Documents And Travel

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What documents should I have when I travel?
  • Do I need a passport?
  • How should I carry my documents?

Our guidance about which documents to travel with.

This is our most basic advice on the documents you need to travel with. As with many things Career Tools, if you've been traveling for work for 20 years, you'll have worked this out for yourself. For those who are new to the workforce, or for travel for work, we hope to save you some time and heartache.

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Online Backup

 One additional thing I have found useful while traveling overseas is to have an online backup of all your documents. Basically, you just snap photos of your key documents like passport, drivers license, credit card etc. and store them in a service like Evernote.

When something goes really badly wrong, you just have to find online access and can retrieve at least paper copies of your documents. If you don't have access to a PA or somebody in the office, this can be a life saver.

US Passport card; online backup

I agree with JOBSTH that an online backup can be useful, though these are sensitive documents, so I've used BoxCryptor as a means of ensuring that they're encrypted before they leave my computer.  I would argue against having drivers license or passport in anything like Dropbox or Evernote where they're effectively unencrypted.  And if I ever have to retrieve something from BoxCryptor on a computer I don't manage, I'll change the password as soon as I can.

Another thing I've found useful, which applies only to those in the US, I think, is the Passport card (  When I renewed my passport the last time, I got both the regular passport booklet and the passport card.  That passport card serves as the equivalent of the second drivers license for me -- backup photo ID.  There's a particular place I keep it in my travel gear, so that it's always there, and it's part of my pre-travel checklist.  

One more thing...

And the other thing I keep with the stashed Passport Card -- is two $20 bills. And I've just slipped in a credit card that's different from the ones I normally carry. My wife and I have a system where we have a main credit card that we both carry, I have a second card on one account and she has a second card that's on a third account. That way, if either of us loses our wallet, we should still have a card that's good. If we're both robbed, then that's a problem. And I've now taken the second card on the backup card my wife carries and put it in the stashed location with the passport card. So, if I've lost my wallet, I now have photo ID, what should be a good credit card, and cash.

Identity Bracelets

I think Mark makes the point in this cast that he runs (i.e. works out) without the benefit of carrying ID with him, and often in some fairly far-flung places. I do this as well, and something which I've incorporated into my routine recently is an identity bracelet.

The one I use is Road ID, and it's brilliant. I'm sure there are other options which work just as well.

This way I don't have to carry a drivers license, etc. with me when I run, and have a degree of comfort that First Responders will know what to do with me if something untoward happens.

Second drivers license

Interesting that you mention having multiple copies of your drivers license. Is that legal in Texas? In many other states, (I live in SC and I'm fairly certain it is true here as well) it is not legal to have multiple copies of your drivers license.

That being said, yes you could go in and claim it was lost or stolen and get a new one made, but you'd be lying to a government agency then, wouldn't you? ;-)

other traveling tips

 In my years of travel, I've found some other important tips:

1) print out the addresses of hotels and offices you will visit - not only, as Mark says, in case you are out of power on your cellphone - but to show the taxi-driver. I was in Madrid, Spain and the way I pronounced the hotel was not understood by the driver who was only a native speaker of Spanish. Also in Beijing, China we jumped into a taxi where the driver not only spoke Chinese but also was not able to read anything other than Chinese characters. So it is important to have a print-out hard-copy preferable with local characters besides the regular spelling, e.g. when going to Thailand, Arab countries, Israel, etc.

2) the printed out itinerary for a flight is also important for more reasons than Mark mentions. If you have connecting flights, you cannot always assume they will write the destinations in neither international English nor in regular spelling. So if you go to Germany, you might not see Munich but München and I fear what would be on the panels for domestic flights in China. So knowing the flight numbers and airline makes it possible for you to find the flight on the panel even if you can't read or understand the text, e.g. CA123 og SK456 - China Air flight 123 or Scandinavian Airways flight 456.

3) get an International Drivers License because you cannot assume that your local drivers license will be accepted in other countries, e.g. my drivers license is in Danish and we write dates a little different than the US does. So for a car-rental to accept my Danish drivers license where they can't read it and the dates looks all wrong can be a challenge. Getting an International Drivers License helps a lot.

4) have more than 1 credit card so if one of them is blocked you still have access to funds. I learned this the hard way as I traveled a lot so my Visa card had been used too much and was blocked for purchases. Being in L.A., US, I had to get up early to be able to get hold of my bank in Denmark before they closed because of the time-zone differences.

5) Don't forget to get the right vaccination and bring your own medication, e.g. Tamiflu for bird-flu and something against diarrhea. Also, have the card with your vaccinations with your passport so you can get into some countries without hassle - our corporate physician informed (warned) us that this is important as some underdeveloped countries, e.g. in Africa, may deny your entry or force you to have a vaccination in less than ideal circumstances where needles may be reused etc.

6) If traveling internationally very frequently, getting an extra passport may be an option so when getting a Visa on one passport from an Embassy allows you to travel using the other passport. Also be aware that Embassies may have other national holidays than your country, so their offices could be closed when you need it the least, e.g. the Chinese Embassies would normally have closed following the Chinese national holidays. So getting that Visa for the next trip could hinder the current trip because you didn't get the passport back in time.


Lars Axelsen, Denmark