Your passport is undoubtedly the most important piece of travel paperwork you have. And it shouldn't come as a surprise - identification is rightfully required prior to entering a foreign country and returning to your home country, so it is a critical item to own and to secure.
If you are a U.S. passport holder, you should know that you are the holder of one of the most powerful and coveted travel documents the world over - not least due to the fact that it allows you visa-free entry to over 170 countries. Losing such an important document is the sum of all of a traveler's fears, and can turn a relaxing vacation into a harrowing ordeal.
While instances of lost or stolen passports come few and far between, you know how it goes: it always happens to someone else until it happens to you.
And if you're unprepared to deal with a lost passport, you could be in for more than just a ruined vacation. It could also mean the theft of your identity - which can be used in all sorts of ways against you by unscrupulous and enterprising identity thieves who can use your information to defraud you or use it for nefarious purposes.
That is primarily the reason why travel paperwork remains a hot item on the secondary market, not least due to the stature it holds within the diplomatic community - and it is the reason why you should take steps to keep it secure.
Criminals Want Your Passport Details
Passports aren't just valuable to their holders - criminals hold passports in high regard just as much. Perhaps even more than you do.
Like cars and jewelry, clean passports are like gold to those engaged in the drug and human trafficking trade, since their real identities will probably be already under surveillance, so using their own identities could eventually lead to their arrest.
Bank accounts can be opened using a stolen passport. Mortgages and loans can be obtained with one too. That is why planning financially is also necessary when traveling abroad. Whether you will carry cash or a card with you is a thing to be decided on. Innocent people have been arrested and worse, thrown in jail for a crime committed using their stolen credentials.
Remember, the perpetrators of the single-worst terrorist attack in the United States - 9/11 - were able to do so using stolen passports. And that is why your passport cannot afford to be put into the wrong hands.
Given all the risks of losing your travel paperwork exposes you to, you should take steps to secure and handle them with care as you should. Here are some tips we have compiled that will be of use to you.
Securely Dispose of Your Old Travel Documents
Let’s begin with the obvious. Part of keeping your documents safe is knowing when to dispose of them. If your passport is expired and if it no longer contains any valid visas, you may choose to discard them. An expired passport is an invitation for identity theft, so if you are 100% sure that you no longer need it (and would like to declutter), make sure to shred it.
Not all paper shredders can handle the thick paper of a passport though, so if yours is not up to the task you’d have to use scissors and shred it that way. Or find a more competent one, as it’s always a good idea to have a good paper shredder that can safely cut your valuable paperwork to pieces.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to keep your passport in the event that you lose your current one, be sure to securely store it following best practices for keeping important documents safe.
Make Extra Copies of Your Documents
Some steps to secure your travel documents can be done even before you plan your next vacation.
Make copies of the page that contains your photo and credentials on it, and keep them in multiple locations in your bag, in your luggage, and/or with a travel companion. The idea is that dividing where you put important documents as well as their copies is that it keeps you from losing everything in one go.
Leave a copy at home, and leave a copy with a trusted person in case of an emergency. A soft copy of the said page will also be valuable in cases of an emergency, but make sure to follow secure storage of important files, as it is a valuable identity document.
Keep Your Travel Documents Under Lock and Key
Make sure to lock up your important travel paperwork if you choose to leave it behind. If you are traveling and a safe is provided to you, use it.
Otherwise, you may opt to ask the concierge to keep it for you. Regardless of where you choose to leave it, make sure that it is securely kept in a safe. If there are no facilities for you to do so - for instance, staying in an Airbnb or a private accommodation site - leave it in a locked compartment.
Never Leave Your Passport with Anyone
Be wary of people who ask for your passport for storage. While this remains a practice in some areas, not all people who ask for your travel documents should be given them, unless they are required to report the information to their respective authorities.
This is no longer widely practiced, but if your concierge insists on having your documents, ask if you could provide a copy of your passport instead of handing over the original.
Hide Your Passport if you Travel with It
Keep your passport concealed when traveling with it at all times. There are plenty of accessories that can help you conceal important items, especially when traveling to areas that are tourist magnets - primarily due to the number of pickpockets milling about.
Travel wallets and passport covers can help you obfuscate your credentials and your nationality. But if you can avoid it, don't bring your passport anywhere and everywhere - thieves know all too well how important they are to tourists.
Always Check if you Have Your Documents in Your Possession
You need to make sure that your passport is with you wherever you are, especially if you are traveling abroad. Do it in a discreet manner, otherwise, thieves will know exactly where you store your important items.
If you leave your travel documents at home, discreetly check where they are stored, and keep a mental note of where you left them. While you can never be 100% sure that your documents will be 100% safe - nothing is - you will reassure yourself that it is with you and that you know exactly where to find it.