4 Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents

14 September 2012
Best Backup Methods for your Travel Documents

You’ve seen this recommendation before – from us and many other travel experts – have a copy of your travel documents, but what travel documents are we talking about and how should you carry a copy of your documents?

Before we discuss how this can more easily be accomplished, let’s discuss why having a copy of your travel documents is necessary.

Losing your shoes can be a true hassle on a trip. That loss can even cost you money to replace them, but losing your identification and travel documents is much, much worse for three reasons:

  1. They take longer to replace
  2. They’re more difficult to replace in a foreign country
  3. Depending on what you lose, you might not be able to get home on your schedule – and that could cost you even more money

If your passport is stolen in a foreign country where the U.S. embassy is short-staffed or closed for any reason, you could be waiting a long time to get a replacement. With a copy of that document, you can speed up the process.

Next, let’s discuss which documents you should back up or copy.

A list of travel documents to back up

Since 9/11/2008, security between countries has become tighter and tighter. Authorities at airports, train terminals, and ferry docks have become very strict about proper documentation and whether you’re visiting the U.S. or an American citizen traveling abroad, it’s vital to have those papers on order; however, these aren’t the only documents you should have a copy of on your trip.

Depending on where you are traveling, you’ll want to make 2 printed copies of the following:

  • Passport (the identification page)
  • Visa
  • Travel insurance
  • Driver’s license
  • Health information (see What’s my basic medical info? for details)
  • Credit cards (see Don’t travel with a copy of your bank cards; we’ve got a much better system for an innovative way to secure your credit card number.)
  • Traveler’s checks, although we’re not convinced anyone uses these anymore
  • Travel itinerary
  • Airline tickets
  • Hotel or lodging reservation confirmations
  • Car rental reservation confirmation
  • Cruise tickets
  • 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 pre-paid confirmations

You’ll leave one printed copy at home and give one copy to a friend or relative who can be contacted should you need them sent to you. The copy at home is for your next of kin. Not to be morbid, but if you die on this trip, you want them to be able to collect on your travel insurance policy and they’ll need the details to do that.

The other copy is in case you can’t access your electronic copies for some reason, and we’ll talk about that next.

4 Best Backup Methods

Let’s be honest, not much is done on actual paper these days. You can even apply for a loan with an electronic signature, so the idea of traveling with printed copies is old-school.

Hint: if you do choose the paper route, put one set in a zippered plastic bag (to protect it from moisture) and slide it in your suitcase. Put a second one in your carry-on (zipper bag here is optional).

The new-school way to have a copy of your documents is to scan them and store them electronically.

  1. Send them to your own email account (and perhaps to a friend’s as well).
  2. Store them on a memory stick and take that instead.
  3. Store them in your choice of online cloud.
  4. Store them on your portable device or laptop.

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. Secure the online documents, and even those you send to your friend, with a password. Be sure your portable devices and laptops are secured with a password as well.

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.

5 Steps to Replace a Lost or Stolen Passport while Traveling Abroad

Should your passport be lost or stolen while traveling abroad, these are the steps you’ll follow to get a replacement:

  1. Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  2. Report the loss, theft, or misplacement with local authorities or use the U.S. State Department DS-64 form. Note, a police report is may be required if the embassy believes a problem may exist, but it will likely be required by your travel insurance company as well. If you have travel insurance, quickly report the loss to them as well.
  3. Complete a new passport application – this is where having a copy comes in handy.
  4. Obtain fresh passport photos (the embassy can usually direct you to a place).
  5. Pay your fee – this is a fee that many travel insurance companies will reimburse you for, provided you have a receipt and up to a certain limit.

Time-limited passports may be issued in cases where an applicant has, by mistake, packed their passport in luggage that is sent forward to another location, or when they’ve left it at home or in another country, and has to travel immediately. If a traveler is robbed multiple times in a short timespan, they may also receive a limited passport while the authorities investigate the situation.

What Travel Insurance can do for you

Some travel insurance plans include coverage for:

  • Reimbursement of unauthorized credit card charges
  • Reimbursement for the fees to replace a passport
  • Emergency cash advances for stranded travelers
  • A travel assistance services hot-line staffed with people who can provide guidance
See our full review of Passport and Credit Card Coverage for complete details.
Damian Tysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and is a licensed agent for travel insurance (MA 1883287). He believes travel insurance should be easier to understand, and started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.