Thursday, May 6, 2010

How To Pack For Foreign Assignments

Living life on foreign assignment is no ordinary task. It takes planning—lots of planning! So much so that it ultimately takes priority over many facets of my life. The more I plan, the better I am prepared for the unknown.

In 2009, I traveled to 17 countries within twelve months. 279 days of my life was spent traveling. In total, I circumvented the globe 4 times. A few readers have asked several times how I do it. How do I jump from one country to another and stay safe, healthy, and organized? Today, I reveal to you how I prepare for each and every assignment—and how I manage to adapt to the many facets that shape my life, and my career.

The War Room:

Tucked deep in my unfinished basement is an area where I call “The War Room.”

I know it sounds clichĂ©, but believe me, I approach a lot of my scenarios the same way a soldier would in the field. Maybe it’s because I’ve been trained by the military—or maybe it’s simply the fact that I have a lot of respect for the men and women that defend our nation. It’s both. They know how to get things done—and they’re good at it!

Organization is key. After spending hours of research about a country or geography, I’d make a mental note of what I need to bring, how I’m going to survive, and what challenges I might face. Then, I head downstairs to the war room. In it, is a collection of gear that I’ve purchased in bulk and kept in stock for quick access and replenishing. From clothing to first-aid, personal care items to knives, toothbrushes to flashlights, I have everything labeled and neatly categorized. Sometimes, my assignments are back-to-back with only quick pit-stops at home before heading out again to another country—so being organized and well stocked with supplies saves me time from having to go shopping and allows me to rest in between assignments. For instance, I never have to worry if I’ve got enough toothpaste or power bars in between my assignments from India to Haiti. I’d rather rest and get my bearings in the 48 hours I have before heading out again.

Hot and Cold

On the right side of the room is Cold Gear. On the left is Hot Gear. Doing this allows me to quickly identify what clothing and equipment I need--depending on the destination I am going to and the temperatures I’ll be facing. Socks and underwear, base layers, mids, and outer shells are all separated for specific weather conditions. Footwear, rain gear, sleeping bags, tents and even cooking supplies are all taken into consideration with weather. It’s an important element that I constantly keep in mind.


For those that know me, know that I am one of those guys who buy fours of everything I own. Sometimes even five or six of everything. This allows me to pre-pack before going on assignments back-to-back.

Sometimes, I’d have three to four backpacks fully stuffed and ready to go before leaving for my first destination. When I return for my pit stop, I simply grab the next backpack in line and take off again.


I spend a lot of time making sure my first aid kit is always up to date. I’m a big fan of assembling my own first aid kit and avoid buying pre-packed kits. Most of the kits you see on the camping store shelf is designed to look like you’re getting a lot for your money, when in actuality, most of the things in there will never be used. My kit is basic and kept simple for 1 reason: In an emergency situation, I need to know where everything is and what it’s used for.

When preparing for any foreign assignment, I put together two kits: 1 for trauma and 1 for basic cuts and bruises that I carry with me at all times. The kits include the following:


2x C-A-T Combat Application Tourniquets (For arterial bleeds)

2x Latex Gloves

2x QuickClot Gauze and Hemostatic Bandage

2x Emergency Trauma Dressing (4inch).

1x Scissor

1x Roll of medical tape

Basic Cuts:


-Hydrocortisone cream

-Alcohol wipes

Planning Makes Perfect

Again, I can’t reiterate enough about the importance of planning in what I do. If you intend to do this type of work/travel for a living, learn to keep yourself organized and stay ontop of your game by being prepared.

If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me or message me on Facebook.


Katherine said...

Well when your traveling for more that 2/3 rds of the year you have to be prepared because your home is wherever you lay your head.
Wow...I've said it before & I'm gonna say it again are an amazing man!
You put me to shame.. I live in the same house all year round & I am nowhere near as organised as you!

Wander to the Wayside said...

What an excellent idea! I'm sure it took a few years of practice before you got this organized! Was there ever a time when you forgot or didn't think about taking something that would have been crucial or that the absence of which made things very difficult for you?

Vera said...

Crikey but you are so well organised, and I so wish I had a smidgeon of your capacity for such organisation. I try to be organised. I really do. But somehow I fall out of the saddle frequently, descending into my normal higgledy piggedly muddle despite my best efforts not to. Ah well, at least I try! But good for you for being so skilled. A thought, though: are you as 'tidy' in the other parts of your house? Please say you aren't because it will make us all feel a whole lot better!

Lorna said...

Wow Ron, this is amazing! Your remarks about organization really hit home, the importance of it. And LOVE the War Room; what a concept!Thanks for showing us this side of your job, and it's giving me ideas about preparedness as well. Be well Ron!

Ron said...

Katherine: Thank you for your note. I am only as amazing as the people who are behind me. My family, friends, and readers like you keep me motivated. Thank you.

W2W: Yes, there were many times when I'd forget something and I'd spend days kicking myself for being so careless. But, through the years, I've managed to create routines in everything I do--which in return, streamlines my preparation process. For example, even my clothing is streamlined. I buy 10-15 of the same shirts, and when I travel, I only wear these shirts. They have specific pockets and I keep certain things in the same pocket at ALL times. This way, I always know where everything is and if it's not in that pocket, I'll know right away it's missing and take action. For instance, I always have my passport and boarding passes in my left shirt pocket above my heart. My hand sanitizers are in my right vest pocket. My wallet is in my left pocket and my pen is tucked neatly in its designated pen slot of my vest. This is just one example. I have many scripted scenarios for everything (how I pack my camera bag, shoes, etc etc). It's a disease!

As for tools and equipment, I've learned to simply adapt and work with what I have. There's no way I can think of everything before leaving, so if in the midst of shooting I realized I needed something, I simply get by with what I have and make a note of what to bring next time. Adaptability is key in the field.

Vera: I live a very simple life and it's very easy for me to be tidy. My apartment has nothing but a bed and four walls. No tv, no stereo or luxury items, so it's very easy to keep clean!!! :)

Lorna: Thank you so much for your note. The war room concept works well for me and through the years, it gets bigger and bigger :)

canadasue said...

something deliciously orderly about all this... and it made me feel safe.

chemist said...


I can't agree with you more!! Preparation is an essential element to any foreign trip! I may not be as well traveled as you, but before I set out overseas (or even on my domestic ventures) I always print what I call my "Take-Along-List" that lists all the 'must-haves'. That way I don't leave home without whatever it is I need!

Traveling Chemist

Sebastian said...

Enlightening and interesting, Ron :)

I'm not quite at your stage of planning yet -- but I have been thinking about similar things in the last few months!

I actually have enough money now to make that kind of preparations... I will look into it some more!