Is there a place for memorabilia, family heirlooms and keepsakes during any bug out scenario?

Before I found TP and started prepping seriously, I spent years making various attempts at emergency preparedness by using a combination of various websites and my own thinking. (When push came to shove it turned out that I was completely unprepared and that’s when I went looking for a better resource.)

During that time, I had seen some bug out lists suggesting that we take precious family keepsakes with us if we had to bug out.  Then I found TP and the advice here is forget the keepsakes. If you have to flee from a wildfire you need to focus on saving your and your loved ones’ lives. Besides, what are you going to do with an album of family pictures if you have to go on foot? Upload the pictures to the internet and leave the originals at home. Etc. Accordingly, the TP BOB lists don’t make any mention of keepsakes.

But now I’m revisiting that guideline. I’m wondering if there is a place for important family objects and/or pictures in some bug out scenarios? What if we’re leaving early, well ahead of the disaster? Might we assume that we’re not going to be forced to walk? Might it make sense to have a plan to grab some precious items? If that’s so, it seems to me that this is better planned ahead.


  • Comments (17)

    • 4

      This is an issue I have never really considered at all (not quite sure why).

      I have over the years been through many computers. Hard drives were always a problem for me …………retaining compatible info for the next computer. So some years ago I started taking the hard drives out of those used out computers and creating a data base where every single photo or memory is duplicated on two hard drives and contained in a docking station….. and easy to read by any computer. I also store copies of important documents the same way …….. a backup of everything important to me…………

      But I have never considered storage or protection of these and think that the best way for me is to use a 6 inch PVC drainage pipe about 1 ft long with a 6 inch cap fitting fused on one end and a screw inspection fitting (clean-out) on the other end……

      Lots of room for a bunch of hard drives…. passports…. pics and precious metals… money etc that could be sealed in plastic vacuum bags and buried………(after all its what they have done for centuries is times of crisis or wars…..)

      I would definitely not take anything that has value on the road……. and put in my safe room at home I guess……… they have to find the room first!….. or where I bury it!

    • 8

      Choose 5 of your favorite family pictures and put those in your bag. That’s not going to break your back and will be nice reminders of what you are fighting for.

      Don’t run into the burning house to get the family photo album or bug out with that 20lb album, leave it and live to see those family members again and create new memories with them.

      • 4

        My mother is one of those run into the burning house to get the family photo album types. So to help my wife feel more comfortable and hopefully not get to that point herself, I’ve spent many hours digitizing our old photo albums and storing them off site. That way if our house goes up in the neighborhood’s biggest BBQ, we don’t lose all of our “memories”.

      • 3

        I keep several (about 8?) family photos in my BOB. Besides the morale boost I would expect they’d provide, if you’re trying to locate a family member after a disaster, being able to show someone a photo and say, “Have you seen this person?” seems like it would be helpful. For the dog, I have pictures that show him with each family member. I want any of us to be able to go to the pound in a long-term power outage and say, “That one’s mine— see, here’s a picture of him with me.” 

        Odds that either of those scenarios would come to pass AND that the photo would be helpful in reuniting anyone seem slim… but it’s very little weight, and the photos are of value in their own right.

      • 5

        This is a very smart idea to have pictures of all of your family with the pets. I’m sure many people in hurricane and tornado areas would benefit from this where pets can easily be missed and lost in the chaos.

      • 4

        Totally! Of course my dog is also chipped and wears a collar with a name tag, but not everyone has a chip reader, collars come off, and I want to do everything in my power to make it easier for my dog and I to be reunited in or after a disaster.

    • 3

      Good afternoon Jonnie,

      First, to start: https://www.everplans.com/articles/all-the-things-you-should-consider-taking-with-you-in-an-emergency-evacuation

      I believe there’s a FEMA document on evac with selected family photos and “historical” family records.  Will start to look for the doc and post it here.

      I ‘ve discussed this subject here with some forum member(s) and gave my examples of efforts to vacate with some unreplacable family photos and 19th century docs.

      Had mentioned that I took a couple of framed olden photos, removed them and placed them in quality plexiglass (probaby poly plastic but still waterproofed). For my evac plans, each is packed in water-protection plastic and all in a bag to get in truck.  Have arrangements to carry these if vacating here infantry style.

      FEMA understood that memorabelia to some was like a personal companion animal. These folks would not evac without companion. Later, FEMA learned this same thinking governed those with precious photos and docs.


      *** And keep your original immigration/citizenship docs protected (and any photos of ceremony) and traveling with you whether by car, boots, leather-covered or ballon ! ***

    • 5

      As with all the advice on this site, it’s about scenario, priority, and available time (acting early and within sane principles). When our home was threatened by a wildfire, we learned what was of priority to us to attempt to save by taking it with us.  After the essentials, it was heirlooms and keepsakes like the article Bob posted.  This was an evacuation scenario which is possibly different than a bug out scenario that many folks and BOBs are aiming to address.  The event was localized, we were leaving by vehicles to a known safe location with a decent amount of lead time as we anticipated the need and stayed home from work to both pack and be ready to evacuate.  It would have been a much different situation to be woken in the night by a knock to get out now (BOBs to the rescue!).  In the available several hours, we started with the essentials that covered both our pets’ needs and what we needed to function at the friend’s house for a week including going to work .  I include essential documents and records in this essential listing – computers/backup drives.  I didn’t have dedicated BOBs at the time so we were packing from scratch and my BOB still won’t support work attire for a week.  We then expanded to what I call the irreplaceables: photos, artwork, sentimental items – things that can’t be purchased again.  In parallel, as there were 2 of us, we also prepped the house to increase the likelihood of its survival:  watering the landscaping, getting any flammables as far from the house as possible, screwing plywood over the attic vents, closing blinds and doors, moving garbage bins and extra cars into the garage and tying fence gates open to clear the way for fire personnel access. At some point, I used my phone to take a video walk of the entire house, inside cabinets and closets included.  This was to help with insurance claims if necessary later.   This could have taken much less time and did the next time (only a few months later) since we acted on the lessons learned.  

      • 2

        This comment is like a primer on how to evacuate from a wildfire when you have warning. It’s amazing how important some of these seemingly small or odd actions are to making a home defensible. Westerners, take note!

      • 4

        Thanks, pnwsarah. Unfortunately (or possibly fortunately?), we had a few close calls to practice and then act on the lessons prior to the actual evacuation. Why I encourage thought experiments and also as others have suggested ask the fire department.

    • 5

      Good morning,

      Could not find that article I mentioned re FEMA guidance on personal memorabilia prep for evacuations.  Am guessing it was deleted when FEMA completely revamped their websit about 18 months ago,

      In my pulp file folder I did find some – indirectly – related material.

      Most is for institutional preservation … but principles for individual are about the same eg protect against water, mildew/mold, fire, ……

      With both the FEMA insigna (FEMA funded this) and contractor Belfor (emergency response and salvage) http://www.belforusa.com logo on their “Emergency Response and Salvage wheel is a section labeled “Retrieval and Protection.  Might be worth glancing around their site.

      In folder is business card from someone of “Heritage Preservation”, the national institute for conservation.  (heritagepreservation.org) Like Belfor, much id focused toward large projects but many principles work for individual’s preservation.

      Somewhere withing both sites there’s an explaination of the different “poly plastic” type of clear containers for photos.

      I’ll end this post with something “down to earth” in re private citizen prepper and “old photos, memorabilia” ….. A letter to the editor of the New York Times dated 23 August 2012 by a Bonnie Sumner of Woodland Park, Colorado, is in my file folder for a reason.  It’s the best letter on this subject I’ve read.  Here it is:


      “Good Stuff” by Gretchen Rubin (Sunday Review, August 19) could not have been more relevant to me.  When we got the message in June that our house in Colorado was part of “pre-evacuation” because of the Waldo Canyon fire, I went into “archive” triage mode. …

      … …

      My “keepers” were old photos in albums, meomrabilia from important trips of long ago and article about family members.  I made up packages of photos and letters for each of my four children and my sister’s three … … .

      … …

      Now that the crisis has passed I may have to revisit my choices and add the framed old sepia photos of my ancestors.  

      If my family wants to get rid of everything when the time comes, so be it, bt I love looking at all these connections to a wonderful family and life.



    • 5

      Good afternoon,

      Worth glancing at above link.

      The actual name of the company is “Archival Methods”.

      I have no connection to them at all.

    • 4

      What are your plans after reading all of these comments Jonnie? I am going to go buy a flash drive now and put some of my pictures on there as a backup.

    • 2

      Hi Jonnie! My personal belief about this is that it’s MORE likely you’ll have warning than that you won’t, and that being forced to walk is not terribly likely. Of course I say this as a life-long Westerner, so my most likely bug OUT scenario is wildfire and while a knock on the door at night and a “GET OUT NOW” is certainly possible what’s probable (esp. if you’re not out in the exurbs or the WUI) is knowing that it’s coming and having some time to ready the house and pack the car. One of the things I’d like to do— but haven’t had a chance to do yet— is to make a list of “nice to have” items and attach it to my BOB, so that I don’t have to think in the moment what else I need. Probably the first thing on there would be my hand-sewn quilts—there’s no replacing those! Maybe I’d even want to stuff a contractor trash bag in one of the outer pockets of the BOB so I’d have something on hand to protect them…

    • 2

      Good morning,

      Just found an official state of Virginia document mentioning an evac with “priceless items”.

      Every year the state of Virginia distributes a pamphlet titled “Virginia Hurricane Evacuation Guide”. The cover is usually printed with the sponsoring name “VDOT-Virginia Department of Transportation”.  Just found the same document from another year with the cover featuring the sponsor of the pamphlet: “Virginia Department of Emergency Management”. Their insigna is also printed next to name,

      In the VDEM doc, there’s a category titled: “COMFORT + PRICELESS ITEMS”. It lists “Photo albums” and also “valuables and jewelry”.

      Of course, for a prepper, in advance, the album can be ditched and the key photos placed in protective envelopes for an evac by vehicle or olden infantry style. 

      • 1

        If I was in hurricane country, I would buy a large waterproof pelican case and place valuable photo albums in there and then chain that case to something like a bed frame or door. If my house floods, things will be safe and then I can come back later and retrieve it. 

        Now if the hurricane hits you square on and destroys your house or looters come through, then you have a problem, but what do you think about this idea to protect things against flood waters?

      • 3

        Good afternoon Robert,

        Yes, protecting against flood waters is a must in Hurricane Alley. My shack is on a hill so flooding is less of a concern. For evacuation, by any mode, it is a major danger. The evac must be well thought out and rehearsed.

        No looters are usually out DURING a hurricane, but afterward: yes, they’re around. Law enforcement is just stretched too much – even in decent weather.

        Tree damage is a big concern. A tree need not fall directly on a house to be a problem.  A broken window or even minor structural damage means “Habitat For the Original Dwellers”. An important item of mine, in somewhat large quantities, is a supply of moth balls (camphor). If evacuating, the place will smell like, well, mothballs. Vehicles also have a box or 2 of ’em.