In what can only be a cruel twist of fate, I opened my family’s upcoming airline reservation to India to discover to my utter dismay that one leg was MISSING from the ticket! I thought we had dream prices for our family of three (with her own seat for our 22 month old), but turns out it was just a dream and a 16 hour leg was missing from the reservation. This revelation was followed by frantic calls to the airlines, the travel agent, hefty cancellation fees and a new, much more expensive booking where our daughter would be a lap infant or more appropriately, lap toddler!
The card was once swallowed by an ATM machine in Yurimaguas, Peru and we had to go to the bank the next morning to retrieve it. It was swallowed again in Uyuni, Bolivia and we did not get it back. Schwab froze the card for us, but we were still able to use mine. We maintained a small running balance in our checking account so that if our card were ever to be misused, our other accounts remain untouched. I carried a back up debit card from a credit union and we used this card when we paid for a tour and maxed out ATM transactions.
Instead of a his and her packing list, I am going to write this list by category. We were still packing up our house until the previous day, so we really didn’t have a lot of time to pack our bags well.
- 13″ Macbook Pro
- 10″ Samsung Android tablet
- Portable hard drives – 2
- Pen drives – 2
- DSLR – Nikon D7000 with two lenses (18-200) and a super wide angle lens
- Canon S95 compact camera
- Kindle – 2, one for each
- Convertible pants
- Cotton pants that convert into capris (light weight pants for him) -2
- Travel skirt (Niru)
- t-shirts (4-6, including a quick dry one for hiking)
- Tops – 2 (Niru)
- Lightweight long innerwear – top and bottom [super useful]
- Rain jacket
- Rain pants
- Fleece layer
- Pajamas – at least 1 each – Niru found a cool one in the Otavalo market in Ecuador. Backpackers are often spotted wearing these. They are striped and really loose drawstring pants.
- Underwear – for about a week
- Cold weather – gloves, cap, socks, sock liners
- Socks – 3 pairs
- Sarong – very useful
- Travel towel – one each
We packed too much!
In a nutshell, its nearly impossible to make your travel 100% theft-proof. But you can plan so that its nothing more than an unfortunate inconvenience.
I may be the most careful, paranoid person in the world, but someone out there is smarter and is making a living out of stealing. That guy is hard to beat, unfortunately. Swami and I went through a period of retrospection during those countless bus rides immediately after the theft, where we’d keep telling each other “Never again will I do this….” or “Next time, lets not forget to scan that document…”. I wanted to compile some of those lessons learned here, for when you need them, you really really need them.
Here are some tips to ensure that if a theft does occur, you get back on track quickly.
Buy Travel Insurance
- Things we lost – laptop, DSLR camera, lenses, tablet, other electronic accessories
- Trip interruption – food and hotel costs for the days it to took to recover our travel documents, eg. passport, green card etc.
- Airfare – one of us had to reschedule our flights, so the insurance covered some part of the cancelled fare/new fare.
- Documents – passport application fees and Transportation letter fees
Keep online copies of all important documents
- Passport – copy of ALL pages. Not just front or back page. We had only the front and back page and could not prove to the US embassy on what date we left the country last. We also had to prove to the Chilean police when we entered the country. We also lost all our visa stamps!
- Other ID’s – drivers license, voter ID, student ID etc. Secondary IDs are sometimes asked.
- Financial documents – bank and credit card statements. Easy to get online, but you may not have a fast internet connection to accomplish all your online needs. I was planning to use my credit card statement to show I was at LA airport on a given date to prove my residence in the US, as supporting documentation.
- Visas of resident country – In our case scanned copy of US green card. We had green cards, but we also had all our green card application documents on online storage. Very useful.
- Entry/Exit stamps – When traveling abroad, whenever your passport is stamped, please take a picture with your smartphone/tablet/camera and email to yourself. You will thank yourself later. We wish we did this with our Colombia entry stamps as the US embassy asked for this.
- Other travel and identification documents – vaccinations, yellow fever certificate (required for Bolivia), copies of tickets, important receipts etc. Marriage certificate if you are married.
- BOARDING PASS – most important! Boarding pass stubs are very important documents to store until you are done with your trip. Just a clear picture with a smartphone will do. The US embassy wanted either this or our entry/exit stamps. We had neither and had to frantically figure out other ways to prove our exit dates.
Portable hard drives in different bags
Keep a handy list of information in your travel notebook
- frequent flyer numbers,
- membership numbers and
- coded passport numbers etc.
- Numbers to your credit card and debit card institution. Our stolen backpack had a bunch of cards that had to be cancelled and we didnt have access to these numbers.
- Insurance policy number and their phone number
Cheaper and fewer gadgets
Protecting in layers
Protect your data
- Password protect all devices.
- Encode all important documentation in a folder preferably.
- Change all email passwords and bank passwords immediately
- Sign up for a service that tracks devices/automatically purges information (or just bring a chromebook!)
Documents produced during our first visit:
Losing the visa and getting it again
Bolivia Visa on Arrival at the border (overland between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni) – a different experience
- Please be sure you get your passport & your tourist card (a little form you fill out at the entrance) stamped and a receipt for your fee. Be persistent!
- We have been asked elsewhere in Bolivia by Migracion people to show our passports (they do random checks in hotels) and they look for all these stamps.
- Write out some important statements in Spanish to use at the border (important)
- If you are part of a tour group, ensure you communicate this to your tour guide at the destination. They will be an important resource in helping you with communication.
When we first selected our backpacks, we endlessly thought and considered between a hiking backpack (top loading) and a travel backpack (front loading). After hours of research, we finally bought the Eagle Creek Explorer LT (Men and Women’s) at the price of $250 each. These packs are no longer produced, but they last to this day and are extremely practical and worth the money.
Somewhere along the way, we started enjoying multi day hikes as well and got ourselves hiking backpacks too, so we had a choice in what we could take with us on our trip.
Niru’s main backpack – Eagle Creek Explorer LT Women’s version; 50 Litres. Front loading travel pack. No longer under production. Comes with matching 15L day pack, which I did not take, much to my regret.
Niru’s other bag – Ebags Piazza day bag. I also carry a foldable REI day pack in my bag. This is a great bag and is very useful for just around town. Can hold a small water bottle, a note book, a kindle and other essentials.
Swami’s main backpack – Gregory Z55 top loading hiking backpack
Swami is also carrying an REI daypack and a small camera bag.
Hiking Backpack vs Travel Backpack while travel backpacking
You may agonize over this endlessly, but in reality, it will not matter what you take. It needs to be something that is comfortable to carry with wide hip belts and good quality shoulder belts. Travel backpacks are easier to pack, but with packing cubes organization is much easier. Hiking packs can take more things than a travel pack – as you tend to stuff more into them and they end up being heavier. They are also easier when your trip involves a multi day trek and you need to carry camping equipment. I carried a travel backpack and Swami carried a hiking backpack – neither of us regret our choice even though we did city travel and multi day hikes.
Daypack – what worked and what didn’t
Packing Cubes and other accessories
Size of Backpack
- clean beds and bathrooms
- kitchen to cook meals
- not a party hostel with teenagers and early 20 somethings
You can find the list of hotels/hostels here.
It was Swami’s birthday and we just got off a 22 hour bus journey from Santiago to Calama, Chile. We were really tired from the long journey and our day pack was incredibly heavy (mistake #1). People were trickling out of the bus and getting ready to get on with their day, having reached their destination. We placed all our packs (our big packs and day packs) on the ground and stood right next to it (mistake #2) and took turns guarding our packs, while we used the facilities and made enquiries about our next bus to San Pedro de Atacama.
At some point we realized that we were missing one of our day packs – with our most important day pack. Panic ensued and after about 30 minutes of frenzied activity trying to locate the pack, we had to conclude that the pack was lost to us. Along with it went our laptop, SLR, passports, green cards and a bunch of other belongings. We called the police and they arrived in 30 minutes and gave us a ride to the police station in their pickup. We kept thinking how riding on the caged back of a police pick up truck was one experience we could do without on our travels. Upon reaching the police station, what did we find? Another backpacking couple sitting rather forlorn, having lost the same stuff we lost.
We ended up spending a few hours in the police station, observing life in a Chilean police station. We shared Swami’s birthday cake with the cops for which one happily quipped “you got some mean birthday present!”. The cops were really friendly, trying to get us comfortable, offered us some juice to drink. One cop even got his computer so that we could use the internet on it to communicate using google translate. Google translate was invaluable in helping us overcome language barriers when dealing with the Police.
Luckily, we had travel insurance (we’ll shortly be able to tell you about how good it is and if we can recommend it, as I am sure we’re in a position to pass that judgement — UPDATE: our insurance rocked!). Losing our things was a big blow to us. One thing we were fortunate about was that we had a smart phone and we had our wallets. So we had debit cards, credit cards, access to cash and Driver’s license to prove identification.
Sometime around August 2011, things started falling in place. We zeroed in on a quarter, and then a month, and then a week and finally a date. About two weeks ago, we finally bought our tickets.
We are heading to Colombia on December 4th from Los Angeles. As we cross things off our checklist, reality is sinking in slowly but surely.
In the past 2 weeks, we’ve made the following rather drastic moves:
- Informed our respective workplaces of our intention to quit
- Notified our landlord
- Bought our air tickets to Bogota, Colombia. (buying a one way ticket would make it more dramatic, but consulates wont like it, so we got a return ticket)
- Started consolidating our finances to a more travel-friendly account
- Obtained credit cards that dont charge a foreign transaction fee
- And going crazy with visa runs