5 Reasons to Carry a USB Flash Drive When Traveling

They're small, light and remarkably useful

a hand inserting a USB drive into a computer
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Does it feel like your suitcase is never quite big enough when you’re packing for a vacation? Don’t worry, you're not the only one. Wrestling with zips and bouncing up and down on duffel bags is a way of life for many of us when we travel.

With that in mind, here’s one important travel accessory that weighs virtually nothing, and is small enough to fit in even the most over-stuffed carry-on. A USB flash drive might seem pretty mundane, but it can come in remarkably useful when you’re traveling. Here are five reasons why.

Storing and Securing Vital Information

The last thing you want is an emergency when you’re on vacation, but bad things do unfortunately happen. Travelers suffer from theft, lost luggage, and other inconveniences all too often, and the last thing you want is to have all of your vital information unavailable when you need it most.

Emailing copies of important documents to yourself is a great start, but it’s a good idea to store them on a USB stick as well. That way, you don't have to log into your email on somebody else's device or an insecure hotel computer if your phone or laptop have gone missing. Examples of the kind of thing you’ll want to save include:

  • Scans of your passport and driver license
  • Travel insurance details, including policy numbers and phone hotlines
  • Booking confirmations for transport and hotels
  • Emergency phone numbers for family and friends, banks and credit card companies, airlines, and your embassy

Of course, it’s important to keep this data secure. While you can buy specialized USB drives with extra security features, the cheapest approach is just to use a free app like 7-Zip. Put all of your important documents in one folder, then use 7-Zip to zip and encrypt the folder and everything in it. For more advanced security options, Veracrypt (also free) is a good choice, although it does take a bit of effort to set up.

Backing Up Photos

In practical terms, files kept only in one place are files you don’t really mind if you lose, and that applies to photos as much as anything else. While you wouldn't want to rely on flash drives for long-term storage, they’re great for making a quick backup of the day’s photos, especially if you’re not carrying a laptop or tablet with you. Just use a computer at your hotel or an internet cafe to copy photos from your camera to the USB drive, and you’re set.

Getting Things Printed

While travel apps and smartphones have reduced the need to print things out, there are always still times when you’ll need a physical copy of something when you’re on the road.

Anything from bus tickets to boarding passes, passport copies to proof of onward tickets is a candidate. Especially in Europe, it's not unusual for budget airlines to charge an extortionate fee for printing out a boarding pass at check-in, so you're much better off doing it yourself beforehand if possible.

Simply copy the documents you need onto your USB drive, and hand it to someone in the nearest business center, internet cafe, or print shop. It typically costs very little and only takes a few minutes, and can save a lot of money and hassle down the road.

Extra Storage for Entertainment

Small, lightweight tablets and laptops are great for travelers, but one area they often fall down is storage space. With many tablets having only 16GB of space or less, and even small laptops often coming with just 128GB, it’s hard to load them up with enough movies, music, and other distractions to get you through an entire vacation.

Given that a brand-name 64GB USB flash drive costs around $20, it’s a great way to ensure you've got enough entertainment for even the longest of long-haul flights. Fill it up before you leave with all of those shows and documentaries you never get time to watch, and you’re as set as you can be for a dozen hours in coach.

Sharing With New Friends

Finally, one of the most useful aspects of carrying a USB drive on your trip is also one of the simplest. When you’re sitting around with a bunch of new friends from your tour group or hostel, there’s always someone who suggests sharing all of the photos that everyone has taken of their day's experiences.

Rather than promising to email hundreds of pictures, or having to get low-quality versions off Facebook or Instagram in a few weeks, just use the flash drive to copy images for everyone that wants them instead. Especially when you've got loads of photos to share, it's much faster and a whole lot simpler.

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