Make an Emergency Flash Drive and Take it With You Whenever You TravelS

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.

Organizing 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 traveler'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 license, and at least one other form of state-issued 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. Attach it to a locking carabiner and fasten it to your belt. 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 discussion.