Tony's Travel Tips
How to Organize Your Travel Documents
We all know the sudden uneasiness that overcomes us when we forgot something important - did I leave the oven on? Did I take my medication? Was the wedding planned for today or next week? One of the worst things that can happen to you is that you leave home for a much deserved and highly anticipated vacation, and while on the way to the airport you suddenly realize you have either forgotten or misplaced an important travel document - perhaps your passport. When you get to the airport, already suffering of the cold sweat of your apprehension of doom, you empty all your bags and zippered compartment, check all your pockets, and become short and curt with your spouse as you frantically search for the elusive document. Did you leave it on the coffee table? Did you stick it in the glove compartment of your car? You are just about to hop into a cab and return to the long term parking lot when you find what you were looking for; it was in your inside jacket pocket - which you never use - all the time. Or maybe you were the unfortunate soul who actually did leave it at home, and now you'll have to rush through traffic, hope it's someplace easily visible, and try to make it back before the plane pulls away from the gate.
With a little planning and forethought, you'll never have to worry about something like that ever happening again. Here are some tips for managing your travel documents. Let's say you are planning a trip that requires you have your passport, immunization records, and a couple of visas. Along with that, there are two hotels you are staying at, a car you plan on renting, and some confirmation numbers for an all-day river cruise. Before you do anything else, put all your documents out on the table and place them in the order that you will need them.
To start, take your passport, visa, and shot records (immunization records) and keep them in a zippered pouch which you can find at most travel supply stores. All the passports, visas, shot records — for the entire traveling family — go into this pouch. No one will carry their own until they need to. Make sure you have at least three copies of your passport front page, as well as at least one copy of your shot records and visas. You will pack one copy of all the documents in your carry-on luggage. The second copy will be in a safe but easily accessible location at home, and the third copy (if you have that many - and you should for at least your passport) goes to a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor. You should also keep a copy of all your confirmation data — hotels, airline itineraries, rental car confirmations, etc.
Now pool together your remaining travel documents. If you arranged for a limo or town car to take you to the airport, the confirmation document (usually something that was sent via email from the limo company) is the first document you will need. After that, you will need your boarding passes for the airlines that is flying you on the first leg of your trip, say from your hometown airport to an international gateway airport (we'll call it outward boarding pass "A"). Once you get there, you'll have a cup of coffee and stale donut before you have to board your international flight, so you'll need your second boarding pass (outward boarding pass "B"). At your destination, you've arranged to rent a car. The rental car confirmation goes into the pile next. Then you have a map you printed from your computer that will get you from the airport to the hotel. After that, there is the hotel confirmation followed by several additional maps for your sight-seeing arrangements. On the final night you'll take your river cruise, so the confirmation for that is next. The last day you check out of the hotel (no documents required here), drive to the airport (another map), take your homeward flight (homeward boarding passes "B"), choke down sandwich until you're called to finally board your plane back home (homeward boarding pass "A"). Your documents, including a number of maps, should now be neatly arranged in the order that you will need them. Put these documents face up in the left pocket of a two-pocket pocket folder (plastic is best). This package will be placed in your carry-on suitcase in a spot where you can quickly get to it. Make one person responsible for carrying the passports, visas, etc.
Now, when you get to the airport, you can quickly pull out your first boarding pass and identification (passport) and make your way through security. Once past security, put your passports away - you shouldn't need them for a while. After you use your boarding pass, get rid of it. Either move it to the right hand pocket (face down), or throw it away. You should never have to handle that document again. As you progress through your journey, your documents on the left side will become fewer. If you saved your used documents (for tax purposes or as souvenirs for the scrap book), the right side pocket of your pocket folder will soon fill up.
Now, about those spares. If someone should steal your documents, or if you should lose them, you have copies that will not only make it easier to have them replaced, but it will hasten their replacement. If you lose both your passport and your carry-along copy, you can call your trusted stay-at-home source to email or fax your copy to the local authorities or the American Consulate. And if you lost all of your documents, you have a complete copy left at home (usually without the maps). And that is how to keep your documents safe and always readily available to make your travels that much less hectic.
But wait! There's more. Here's another thing to keep in mind. Make copies or write down the numbers of all your credit cards. In the event your credit cards are lost or stolen, you can quickly cancel your cards and shorten the time it will take for the issuing credit card companies in providing you with a new one. It is safer to hand-write your card numbers so that you can add a couple of numbers to the sequence. But mix them up. Put the bogus numbers after the fifth or eighth number of the sequence.
Also, remove all the documents from your wallet that you won't need. Most of us have library cards, grocery chain cards, cards from your favorite coffee shop — all things you'll most likely not need while you are on vacation.
By the time you are ready to leave, you should have all your documents organized and located in a quick and easy to get to place. You'll have spares in case your originals are lost or stolen, and you'll have a plan on what to do in the event you need to call all the way home to get that document you just didn't think you'd need to bring with you.