How to Create an Emergency File for Travel

BY Beth Williams

Emergency Files for Home and Travel-

Emergencies happen, and usually at a moment when you or your family least expect it. Imagine if something were to happen which would prevent you from accessing your home, your office, your bank, your cell phone. Your normal life would come to an abrupt “stop.”

Hard to imagine? It happens all the time particularly when natural emergencies such as an earthquake, fire, hurricane, tornado, flood, or storm strike. Travel is another scenario where you should have a contingency plan to access personal and financial information should you lose your wallet or valuables.

While there are many sources of information that focus on physical preparedness, many do not include what is commonly called a “Red File.” The Red File is designed to include copies of or locations where everything that is necessary for you or your family to rebuild your financial and operational life in the aftermath of an event.

Many potential emergencies will require you to evacuate your home. Some may be short evacuations, others longer, and still others may prevent you from returning at all. Despite your displacement, many facets of normal life continue. Bills need to be paid, purchases need to be made, bank accounts need to be accessed and memories and important records need to be preserved. If forced to evacuate your home quickly, you won’t have time to gather all of your important files, pictures, and other items. Be prepared with an emergency red file you can grab and go that has all your key documents in one spot. If disaster strikes when you are away from home, a digital red file could be a “life saver.”

Have a Digital Emergency File in Addition to Your Physical Red File

Everyone should complete a digital “Red File” and make sure that a few people in your life know where it is. Having a digital “Red File” is a must if you need to access it while away from home, like when traveling or if disaster strikes while you are away from home. The original or copies of the documents should be held in a secure place such as a fire safe, or even better yet inside a bank safety deposit box.

When traveling you should have a “Travel Red File” of all travel documents, financial records like credit card numbers you are carrying, and possibly needed medical files including eyeglass prescriptions available to you via a thumb drive or internet access (password protected). Keeping photos of key documents, prescriptions, health insurance, and emergency phone numbers on your phone (again password protected) is also a plan.

Emergency Home Files

There are a couple of ways to have home emergency files and important papers ready for your access. These files, unlike the files you’ll need to access during a travel emergency, are more extensive. You may elect to use a fire safe file box or a locked cabinet for storage. I use a fire safe box because I can grab it and run with it in case I need to evacuate my home. This box along with my computer, some personal photos and items is the basis to rebuild should everything else be lost like in a fire or similar disaster.

If you use home accounting software it may a place for you to enter all your account information as a summary or overview tool.

Placing Important Digital Information On Your Computer

If you place important information on your computer and it is stolen or hacked you have a higher chance of giving a thief complete access to all of your critical, sensitive, as well as confidential information.  That’s why you need to make sure any digital file is kept on your computer in a password-protected file.  Consult with someone in your company’s IT department to fully understand the best and most cost-effective way to do this.  Here are a few more thoughts about having a password protected file, as well as who should know where it is, as well as how to access it in case you and your spouse/partner are unable:

  • Put all “sensitive” files in a password-protected folder.
  • Give a close, trusted confidante (spouse, best friend, attorney) the password to the folder. Use a strong, non-obvious password.

How to Create an In-Case-of-Emergency Everything Document to Keep Your Loved Ones Informed if Worst Comes to Worst

If you were hit by a bus today or were otherwise incapacitated, would your loved ones be able to quickly locate your important information or know how to handle your affairs? Many of us have a great handle on our finances, but our record keeping systems might not be obvious to family members or friends who might need immediate access to them in times of emergency. Here’s a step-by-step guide to organizing your vital information so it can be conveniently and safely accessed when needed.

The Wall Street Journal’s List of 25 Things You Need Before You Die

This is a link to an article published by the Wall Street Journal that provides a good read when you are putting together your emergency file.

Emergencies: Are You Prepared? Your Personal Checklist of Important Documents

This is a link to a page put together by the University of Virginia Tech on the subject.  It is a one-page document that you can easily copy and page in Word or Excel and fill in the blanks.

Don’t Procrastinate — Create an “In case of …” File Today

Another article on the subject put together by  It also deals with your online identity if you pass away. 

The Big Book of Everything

This is a website put together by Erik Dewey.  In a nutshell, he has created a web page which has both a nice downloadable PDF book as well as an Excel spreadsheet that together will allow you to create a notebook filled with all of the information anyone could need to know about you. The idea is that in our lives we have countless things that we are involved in. On rare occasions, other people need this information and no one knows how to get it. That’s where the Big Book comes in. By filling this out and keeping it current, you can simplify the effort others have to take on your behalf.  Uses for the Big Book are:

  • After you pass away. People will know what accounts to cancel, have access to your email, know where important papers are kept, and otherwise streamline what is already a painful process.
  • Filling out applications. The information in the book is often found in various applications, by having the book you can look that stuff up at a moments notice.
  • Making sure you know what your assets are. By going through and inventory all of your assets, you have a better idea of where you are financially.
  • Forcing you to prepare for emergencies. By filling out the forms, it will force you to be better prepared when an emergency strikes.

Steps to Take Now

  • Organizing your financial information is a first step towards being prepared for an emergency.
  • Sales receipts for expensive purchases and contracts should be filed for easy access if an insurance claim is necessary.
  • Photocopy the front and back of each credit and debit card for easy access to important information if they are lost or stolen.
  • Keep an inventory of personal and household property current with copies in two different locations. Create a video with your phone narrating as you walk through the house, garage, and yard.
  • Organizing your tax records makes tax preparation much easier and is essential in preparing for an audit.
  • Keep all insurance documents for car home, health etc together.
  • Financial information such as accounts should be carefully secured and protected against unauthorized access.
  • List of passwords to online accounts

Life’s emergency situations require advanced preparation and planning. The first step is organizing your financial information. Do you have an appropriate place for filing each document? Have you told anyone else where you keep your vital information? Have you shared your wishes in the event of your death? Are your documents available to ‘grab and go’ in case of evacuation? Many situations require that you take action now to avoid financial problems later.

List It or Lose It – The Case for Household and Property Inventory

A household inventory is an itemized list of your personal belongings. It provides a method of knowing exactly what personal property you own. An accurate household inventory is a necessity whether you are a homeowner or a renter.