This Week I Learned That I Need to Print an Emergency Travel Document

The other day my father, a retired systems engineer in his eighties, was hospitalized for emergency surgery.

Good news: he’s doing very well, and will soon resume command of his robot army (yes, we trip over several robots here). Always interesting and sometimes startling to stay with my parents and their idiosyncratic and still completely undocumented smart house.

My parents live about 300 miles away from me; a five to six hour drive (best case scenario) up a busy interstate highway. So I rearranged my schedule as best I could, packed hurriedly, and drove to New York state.

And I realized a couple of things:

  • my parents and adult children all live far away from us, so if there’s an emergency, we have to be ready to travel – hundreds, and in one case thousands, of miles away – at a moment’s notice
  • I need to write up and print an emergency travel document, and store it in my travel gear

When There Isn’t Time to Get Ready, You Need to Be Ready

If you travel regularly, you’ve probably learned some ways to make it easier on yourself, such as pre-packing a toiletries kit and re-stocking it after every trip.

You can also do this for information. You can keep a document with critical information you need when you travel.

I wish I had done that this week.

I’ve got a document I update for planned trips, which I print out. One copy goes in my suitcase, one copy goes with whatever personal bag I’m keeping with me on the plane or in the car.

What I am going to do as soon as I get home, is create a document for emergency travel, which I will print out, so it is ready at any time.

I don’t want to have to think about getting this document ready.

I want it to be ready, just like my trusty toiletries kit all pre-packed with my travel toothbrush, and my air-travel friendly bar of shampoo.

Why You Should Print, On Paper, Your Emergency Travel Information

I’ve previously written about the importance of printing out emergency contact info and keeping it in your wallet.

Electronic devices can fail.

Internet access is not always available: do you need to get online to access contact information?

Are important phone numbers and physical addresses all locally stored on your device, or would you need cell service to look all this up?

Also, most people think poorly during personal crises. (At least, I certainly do.)

It can be hard to find critical information when you are upset or distracted.

Looking up contacts, trying to find the bank number to call to report a stolen credit card, trying to find someone to take care of the dog, trying to look up your relative’s address for a driver when somebody’s in the hospital… yeah.

Not fun. And not easy.

So, write it out ahead of time. What would you need to know, and know quickly, if a close family member or friend needed you to travel for them?

What Information to Put on an Emergency Travel Information Document

Here’s the information I wish I had had, when I was traveling to help out my parents:

  • the exit number I need to take to jump on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to save myself 15 minutes of travel
  • all the usual emergency information I normally print out for my planned trips
    • Ummm… what if I lost my wallet or phone during this trip, or my 2008 Subaru broke down, wouldn’t it be good to have those numbers to report missing bank cards, or call the travel assistance service? Yes. Yes, it would.

Here’s what I’ll be putting in that document:

  • phone numbers and physical address information for my parents, my sister and her family, and my adult children
  • phone numbers for my children’s Significant Others (when they were just out of college and had roommates, I asked for those numbers, and gave their roommates our numbers)
  • a note about which exit I take on the interstate, on the way to my parents’ house, that Google Maps doesn’t easily show me
  • the usual information I put on my regular travel document:
    • the makes and models of our cars, and their license tag numbers
    • phone number for our family friend who has access to our house, and can take care of our cats
    • phone number for the veterinarian
    • credit card and debit card numbers, along with the bank numbers needed to report a lost card, in case a wallet is lost or stolen
    • auto insurance number and info, other numbers to call for assistance (e.g. towing the car)

This is the stuff I don’t want to be scrambling to look up, when I’m already stressed.

What would you want to know, if you had to travel suddenly, without having to count on a) reliable cell phone or internet service, and/or b) your memory?

If you were to make one for yourself, you might include, say, a number for a pediatrician, or other emergency medical information.

What might you need to know, fast, on the road?

When I get home, I’m going to put together an emergency travel information document.

I am going to print it.

And I am going to fold that piece of paper, and keep it in my toiletries kit.

Because no matter how quickly I leave the house for a trip, I’ve always remembered to grab that little bag with my toothbrush.

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Wondering how to manage your paper-based or hybrid paper-digital systems? Ask me a question.

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