|Public domain image by Ove Topfer - freeimages.com|
There is a traveller's mantra that runs "passports, tickets and money". Photographers add "cameras and memory cards or film". With these things the journey can continue so, as a sanity check, the words are worth repeating every time you move location. However, in practice life is not so simple because it is necessary to carry numerous other important items.
Passports usually have to be valid for six months beyond the proposed return date, and must have blank pages for visa stamps. Make enquiries about the need for visas as soon as your destination is decided. Apply well before departure if they are required as some take weeks to obtain. Most visas are issued for a fixed period of a few months before they expire and must be renewed. Don’t outstay your visa as you may be unceremoniously deported. Some immigration authorities, such as those in Australia, may not allow a traveller to remain in the country while a new application is processed. Air tickets are often best bought on a credit card. This gives some protection against risks such as failure of the airline. Where it is feasible, however, avoid purchasing air tickets before visas are issued - without them travel is impossible.
A number of other documents may prove essential or beneficial. A driving license is required if you intend to rent or drive a car. An international license is necessary in some countries but most accept specific national licenses. Vaccination certificates may be required and inspected at immigration – the situation changes all the time so check before departure. Photocopies of the identification and visa pages in your passport are also worth carrying, as are spare passport photographs to use on any new application made while away. A replacement is then much easier to obtain. The same photocopies are also useful at hotel check-in desks where receptionists may otherwise want to retain your passport. A similar principle should be applied to all other essential travel documentation including tickets, vaccination certificates and driving licenses. Keep the copies separate from the originals. Finally, leave additional photocopies of important documents with someone at home so they can be faxed out to you if everything is lost.
I also carry receipts for valuable items of photographic equipment, and several copies of a list of all relevant serial numbers. The latter can be left with customs on departure to avoid the problems of bringing new-looking equipment back into your home country. They can also be offered to any over-zealous officials who may question the amount of photographic equipment you are carrying.