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Essential Travel Documents & How to Keep Them Safe

You can't travel around the world without some special papers! This post is about the documents you should bring with you and how to keep them safe and accessible.
Essential Travel Documents & How to Keep Them Safe

Exploring new cities, travelling from one destination to another, moving between hostels is an exciting adventure! There are lots of details to think about for your trip to go smoothly. Odds are, you will face some challenges that will leave you with a story and a lesson for your next adventure. Here's a quick write up to remind you to take these travel documents and how to secure them:

  • Your ID card: Abroad or in your home country, you must always be able to identify yourself with an identity card or passport. If you're an EU national, an identity card is usually enough for travel within the European Union. Outside the European Union, you will need a passport.
  • Your passport: Essential for your trip if you're travelling overseas. Make sure to apply several months in advance for a new passport. If you already have one, it should be valid for at least six months after you return home and have two or more blank pages, depending on your destination. Otherwise, some countries may not let you enter.
  • Valid visas: You may need to get a visa before you travel to a foreign destination. Contact the embassy of the countries you will be visiting to check if one is required.
  • Your driving license: If you are planning to drive, make sure to have your driving license with you.
  • International driving license: An International Driving Permit is a permit that allows you to drive in countries where your driving license alone is not sufficient. Depending on your country, it might be free to request one.
  • Copies of the front and back of bank cards: Useful if you loose your cards, at the very least to inform your banks that they need to be blocked.
  • Copies of your insurance policy: It is the one you hope you won't need until the moment you really do. Bring it, even if it's only in digital format.
  • Your COVID-19 Travel Documents: One new requirement for travelling into a new destination is proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a limited timeframe. If you are vaccinated, you also should travel with your vaccination card as proof.

Remember to check the expiration dates of these documents and renew them if necessary (while allowing enough time to receive them)!

Depending on your travel plans, you also may want to have these documents on hand:

  • Paper copies of your tickets (plane, train, bus, etc.)
  • Your hotel confirmation information, or other info on your destination
  • A city map of the city you're travelling to
  • A copy of your itinerary
  • A paper copy of important addresses, contacts and phone numbers

Pro Traveller Tip: Finally, create a note on your phone to quickly access any numbers or information you might need. Make sure to lock this note with a good password to avoid your information ending up in the wrong hands should you lose your phone. You can record your ID, passport numbers, phone number, SIM card PIN and PUK numbers, security number, bank cards, bank phone numbers, insurance policy...

Make copies of all your documents

When travelling and crossing borders, you most likely need to bring the original documents with you; but it can be risky - you could lose them or they can get stolen, so it is better to plan than be sorry! What will you do if you lose your original identification? Or lose one of your luggage?

I recommend making multiple copies, digital and hard copies of all your documents. Keep one set of copies at home and bring one with you in a separate piece of luggage from the original.

Keep your documents safe

When spending time between hostels or exploring the city, it feels good to know that your documents are safe. So how do you keep your important documents safe and accessible in the best possible way?

It's about when and where - consider keeping your valuable documents in a safe place when you are out for the day since they are not most likely not required for sightseeing and travel. If needed, carry only photocopies. They should be good enough for nearly anything minus border control. In my experience, most hotels, rental places etc. are happy with a photocopy as they just need the information on your passport and not the physical document.

And when you need them, always keep them close to you, in your travel bag, safely zipped away from pickpocketers.

Secure your digital copies

As with your hard copies, your digital copies could be stolen or lost, and therefore should also be secured yet remain easily accessible by you. When it comes to online security, it's all about layering. Use complicated, unique passwords, make sure to keep your computer up to date, and set up 2-factor authentication when available.

Upload your valuable files somewhere safe

Check with your bank or government website, they sometimes offer a place to store valuable documents. I prefer to use a cloud password manager like OnePassword or LastPass and upload your documents to their vault. It's their bread and butter, so you can be sure your files are safe, encrypted and remain easy to find.

Encrypt your documents with PGP

A quick and very secure way to protect your digital documents is to encrypt them using PGP (for Pretty Good Privacy). Once encrypted, your files could be sent by email or stored anywhere online or offline. If they fall into the wrong hands, you won't have to worry because your documents are encrypted and therefore won't be usable.

Is this really a necessity? I recommend doing this if you often connect to public networks where security is lacking and could be compromised.

To decrypt the files, you will need your PGP key, which you will need to keep... somewhere safe! Remember, it's all about adding security layers. If you use a Mac, I recommend GPG Suite which is simple to use and complete.

USB drive with a hardware passcode

USB Drive with Keypad

Imagine losing your hard drive with your valuable files on it, leaving it on a bus or in the hotel lounge, knowing that anyone can access them.Unless you thought of encrypting your data, you could get into trouble quickly if your drive gets into the wrong hands.

To prevent this situation, the USB drive I use is protected by a keypad and a 12 digit passcode. The data on the key is encrypted automatically and can't be accessed.And if it falls into the wrong hands, the device will lock itself and require re-formatting after 20 failed passcode attempts. There are a couple of brands that sell drives that have built-in password lock, they usually cost a bit more but are well worth the extra money spent for the peace of mind.

What to Do If You Lose Travel Documents

It can be very stressful to realise you lost your documents. Lost or stolen passports are a lot more common than you think, and this can happen to even the most experienced of travellers. So don't panic (too much), I got you, here's a quick guide on what to do:

1- Declare the theft to the police: the first thing you need to do is go to the local police station to report the theft or loss of your documents. This will protect you in case of misuse of your passport or ID. You will also receive a police report describing the circumstances of the loss or theft. Make multiple copies of it, in case you need more than one along the way.

2- Report the loss or theft to your nearest Embassy or Consulate: once they have confirmed your identity, they can provide you with temporary travel papers to help you travel and reach your next destination safely. You will need to provide your name, address, date of birth - copies of your lost documents will help!

3- Get new passport photos: having a passport picture ready will only help you speed up the process, and you will be able to get a replacement passport much faster.

4 - Apply for an emergency passport: be aware, getting an emergency passport might take a few days, and there is often a cost associated with it. To fill out the application for a temporary passport, you’ll need a few documents with you:

  • passport pictures
  • an identification paper such as an ID or driving license
  • your travel itinerary, plane or train tickets
  • evidence of your citizenship, such as a birth certificate
  • You lost or stolen passport report from the police and embassy

5 - Contact your insurance and bank: depending on your insurance plan, they might be able to help you, and cover the cost of replacing your travel documents as well as hotel and travel fees associated with your misadventure.

6 - Replace your lost or stolen documents: your emergency passport is only a temporary solution and it will take time to renew a passport or an ID. If you want to keep travelling, it's better to renew your documents sooner rather than later.

5 - Contact your insurance and bank: depending on your plan, they might be able to help you and cover the cost of replacing your travel documents as well as hotel and travel fees associated with your misadventure.

6 - Replace your lost or stolen documents: your emergency passport is only a temporary solution. If you want to keep travelling, it is better to renew your documents sooner rather than later.