Dec 22

Here’s a simple solution for the traveler who needs to ensure he/she has access to important docs while on the road. If you’re traveleing outside the US for any decent length of time it’s advisable to keep a copy of your passport in a separate place from your original in the event that you lose your wallet. So I’m standing in front of the fax/copier combo-machine trying to make a copy of my passport in preparation for a trip to Cancun tomorrow. I realize there’s no way I can run my passport through the fax machine to make a copy and decide that rather than making a trip to Kinko’s, I’ll scan it on the flatbed and print it out. Then I think "duhhh… if I’m gonna scan it why not just post a digital copy on my server and password-protect that directory?" Then the more I think about it, I realize "why not just scan every critical document I have and store them remotely?" Seriously, how many unforseen occasions could arise in which you need a copy of your health insurance card, or your driver’s license or whatever… and then I finally realize I might as well not even mess with my server/ftp/iis and instead email each jpg to my gmail account. I scanned and emailed each one separatley tagging the subject lines with "vitaldoc: passport" and "vitaldoc: birth certificate." With 2.5GB of free storage and near-perfect uptime, there’s really no reason not to store these critical docs in a gmail acct (assuming you trust the gmail security and are careful about how and where you access your account). And with the prevalence of internet cafes in most foreign cities, finding web access and a printer is a trivial task. If you have a secure USB jumpdrive you could store them there as well.

On that note, as far as the issue of security when accessing your email account from a public terminal- how have people handled this? I’ve just made a point of typing a bunch of random characters in notepad and then cutting/pasting my password from that instead of typing it in verbatim. I guess it’s possible that keyloggers have the potential to record cut/paste operations as well to reverse engineer the password but it seems like one of those scenarios (like using a CLUB on your vehicle) where an attacker probably has easier targets and would pass over this more-difficult-to-reverse-engineer password in favor of snagging just the plaintext passwords.

A completely unrelated tangent- Skype came through large for us again. My friend Benny and I are headed down to Cancun (actually Playa del Carmen) for the holidays for a 2wk adventure. After booking the plane tix we discovered that ALL THE HOTELS down there were sold out on every travel site we tried. Apparently they were hit pretty hard by hurricane Wilma and a bunch of the rooms are actually being used by construction workers. Fortunately we googled around and found this web site where you can sub the citycode in the URL and find local phone numbers of hotels in Mexico. I fired up Skype and we used some of my remaining skypeout minutes to bypass the travelsites and make international calls to the hotel managers directly. After about eight failed attempts we found one that had a vacancy which did not appear online and the owner was completely cool to us. Knowing Spanish, knowing about Skype and figuring out the pattern for the new areacodes in Mexico were the key pieces that facilitated this lucky break. I’ll be without email and phone for a few days. Happy Holidays everyone and Feliz Ano Nuevo.


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10 Responses to “lifehack: scanning and storing vital travel docs in gmail”

  1. Mike Brunt says:

    Nice post, I travel down there when I can find time, if you have not been before try to check out Tulum; amazing ruins in a breathtaking place; also cenotes are amazing and as an alternative to the more visted pyramids, Coba is an intersting place.

  2. Steven Erat says:

    This is exactly what I did for my month in Spain this summer. For added security, I zipped the documents together and used the zip password feature. I never thought that the internet kiosk I was using in the small town there might have a keylogger, but I’ll be sure to use your technique from now on.

  3. Sean Tierney says:

    Mike- thanks for the recommendations. we will try and check out those places.

    Steve- good call on the password-protected zip file, I hadn’t considered that. where in Spain? We did a week in Barcelona and Madrid and both were awesome.

    check this post hit about an hour after mine->
    a little different in that it’s archiving house contents remotely but along the same vein of thought. pretty uncanny on the timing- makes me think of that whole "100th monkey" phenomenon where similar ideas emerge independently at the same time…


  4. Steven Erat says:

    Barcelona and the Pyrenees. My wife if from Barcelona, and her father is from a small mountain village.

    Here’s all the good stuff:

  5. Steven Erat says:

    Whoops! Sorry about my dangling URL. Take 2:

  6. Sean Tierney says:

    wow those are awesome. love Las Ramblas and Sagrada Familia. very cool Steve.

  7. […] Fortunately neither one of us lost any crucial travel documents and therefore didn’t have to rely on our remote backup plan but it was nice to know that we had it if we needed it. […]

  8. […] Another great tactic is to scan all your important credentials and then mail them to yourself. Internet cafes are prevalent everywhere but the US and using this trick, you can get to your docs anywhere you can find Internet (use an encrypted zip file if you’re paranoid of storing them on gmail’s server). I came up with this idea last year- I happen to use gmail and mailed each scan individually to myself with the subject “vitaldoc: passport” etc. This allows me to pull up all my critical info by searching my gmail for “vitaldoc” anywhere I am that has Internet. I actually used this trick at the doctor’s office the other day using my treo’s web browser to get an insurance card I didn’t have in my wallet- very useful. […]

  9. Ronnie says:

    why not backup to a remote service that allows you to restore from any location. Sites like provide these services. as well. most are affordable and really help in this situation.

  10. Mike Brunt says:

    Nice post, I travel down there when I can find time, if you have not been before try to check out Tulum; amazing ruins in a breathtaking place; also cenotes are amazing and as an alternative to the more visted pyramids, Coba is an intersting place.

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