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14 Photos You Should Carry with You at All Times—But Don’t

It's a little-used life hack, but your photo library can save you time and frustration by putting important information a quick finger scroll away.

Girl takes pictures on the phone from the car windowMax4e Photo/Shutterstock

How photos on your phone can be a lifesaver

Travel and tech expert Maurice Freedman explains how your photo library can serve as your file cabinet, GPS, legal backup, and more, but does offer this word of caution: “Remember that anything you photograph doesn’t just live on your phone—in many cases, those photos are simultaneously shared with all of your devices and the cloud, so strong passwords are key to privacy and security.” Find out some password mistakes that hackers hope you’ll make.

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Rental car

“I take photos of rental cars—before and after I rent them—so that if I’m ever charged with damages, I have images that are time/location stamped,” says Freedman. “Bumpers— especially the corners—are very commonly scratched or damaged, and cost a ton to repair.” This is why you should always take a picture of your rental car.

Cars in the parking lot in rowalika/Shutterstock

Finding your car

Freedman calls this his “old man trick.” He takes a picture of where he parked his car—especially rentals—and preferably, with the car in the photo. “There’s nothing like aimlessly walking around a massive parking lot, especially when I have no idea what kind of car I was even driving.”

license platePhotopictures/Shutterstock

License plate and VIN number

Can you recite your license plate number by heart? Many people can’t, so having a photo avoids having to run back and check when you’re paying to park at a pay station. In the not-so-fun scenario that your car goes missing, having the plate number and VIN number on hand will allow you to inform the police as quickly as possible. Here is a list of cities your car is most likely to get stolen in.


Driver’s license

If you lose your wallet, you’ve also lost your valid photo ID. Having this as a backup while you wait for a replacement will solve some headaches. Please note that a photo of your driver’s license will not be accepted by a police officer during a traffic stop. Learn the 12 signs someone stole your identity.

Man holding passportKieferPix/Shutterstock


When heading to destinations outside the United States, former Green Beret, Sergeant Major (retired) Karl Erickson has many words of advice for travelers, including photocopying and photographing your passport. “This makes it a lot easier for you to go to the embassy and prove you are a U.S. citizen.” Find out why you should never throw out an expired passport.

Interior view of car with black salonSergey Nivens/Shutterstock

Auto insurance card

These days, most of us never leave home without our phone, but more and more we forget our wallet. You don’t want to be in a car without an insurance card in case of an accident. Even if you keep the proof in your car, is it the latest, up-to-date version? Plus: Having to dig through your glove compartment while dealing with physical injuries or emotional shakeups is no fun. Allstate list the states that digital copies of insurance are valid here. These are the things all smart homeowners do before going on vacation.


Medical and dental insurance cards

If you’ve ever accidentally given an expired insurance card or didn’t have your card on hand for an emergency room visit, you know the unpleasant process of figuring out what the mix-up is, or worse: Having to explain the issue to billing agents trying to collect money you don’t owe. Watch out for these red flags someone is spying on your phone.

extract cartridge of a laser printer to replaceDmytro Vietrov/Shutterstock

Printer model number

Do you know what is more annoying than running out of ink when you really need to print something out? Going to Staples and realizing that there are about 15 printers that look exactly like yours. Do yourself a favor and snap a pic of your model and serial number.

macro photo photography of laptop keyboard in detail with bokeh effectgut2000/Shutterstock

Computer serial number

“A serial number is a unique, identifying number or group of numbers and letters assigned to an individual piece of hardware or software,” reports Tim Fisher for Lifewire. “The idea behind serial numbers is to identify a specific item, much like how a fingerprint identifies a specific person. Instead of some names or numbers that specify a whole range of products, a serial number is intended to provide a unique number to one device at a time.”

Having a photo of yours will make it easier to report if your device gets stolen. Also, if you’re making a call to technical support, you will likely need this info, which is typically printed microscopic type. Take a picture and zoom in, rather than trying to find a magnifying glass or a pair of young eyes. This goes for any major appliance. (After it caught fire is not when you want to look for the serial number.) Find out what happens when you ignore security warnings on your computer.

Black and white family photos laid on wooden floor background.Halfpoint/Shutterstock

Individual photos of children or other family members

There are few things more terrifying than getting separated from someone in your care in a crowd. Having a recent photo of them will be a big help in enlisting help from security guards and people around you. In critical situations, police ask for three current photos to help in missing person searches. Find out more things you should never share about your children on social media.

mature african american man clinking glasses of beer with friendsLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Any new place that you loved

“If you have location services turned on, the photos you take with your phone are precisely geotagged,” says travel guru Maurice Freedman. “Forgot to write down the name of that awesome locals-only pub? Opening a photo you took will allow you to find the location, and most of the time, the exact name.”

service bell on the hotel reception desk with copy spaceilkefoto/Shutterstock

The hotel or AirBnB you’re staying at

Two ways this can help, says Freedman. When you take a picture, your phone will geotag its location. If you’re in a non-English speaking part of the world, it also offers the option of just showing the pic to the cab driver. Itching to travel again? Here are some hotel deals for 2021 you can take advantage of now.

Woman's hand writing a check to pay the bills, with calculator and an invoice on the desktop.jwohlfeil/Shutterstock

Banking account and routing numbers

Identity theft and bank fraud account for billions of dollars lost every year. Having screenshots of your accounts and routing numbers will help you more quickly freeze accounts if you notice suspicious activity. And on a less criminal note, it’s useful to have that information on hand for pay-by-phone if you don’t want to keep piling your bills on your credit card. Learn these 20 secrets your banker won’t tell you.

Woman's hands holding credit card and using laptop for shopping online. Pays for purchase. Shopping online concept.Nopparat Khokthong/Shutterstock

Credit cards (and customer service number)

Luckily, canceling lost credit and ATM cards is easy to do with a quick call. What’s not so easy is remembering all of the ones you had if your entire wallet goes missing. Having all of them in one place eases some of the pain of this painful experience, says former Green Beret Karl Erickson. Next, learn the times you should never use your credit card for payment.

Joe McKinley
Joe McKinley is a regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering cars, careers, tech and more.