I have spoken before about how much I value my passports. Heck, I love them so much that I even named my travel blog in their honor. That being said, in the past, I haven’t always treated them as well as I should have. Fortunately, after years of globetrotting, I have learned my lesson (well, lessons plural, actually) and now know how to show my passports the love that they deserve. Read on for some tips to ensure that you, too, show respect for that all-important document that lays the world at your feet.
1. Leave your passport behind. Don’t get me wrong–you’ll need your passport to get on the plane for your international trips and to make it through customs, so make sure that you have it with you at those times. In fact, check for your passport at least a few days before your trip and then re-check frequently as you travel so that you don’t find yourself unexpectedly stranded (or scrambling to change your travel plans and/or obtain a replacement passport).
However, once you get to your destination, don’t tempt fate. Put your passport in your room’s safe or locker. If your room doesn’t have this amenity, have the people at the front desk lock it up there. In many places, the staff will need to copy your passport anyway in order to comply with local laws, so it should be easy to make the safekeeping arrangements on the spot.
If you have neither the option of locking up your passport in your room nor locking it up at the front desk, you should probably consider changing course and staying somewhere else. Seriously. I’ve stayed in everything from luxury hotels to $1-a-night hostels, and means are always provided for guests to be able to protect their valuables. Your passport is the most important of your valuables, and you don’t want to incur the time and expense of having to replace it in the middle of your trip should it disappear. If the place where you want to stay doesn’t understand that, you shouldn’t want to stay there anymore. Period. Protect your passport!
2. Carry copies of your passport on your person at all times. If you followed my first rule, your passport is safely stowed, but what are you supposed to do while touring during the day or partying at night? Bring copies. I usually have one copy in my pocket and one in my purse, just in case I should get separated from my belongings. Most of the time, this is all that you will need as identification.
I sometimes also bring an expired International Student Identity Card (which got me great discounts when I was still a student) in case people want hardcopy identification; most people don’t even look at the expiration date, and, even if they do, the combination of the card and my passport copy is enough to confirm that I am who I say I am. If you are going someplace that requires you to bring your original passport, ask around to see how strict that rule is–usually, there is some play at the joints; if not, seriously consider whether your planned activity is worth the risk to your passport. That being said, in my travels to all seven continents and through roughly three dozen countries, I have literally never been in a situation where a lack of my original passport has stopped me from engaging in my planned activities.
On the flip side, I have heard horror stories of people carrying their passports around only to have them lost, stolen, or even pilfered by an aggressive baboon who reached into their car while they were out enjoying the flora and fauna of South Africa’s Cape Point. (In the latter case, it took quite a bit of time and maneuvering for that tourist to get her passport back!) Some people carry their passports in hidden money belts, but I don’t like them because they can get sweaty, bulky, and uncomfortable. Also, money belts are so popular that any experienced thief would know where to look. Better safe than sorry–leave the passport, bring the copies.
3. Copies, copies, everywhere. While we’re talking about passport copies, you should just have them stashed everywhere. Really. I try to have at least one copy in each piece of luggage, just in case. Plus, I have a copy saved in my e-mail (along with copies of my credit cards, my travel insurance policy (yes, you should have this, too!), and any visas that I needed to get for my trip) for electronic access. Finally, I send a copy of my passport and visas to my Mom for safekeeping. Basically, if my passport should ever go missing, I have everything I need to expedite the process of getting a new passport and visas while minimizing the interruption to my trip. Fortunately, I haven’t had to use my back-ups yet. Knock on wood!
4. Eyes on the prize. Despite all of my precautions above, you may have to hand over your passport to someone for official purposes. When this happens, keep your eye on your passport at all times, or, if this is not possible, keep an eye on where your passport is being taken (safe in the knowledge that, if you followed my third rules, you have a safety net if your passport doesn’t make it back). If you have to send your passport off to get it amended or to have visas added, be sure to insure the package and pick an option that involves tracking; you may even want to request delivery confirmation (so that you’ll know the name of the person on the other end who receives your passport) and/or consider an option that lets you track when your passport is mailed back to you (if you’re paranoid, like me). Anything to make sure that your passport is returned, safe and sound.
5. When your current passport is up for retirement. No matter how much you love your passport, at some point, it will near its expiration date. When you have less than a year left on your current passport, you should start thinking strategically as to when to renew so that you minimize your time spent passport-less and ensure that you have your passport for any upcoming travel plans. Keep in mind that many countries require that your passport be valid for three months or more from the time that you plan to complete your trip, so you may have to renew sooner than you thought. Many countries also require that you have a certain number of empty visa pages, which can get challenging if you’re a travel junkie like I am.
You are the only who has all the specific information as to when to time your renewal, but here are two quick tips for American travelers. First, avoid renewing right before summer vacations, as this is when the processing time is longest. Second, under the latest revision of U.S. passport rules, you don’t have to wait (or pay extra!) to get extra pages; when you send in your passport for renewal, just go ahead and include a written and signed request for additional pages with your application (I literally just handwrote mine on a piece of paper and tossed it into the application packet for my most recent renewal–simple!). That way, you won’t have to do a separate application process (and pay a separate, hefty fee) to add the extra pages later.
Also, you can rest easy. When your renewed passport gets sent to you, your old passport (in canceled form) will also be returned. Thus, you don’t have to worry about losing the awesome passport stamps that you got in Antarctica, Cuba (well, maybe not, if you’re an American), or wherever else you’ve traveled. Lay your old passport to rest in a respectful place, grab your new passport, and hit the road!
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Well, that’s it! Showing some TLC for your passport has never been so straightforward. Now, you need never lose your cool worrying about whether your passport is safe and available when you need it. If there are any crucial tips that I have missed, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, good luck, and happy travels!