Make An Emergency Flash Drive And Take It With You Whenever You Travel

You lost your wallet in Jakarta. You got hit by a car in Paris. You need to get online in a sketchy internet cafe in Reno. Getting stuck in a strange city with no ID, no money, no credit cards, and no medical or insurance documents can be inconvenient. In a medical emergency, it can be life-threatening. So have a backup plan: a secure flash drive loaded with your most vital documents and details. Here's how to build your own.

Choosing A Drive

First thing you'll need is a flash drive somewhere in the 1GB range. A conventional stick running TrueCrypt will work fine. The Verbatim Tough-n-Tiny looks perfect for this job because it's a) apparently tough, b) objectively tiny, and c) has a cute little eyelet you could use to string it around your neck.

Clearly mark the drive as containing emergency information so that the EMTs/doctors/police will know to look at it. Use a little nail polish to mark it with a red cross, the international symbol for "look here if shit goes bad". You can even make a white background for your red cross with a piece of medical tape to drive the message home a little harder: THIS IS A THING TO LOOK AT IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY.

Organising The Data

Your drive will be split into two halves -- open and encrypted. Use universal plaintext .txt files to populate the open section with the following info:

  • A file titled "EMERGENCY" (caps is important -- you want people to open this first) with your name, address and nationality. It should have instructions written in English, Spanish, Chinese and the local language saying, "contact these people". List phone numbers and email addresses your immediate family, your spouse or partner and a co-worker.
  • A file of "credit card contact info" with details for each card you carry. Use this to quickly cancel your cards if your wallet is lost or stolen. Do not include the CC number, CVV, or expiration date. That data is in the secured partition of the drive.
  • A file titled "Medical" that lists your medications, and allergies to drugs, foods, or bugs, as well as your primary care physician's contact information. This document says "I HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE" at the top of it, just in case some idiot doctor decides not to treat you because he thinks you are uninsured. If you have traveller's insurance, put that info in here as well.
  • A scanned image copy or digital photo of your insurance card, front and back.
  • A web browser. You can get portable versions of Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers that will run directly from the drive -- more secure than using a public terminal loaded with god-knows-what snoopware.

The encrypted section, (again, we like TrueCrypt) should include:

  • Scanned copies of each of your credit and debit cards, front and back.
  • A file titled "CCNs" that lists the account numbers, expiration dates and CVVs of your cards as well as the toll-free contact numbers and international collect call numbers for each company.
  • The routing and account number for bank accounts, phone numbers to your local bank's branch office. Be ready to have money wired or to freeze accounts.
  • Scanned copies or digital photos of your passport, your driver's licence, and at least one other form of photo identification.

Keeping It Safe

The final step is figuring out how to secure it to your person. If you're going somewhere extra dicey, just jamming it into a pocket won't work -- what if you get robbed? Mount the drive on a sturdy chain and wear it as a pendant. Hell, you could even hide it in your smuggler's cove if the situation is dire enough. (That would make a great story.)

A good flash drive is waterproof, and basically impervious to damage, so it should survive some rough treatment. All that matters is that when you get in trouble, you still have the necessary resources available to get yourself out of it.

Suggestions for other info to put on the drive? Hit the comments.


    MP3 of the music you want player at your funeral.

    "smuggler’s cove"

    Customs officials have the right to demand you unlock your encrypted data for them, so enjoy having it all stolen!

      Truecrypt allows you to make a hidden volume for plausible deniability. They won't ask for a password to a partition they don't know exists.

        Australian Customs and Boarder protection has the power to hold any goods you refuse to decrypt but as for stealing your info, they are bound by the privacy act.

      In some country's you are not permitted to use encryption, even tourists. We had an exec of ours travel to the UAE and we had to strictly control what was on her laptop as we were not permitted to encrypt it as per company policy.

        Ignorance is not a Defence.

    Have a qr code tattooed on yourself. But with only contact details.

      Heh, awesome idea. Might be a problem when you get old and wrinkly, though?

        Yeah they don't make those QR codes like they used to.

    Why not use an online solution for all this? Won't help with who to contact in an emergency, but the rest is secure. Lastpass for cc info, dropbox or gmail for scans.

    I'd rather access my Google Docs for this. Since you need access to a computer anyway to get your data, where you have access to PC, you generally have access to the Internet in most countries anyway. A good practice is to register yourself with the local consular mission, just in case.

      I think the point is something has happened to you at this point. You may be unconscious.

    And if you lose this emergency flash drive, write a novel/script detailing the events to get it and its secure data back and hope it becomes a crime/sci-fi movie in the future!

    If you want a truecrypt container on the drive for portability you'd need to run truecrypt in portable mode.
    Portable mode requires admin privileges.
    Kinda limiting if you don't know where you'll need it (net cafes etc).

    I have been doing this for years! I always get crappy movie merchandise 1-2gb flash drives from work. As soon as I get them i break open the comedicly large housing and rip out the tiny nugget of date storage to fill with important docs and then leave them all over the place. One at work, one in the wallet, one in my phone case, one in my bag, one in my travel bag, laptop bag, everywhere! they also come in handy when u just need to grab a file or two from someone unexpectedly.

    I am an avid reader of yours and you delete my comment because I placed a url in it mentioning medibandPlus, the same company that has been highlighted as an alternative by Pharmacy News magazine to the Australian government PCEHR e health system. It was very relevant to your article. Nice one.

      Sorry Michael. We've been dealing with some major spam over the last little while. Your comment might have just been an innocent victim caught up in the spam cull. Let me dig about and see if I can fetch it back for you.

    Use althletic tape (you know that ultra sticky beige bandage) and tape it to your chest. it would look like a wound dressing to most, but if you end up unconcious on your back with doctors hovering over you they would get curious about it enough to take a closer look.

    I'm obviously missing something here, but wouldn't encrypting the info on the drive make it unreadable by anyone but yourself? How does that help a paramedic/doctor who has just found you unconscious on the street with no id etc?

      Uh, read it again Dan. You encrypt the sensitive stuff like passport and credit card details.
      You don't encrypt the emergency contact numbers & health information.

        see that makes much more sense .. cheers Matt ;)

    One thing I've found to be handy is take a photo of your passport as your first shot. If you loose your camera, people know who owns it. If you loose your passport then you have a copy.
    Just don't carry them both in the same bag.

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