No matter how laid-back and fly by the seat of your pants you are, there are some important documents to take while traveling. It’s better to just put them in a pocket of your backpack and have them ready, than have to chase down a copy machine or printer at an internet cafe.
Some of these will be specific to India, but most you will need anywhere you travel. India is a little over the top on security. Like annoyingly over the top because of the terrorist attacks in 2008. Like the U.S. upping security in the airports after 9/11, India upped security everywhere.
15 Documents you NEED while Traveling
1. Passport, obviously…
2. Visa, I would think it’s obvious but actually a lot of my friends say they want to book a flight to visit and are shocked when I say they need to apply for a visa. Because I love you all so much, and the visa process can get complicated here is a step by step guide to getting your visa to India (for Americans). You need a lot of paperwork!
3. Some territories in India require entry permits, if you have gotten one make a copy of it.
4. Copies of passport front photo page and copy of most recent visa. When will you need this? Booking a tourist quota train ticket, getting a SIM card for your phone, staying at hotels that don’t have a copy machine. They will send you out to find a copy before check-in, which is a pain in the butt when it’s 5 am and you want to sleep.
Why do they need a copy at the hotel? Because they must fill out a C Form for each person that stays with them. Your first time in India you might be shocked by how documented your trip is with the government. Copies of passports and visas for each train, bus, hotel… your entire trip can be tracked. Even if you stay with a friend (like me!) you have to fill out a form and we take it to the police station. I think 1/10 times we actually do this, so… whoops.
5. A 2×2 passport style photograph. You’ll need this to purchase a SIM card, meeting the Dalai Lama, for staying at some ashrams, among other reasons. You usually won’t know ahead of time when they’re going to ask for one, so have it handy. Print about 10 and keep them in a little envelope. I waited in line to see the Dalai Lama not knowing I would need one, but luckily I had that little envelope in my wallet! Crisis averted.
6. Driver’s license. Most often you need a local license to legally drive anyways, but at least if you’re pulled over on a scooter you can show them something that might confuse them enough to let you go. Also, I’ve been guided by an Indian that has lived in America for 20 years that you can receive an international license without a test or fee at the DMV in the U.S. I’ll find out if that’s true when I’m back in May.
7. If you’re in college, it doesn’t hurt to take a student ID. You can get discounts at museums and attractions or even movie tickets (not so much in India, but in Europe, for example at the Acropolis).
9. Some places (like Uganda) required me to get specific vaccinations. These were stapled into my passport and still are there. If you have to get anything like this, keep a copy of it in case it comes loose and disappears. PS: Yellow fever for Uganda does not equal the same vaccination as yellow fever for India; there are different strains. Make sure you don’t assume one will carry over to another country’s guidelines. Immigration will turn you away on arrival without proper vaccination paperwork if it is required.
10. If you have been given an “exit card” from the airport, like in Thailand. Keep this stapled in your passport. I’ve lost one before with no problems, but you never know what kind of mood the officer will be in.
11. I write down my debit card numbers in case my card is stolen. Sometimes I even photo copy them. It’s difficult to get a new card sent out and what I find is easier in case of a lost card is
- Using those numbers to book as much as I can online
- I can send Western Union money to myself when I need cash
This is only for when it’s impossible to get a new card sent out, because you’re moving too frequently. It’s also convenient if your bank wrongly closes your card for fraudulent overseas purchases. Even if you give them information that you’re exiting the country, it happens.
12. On that note, I also write down phone numbers. I had Visa’s ‘lost card number’ (it’s on the back of the card, which while lost obviously is inaccessible to you) so I can call them right away when I don’t have Internet to look up the number. I write down family members’ numbers in case something happens to me. I also have the numbers to my banks in case they block my card, which happens quite often.
13. I love the planning aspect of travel and I usually type up an itinerary or list of places I’ve read about in the country I’m going to and say what sounded nice about it. It helps me make decisions later when I have to choose between two places.
Taken directly from my last itinerary:
As you can see, I make very detailed itineraries that are helpful to basically no one including myself. So that my parents can keep tabs on me, I give them a copy of this program. Useful, huh?
14. Specifically to India, some airports will not let you enter without a copy of your E-ticket. If you do not have internet to pull this up on your phone (which they’ve just started allowing) you do need a copy of your flight whether international or domestic.
15. Last but not least, a bit of necessary paper is a journal. I highly recommend keeping at least some record of your travels even if it’s a quote you saw and liked, a tea recipe learned, or a business card you tape it. You’ll forget so much after your trip and it’s a great way to look back.
*Bonus Tip! If you have a camera, iPhone, etc write down the personalized codes on back of them. In the case they are stolen, police will ask for this. In Thailand my friend’s iPhone was stolen and they wouldn’t even talk to her without that code. Say, someone turned in her phone- that is the ONLY way they can verify it’s hers. Since the code is on the phone, there was no way for her to know. Something similar happened to me when my camera was stolen- luckily seeing a girl cry was enough for the police to believe me.
Where to Pack it all
When it comes to packing, I keep the 2×2 photos in my wallet and the rest of the paperwork in my backpack. I keep the card I use most in my wallet, and my back-up debit and credit cards in my backpack. If I go on overnight transportation I keep it all in my purse.
As for my passport, I keep it in my purse more often than I should while backpacking because it seems whenever I need it to book something on a whim, I have to go back to the hotel to grab it. Somewhere like Bombay, that’s a huge pain in the ass. Once I’m stationary somewhere for a week or so, I keep it in the room.
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