Keeping essential travel documents and information safe — and accessible — during travel requires planning and preparation.
If damaged or lost during travel, replacing these documents can, at best, be an inconvenience and, at worst, alter your trip plans from vacation enjoyment to bureaucratic Embassy and consulate visits.
“Important documents during international travel go beyond just your passport,” says Harding Bush, a former Navy SEAL, an expert in high-risk travel, and associate manager operation for Global Rescue. “Travel paperwork includes a driver’s license or other identity cards, medical insurance or evacuation service information, medical prescriptions, bank and credit cards, and your contacts list.”
Have physical and electronic copies of your passport, visas, and entry stamps. The visa and entry stamp clarify the legal status of your visit.
One copy will stay at home with a friend or family member. The other copy you’ll bring with you. Sometimes it is a requirement travelers carry their passports at all times and sometimes a copy is sufficient.
“Understand the laws of the country you are visiting,” Bush said. “The country you visit determines this requirement — not your home country.”
Start With a Travel Document Organizer
First, you need a place to put your travel paperwork. There is a multitude of travel organizers, travel wallets, and passport wallets on the market. Choose one that works for you. You will also need clothing with zippered pockets and a small backpack with multiple zippered compartments.
The most crucial document you carry with you overseas is your passport. Your passport identifies yourself as well as your nationality and your legal status in the country you are visiting. You should always keep your passport close at hand: in a zippered pocket on your person.
Other essential items, like copies of your travel paperwork, can be kept in a backpack. The backpack carries items you’ll use throughout the day: a rain jacket, sweater, water bottle, snacks, and other items specific to your activity. The backpack goes everywhere with you — do not check it at the gate when offered by the airline. It goes in the taxi with you — not in the trunk.
Use the room safe to store your passport if it’s not with you.
Accessibility Is Important
“Ensure the documents required are accessible. You want to be streamlined and not have to fumble or search for these items when needed,” Bush said.
He suggests carrying a few dollars in your pocket “so you don't have to take your wallet out for smaller transactions, such as tipping or buying a bottle of water,” he said.
Most travel documents can be conveniently stored on a smartphone. It’s fine to do so, just make sure all your information is backed up with physical copies. This includes phone numbers, which are usually just stored on your phone.
“If your battery dies, you may not be able to recharge quickly enough and, in the meantime, you have lost access to a lot of important docents and information,” Bush said. “I have seen instances where the airline’s electronic reader was malfunctioning, and only those passengers with paper boarding passes could board.”
You should have electronic copies of everything — passport, visas, credit cards, and prescriptions. In addition to photos of each document saved in your phone, consider keeping them on a password-protected thumb drive. You can also e-mail this information to yourself or save it in drafts, making it permanently accessible.
Other Digital Considerations
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology uses radio waves to identify people or objects.
An RFID-protected wallet is essential to help protect the digital information on all your cards.
You should also protect your documents and electronic devices from physical damage, especially in a maritime environment. This means zip lock bags for the documents in your backpack and shockproof and waterproof protection for your smartphone. Your backpack should have a carabiner on the top carrying strap so you can secure it while on board a boat. If you plan to use your phone while on board, it should be in a waterproof container with a lanyard attached to your person.
According to the U.S. Department of State, water-damaged passports need to be replaced. There are also descriptions of what is considered damage and what is considered natural wear and tear. The U.K. government has similar guidelines.
If You Lose Your Passport
As soon as you realize your passport is missing, you should notify local law enforcement and your home country’s consulate or embassy.
Your hotel or guide service can likely assist you with contacting law enforcement to report the missing passport. Embassies will require a police report to move forward with replacement. There is also a good chance your lost passport could be turned in to the police if found.
“The police report can also function as a way to board aircraft for a domestic flight without having the usually required identification,” Bush said.
Keep in mind: once you have reported your passport lost or stolen, it is invalidated by the State Department and cannot be used if it is found.
The embassy will not consider a lost passport an emergency, and the replacement process will happen on their schedule, not yours.
“You may have to wait over a weekend for the embassy to open or divert your travel for a visit to the consulate or embassy, a potentially inconvenient and expensive process,” Bush said. “U.S. embassies can issue an emergency passport, which may not be suitable for onward travel to countries other than the United States.”
Losing your passport is inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world — especially if you are a Global Rescue member. When Maredith Richardson lost her passport in Paris, Global Rescue security experts stepped in, managed the international administrative challenges, and quickly helped her obtain a passport replacement in less than a week. It’s just one of the many benefits of a travel protection services membership.
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