below had plain colored umbrellas, which was just what I was looking for. They also had fun collegiate umbrellas, which I would have gotten if it was for myself (if I hadn’t already bought the umbrella from Home Depot!), but I figured interpreters in Illinois might not appreciate non-Illinois, college-themed umbrellas! The Five Below umbrellas are great little umbrellas that get the job done if you are just dashing from your car to a building. The negative (and positive) to these umbrellas is that they are inexpensive... but that means they aren’t going to survive high winds or last a lifetime. If you’re looking for a reliable umbrella that can really weather the storm, you might want to invest in a better quality (and more expensive) umbrella.
  • small bag
    It’s recommended that interpreters don’t wear jewelry while interpreting, so a small bag with a few pockets that can serve the dual purpose of holding any jewelry you may have on while you work and organizing other items in your bag is a great find. Five Below had these great little “pencil” bags in the school section that were great because they were small, had multiple pockets, and were transparent so you can easily see into the bag to find your stuff. The link to Amazon is the same bag. (This was significantly cheaper at Five Below than other stores.)
  • mini flashlight
    The mini flashlights at Five Below seemed to be better quality than those I found at the Dollar Store.

Found at Target


Found at Amazon

  • office supply kit - rubber bands, stapler, staples, paper clips, tape, sticky notes
    I found this cute office supply kit at Target, but they only sell pink ones at Target and I didn’t want pink for our interpreter bag. So then I was on the hunt for a non-pink office supply kit. I found others, like the one at Target but in other colors, directly from the manufacturer - Yoobi, which seems to be a cool company because similar to Toms, they have the mission of “one for you, one for me” (that's what their company name Yoobi stands for) where for every item purchased they donate an item to a classroom in need in the U.S. However, I was under a deadline and couldn’t wait for standard shipping, so I headed to Amazon where I knew I could get free 2 day shipping through Amazon Prime. Luckily I found an office supply kit on Amazon and it was even less expensive - mission accomplished! 
  • blank note card
    In my not-so-free time, I occasionally design invitations and thank you cards for close friends, so I am very familiar with the cost of stock paper and note cards. These note cards are a great value - I haven’t been able to find a better price for blank note cards and envelopes anywhere (and I've shopped around!). They are great to use as a base if you are crafty or have kiddos who like to draw or paint, and they are also good just as a plain, simple, no-frills blank card.
  • refillable water bottle
    If they had a support group for people who collected too many refillable water bottles, I’m pretty sure my best friends PJ and Todd would hold an intervention and enroll us. They were over one night for dinner and opened the cabinet to get a glass for water and saw our collection of refillable water bottles on the top shelf and asked if we were stocking up for the zombie apocalypse. (The first step is admitting you have a problem.) At any rate, not just any water bottle will do! We’ve accumulated plenty of refillable water bottles from conferences, swag from other companies, and on our search for the best water bottle, but most of them get freecycled or sent to Goodwill. The one type of refillable water bottle that we love (and collect) are the Contigo AUTOSEAL® bottles. After long nights with our babies, we found that regular glasses didn’t mix well with our sleepy delirium and the Contigo AUTOSEAL® bottles were a lifesaver (or rather - carpet, floor, and clothing saver). The autoseal mechanism in the caps are pure genius because liquid never leaks. We have tried and (liked) the AUTOSEAL® Cortland Water Bottle, AUTOSEAL® Madison Water Bottle, AUTOSEAL® Kangaroo Water Bottle with Pocket, and AUTOSPOUT® Flip Chill Kids Water Bottle. They are all great, but we prefer the Cortland because the mouth is slightly wider than the Madison and the Kangaroo (so it’s easier to put ice in it). The Flip Chill is perfect for kids - it keeps liquids cold for a long time and our 2 year old loves it - a no-spill top is a necessity for a 2 year old! (It's not Contigo, but if you're looking for a non-plastic sippy cup, I really like the Eco Vessel Insulated Sippy). I also tried the Contigo Purity Glass Water Bottle, but I really missed not having the autoseal lid and the opening is a little too small for my liking... so the search for the perfect glass water bottle is still on! And really, although I tell everyone I know about my love for the Contigo bottles, Contigo did not send us money or free water bottles - but they should! :-) - we just really like their Autoseal water bottles. Signing Savvy just purchased Contigo AUTOSEAL® Cortland Water Bottles with the Signing Savvy logo on them - of course I’m excited about that!!

Now, you know more than you need to know about where to shop for your own interpreter bag! See all of the items in our infographic below.

What to pack in your interpreter bag

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