Keep these documents on you for travelling
Wallet, passport, phone, backpack, laptop, chargers (plural), clothing, camera, and so on. Such is the typical 2018 travel list – be it for a tourist, digital nomad, or backpacker. If you’re like me, it’s 8 p.m. at the hotel, and you’re cursing yourself for leaving the charger at home or at your prior accommodation. Woe unto thee.
However, there are a couple of things I never forget when travelling, particularly to Asia. As I get ready to go off again, these items are in mind. I’ve been stocking the envelopes and passport wallet with them just this weekend!
Old Credit & Debit Cards
By luck & planning, I had my major credit and debit cards replaced/updated within the last 4 weeks. Here’s the thing though, my bookings were primarily made with those cards. I didn’t cut up and dispose of the cards. It’s not uncommon on check-in for flights or hotels to have the original booking card requested as a form of security. This is extremely rare in North America, but it’s not uncommon throughout Asia. When I received my replacement cards, the old ones attached to bookings went straight into my passport holder.
This can be exasperating for Westerners traveling out of airports/countries where this additional security check is common. The time between purchase and the flight date can be up to one year, after all. In my observations, low cost carriers tend to be far stricter on this check than full-service carriers.
What happens if you can’t produce the card? It varies. Jane Doe holding a passport for Jane Doe travelling on a ticket for Jane Doe is probably at a relatively low risk of being denied use of that ticket if she isn’t holding the card ending in 1234 Jane originally used to book 7 months ago. If the carrier is truly a ball-buster, you might have to buy a new ticket at the airport, which can get very expensive.
There are few problems that Ulysses Grant or Ben Franklin can’t solve, particularly if you deploy him/them en masse. There are numerous reasons why you might want to carry the cash. Budgeting can be psychologically easier than swiping plastic. ATM fees can be extortionate when added up, especially if you have a fee from your home bank on top of something like Thailand’s foreign ATM fees (₿200 – about US$6). Of course, there are always those pesky emergencies like being locked out of your card for “security!”
Moneychangers abound in global cities of any size. I have found that Southeast Asia Hong Kong (Chungking Mansions!) have some of the most incredible rates of exchange for cash I have seen. I calculated a .25% (one quarter of one percent!) difference between the exchange booth and the spot rate when I changed Hong Kong Dollars to Singapore Dollars in central Singapore. Try getting that in a Western country. Surprise: you can’t.
Typically, I advise that one exchange $50 or $100 (if US$) in the best condition possible. For the sake of convenience, it is typically best to carry larger denominations. Moneychangers like them more, and carrying smaller denominations discreetly becomes problematic (over $200 in $20 notes isannoying). Like any rule, there are exceptions. or dollarized economies such as Cambodia, having a stash of $1, $5, and $10 notes is extremely useful for smaller, day-to-day transactions.
Do non-Americans need USD? Not necessarily. Recognizable global currencies like Canadian, Australian, or New Zealand Dollars as well as Yen, Euro, British Pounds, South Korean Won, and Chinese Yuan are fine.
Flight & Hotel Printouts
This one may seem quaintly archaic in the era of apps and digital confirmations, but never underestimate the authority and utility of ink on paper. A billing dispute (e.g. prepaid reservation or not) or apparently non-existent reservation magically ends in your favor the moment you can produce a piece of paper with key information.
When crossing borders, I find it very useful to have proof of accommodation and proof of an onward ticket. The latter applies more to backpackers, long term vagabonds, digital nomads, et al. When traveling on one-way tickets, the airline checking you in or (on rare occasion) the immigration officer will want to see proof of departure by the end of your allowed stay.
Another great part: I don’t need to worry about some god-damned app cooperating, my phone’s charge at a given time, or my ability to connect to WiFi or 4G!
On a final note, the sweetness really comes when you’re arranging transport to the hotel. Certain websites, such as Agoda.com, use both Latin characters and local script in the booking confirmation. Life becomes much easier when the Hong Kong or Bangkok taxi driver can read the hotel address in Chinese characters or Thai script rather than figuring it our from the romanization.