Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Packing Your African Bug Out Bag

I recently received a note on one of my blog posts from my friend Lisa who said that my daily stories provide excellent dinner table conversation for her and her husband.  She mentioned that her family was preparing to move to a natural disaster zone where there were occasional snake problems.  Having read about my experience with the cobra she was concerned about how to handle the situation if a snake entered her home because she couldn’t call the Botswana army to do a snake extraction in Florida.  Lisa recounted a conversation with her husband in which the two of them wondered, “What else do you think Kelly would recommend for survival in a natural disaster area?”

Back in Texas we have a faculty member on staff who is always talking about emergency preparedness and “honoring the threat.”  I’m afraid to visit his home because he describes it like a James Bond type of hideout.  Apparently he has a giant knife, hand grenades or a rocket launcher hidden behind every door, including under the sink of his guest bathroom.  In addition, Dr. Bond likes to discuss the importance of a Bug Out Bag in his classes.  For those of you who may be less familiar, a Bug Out Bag is basically a bag which you always have packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice in the event you have to evacuate unexpectedly due to an emergency.  Here are the contents of my Bug Out Bag, which I also travel with, here in Africa:  
1. Duct Tape.  Duct tape can be used to plug holes in screens to keep the mosquitoes out, to hold your luggage together when it gets ripped, or to keep you from bleeding to death.  I once cut my hand badly on a tin roof.  It was a Sunday afternoon so there were no hospitals open and I was leaving on a flight to Amsterdam the next morning.  No matter what I did the cut wouldn’t stop bleeding.  I duct taped a washcloth around my hand until I got to Amsterdam and could get stitches. 

2. Wedding Ring.  Since I can’t travel with my fake husband I can at least travel with my fake wedding ring.  I am also 11 weeks pregnant and have been exactly 11 weeks pregnant for over a year now.  Fidelity is not taken seriously here, so saying you have a husband and showing the ring as proof does not deter very aggressive, unwanted advances.  But motherhood is highly respected.  Plus research shows that if a woman tells her rapist she is pregnant her attacker is less likely to complete the assault, so I have used this little fib as a preemptive warning in a few particularly scary situations.

3. Hand Sanitizer and Toilet Paper.  Nine times out of ten it is more hygienic to use a bush to relieve yourself than to use a public toilet if you are outside the confines of your home/hotel.  But when you are in the middle of the African bush there are no toilets anyway, so you have to use a bush regardless.  Might as well be prepared. 

4. Needles, Malaria Medication, Vaccination Card, Water Purification Tablets.  Fortunately I haven’t had to use the needles yet (fingers crossed I will make it out of here and not need to), but I always bring them with me because you never know what kinds of medical supplies will be available in the event of an emergency.  

5. U.S. Dollars in small denominations.  I think I’ve mentioned corruption a few times before.  The good thing is, if someone is going to bribe you they are more likely to accept U.S. dollars than any other currency.  When I came to Africa this time I brought $5,000 in small bills; I’ve used most of them.  

6. Head Lamp and Lighter.  You may have heard in passing that we have problems with electricity.  Or you may be stuck in a four-star hotel with electricity, but no light bulbs in the sockets.  If you can’t find something safe to set on fire with the lighter then you can always use your headlamp. 

7. Facial Wipes and Goggles.  I think I may have also mentioned once or twice that we have lots of problems with water throughout Africa.  Sometimes you have water, sometimes you don’t.  Sometimes you have water, but it’s dangerous if you get it in your eyes.  In that case you wear goggles in the shower and then wash your eyes out with bottled water or use facial wipes.  

8. Laundry Detergent and Sink Stopper.  The important instruction here is DO NOT USE WHITE LAUNDRY DETERGENT!  White powder=drugs.  So I use blue laundry detergent.  Depending on where I am travelling I often take only three or four sets of clothes and wash them by hand in my sink each night.  But you need to be careful because in many countries you have to iron ALL YOUR CLOTHES in order to kill the mango fly eggs.  If the mango fly eggs hatch on your clothes they burrow under your skin and you can literately feel them moving around underneath the surface.  Then you have to go to the doctor to have them cut out. As a general rule this is not fun. 

9. Sporf, Pens, Tweezers and Nail Clipper. It’s always a good idea to travel with a sporf (spoon-fork-knife combo), because you never know when you might need an eating utensil and there won’t be any available.  Same goes for pens.  Somehow, no one EVER has a writing instrument.  If you don’t bring your own don’t bother asking for one because no one else will have one either.  Since you can’t travel with scissors, tweezers and nail clippers are good alternatives; you can use them when you need to cut something.
I think that pretty much wraps up my African Bug Out Bag.  Though I would recommend snacks as well.  With all the food shortages we have here you can’t be guaranteed you will find something you want/need when you want/need it.  With that being said, here is one final piece of advice concerning snacks:  If you are driving down the road and see a lone orange tree off to the side with giant oranges on it that look SO GOOD just keep driving.  There is a reason no one else has come along and picked them off sooner.  Why?  Land mines.



  1. Great advice! I use to have a bug out bag before I got married. Now the girls will not let me have one as they may need it. Really I believe that they are afraid I will bug out to Cabo or Belize.

  2. Outstanding advice, as expected! Thanks Kelly :)

  3. Thanks Michael and Lisa. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  4. Hey wow that's great!! I've just finished reading your blog and I think it's really useful. I was thinking of making a bug out bag for myself since me and my friends are planning to go trekking on some rocky mountains next season. Thanks for the information sharing.

  5. Thanks for reading Daniel. I'm glad it helped. Good luck with making your own bug out bag and your upcoming trip.

    1. Thanks Kelly!! Hope to see more helpful articles from you in future.

  6. Simply awesome Really interesting, brilliant post..Thanks for sharing...!!! movers and packers marathahalli