A Comprehensive List of “Bug-Out Bag” Essentials
You’re living overseas and want to be prepared in case you need to leave quickly because of a natural disaster or political unrest. But how do you think of everything you might need to take with you before you know what will happen? The solution is to pack a “bug-out bag” ahead of time.
You might have heard it called a “grab-and-go bag” or an “emergency bag”, which is the same idea. Either way, it’s important to have a clear plan and a packed bag for each family member in case you need to flee quickly in the night.
Even if you are unlawfully detained, you will need to have a bag packed since many countries require you to provide for yourself if you’re in jail, or if you’re incarcerated against your will on fabricated charges. If you’re interested, there is a story about this in the free guide offered below.
Start with our Free Travel Safety Guide
Our free 40-page Travel Safety Guide about bug-out bags is a great place to start! It offers advice and guidance to help you prepare for a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Or if you find yourself having to quickly flee for your own protection or safety.
What Should I Include in my Bug-out Bag?
If you live overseas as an expatriate, are a team leader with short-term volunteers working for or alongside of you, or you are taking a long vacation, here are seven categories of items to consider for your bug-out bag:
- First Aid Kit – Include items for blood loss, emergency blanket, trauma, antiseptic and soap, pain medication, and more. You might also want to consider a good first aid course yourself, or a basic lifesaving course (not just CPR) as well. In case of an emergency, you may not be the only one needing medical attention.
- Identification Documents and Money – Pack important documents, copies, and a sum of money in both U.S. (if applicable) and local money. You may also want to include any precious jewelry, and irreplaceable items in this category. A record of where you are from, what street you are residing on overseas, your family members, even your pets and photos may help you get reunited in case of emergency.
- Ability to Communicate – It is important for you to have the capability to reach out to family, friends, the USA or home country, the Consulate or Embassy, etc. If you don’t already have numbers written down as well as in your cell phone and computer, add a file to your desktop and send yourself a text and/or email with this information. Don’t just trust a cell phone alone because the power can run out, it may not be charged, or it may be taken from you, or dropped and broken. Pack an extra battery and/or power bank and cable. The electrical grid may be down in case of a natural disaster so having extra power is critical. Do you have a plan to communicate with loved ones when traveling, running errands, meeting with local officials? At any of these times you may be held against your will or simply disappear. You need to have a way of letting people know where you are going as well as how and when you will check back in.
- Critical Medical Information – Bring your travel medical insurance card, or your international medical insurance card and emergency call in number (usually on the back of your card). Take a photo of it but also take a picture of the back. And make sure you print an extra copy for your bug-out bag of each person’s insurance card! Also, bring copies of any critical prescriptions and blood type/allergies/pre-existing conditions. In case you are unconscious, and cannot speak for yourself, this might just save your life! Many people overseas might not be able to communicate with you well because of the language difference, but they may be able to read the English on your documents. Things such as an extra pair of glasses and basic medicine you rely on daily should be in your grab-and-go bag as well. Consider, “Where There Is No Doctor” and/or “The Yellow Book” from the CDC – Both printed and on your device(s).
- Navigation Tools – Pack a GPS on your phone, a compass, a detailed map in a ziplock bag or laminated to help with directions/locations.
- Water Filtration – A clean water filtration device and/or iodine and bleach is essential. In case of no water, polluted water, having good filtration (such as Sawyer) can keep you alive and bug-free in quarantine, in a disaster, in an emergency living situation or in detention.
- Camping Supplies – Pack items such as fire starter, duct tape, ziplock bags, razor blade, flashlight, tarp (in the trunk of your car?), a knife (try to keep it innocuous – not a giant paramilitary version that will raise eyebrows), a whistle, some cord, a can opener, etc. In most disasters, you should think “we’ll need to be able to rough it for a few days to a week”, and plan accordingly. Whatever you consider essential for camping, you will also need in an emergency.
This list might feel overwhelming, but once you make your bag once, you should be all set for awhile. Most of the items are small and inexpensive (or free), so you should be able to fit them in a small bag, and they shouldn’t break the bank.
Finally, except for well-equipped medical kits, we would discourage purchases of pre-packaged “emergency preparedness kits.” They are often overpriced and not very well-thought out for overseas use. Building one locally, based on your own needs, would be our recommendation. Then, check it and refresh it once a year or every two years.
Useful Links for Bug-out Bag Lists
Here are a few links to helpful references with ideas for bug-out bags:
You can also check out a travel publication called Atlas Obscura with a useful article about what to pack.
An organization called Bugout Academy provides a list of 75 items that you might want to pack in your bug-out bag.
Here’s an article about the Navy Seals minimalist list.
The U.S. State Department offers some basic suggestions for a bug-out bag.
A helpful website for a national public service campaign from the United States government that describes an emergency kit.
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Don’t have international emergency medical insurance? All of our plans include emergency medical evacuation and most have “political evacuation” as well. You are not well prepared if you only have local or national insurance. If you live overseas check out: https://www.gninsurance.com/health/.
If you are traveling overseas for less than a year or so, check out: https://www.gninsurance.com/travel/.
P.S. – For those just visiting overseas or volunteering, consider both the Travel Safety guide above and a good travel policy. Depending on whether you are a team leader or going to an area where medicine is sorely lacking, you may or may not need much more than a good first aid kit and medicine/water filtration for yourself.