with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Know Before You Go: Paperwork

When we hit the road for more than a couple weeks, we used to have a notebook of papers we’d carry with us. There is a lot of papers you need to take with you when you take your life on the road and we’d rounded up quite a collection. Preparing to evacuate from Israel with the upcoming war with Iraq, we decided to lighten the load, literally.

We gathered up all the important papers in our life and scanned them all onto a CD. We still had to carry copies and originals of the most important papers, but now we had a lightweight, easy to carry, single item to haul around for those necessary but not “must have” pieces of paper. Our first CD was very simple, but now we’ve encrypted the information to make it harder to access if we lose the CD and it gets “found”.

The paperwork you need to have with you or available to you depends upon your life and lifestyle. If you are a property owner (cars, homes, property, rentals), you need to have paperwork like deeds, mortgages, and insurance papers. If you rent, then you will basically need a copy of your rental agreement and insurance. If you are a business owner, then you will need to add copies of your business documents to the list.

Why All These Papers?

Why do you need all these papers?

Well, nothing may happen on your travels. Let’s hope so. But for those who are experienced travelers, you know that “things happen” and it seems like they tend to happen to you.


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We’ve had questions come up about our car and apartment rental while we’ve been traveling. We’ve had issues with credit cards and banks and had to contact them and solve the problems on the road. We’ve had insurance claims on our property back “home” and had to deal with insurance companies dealing with the problem back home while we continued traveling. We’ve also been traveling and got stuck in places longer than planned and ended up doing our taxes from the road. Life goes on back home and with your paperwork, whether you are there or not, so having your key legal documents accessible by you on the road makes life easier for you, the traveler.

Why not leave them in a safety deposit box? Well, you can and should. But if you are going to be gone for months or years at a time, taking your life and camera on the road, leaving behind your property and assets, then you should have copies of the most important papers with you, just in case.

The old method was to leave them with someone who could access your safe deposit box and someone you could trust to handle your business back home, but it helps to have the most important pieces of paper with you, if you need it. You might never need it. With it all stored on a CD, DVD or flash drive, it slips into your suitcase and you don’t have to worry too much about the weight of all that paper. It also provides a safe backup, just in case.

The Scanning and Storage Process

There are two ways of storing your paperwork to CD. Your choices are to store the document image OR store the document image plus the OCR version. The first is to scan and physically store the document “image” to the CD so you can print out “original copies” of the documents you need. The second is to store two copies of the document(s), a document image plus the OCR (Optical Character Reader) version, which converts the documents into readable and editable text. The latter is good because it allows you to search easily through the text on the CD to find the information you need. Most good scanners will have both options in the software that comes with the program.

Scan the majority of the documents as black and white text. Save the high resolution color scans for your passport, driver’s license, and credit cards, items with photos and numbers. High resolution color scans create huge file sizes, so keep all your black and white paperwork scanned as black and white text to shrink down the file sizes. Save the image scans as JPEG (jpg) files with medium to high compression. For the most part, these documents will not need to be perfect replicas when printed, just readable. These should all fit onto one CD if possible, so keep the file sizes small.

As you scan and save your work, name the files what they are. Don’t try to hide the file names but make the names easy for you to recognize what they are. If it is the property deeds for your house, then call it the “Property deed for house on 123 Main Street” so you can spot the file quickly and print it out if you need it.

Put files in one folder with many subfolders. Break the information down into subfolders that specify the documentation categories. For instance, all vehicle papers together, and all medical insurance papers together, possibly then put in subfolders for each member of the family. If you need the information in a hurry, you can just look for the medical papers under “Medical” then the subfolder for “Sally” to get access to her medical papers.

Most major CD burner software has built in data encryption feature. You do not have to use the software that came with the CD burner on your computer, so if your software doesn’t feature encryption, try another.

We update this information to a new CD whenever there have been major changes in our life and paperwork, or every other year during tax time, when we are scrounging through paperwork anyway. We copy the still valid information to a new CD and add the new information, which shortens the time spent scanning and preparing your travel and life documents.


You also aren’t limited to CDs. The new flash drives can store several gigabytes of compressed data. You probably won’t need more than 512 MB and those are easily available and relatively inexpensive. A flash drive or thumb drive is about the size of a Pez dispenser and easily tucks into your luggage or pocket. They connect to any USB port without special software. They are immediately recognized by Windows as a hard drive so you can drag and drop files from within File Manager or any program, as if it were another hard drive or floppy on your computer.

CDs are typically limited to 700 MB. DVDs are over 4 gigabytes, and flash drives range from 125 MB to a couple gigs. For weight and size consideration, consider choosing a flash drive.

Online Storage


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Having a CD or flash drive of your personal information makes it readily available no matter where you are traveling. But what if you want to store more or will be traveling in areas where computer and Internet access are very convenient? Then consider online storage.

Online storage is like having a hard drive on the Internet. Priced by size, you can set up an online storage account with a variety of online storage and backup services companies. With a username and password, you can access your files from wherever you are at any time of the day or night. You can even backup your whole computer or store your most precious digital photographs, writing, documents, and email. While some of these online storage companies promote storing of images, most of them will accept any form of digital file.

The best part of using online storage is that you don’t have to worry about losing the CD or flash drive while traveling, or having someone take it. It doesn’t add weight to your luggage and you know where it is at all times.

The Paperwork List

Again, the list of your essential paperwork may be different depending upon your lifestyle and the length of travel, but here is a good general overall list of paperwork you should consider preserving and carrying with you when you go.


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  • Adoption Records
  • Bank Account Records – Checking and Savings
  • Birth Certificates
  • Passport
  • Contact Information for:
    • Alarm Systems
    • Banks and Other Financial Institutions
    • Computer Hardware and Software Companies
    • Doctors
    • Vets
    • Employer
    • Insurance Agents
    • Minister, Rabbi or Priest
    • Neighbors, Friends
    • Power, Light, Gas or other Utility Companies
    • Relatives
    • Social Security Office
  • Credit Card Statements
  • Credit Card Photocopies (front and back)
  • Divorce Decrees
  • Employer Benefit Statements
  • Identification Records (driver’s license, green card, passport, etc.)
  • Income Tax Information (copies of past returns, proof of estimated tax payments)
  • Insurance Policies
  • Investment Records
  • Marriage Certificates
  • Mortgage and Other Loans
  • Passwords
  • Pet Medical History and Records
  • Report of Earnings from Social Security
  • Social Security Card
  • Titles, Deeds, Registrations for Property and Vehicles Owned
  • Traveler’s Check Numbers (in case they are lost or stolen)
  • Trusts/Wills
    • Living Wills
    • Beneficiary Wills

Travel Paperwork Originals

From the above list, scan and make copies of everything. We stored two sets of copies (papers and CDs) with two sets of relatives, separated geographically. A third set and originals we left with people we could trust in Israel before we left. They put it in their safe deposit box, as did our relatives. Your originals should be in a safe deposit box with access by trusted person or relative pre-arranged with the bank.

With the CD, we then choose the most critical originals and copies to carry with us. These travel with us no matter where we go (again, your list may be different):

  • Birth Certificates
  • Passport
  • Contact Information for:
    • Alarm Systems
    • Banks and Other Financial Institutions
    • Computer Hardware and Software Companies
    • Doctors
    • Vets
    • Employer
    • Insurance Agents
    • Neighbors, Friends
    • Power, Light, Gas or other Utility Companies
    • Relatives
    • Social Security Office
  • Credit Card Photocopies (front and back)
  • Identification Records (driver’s license, green card, passport, etc.)
  • Pet Medical History and Records
  • Social Security Card
  • Traveler’s Check Numbers (in case they are lost or stolen)

dahni, the traveling blind kitty, rests on the dashboard of our rented motorhome in spainThe contact information is typed out on two pieces of paper and the file is also stored on the CD. This original information is needed in case you lose or have your passport, travelers checks, and/or credit cards stolen, and in case you are arrested or held for questioning. You have to prove who you are to the officials.

We travel with our cat frequently, so we always have to go through international vets to get approval for transporting our cat across international borders and on airplanes. We have to have the animals medical history with us on such trips.

Lighten your travel document load by scanning the important papers and leaving them behind and only traveling with the CD and your most important documents.


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