Getting Back Home from Vacation or Abroad When the SHTF

This guest post is by By Mike S and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

The following is just a scenario, mostly hypothetical based on some real-life experiences to inspire some thought for those that travel regularly.

At home, you have done all that you can to prepare for the worst conditions if and when a disaster would occur. You have a reasonable supply of food, water, layered clothing, comfort items, methods to stay warm and dry, security and all your stores; and you have an emergency bag packed and ready to go if you must evacuate your home, aka your Bug-Out Bag or BOB. You have duplicated items stored away from your home just in case your home was lost as a result of the disaster.

Your next step is to put together a daypack, aka your “Get-Home Bag, or GHB with concise items that will allow you to rendezvous with the rest of your family at your home location or alternate location in a reasonable time. It will have some items to secure water, shelter you from the immediate environmental changes that could occur in the few hours to couple of days it may take to get yourself home.

You go down your checklist and everything is in its right place, packed neatly away where you can get to it as quickly as possible. Everything is “Good to go!” You and yours are as prepared as you can be; maybe not…

Now consider you are on a business trip by yourself or a vacation thousands of miles away with your family; if you are with your family, at least you are all together and that is important regardless the supplies you may or may not have. With flight restrictions in place today, you certainly cannot carry-on your GHB, or at least not all of its contents, so you will need to check your luggage for some of those ‘restricted’ items.

Then you have to consider the destination of your trip; some foreign countries will not allow you to import of such items even in checked luggage, like a sheath knife with a blade longer than three inches (7.5 centimeters), a folding knife also with the same length limitation as a fixed blade, and definitely not a gun. I use a Straight Razor to shave with, which has been questioned and one time confiscated even with the paddle-strop and barber’s hone as accoutrements (glad I do not bring one of my best). At least if you travel within the country, you do not have to be subjected to closer scrutiny as you pass through customs; going to your destination and returning.

Now that you have contemplated the destination of your trip and feasibility of what ‘supplies’ you can or should bring, you also have to consider the added weight of your GHB contents to what you will normally need for your trip. Checked bags usually have an added cost, even more so if considered heavy or over the weight limitations. Traveling with family allows for additional space in checked baggage and easier to distribute some of the more crucial items in a compacted BOB. Sure, you can buy some of your items to replace what you could not bring once you arrive, but then you have to worry about getting them back home, packing them in luggage, shipping via mail, give away, or just do without… rough it.

Language brings up another item to consider. If you are not fluent in the local language, relying on an interpreter or an application on your smart phone that poorly translates and is barely adequate, you could be in serious trouble if a global disaster occurs or a regional disaster back home, or where you currently are visiting. Electricity is down, you can’t use an ATM to get local currency, and you can’t place a call back home to let others know you are okay; others from home may not be able to contact you and panic starts to increase due to ‘unknown’ circumstances. Being from a military family, I like the mindset of “No news is good news;” at least that way panic is somewhat reduced.

Did I mention an ATM for local currency… oh yes, the almighty dollar, euro, peso, yen, real, or whatever the local currency may be will become more important for any adventures while at your destination let alone efforts to get back home. It is probably a good idea to obtain some of the currency for where you will be traveling at your local bank foreign currency exchange or pre-order from your bank prior to leaving for your destination.

I would recommend approximately $500 worth per week at a minimum. Exchanging currency once at your destination may be more costly with increased exchange rates at the airport simply because they have you over a barrel, so to speak. Using an ATM can also be dangerous as you can easily become a victim of fraud and easily lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars within 24 hours; so you should make sure the account your ATM card is associated with has limited funds, like access to checking only and no access to savings.

That can be a painful lesson to learn and once learned you typically won’t have to become reeducated. You can also carry-on a few small pieces of gold (about 5 to 10 grams each), which would pretty much have an equal global value and sell as needed to obtain local cash; again being an ‘outsider’ may present an opportunity to be taken advantage of if local or global conditions warrant local discretions.

Now to getting back home… while I thankfully have never been caught under these circumstances of an extended regional or global disaster occurring while away, so this situation and scenario is academic at best; but, I have been stranded out of country, without money, credit cards, wallet, identification, or passport and that by itself is difficult to deal with.

If you are “in country,” problems will be less of an issue than if you are abroad. Make sure you have at least three to five photocopies of your passport and driver’s license; I usually have a copy in each piece of luggage and packs. If you are traveling in an area were theft is more common or prevalent, you may want to make one of your first stops to the closest Embassy so you can register your passport, with the visa that allowed you into the country in the event of a theft, this makes getting a replacement so much easier to get back home through normal methods; they just make a copy and you have to provide contact information both in country and back home… make sure you have that information already on paper since smart phones with cameras are not allowed inside.

I would certainly hate to have to walk back home from thousands of miles away, crossing international borders with a valid passport, and without a passport would be even worse. If you have to cross large bodies of water, good luck and I hope you brought more than a few small pieces of gold; “Sure Out of Luck” is one interpretation of the acronym S.O.L. If you are only a few hundred miles away from home when the SHTF, then you are much better-off than being thousands of miles away, at least if you were on the same continent it would be better than needing to cross an ocean.

In summary, if you must travel and are concerned about getting back home if a long term regional or global event occurs while you are away, in addition to a few small items in a daypack closely resembling a BOB or GHB, a number of small pieces of gold may be your best resource to carry, especially if you are traveling abroad; they are somewhat easy to conceal and have a fairly equal trade value based on local currency.

This contest will end on December 16 2012 – prizes include:

Well what are you waiting for – email your entries today. But please read the rules first… Yes

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. A gold chain is good, you can clip off links as you need them.

    • A gold chain with a gold bullion coin pendant is even better, and the mark up on bullion coins is a lot lower than on gold jewelry so you get more gold for your buck. Bezels don’t cost too much, especially gold filled ones. If one spends a lot of time in Europe, a European gold bullion coin will always be easy to sell. In Asia, maybe a Chinese gold panda. Just choose the size you want- enough for a one way first class airline ticket home might be a reasonable choice.

      Then wear it under your clothes, not where people can see it.

    • Gold chains, again: My knowledge is pretty outdated, but it used to be that Europeans did not like gold jewelry which was less than 18 karat. Our standard is usually 14 karat, which has the advantages of being cheaper and harder wearing. The downside would be in selling it overseas: if there is little market for a 14 karat chain as jewelry, you will get very little for it. A high karat chain would also give you more gold, and that is what you want in an emergency.

      So…. it might be better to have whatever gold chain you like, even a gold filled one, and count on the bullion coin or coins which you have on it for your emergency get home money. If you already have US bullion coins, and don’t plan on adding any soon, just get as many bezels as needed for your necklace. They may be slightly discounted in Europe or Asia or South America compared to whatever the local standard is, but they will be salable.

      And if you do travel a lot, it should be easy to check this out, including talking with gold dealers overseas. They can tell you what sells best. You may also be able to get a good deal on a used gold necklace there. Second hand jewelry is cheaper than new, so you get more gold for the price.

      I also like putting sterling bezels on US Morgan and Peace silver dollars and the modern bullion coins: If you already have the coins, they make great jewelry for only the cost of the bezel. You can wear some of your emergency stash.

    • The only flaw is that it may be hard to convence the person you need to give it to of its value …….jewelry comes in many grades , or is not actually real gold . just sayin
      If I felt like this was a possibility , I would get 1/4 oz. coins …….those people know are real .

  2. Thanks for the info, as this is a concern.

  3. Thanks Mike S for a well written and informative article. Now for a suggestion… Dear Wolf-Pack, first vacation at home… you all have an amazing country full of fascinating things to see and do. Vacationing at home means your vacation dollars are spent in the US, provide employment to Americans and support your own economy. If you wish to travel abroad, please come visit us in Canada. While you can’t bring guns, you can drive your BOV and carry your BOBs. And if you were to be here on a hunting trip, you can bring your long guns. While you can’t sit on the Left Bank in Paris – you can find croissants in Montreal or New Orleans. And while the food of Tuscany is amazing, there are small Italian restaurants right across our countries that will make you weep for the fine food. And while the Great Wall is in China, the achievements of the dam builder at the Hoover Dam will leave to awe inspired. Heck you can even take the Inland Passage from Bellingham WA to Anchorage AK and still take your BOV with you. From the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) to the Smithsonian, from Williamsburg to Fort Vancouver, there is amazing culture to be found right here at home. Take a vacation and visit some of it… you can take your BOB with you, then drive home in your BOV in case of a vacation interrupted by S hitting the fan.

    • Lake Lili – I like the way you have described everything. As a child, my family would camp all across the United States for summer vacation. We even went into Canada a time or two. We saw a lot and gained an appreciation for the ever-changing landscape – both city and country. Even now, I’d rather take a road trip to see what’s around. Thanks for the lovely reminder of what is in our own back yard.

      • GA Red,
        Unless you live in the armpits of the continent (wherever that may be), here in North America most people would be amazed to see what great venues are within a radius of a 1-3 hours drive from wherever you live. This country has amazing history, places, and events all within a lazy drive, and unless that drive takes you into Canada or Illinois, you can most likely carry your firearms in some way or another.

        • There are two words that bring great joy to me – road trip. The hubby and I sometimes spend the day driving around TN, NC, SC and N GA just for the enjoyment. It is really beautiful up there.

    • +10

    • village idiot says:

      My sentiments exactly. The new Passages Museum in NW Arkansas is one sight to behold, the mountains one drives through to get there outstanding and beautiful, all within a few hours of my home. I’ve dug for diamonds, mined quartz crystals, floated the Little Missouri River in an inner tube, and hunted for bear over the past few months and haven’t had to drive over 2 hours from my home. Now that’s entertainment! Thanks, Lake Lili, for that reminder.

  4. Sister Judi says:

    Good food for thought.Last summer I traveled via car out of the country.Knowing I would be gone 3 plus months I used all my preeping to prepare for what if I couldnt get back.Some of us can not imagine that happeneing.We r so spoiled and so blessed I think in addition to preparing for 6 months without getting back I needed to stay alert to the signs and climate.One of the biggest challenges was water.I hit a heat waves temps 112 degrees,I hit power outs meaning no gas for car.It is impearative at home or whereever TO THINK AHEAD All I will add is,dont stop living because your afraid JUST THINK AHEAD AND PREPARE FOR ANYTHING

    • Sister Judi,
      “dont stop living because your afraid JUST THINK AHEAD AND PREPARE FOR ANYTHING”. Amen sis, and I hope that’s why everyone makes this site part of their routine.

  5. That would be a nightmare scenario. My wife and I went to Ireland two years ago and Maui last year. I remember thinking what would happen if the SHTF when we were on vacation.

    Basically, we would have been in trouble. It’s one of the reasons why I tend to stick close to home and have a BOB in each of our car’s. I’m not going to be stuck somewhere like one of the sheep when something happens. I WILL be ready.

    I worry about my son though. Right now, he’s at college about a three hour drive away. He thinks I’m nuts and refuses to have a BOB. If something were to happen, he would have to make his way back home on his own with virtually nothing. It’s a scary though.

    • Our middle child is a little over an hour away at college, but the college is close to where my hubby’s mom’s family lives. I have told her to go there if the SHTF while she is away. It’s a starting point to getting her all the way home. I know she will be safe with them.

    • Storm,
      My kid sister was stationed in Hawaii for about 8 years, and was actually happy to finally retire and move back to the mainland. She noticed some years ago that a longshoreman strike on the west coast caused noticeable shortages of some items on store shelves within 3 weeks. Although Maui isn’t really a foreign land, it’s remoteness and population density could bring problems.

      • >>Although Maui isn’t really a foreign land, it’s remoteness and population density could bring problems.<<

        Yep. We live on Oahu, and whenever there is the suggestion of a longshoreman's strike, toilet paper disappears from the stores. Rice, too.

        Our state culture is one of total dependency on the government, but after Hurricane Katrina, even our politicians went out of their way to bluntly tell people we all need to be prepared for 2-7 days of ZERO government services, most certainly including rescue, after a direct hit from a hurricane. No water, no electricity, no phones, no police. Amazing.

        Most of the public schools are build as hurricane shelters- cement block or concrete, with heavy grates over the windows. That is particularly important here as there are thousands of older single wall houses (the walls are one board thick) sitting on posts set on top of cement blocks. They aren't tied down unless retrofitted.

        One huge problem here: unlike Mississippi or Florida, no one is going to be trucking relief supplies in from the next state the day after the storm. Nor will there be telephone and electrical company crews driving to help from three states over.

        Even when supplies are available on the West Coast, available ships have to be found in the right ports,then loaded and sailed here. And the Hawaii ports have to be in shape to unload. Then distribution. When Oahu gets a direct hit from a big one, we will be in deep kim chee.

        The upshot is that a fairly high percentage of the people are fairly well prepared. Food, water, tarps, medical kits, even a lot of people with generators.

        For tourists: The Waikiki hotels are pretty much all high rises, so when there is a tsunami watch/warning, guests get moved to upper floors. I expect that is the same on the other islands. Same for hurricanes. People should be aware and go home if seats are available, though. Who wants to be here in the aftermath if they can get out?

        For TEOTWAWKI, well… We import 90% of our food, and with Just In Time supply systems, people who aren't prepared will be hungry.

        If I was here and KNEW TEOTWAWKI was upon us, I'd do anything to get to at least west coast. Put a charter jet on the credit card? You bet! What's a $20,000 charge on a credit card at that point? Of course, the reasonable reluctance to spend that kind of money when not KNOWING the level of the problem would likely keep one from trying it before all the jets were long gone. Few people will make that kind of an expenditure unless they KNOW they need to, by which time the people for whom it isn't a big deal will already be gone—along with the jets.

  6. Great post and something I think about a lot. My wife and I take a trip every year without our kids. While there are things we can do to to live, getting home might be nearly impossible.

    I’ll defintiely think about a GHB but not sure how effective it would be.

  7. Great , here I am 600 miles away from home and I get this to think about!!! Ha Ha. I guess I should go out and fill up the three 5 gal, and 7 one gal gas cans my BIL has bought over the last couple of years when he has ran out of gas!!!! Between my full tank and the other 22 gal it would get me back home!!! Don’t know if I want to be around the BIL if shtf!! Got my GHB with me but it is just planned for 40-50 miles and three days, but I guess I could strech it.

  8. Great article…..enjoyed reading the suggestions. Most of my travel is in the US except for a few trips a year. Good tips for business travelers!

  9. Having spent the majority of my adult life overseas, please allow me to offer up some more realistic tidbits…

    Trying to barter with gold, jewelry, etc. in a foreign country under in-extremis conditions, w/o a foreign born spouse from said country, is only asking to be ripped off. Might be a good scenario in books, but not realistic.

    1. Always have a return trip ticket in your hand…this lessens your targetability to the local lowlifes, of which there are many. If the situation is failing fast, then “Get Out of the Country.”

    2. Do not depend on ATMs…when they go out, they go out & you are screwed. Stay ahead of the ballgame & keep cash in both U.S. $$$ (suggest $1,000.00) & at least $500.00 in the local currency. If you do not have access to a U.S. base in said country, then life just got harder. The U.S. Embassy is NOT your friend!

    3. Keep survival essentials in your travel bag (should be a backpack of some sort), i.e. map, compass, signal mirror, flashlight, small first aid kit, sewing kit, small sanitary kit, hiking boots/clothes/socks, etc., some type of sleeping gear (poncho w/liner), snivel gear depending upon climate.

    4. DO NOT place your $$$ or passport/IDs in a backpack…this goes in either a buttonable chest pocket or front pocket of your trousers (pickpockets hate this), discard a traditional wallet & spread-load $$$ amongst family members.

    5. Always have certified true copies of your passport, birth certificate, marriage papers, etc. for all members of the family (keep as electronic copies also).

    6. Always have a contingency plan & constantly revise it as the situation develops.

  10. I am actually 9,000 miles from home on a different continent as I wrote the post… and this reply.

    I was also a victim of ATM fraud this trip, glad I only leave $500 in that account at any time… I have since cancelled that card. (One reason I wrote the post)

    I agree that the US Embassy is not your friend, unless you have lost your passport and need to get back home… by stopping there before adventuring out in the unknown, if the potential of losing your passport, no matter how remote, is prudent to do so BEFORE it gets lost/stolen… Dealing with the lose and replacement after the fact IS a nightmare! Been there, done that, got the tee-shirt ;O)

    Gold Jewelery is a variable and pretty much no matter where you go, they will deal with weight and the lower from 24 karat the greater the reduction, and yes, you are subject to getting ripped off… be forewarned!

    As for vacationing in country to see all the wondeful sights is a great suggestion… then again, out of country sometimes is a necessity.

  11. Sister Judi says:

    Storm,I would pack a bag and put it in his car.I also give prepper gifts.flashlights etc.

    • Thanks, but he doesn’t have a car. He stays in the dorms there and when he comes home for a weekend or holidays, we have to go get him.

      He’s coming home in December and I’m going to have a plan for him whether he likes it or not. I’ll tell him that if I’m wrong, then good, no worries. But if I’m right, he’s going to need this stuff to get home safely. Better to be safe than sorry, right?

      • Encourager says:

        Storm, been there done that. Our son never had a car until he graduated. His college was 12 hours away. He was able to catch rides for Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break. We would haul him up and back at the beginning and end of the school year.

        I asked him yesterday what he thought of ‘all this fuss about being prepared for a disaster’ and he said “Y2K all over again. Much to-do about nothing.” I was shocked as when asked before he never really answered me. He knows we are preppers and so is his brother. He says his brother has gone way off the deep end. I asked him if he would at least keep a bag in his car with stuff in it in case he got caught with a broken down car and a long walk in a snowstorm. He rolled his eyes and said ‘sure.’ As in NOT. He is an adult but has always been the one to learn stuff the hard way by experience. All I can do is pray the ‘experience’ won’t cost him his life. And pray!

  12. Two of my four children travel for work a lot. I don’t come by the name worrisome for nothing. One travels internationally, one is pretty much within the US. Both travel with small gold coins, several of them. One thinks that there is little to be concerned with as she feels that she will make the best of where ever she is and has many friends in each location she travels to. The other, depending on which side of the country she may find herself on, has a place to go and would do whatever is needed to get there. Hard to carry water and food around on airplanes and they don’t. But both have lifestraws and calorie bars. Both think in a shtf situation theft of a bicycle would be acceptable larceny if needed. And they always have a good set of maps with them. That is about the best we could figure out.

    • worrisome,
      Not to add to your worrying, but having friends in all of the end points of your travel can in one scenario be of little use. It’s possible for numerous reasons to not reach your destination and be stranded, at least for a while, in an unfamiliar place. On 9/11/2001 Many flights were ordered to land at the nearest airport that could handle them, and there were no flights anywhere for days. The same thing can happen with mechanical or weather issues, so your plan should have at least some contingency for this possibility.

      • Speaking of that day, I read an account of someone that was on a road trip in Canada at the time – the article also reminded me of the road trip. They were unable to return home at their scheduled time because the borders were closed. Fortunately, they were able to find lodging and food. Many of the locals in the area they where they were traveling were extra gracious and helpful – even going so far as to buy their meals at times.

        I also remember a time when my mom’s car broke down in a remote area of South Georgia after dark. She was alone and walked to the closest house, knocked on the door and the people there helped her.

        It seems it’s getting more and more difficult to find people like that but these memories help me have faith in mankind.

      • You definitely have a point OhioPrepper. I remember 911, I had a friend traveling that day on a flight from North Carolina to SFO. Ended up in Chicago………Eventually found a train to get part of the way home…….then finally found a car rental place to make it the rest of the way. I think about it all the time, but there is really very little I can do about it. They have cash, they have gold, they are relatively resourceful………and I worry and pray when they are moving about.

        • “They have cash, they have gold, they are relatively resourceful”, and that puts them so far ahead of the masses that they will most likely do fine. Sounds like you’ve raised some clear thinking survivors.

  13. Great article with good points to consider. Lots of interesting advice was given by the Wolf Pack as well. If i may chime in, the most important thing when travelling is to be “Grey”. Don’t show signs of being the wealthy tourist or you will get assaulted/ mugged/ raped/ worse.

    I have written a few articles about Personal Protection that point you in the right direction in terms of basic OpSec and safety, check them out on my site

    An excellent resource is its written by a good friend of mine who also trained with me. Awesome info for travellers and people concerned about OpSec, check it out.

    • I agree about not showing how wealthy you are when travelling abroad. Don’t wear expensive jewelry and wads of cash. And if you’re travelling with a companion, split your currency. When my wife and I went to Maui, she had half of our on hand cash and I had the other half. She lost her wallet the first day. *sigh*

      It sucked that we lost the money, but we still had my cash, and atm and credit cards. However, she also had her licence and her atm in her wallet, so we immediately called our bank and had them cancel her card.

      Also, if you are in a new country, DO NOT walk in neighborhoods or sections of cities where there are not many people visible. This usually means it’s not a good place to be. When we were in Ireland, we found ourselves walking around a city’s downtown district and at first, there were tons of people shopping and everything was good, however, we soon found ourselves walking down a road that led to another section of the city that you could tell immediately was not good. There were sparse people, the stores and houses were different, even the atmosphere was different. We turned around and walked right back the way we came.

      Don’t be afraid to ask the consigliere of your hotel what places are good for tourists and which aren’t. They are VERY helpful because, for one it’s their job, but they also don’t want tourists going back to where they’re from and badmouthing their country/city.

  14. GZF, when I tried to go to it said blog not found. Please check and repost. Thanks!

    My youngest son travels a lot for his job. It does concern me. No, he does not even have a BOB, keeps saying “yeah, I need to do that.” Sigh. He is always the one to learn my making mistakes….

  15. Surburban Housewife says:

    I really appreciate this article. My DH travels all over the world for business and I am always concerned about how he would get home, how would we communicate, what would I do? You’ve at least given me some ideas on how to be prepared – now to get him to read this and do something about it.

Before commenting, please read my Comments Policy - thanks!