Best and Fastest Way to Access Important Documents in an Emergency

BY Beth Williams

When planning your trip, especially overseas, you need to plan what you would do if you lost or had your important travel documents stolen.  While this might be an inconvenience domestically, once you are in another country it grows into a time-consuming and frustrating problem.  Have peace of mind knowing your contingency plan is in place.  How would you replace documents overseas – knowing that:

  1. Replacing your important documents will take longer to replace overseas
  2. Documents are harder to replace overseas
  3. Know that depending on what documents you have stolen or are lost can very possibly impact your ability to travel or fly to your next destination – or even home.  This can cost you more money because you will probably have to pay for extra hotel days and change of flight fees.

Storing travel documents so you can have easy access to them in an emergency is not difficult, but you must have a method before you leave. Here are a few tips to help.

Step 1

Make copies of all important travel documents before you leave on your trip. Copies should include the following documents:

  • Passport, including the identification page and pages within of prior countries visited
  • Visas;
  • Driver’s license;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Work permit;
  • Credit cards;
  • Traveler’s checks;
  • Airline itinerary;
  • Hotel or lodging reservation confirmations
  • Car rental reservation confirmation
  • Cruise tickets
  • Any other pre-paid confirmations
  • Travel insurance;
  • Health insurance
  • Vaccination certificates (Some countries require a vaccination certificate for specific infectious diseases. For example, travelers entering Venezuela from certain countries are required to show a current yellow fever vaccination certificate.)
  • Any other important documents.

When making copies of credit cards, do not make copies of the CV code on the back of the card – or better yet, just obliterate that number.  Know that the back of most credit cards have the banks phone numbers to call to contact the card issuer in case of an emergency.

When possible, make copies of these documents in both color and black and white. Store the copies as a bundle (one copy of each document per bundle). While having copies won’t get you back on the plane, they will help you if you have to go to the embassy and get new documentation.

Step 2

Get a second set of passport photos taken at the same time you get your originals taken. This will save you time if you need to replace your passport.

Step 3

The old way to copy these important documents was to make photocopies – the new way is to make digital scans of these documents so they can be stored electronically and safely. There are a few ways to do this, including:

  • Have all of these documents digitally scanned and email them to yourself and maybe a friend as well, so you (and your friend – is you are unable) have access to them in case of an emergency.  By doing so, you will have access to them anywhere in the world.  This can be very valuable if you lost all of your ID and need to help prove who you are.
  • Store them electronically on a USB thumb drive – that includes password/encryption protection, in case it is lost or stolen.
  • Store the documents online on a cloud server, which many times can be done for free, as several companies provide this service for free with accounts that have a small amount of memory.
  • Store them on an electronic device that you take with you on your trip such as a laptop, iPad, tablet, or even on your phone – depending on the size of its memory.

The idea here is to have electronic copies of your travel documents to save space and aggravation, but remember, these are critical documents and if stolen, they could cause you a lot of harm with identity thieves, so guard them closely. Make sure if you place these items online, you need to make sure you give your friend the password access to these files if needed.  If you can’t get to a computer with a printer or one with Internet access, you can call your friend and have them send the copies by email, fax, or courier to the nearest embassy or to another trusted contact.

Step 4travel_docs

Bring one set of the copies with you on your trip–particularly if you are traveling overseas. Keep the copies in your hotel safe.

Step 5

Depending on the country you are visiting, you usually don’t have to keep your passport with you during the day, and keeping it in hotel safe behind the front desk is usually the safest place.  Many travelers just keep a copy of their passport with them.

When in transit, keep your original travel documents on your person – stored in some type of travel document wallet or holder.  Several different types are available, however, you might want to consider ones that have built-in anti-theft security features – as well as ones that provide RFID protection of passport and credit cards that contain RFID chips for maximum peace of mind.

Women should be very careful when placing their documents in purses and handbags, and they can easily fall victim to slick fingered pickpockets and bag snatchers.

Step 5

If you think your documents may be exposed to water, your best choice is to keep them in a waterproof or resistant case.  You can purchase a waterproof waist pack or neck pouch that can double as a regular waist pack or neck pouch.  Today’s designs are slim and stay flat against your body they are great for rain, swimming and for keeping leaky liquids from ruining for valuables in a travel bag.  Here are our favorite waterproof travel document holders to consider.

Step 6

Be careful. When you’re in a crowded place, either at the airport, a party, a bus or train station or a store, keep a low profile. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or other “affluent” styles of clothing. You don’t want to call attention to yourself as either a tourist or as someone who might have something worth taking.