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There is a word for this in Hungarian (my native language) 'útravaló' which literally means something like "things to be used on your journey". I couldn't find a translation yet in any dictionary. (I've checked 5 different ones.)

Is there an English word for the things (either physical or mental) that you give to someone for the reason/intent that she/he might have some use for them while you cannot help him?

It's not always clear that the person will actually need them, but usually if he does, it would save him from a great danger. Often a danger that he may not be able to handle without the things you give him.

These things could be advice, or things to think about. Physical examples that come to my mind are from folk tales, where the hero gets magical objects and advice on when to use them. They always save him from danger. The word can also be used ironically, when someone won't behave like he should, seemingly naively, but you think that he should have known better, so you give the things for him to think about, doubting that they are new to him or that he is innocent.

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4 Answers 4

This may be really far from the wonderful concept in OP's idiom, a metaphorical "things to be used on your journey" (life's a journey).

However, in a context such as this, I might merely say "Just in case".

That is an understatement. The implication is that "Keep this. Who knows, it may come in handy sometime. All the best."

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I couldn't think of an expression that fully covers both parts of útravaló. I thought of ways to describe something that you might give to someone, and ways to express the ideas of useful and helpful items, especially in times of trouble. Getting both concepts into the same expression was a bit of a challenge, however.

One candidate I considered was goody bag. This term refers to a bag of items – usually promotional items, such as samples or coupons – that are given away at check-in time, to conference registrants, road race participants, golfers participating in tournaments, etc. Wordnik list this among its definitions:

A bag containing gifts and promotional material handed out at a conference, exhibition or similar event.

That almost has the right connotation. After all, goody bags often contain something useful for the event. A golfer's goody bag might have golf tees; a conference goody bag might have a pen and a blank notebook; a marathoner's goody bag might contain an energy bar or sample of chafe cream. That said, the contents of a goody bag are usually rather inessential, and not likely to come in handy during a trying ordeal or time of danger.

One other term that crossed my mind was survival kit. Survival kits contain some basic items that are likely to be extremely useful during a time of emergency. Wikipedia says:

A survival kit is a package of basic tools and supplies prepared in advance as an aid to survival in an emergency.

Survival kits .. contain supplies and tools to provide a person with basic shelter against the elements, help them keep warm, meet their health and first aid needs, provide food and water, signal to rescuers, and assist them in finding their way back to help. Supplies in a survival kit normally contain a knife (often a Swiss army knife or a multi-tool), matches, tinder, first aid kit, bandana, fish hooks, sewing kit, and a flashlight.

It seems the contents of a survival kit are more in line with útravaló than the contents of a goody bag, but survival kits aren't typically given from one person to another, unless they are issued by an employer or agency. Instead, they are likely to be found as standard equipment in places like ships, outposts, or military aircraft.


Your comment about magical objects given to folk tale characters prompted me to look over various literary devices, such as Deus Ex Machina, to see if there might be something akin to útravaló. During that search, I found Chekov's Gun, which seems close. One website defines Chekov's Gun as:

A literary technique whereby an unimportant element introduced early in the story becomes significant later on. For example, a character may find a mysterious necklace that turns out to be the power source to the Doomsday Device, but at the time of finding the object it does not seem important.

Chekov's guns are often stumbled upon, not given; however, the more I studied examples of Chekov's guns, the more I thought the term aptly described Lucy's vial of healing elixir (from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), which had been an earlier gift from Aslan – and, if I understand the concept correctly, that vial could indeed be described as an útravaló of sorts.

In short, Chekov's gun is no perfect match for útravaló, either, but there can be a bit of overlap, depending on how the device is wielded in the story. I also think something like words of advice, heeded later on, can be a type of Chekov's gun.

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I quite enjoyed this expedition of yours on this topic! Goody bags are too inessential indeed, and 'survival kits' are best described as 'túlélőcsomag' - a word often used in a parting situations for something like a gift, but while there is preparation in it, it's not anything mystical. But Chekov's Gun is rather a interesting concepts, especially the healing elixir from Aslan to Lucy. On the other hand, the style of it is quite different, sounding technical and modern (name + gun), compared to útravaló. Nevertheless, this answer makes a very nice journey! –  naxa Nov 7 '12 at 21:04
    
By the way, it's such a joy to see útravaló noted like this, thanks. :) –  naxa Nov 7 '12 at 21:12

While one perfect word or phrase does not come to mind, here are a few other phrases that imply giving someone something to consider or hold onto or think about:

  • "here's something to mull over"
  • "put that in your pipe and smoke it"
  • "here's some food for thought"
  • "keep that in your hip pocket or keep it under your hat" (this is more about keeping a secret until it is advantageous to share it)
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In English, you might give someone a parting gift or some parting advice.

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2  
Excellent. You might coin waygift, as Tolkien coined waybread; it won't be misunderstood, and it carries a distinct legendary or folklorish feel. Dumas refers to D'Artagnan's gifts from his parents as his vade mecum. Or if the context suits, you might drag in an allusion to Polonius' advice to Laertes: "These few precepts in thy memory See thou character." –  StoneyB Nov 6 '12 at 19:16

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