Almost every traveler packs their phone these days; when you have a GPS, a translator, an entertainment system and a camera all rolled up into one device, your phone becomes an essential part of the travel experience that you can’t afford to lose (with the prices of new phones lately, it’s often literally something you can’t afford to lose).
But every year thousands of smart phones are lost, stolen, or damaged while on vacation. In Australia alone, the AMTA reports more than 100,000 mobile phones are lost or stolen every year. That’s 2,000 each week or one mobile phone handset every six minutes.
And that’s not even considering the phones which are damaged, or hacked as part of cyber-theft.
Considering the expense of phones these days, the inconvenience of losing your boarding passes, photos, and contacts, and the security risks of having your personal data and information available for hack, it’s imperative to protect your phone when you travel overseas.
The Best Ways to Keep Your Phone Safe While You’re Traveling
Protect Your Data With a VPN
While your phone’s physical safety is important, it’s equally as important to protect the data you have stored on it; everything from your passwords, to credit cards numbers, and bank account details.
Travelers are more susceptible to malicious attacks and identity theft because we constantly connect to open WiFi networks. Whether at the airport, a hotel, or a café, unprotected networks tempt us at every step of the way, and our mobile phones are usually the easiest to connect.
But when you connect to an unprotected network (one that doesn’t require a password), it’s very easy for hackers to intercept your connection and access your phone data. In some cases, people set up an open network just to snare unsuspecting travelers.
A high-quality VPN is one of the most useful tools you can have to keep your information secure when logged onto public WiFi. It encrypts your traffic so that criminals using the same network won’t be able to access your information, or even detect your presence. VPN’s like Hotspot Shield allow multiple downloads for simultaneous use on your desktop and your phone.
Pro Tip: VPN’s have more value than just safety. If you’ve not yet traveled overseas you’ll quickly realize that popular streaming services like Netflix are restricted in certain countries. But because a VPN service has the power to change the IP address of your computer, Netflix will have no idea that you’ve left the country. Check out this case study on the best VPN for Netflix.
Buy a Phone Case
One of the most obvious steps to keeping your phone safe while traveling should be buying a phone case. Because I am yet to meet a human being who hasn’t dropped their phone.
Phone cases are important for physically protecting your phone, and unless you have Kardashian levels of money and can continually buy replacements, you need to spend $30 on a phone case.
Phones these days are so thin and so light that they’re not very durable. And especially when you’re traveling, and have it among your luggage, a case adds much-needed extra bulk so your phone doesn’t break or bend.
These days you can even make your own phone case and choose your own design / photo. Websites like GoCustomized allow you to choose from slim cases that just attach to your phone and protect against scratches but offer high picture quality, or silicone cases that are thicker but protect more against drops.
Don’t Keep it in Your Back Pocket
Setting aside the scenario where you forget it’s there during a bathroom break and it falls in the toilet (it happens to the best of us … and the best toilets!), keeping your phone in your back pocket makes you an easy target for pick pockets.
Pick pocketing is incredibly common overseas, especially in some parts of Europe, and this is easily the number #1 crime against travelers. Ideally you should keep your phone in a zippered pocket of your purse or day bag. But if you have to have it on your person, keep it in your front pocket.
Though if you enjoy having your back pocket felt up by a stray hand, by all means!
Don’t Leave it Unattended
How many times have you heard airport security bark instructions not to leave your bags unattended? The same logic applies to your phone.
Never lay your phone on a restaurant table; it’s rude to your dining partners, but also an excellent way for someone to stroll by and grab it. After you’ve finished taking photos of your food, put it away.
Don’t leave your phone in your hotel room, or if you do, make sure it’s locked safely in the hotel safe. Ideally, even if you don’t think you’ll need it for the day, or don’t want to be interrupted, you should be able to turn it off and store it in a safe pocket where you can keep an eye on it.
Similarly, don’t leave your phone on your car dashboard, seat or console. It’s very easy to forget it, especially if you’ve been using it as a GPS to navigate during a road-trip, but leaving it out in the open like that is just asking for someone to break into your car, meaning you now have to deal with a smashed window too.
Activate Passwords / Biometric Protection
About a third of smartphone users don’t use a password to protect their phones. Which is a big mistake. Password protecting your phone is security 101, and the first line of defense to protect your data if your phone is lost or stolen.
Better yet, most modern phones now have biometric identification like a fingerprint swipe, which makes it even tougher for other people to get in.
Not only does this protect your data from crimes like identity theft, it also means you have a higher chance of finding or recovering the phone after it’s lost or stolen. If someone grabs your phone and realizes they can’t use it, they’re likely to discard it and try again for an easier target.
Make sure passwords you use are unusual, by using a combination of letters, numbers and / or special characters. A strong password is considered to be 8 characters or more. Use acronyms for things instead of full words, and change your password frequently – at least once every 6 months.
Use Tracking Apps
There are a number of apps you can download these days which can track your phone or even shut it down as soon as you report it stolen. But these services don’t work if they aren’t turned on before you lose your device, so make sure they’re enabled.
Generally how this works is you use another device to locate your mobile, and have the option to remotely lock the device or sound an alarm. Some apps like the free version of AVG antivirus also have cool features like a camera trap to catch photos of anyone who tries to access your mobile.
The app has a PIN code lock in place and once someone fails to enter the code correctly three times in a row, a photo is taken of the assailant. The photo is then emailed to you so you have a clear picture of who was trying to access your info.
You should always have travel insurance for matters of health and medical, but if you’re one of those people who literally can’t afford to lose their phone, you need to organize travel insurance. A good policy will also cover you for things like trip cancellation, lost luggage, or emergency evacuation.
Be aware that a lost or stolen phone generally won’t be covered by travel insurance if you’re careless with it. If you leave it behind, or leave it unattended on a table, you’ll have less chance of your claim being successful.
To make an insurance claim if your phone is lost or stolen, you will generally need to prove ownership (with a receipt for purchase, or a phone contract which shows the make, model and purchase price), provide a police report (you generally need to report the loss to the authorities within 24 hours), and evidence of the theft (was your room broken into, was there a forced entry etc).
If your device is stolen and you have to make a police report, it’s likely you’ll need to know the phone’s unique serial numbers. So it’s always a good idea to write these down and keep it on a piece of paper in your wallet.
Checklist: Before You Travel, Make Sure You
➡ Buy a custom phone case: Gocustomized.com
➡ Sew your back pockets shut (I’m dead serious!)
➡ Activate passwords (not your birthday or pets name)
➡ Download a tracking app: AVG AntiVirus
➡ Download a VPN: Hotspotshield.com
➡ Organize travel insurance: Insureandgo.com.au
Have you ever lost, damaged, or had your phone stolen?
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