Financial Travel Tip #38: Total Travel Protection with The USB Stick Trick

by Nora on July 21, 2012


Thus far in the Financial Travel Tips series, we’ve already discussed preparing for travel with reference to official documents, and I’ve shared some passport carrying tips.


But how do you carry all these official documents (and secure information like passwords) and protect them against theft?


I know travellers who scan their official documents and store them in their email account so they’re accessible from anywhere. I have a problem with this. The information being stored is very personal, and email account hacking is child’s play for internet fraudsters. Accessing an email account that has passwords, copies of ID, and other official documents would be a veritable gold mine.


So instead, I use my trusty USB Stick Trick.

I first learned about internet security from my travel colleague Anil at FoxNomad. As a former white collar hacker, he’s got lots of tricks up his sleeve. So after reading his articles about laptop security, protecting online accounts, and USB applications, I devised a plan:


I use the free application called KeePassX both on my computer and on a USB stick. It creates an encrypted database that not only helps you manage your passwords, but allows you to store scans and additional notes and information associated with each item.


So I have scans of all the ID and cards in my wallet (my real wallet, that is), along with passwords and account numbers, and even relevant emergency numbers to call in case of loss or theft. I also store all my account numbers and passwords (from email to frequent flyer accounts and beyond), official documents, and of course – my passport.


In addition to the encrypted ID/password database, my trusty USB stick also has a few non-encrypted documents like any itinerary items I have (flight tickets or confirmation of reservations).


This USB stick then fits into a tiny pouch that I can keep under my clothes at all times.


Basically, if something awful happens and I’m stripped of everything, I can wander into the nearest consulate with my trusty USB stick and start the process of reinstating my ID, cancelling stolen cards, and getting on with my life.



What do you do to protect your ID against loss or theft, and/or to remember passwords on the road?



{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julie Clark July 21, 2012 at 10:37 am

Thanks for this great tip… I will be using it from now on… not just for travelling, but for keeping all my info in one place.


2 Tracey - Life Changing Year July 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Wow Nora! That is so thorough!!! I wish I was that organized!!


3 theprofessionalhobo July 21, 2012 at 4:06 pm

I forgot to mention – I also keep a little bit of local currency in the pouch with my Trusty USB Stick – it’s a great “emergency fund”.


4 theprofessionalhobo July 21, 2012 at 4:08 pm

@Julie – When I’m out and about in a foreign place, I can’t stand carrying my passport around, but the USB stick is easy and I forget about it. Glad you can find multiple uses for it!

@Tracey – Once it’s set up there’s no organization involved! I may be obsessive about security, but I’m also quite lazy! 😉


5 @lostintrepid July 22, 2012 at 3:58 am

This is such a simple tip, yet it hadn’t occurred to me before. I also use Dropbox and Flickr to make sure all the other important stuff is unloseable. I guess you could use the same principle for people who take a lot of medication away with them (like me) – you can get really small tablet boxes that you could keep on person at all times.


6 Lee Ash July 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I use a different solution, LastPass. That way I don’t even have to carry around a USB stick. All those important documents are password protected in the cloud and accessible from any web connection. It also keeps all of passwords and generates unique, secure passwords for all of the websites.


7 Ham July 24, 2012 at 7:48 am

HI Nora, thanks for the super useful post! I’m really new to learning about a mobile lifestyle and love your blog!

Do you have a specific brand of USB stick that you use?



8 Connor Davies July 25, 2012 at 11:16 am

The only problem with a USB stick that I’ve found is that you’ve got to be careful where you use it. I picked up a Trojan when I used mine to print off some documents in an internet cafe which I only discovered when I next used it. Not sure exactly what a Trojan does but I didn’t like the thought of it being on my USB stick with my other important documents!

I tend to stick to Dropbox – I hope that is secure enough!


9 theprofessionalhobo July 26, 2012 at 11:46 am

@lostintrepid – Oh yeah, I have Dropbox and Zenfolio (for photo hosting) too! I try to have a lot of ways to access my stuff and keep going in spite of just about any roadblock I might find.

@LeeAsh – I’ve only just started to trust “the could” with things like a Dropbox account for my writing and such (beautiful because it instantly updates any new saves). But I’ve been hesitant to keep any of my secure documents in the cloud like this. But the password protection feature sounds good. Do you pay for LastPass?

@Ham – Thanks! No specific brand per se – whatever’s available, reasonably priced, is nice and small, and stands a chance against a few travel bumps!

@Connor – We need condoms for USB sticks, to protect against those Trojans! (Hmm… Trojans for Trojans….it has a ring to it!) 😉
My USB stick is usually reserved as a last resort; I’m not big on using it for data transfer or recovery of documents on other machines.


10 Andrew July 31, 2012 at 3:12 am

Useful article, but not just for travelling, but also for laptop / mobile workers, such as me! I’ve been thinking about putting together some solution using truecrypt, but keepassx looks great, so will take a look at it.

Cheers for the insight.

p.s. catching up on my google reading, so sorry for all the recent replies to posts.


11 Andrew July 31, 2012 at 3:12 am

i meant google reader, not reading. d’oh. need my second cuppa!


12 theprofessionalhobo July 31, 2012 at 4:33 am

@Andrew – I think Anil uses a combination of both Truecrypt and KeepassX…check out some of his articles and you’ll get a sense for how he uses these programs.


13 theprofessionalhobo July 31, 2012 at 4:34 am

@Andrew – PS – Thanks for reading and commenting! Better late than never! 🙂


14 Hannah August 1, 2012 at 6:05 pm

You make a very good point! I hadn’t really thought about how insecure it could be.


15 theprofessionalhobo August 2, 2012 at 3:03 am

@Hannah – When traveling, you’re hit from all sides with different kinds of risk, and it requires a little extra attention to security I believe. Glad you enjoyed the post!


16 David September 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm

Do you really think that a US Consulate will let some stranger come in and allow him/her to insert a non-government USB stick into one of their computers? I don’t think so.


17 theprofessionalhobo September 26, 2012 at 9:46 am

@David – Then the files could be recovered in an internet cafe. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!


18 Nick August 12, 2013 at 11:34 pm

When I am on the road I treat it as if I am still at my home domain, the only difference being is basically the scenery and the lingo!

I fear nothing or no one which for me is because of my previous good or bad life experiences

So my advice to you all reading this is carry on as you do in your normal every day life’s and remember to keep it simple/ be ever self aware/ enjoy the moment and always trust your gut feeling!


19 theprofessionalhobo August 13, 2013 at 10:22 am

Hi Nick,
This is good advice, in that it allows you to walk with confidence, you’re relaxed abroad, and thus you’re less of a target for theft.

But on the road, the consequences of losing things – your driver’s license, passport, credit cards, laptop, and information – are more dire; replacing them isn’t easy. And if you’ve got to get on with your life, business, and travels, unless you put extra protection mechanisms in place, you’ll be up the creek for a while.


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