The sensation of panic starts in your stomach and spreads from your head to toes: you've just realized that your driver's license is not in your wallet or anywhere in your possession. Now what?
Your driver's license, after all, is that vital travel tool that not only grants access to your rental car and your flight but smooths your entrance to hotels, bars, and any number of situations. Still, losing yours on a trip doesn't necessary push you off the grid. The first step is to take a few breaths and regroup. Here's how to get your problem solved:
Report Your Lost License & Tap the DMV
If you think your ID was stolen, file a police report immediately. Having proof of that report can help ease you through various obstacles along your travels.
Next, go online to your state's DMV website and see if you can secure a temporary replacement license on the spot. Most states will allow you to print a temporary license or registration document instantly when you replace it online. (Even if you don't have access to a printer, you can simply download the PDF to your phone.) These transactions allow you to download your temporary document in PDF format to use until you receive your new document in the mail. Some states, like Texas, also offer this license replacement service by phone.
Otherwise, if you have not yet picked up your rental car, you definitely have a challenge in picking up the car without having your driver's license—but having a police report or temporary license in hand will help. If you belong to the rental agency's loyalty program, that may help too, since you have an established track record with the company.
Likewise, if your trip involves getting on a plane, you'll face some added hurdles trying to fly without your driver's license. In this case, be sure to get to the airport extra early, and tell the folks at the TSA security checkpoint what's happened. You'll have to go through a separate screening process, in which you'll be asked for other identifying information that they can confirm before sending you through (if you're traveling with family members who have ID, that will help).
What if You Get Stopped by the Police?
If you already have your rental car and don't have any flights, don't worry too much. Not carrying your license is not the same as being an unlicensed driver. If by chance you get stopped for a traffic violation, the police officer can quickly look you up to confirm that you are indeed a licensed driver. You might get a ticket, or a "fixit-ticket" that only incurs charges if you can't later prove that you corrected the situation.
Plan Ahead for the Future
Your best strategy, though, is to have a backup license. Some states, such as Louisiana, have developed digital-wallet driver's licenses that are stored on your phone; check your own DMV to see if that could be an option for you.
In the meantime, keep a photo of your license stored on your phone in an encrypted digital wallet. While you're at it, save pictures of your passport and auto insurance card, too. At the very least, keep the number of your driver's license somewhere that is accessible on your smartphone. This will allow parties like police and rental car companies to verify your identity on the spot, should you not have your license.
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