Be document savvy when you travel

One thing you can be sure of when you travel is that you’ll have plenty of documents to keep track of! From passports and plane tickets, to maps and money, there are so many bits and pieces, and losing any of them can be disastrous. Ensuring that you have everything organised is crucial for a smooth journey. British T.I.P.S. staff have travelled all over the world and have plenty of tips to help.

VERY IMPORTANT! When travelling internationally, your passport should be valid for 6 months AFTER your date of return. The moment you find out you’ll be travelling, check your passport’s validity and, if it’s not valid or will soon expire, head straight for Home Affairs – allow enough time for the passport to be issued (bearing in mind that  may also need to arrange your visa/s). Ensure you adhere to the visa requirements of your destination country. 

A couple of weeks in advance, sit down and spend time writing a detailed list of every single document you will need. Mark what you already have and follow up on what you still need to arrange. A week beforehand, go through your list again to make sure everything is ready. When you pack your luggage, have your list handy and ensure you are packing everything you need. Just before you head for the airport, station, or harbour, scan your checklist again to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.

Tip! Keep your checklist for future trips. 

Copy it.
Make copies of everything and keep them in your carry-on luggage so that you can access them easily, even if your checked-in luggage goes missing. It’s a good idea to have copies of important items, such as your passport, certified at a police station. Even though so much is done online these days, there is always a chance that you may not be able to access your phone, a computer, or the internet. That’s why keeping a hard copy is so useful. Be sure to look after the copies as if they were the real thing – you don’t want them getting into the wrong hands.

Save it.
Scan or photograph all the travel documents. Then, email them along with e-tickets and confirmations to yourself – easy to access and download. You might want to cc a trusted friend or family member so that, if worst comes to worst and you can’t access your own email address, you have someone who can help you out. Alternatively, save them to cloud storage such as Dropbox or iCloud. It’s best to save them as jpeg files as pretty much any device will be able to open these.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Don’t keep all your cash and documents and their copies in one place. If the worst happens and your bag goes missing or you’re pickpocketed, at least you’ll have cash or copies of documents elsewhere. However, be sure to have all important documents together when you’re at the airport or border crossings, etcetera. Avoid putting anything important in a handbag or back pocket as it’s all too easy for crafty pickpockets to snatch them.

Money matters
Don’t rely on just one form of payment. These days, it is a ‘must’ to travel with a credit card (not just a debit card). Many hotels, car rentals, and other places will only accept a credit card, plus you can use the card for emergencies and to withdraw cash in foreign countries. Remember to advise the bank that you’re going if you’re planning on using your credit card or you may end up with a frozen card when the bank thinks your card has been stolen. Consider getting prepaid travel money card to help you budget- you load it with currency and then use it as you would a debit card. This way, you know exactly how much you have and there won’t be any nasty exchange-rate surprises later on. 

Be ahead of the game.
Do not leave things to the last minute and prebook anything you can. People often don’t realise just how busy the top attractions scan be (for example, people without prepurchased tickets for Madame Tussaud can easily stand in a queue for 4 hours!). This is particularly important during peak season (June to September and Christmas).

Since the Covid-19 epidemic, most attractions will no longer accept walk-ins, and insist on prebookings in order to control numbers. 

Confirm your bookings before you go. Sometimes there are booking system errors or last-minute cancellations of tours and you don’t want to find this out when you get there. 

Doctor’s notes & Covid-19 documents
If you need to carry prescription medication or large amounts of over-the-counter and possibly restricted medication with you, ask your doctor or pharmacist for a copy of the prescription just in case you get questioned about it. If you need vaccinations for your transit or destination countries, keep a copy of the vaccination certificates in your hand luggage for easy access.

Most countries now require valid Covid-19 tests, printed and signed by a doctor. These vary between countries and the situation is changing daily so CHECK BEFORE YOU GO and, if you need a valid test result, remember to pack it!

Remember to pack your student or pensioner cards as many places offer discounts (sometimes substantial) for these – but they do require proof. 

Quick list of important travel documents*

  • Passport valid for 6 months after your date of return
  • Visas (should be in your passport but, in some cases where you can get visas online or on arrival, you’ll want to keep this with the passport)
  • Identity document or certified copy thereof
  • Valid driver’s license if you’ll be driving – we have had clients booked on self-drive holidays who forgot their driver’s license and had to change their entire travel plans. 
  • Unabridged birth certificates and other necessary permissions and documents for any children travelling with you. Find out more here: Requirements for travelling with children South Africa
  • Tickets and confirmations for any tours, events, attractions, etc. 
  • Flight, train, bus, and other transport tickets. Although you can have these on your device, we have had cases where a client’s phone was stolen or broken so they could no longer access the tickets; paper print-outs would have been handy in these cases. 
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Maps and instructions on getting to your first destinations. 
  • Covid-19 documents – these vary between countries and the situation is changing daily but, if you need a valid test result, remember to keep it with your passport!
  • Travel itinerary – some countries will not let you in without a printed copy of your onward travel. Plus, there’s always a small chance that you could be pulled aside to be questioned by customs officials. You may not be able to access your device for details. Having a hard copy of your itinerary can really help. 
  • Contact list, including insurance, local embassy, local police, emergency contact, hotel, and your travel agent.
  • Doctor’s letter and/or proof of prescription and purchase for scheduled medications, needles (e.g. insulin or epi pens), and other medical equipment that you need to travel with.
  • Student or pensioner cards.
  • Credit card and money.

*Note that the above is a guideline only and you may need additional documents so remember to add those to your list!


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