If something goes wrong on your holiday, technology can come to the rescue
What's the worst-case scenario when you're travelling abroad? You lose everything -not just those silky smooth Batman boxer shorts but your passport, tickets and money. Suddenly you're a nonentity, an interloper in a foreign land with little proof you're supposed to be there and even less evidence you belong in Australia.
But don't worry, because while the chance to escape from technology's relentless assault can be one of travel's most appealing lures, that same technology can help protect you from disaster. All it takes is some technically minded foresight.
Before you begin your trip, scan your passport's opening page, your tickets and any visas. Haven't got a scanner? Then photograph your important documents with a digital camera. The pictures won't serve as substitutes for the originals, so these need not be high-resolution images that show off the power of the 10-megapixel camera you got for Christmas. Simply ensure the images are large enough to read details such as your passport number and flight times. For each document, a 100KB image saved in a JPEG format is ample.
Send copies of these low-resolution images to an email account you'll be able to access overseas. Even if you're visiting a remote location without email access - and, sadly, fewer of those exist with each passing day - remember that in an emergency you'll be contacting your consulate or embassy, which will most certainly have internet access. And don't be shy about sharing. Even if your passport photo looks as hideous as your driver's licence, send images of your key documents to a friend or relative for safekeeping. After all, it might not just be your luggage that vanishes - you might go temporarily missing as well.
On their own, these few pictures won't overload most email accounts, but make sure you've got an account you can access while you're away and it offers adequate storage capacity. Free Hotmail accounts, for example, offer 250 megabytes of space, Yahoo accounts offer one gigabyte and Google's GMail accounts provide 2.7 gigabytes. Before you go away, populate the address book on the email account you'll use so you can still contact friends, relatives and (if you must) colleagues even if you can't find that quaint paper version with all its crossed-out entries for your itinerant contacts.
Whether you'll be trekking the Himalayas in Nepal or tugging Mickey Mouse's tail at Disneyland, send a separate email just to yourself to record financial details you might need in an emergency. Include the numbers on traveller's cheques as well as the phone number to report any loss. Ditto for credit cards or ATM cards you might take along. For good measure, include the contact details for your travel insurance and even your travel agent, so you can keep abreast of any late changes to your itinerary. (If you're feeling particularly diligent, record the serial numbers off any electronic items you're taking on your trip, such as cameras and digital music players.)
For trips lasting more than a couple weeks, you may need to pay off your credit card to avoid incurring interest charges. You can do this online, of course, but keep a few precautions in mind.
First, make certain you're at the correct website, not a crook's version from a dodgy email. Second, try to confirm that the computer you're using has up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. Third, when you sign in, check that the address on the top of the web browser begins "https" rather than "http" and that a padlock appears at the bottom of your web browser. Both of these identify it as a secure site, although even these are not an absolute guarantee of protection.
If you'll be away long enough to forget how to sign in to your bank's online site, include reminders of your user name and password in one of the emails to yourself. Never write down your password.
Instead, write a clue that will remind you of the password. After you finish any online banking or checking those emails with personal data, don't merely sign out. This leaves you potentially vulnerable if the next person clicks the back button. Instead, close the web browser.
If all this sounds likely to inspire paranoia, take comfort in knowing such calamities strike relatively few travellers. Besides, what thief would dare take you on now that you're so organised?
Scan and share:
Record for yourself
Online banking log-on
Loss/theft phone numbers
Key serial numbers
Source: Conrad Walters