The OpSec Blog

Security and privacy information and advice at home and abroad.

What’s In Your “Go Bag”?

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Depending on where you are in the world, you might want to consider packing a “Go Bag” (especially if you are in the Foreign Service posted abroad).  A Go Bag is a bag you keep packed in your closet that you can take to the airport on a moment’s notice to get out of the country.  It should contain enough so that you need to spend a minimum amount of time in your residence collecting your things – that’s what you’re trying to avoid.  In my career I’ve only had to use a go bag once, and admittedly it was not packed until the riots in the country I was in at the time started getting really bad.

The physical bag itself is a simple duffel bag – I’ve found those from Land’s End and L.L. Bean to be especially rugged and reasonably priced, meaning I don’t feel bad about banging it around.  Picking the right size is not trivial; you want it large enough that you can fit your personal effects, but small (and light) enough so that you can carry it around without assistance for extended periods of time (like waiting in a packed airport).  I do not recommend bulky rolling suitcases, nor do I recommend having multiple bags.

Here’s a list of things I have in my go bag:

  • Passports
  • $200 cash equivalent in the local currency (more than enough to get my family and I to the airport in a cab).
  • $300 equivalent in the local currency of your most likely safehaven destination (usually a stable neighboring country)
  • All of the credit cards I don’t use on a daily basis.
  • Cheap quad-band GSM cell phone with a local SIM card installed.  Odds are the safehaven location will have a GSM telecom provider in which you’ll be able to buy a SIM card once you land.
  • Small first-aid kit (bandaids, neosporin, small roll of gauze)
  • Small sewing kit (you can pick these up at hotels when you stay in one – usually they’re in the bathroom)
  • Clothes for three days (for me this is one pair of pants, two button-down shirts, 3 underwear, 4 pairs of socks, 3 undershirts, and depending on the season a light jacket and long-sleeved shirt)
  • International calling card ($20, can buy online or in many convenient stores around the world)
  • Small blanket (I usually take one from an overnight flight – it’s fairly warm and compacts very nicely.
  • Small towel (You can cut a full-sized towel in half and give the other half to your spouse) and washcloth.
  • Small pocket knife or multi-tool.
  • Spare prescription medication (Keep it up to date; you’ll also probably need to talk to your doctor about getting extra)
  • A list of important phone numbers.  I have the numbers of immediate family members, various insurance companies, my bank, credit card companies, immediate neighbors, the State Department Op Center, and the embassy switchboard.  Don’t rely on the contacts list you have in your cell phone.  The batteries could die or you might not have it.  You should also discuss setting up a phone tree to let your family and friends know what your status is; calling multiple people in a crisis is a waste of time and battery life.
  • USB stick with a backup of my important files.  Odds are you’ll bring your laptop with you in a backpack or something, but if you have a desktop this might be important.  Or if you forget your laptop.  Make sure you keep this up to date.

All of this comes out to 32 pounds.  Each member of your family should have a similarly packed bag.  Obviously you can pick and choose depending on the situation; my kids don’t have $200 cash in their bags, but they do have sunscreen and some toys.  You should also be mindful of your environment; if it’s the dead of winter you’ll want appropriate clothing.  If you’re in a more tropical climate you might want bug spray and sunscreen.  The details are less important than actually getting things together.  As with most emergency planning the hardest part is to take the first step.  In a situation serious enough that you might need to use your go bag, the last thing you want to think about is packing.

As the Arab Spring revolts have shown us, the personal safety environment for expatriates living abroad can change in a matter of days.  Nobody I talked to working in Cairo during the revolution expected that the embassy, one of the largest in the world, would be pared down from 500 direct hires to 50.  450 Foreign Service employees and their families had to get out fast.  Embassy Tripoli had an even more chaotic evacuation, with some embassy employees making it out on a ferry to Malta.  While most evacuations occur over the course of weeks, you can never be too prepared for emergencies.


2 Responses

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  1. What airport in the world will let you through security with a “small pocket knife or multi-tool”?!


    20/09/2011 at 12:39

    • You don’t have to carry-on the go bag. Mine’s too big to carry on in the first place.


      20/09/2011 at 13:36

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