13 Backup Plans For The Modern Traveler: Photos, Passports, Gadgets and More

Imagine every traveler’s nightmare scenario: you’re in Southeast Bumfooksville and everything you have – backpack, passport, money, everything – gets stolen. Do you have a backup?

Many seasoned travelers denounce the idea of over-planning or having a backup plan for everything as “taking the fun out of travel”. To some extent, I agree. However, I think swinging the pendulum entirely in the opposite direction by not planning for anything can put a real damper on your trip should the unthinkable happen. Honestly, how fun would it be to have to wait weeks or even months to reclaim your passport or credit cards? Especially when it takes five minutes to ensure you’re never in that position in the first place?

Mugged!Stick ’em up!

Piggybacking on Dave’s great post about backing up photos while on the road, I thought I’d expand upon the idea and outline 13 backup plans for the modern traveler.

Water

Most RTW travelers will tell you that bottled water is readily available around the world. And that’s probably true.

But why take the chance? Plus, if you want to be sure about the water you’re drinking and you pride yourself on lessening your environmental impact while traveling, grab a lightweight high tech water purifier like the MSR Miox or even the Steripen. Think of all the plastic water bottles you won’t be discarding along the way. This can be particularly helpful in developing regions where they may not have Waste Management to cart off their recyclables in neat little plastic bins.

Sure, $100US+ may seem steep, but think how much less of a longterm impact you’ll have – both on your wallet and on Mother Nature.

Passport and Visas

Backing up your passport and visas is a snap. Before you leave home:

  • Make two photocopies of everything.
  • Give one set to someone you trust (mom, best friend, etc.) and with whom you can easily get in touch via phone.
  • Keep the other copy with you at all times, but separate from the originals (separate pocket, different pack, etc.).
  • Assuming you have a free, web-based e-mail account (like Yahoo! Mail, GMail, etc.), e-mail a copy of the documents to yourself as an attachment. You’ll be able to access the attachment from any internet cafe in the world.

Assuming your passport is ever lost or stolen, you’ll only need access to a web-connected computer or a telephone to get the appropriate info for the Embassy to reissue it for you.

Itinerary

Like your passport, always provide a family member or friend with an itinerary of each leg of your journey, even if it’s a rough one. “Mom, I’m heading to Glasgow for a week and I’ll be staying with Duncan McKiltlifter at this number …”.

Many travelers (myself included) like to travel with only a rough idea of where we’re going and what we’re doing when we get there. That’s fine: just the basics such as where, when, how long, and how someone would get in touch with you are enough to give someone a starting point should they need to send out a search party for you.

Health and Medication

First, always carry a first aid kit. It doesn’t have to be one of those all-in-one five pound, “portable” numbers that they peddle in the camping section at WalMart. Doug Dyment has been traveling for decades and his website – OneBag.com – advocates lightweight, “compleat” traveling in the purest sense of the word. Check out his health page for a bare minimum of what to take along.

Second, carry twice as many prescription pills as you think you might need, especially if they’re critical to your health. Prescription drugs are largely available throughout the world, but don’t assume. Why take the chance that you might find what you need when you need it? A few extra bottles of pills occupy little space in your pack – just bring them along.

Photos

One word: Flickr. For $24.95US per year, Flickr’s Pro Account is truly the only service you need to backup your photos. Routinely stop off at your nearest internet cafe or WiFi hotspot, upload your high resolution photos, and forget about them.

  • To upload your photos: download Flickr’s own Uploadr tool. It’s as easy as drag-and-drop.
  • To download your photos: grab a free application like Downloadr.

Laptop Data

Not everyone carries a laptop with them enroute around the world. I plan to. And I’ve got quite a bit of critical data on mine – client files for web design, financial info, music, etc.

At the very least, you should have one complete backup of your laptop files; though I’d recommend two or more backups via the following methods:

  • Online file storage: To backup your files online, you can use a service like XDrive or Box.net. Both offer free and inexpensive accounts with a reasonable amount of storage space. For further info, search Google for “online backup“.
  • Portable, external hard drive: a super small, lightweight drive like the Seagate FreeAgent Pro provides an almost ridiculous amount of backup space. It’s small enough to keep in a pack separate from your laptop, to ensure they don’t both go missing at once.
  • If you have a website already, chances are your website host provides quite a bit of online storage space (Dreamhost is good about this). If you have FTP access, you can simply upload your files to a subdirectory for your account.
  • As a last resort … you can always e-mail files to your free e-mail account as file attachments. It’s not a particularly efficient way of creating a backup but will work in a pinch. Bonus: Yahoo! Mail now provides free, unlimited storage space!

Money

Most travelers will carry their primary “wad” of cash and credit/debit cards in a central location – a money belt, secured in a zippered or Velcro pocket, etc.

But keep a backup stash somewhere else on your person – in your sock, in a shoe – anywhere a mugger is not likely to find it out without strip searching you. This secondary stash should contain a hundred or so dollars in U.S. currency and/or Euros, plus a fair amount of the local currency – enough for you to survive for a few days should your primary stash go missing.

Bank Info

My hackproof financial plan is simple. I have two ETrade accounts:

  1. Checking account with debit card. ETrade provides free RSA tokens which randomly generate a six-digit access number for your online account every 60 seconds. You need both this number and your web password to login to your account. If the token is stolen, it’s useless without your web password. And vice versa: if thieves compromise your web password, it’s useless without the token.

    Important: never keep more than a few hundred dollars in this account at any time.

    A friend of mine worked at GTech (the world’s largest lottery company with more than a few customer and trade secrets to keep safe) and they used RSA token technology to limit physical and data access throughout their facilities. It’s about as secure as your bank account can get.

  2. ETrade Complete Savings account with no ATM card. This is where all of my savings are stored and, I might add, earning a fair bit of interest too!

The above two accounts are linked and funds can easily be transferred between them only via the secure ETrade website. With the above setup, thieves would need my debit card, my RSA security token, and my web password to access all of the funds in my accounts. As far as I’m concerned, with a little common sense, that scenario is virtually impossible.

I’m sure online banks such as HSBC (about which I’ve also heard good things) could provide a similar setup, though without the added security of an RSA token.

Luggage

Tagging your luggage with semi-permanent global ID tags – such as those offered by StuffBak.com or EZFind – could make finding your bags (or iPod or collapsible traveler’s sousaphone) a hell of a lot easier. Sure, they’re not foolproof and they require that whoever finds your stuff is kind-hearted and appreciates the concept of karma enough to want to return it to its rightful owner in the first place. But it’s better than nothing. And it’s reasonably affordable – a starter kit runs about $20-30US.

Blog

Are you backing up your travel blog regularly? Chances are good that your web host is already doing this for you (send them a quick e-mail to learn about their backup policy if you’re unsure), but why take the chance?

If you’re a WordPress blogger, the built-in backup feature is stupid simple:

  1. Login to your admin panel
  2. Click the “Manage” tab
  3. Click “Backup”
  4. Under “Backup Options”, tick the “Email backup to:” radio button and enter your e-mail address
  5. Click the “Backup!” button
  6. Check your inbox to make sure the file attachment arrived OK. If you ever need to “refresh” your blog data, it’s simply a matter of importing this one file via the built-in WP import utility (under “Manage” » “Import” in the WP admin panel).

You

Yes, you can even backup yourself.

Several companies offer bracelets so medics or the unlucky locals unfortunate enough to find your limp, lifeless body can see your personal and medical info at a glance. Of course, this is of particular use to solo travelers. If you have a seizure; fall down while hiking and knock yourself unconscious; black out downing one too many pints of the black stuff in downtown Belfast; or get drugged and mugged in a public park in Turkey, will anyone know:

  • who you are
  • where you’re from
  • what medical conditions, if any, you have
  • who to contact on your behalf if some awful tragedy should befall you

Companies such as In Case of Emergency handle all of the above with a simple, affordable solution.

Food

High calorie/protein bars or MREs are great for travelers heading to more remote locations. They’re cheap, lightweight, and some contain enough calories and nutrients in one meal to last an entire day. They run about $5-10US each, but work great for backcountry campers and backpackers who aren’t entirely sure what they’re getting themselves into.

Gadgetry

If, like me, you’re a flashpacker who likes to travel with their gadgets and tech toys, do you have an insurance policy if/when your gear takes a walk? The debate rages on traveler forums such as BootsNAll and Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forums, but one insurance provider that consistently crops up is World Nomads. I have no personal experience with them, but the majority of the accounts that I’ve read of travelers working with them have been quite positive.

What travel backup plans have worked for you? Anything I didn’t touch on with the list above?

About The Author

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Mike Richard has traveled the world extensively since 2008. He's camped in the Jordanian desert with Bedouins, tracked African wild dogs in South Africa, and survived a near-miss shark attack in Mexico. He loves the great outdoors, good bourbon, and he (usually) calls Massachusetts home. He also enjoys speaking in the third person.

10 Responses

  1. Dov Sugarman

    Great travel advice!
    I wanted to let you know about a cool new backup program that offers FREE and UNLIMITED backup. It is a great solution while on the road as well as once you are back home with all of your newly created digital memories from your latest adventure.

    With Zoogmo you control where your files are backed up by building a backup network of your own or your friends’ computers. You can backup photos, movies, personal documents or whatever data matters to you.

    Zoogmo automatically backs up your data over the internet, using a combination of Triple-DES and AES 256 encryption to make sure that only you have access to your files.

    Check out Zoogmo at http://www.zoogmo.com to learn more and begin turning your social network into your backup network.

    Remember, with Zoogmo you have no annoying monthly fees – totally free unlimited backup you can trust!

    Reply
  2. Michelle

    Hi I live in Sydney, Australia.
    I refer to the e-mail in my Inbox from you. It refers to FREE RSA Courses & the tokens etc, however I cannot find this information on your link provided here. PLEASE could you kindly let me know how to obtain the information you have advertised. I am in financial difficulty and have been receiving emails on free RSA courses without any success. I am desperate need to obtain my RSA as I am seeking “PROMO” Work here and perhaps abroad. I have been hoping for a free RSA Course since December and ur e-mail is as close as i am in getting it.
    Thanking You kindly. I await your reply with fingers crossed.
    Michelle.S

    Reply
  3. Rob Meyer

    Great tips Mike!

    I agree, being prepared is NOT a bad thing.

    As an addition to backing up your passport, I would recommend making similar copies of all important visas. Not having this has gotten me into trouble a couple of times, when I didn’t have access to my passport…

    Reply
  4. Mike

    Great point, Rob. I just updated the post above to reflect this advice. Thanks for the tip!

    Reply
  5. Kirsty

    Bitchin’ post! I’m one of those foolhardy folks who live in denial that anything bad will ever happen (or maybe it’s a good wey to be?) and nothing ever has… so far. I might put a few of your tips into effect before I head off on my next trip. Just a few though… I still like to be a bit irresponsible.

    Reply
  6. Mike

    Thanks for the kudos, Kirsty! I certainly won’t be planning for each and every thing either. It’s nice to be impulsive every once in a while.

    Reply
  7. Ted Fedor

    I know the tips have been around for a while, but I just found them recently. Great ideas.

    I have been using the site http://www.tripit.com to share my itinerary with select individuals (family members, friends, etc) What is nice about it is that it can be as detailed as you need it to be (or not), but should you have a change in plans, you can update on the fly.

    The other thing that I do (besides making photocopies of my passport, etc.) is to make pdf’s of them and then encrypt them onto a USB device. If I needed to walk into a consulate for a reissued passport, I have all the information in one small just about universally readable place. (oh btw, maybe I’m a little overcautious on this, but I also carry the installs for Adobe’s reader for Mac, Window and Linux.)

    Reply
  8. Mike

    Good article. I have two suggestions.

    1. Taking extras of any prescription medications is a good idea, but it’s very easy to lose or ruin it. I think it’s best to split it up and keep it in two separate locations, preferably with a travel companion, if available.

    2. For emergency water needs, it’s easier and cheaper to carry a few chlorine and/or iodine water purification tablets. They’re much smaller than the Steripen, and WAY cheaper, although they’re not nearly as cool. But since I’m worried about emergencies and not everyday use, that’s what I take.

    Reply

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