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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

Buy a Phone Case

Your first step 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.

Phone RF

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), 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.

Phone car GPS RF

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.

Laptop and phone

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.

Chinatown

Travel Insurance

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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Megan is an Australian Journalist and award-winning travel writer who has been blogging since 2007. Her husband Mike is the American naturalist and wildlife photographer behind Waking Up Wild; an online magazine dedicated to opening your eyes to the wonders of the wild & natural world.

Having visited 50+ countries across all seven continents, Megan’s travels focus on cultural immersion, authentic discovery and incredible journeys. She has a strong passion for ecotourism, and aims to promote responsible travel experiences.

    

    25 Comments

  1. Lol! I was climbing a mountain in Colorado and pulled my phone out to take a shot and it fell something like 10m and shattered the screen :/ Never had it stolen though!

    • What a bummer! Hope you had a spare camera that time 🙂

    • Oh yikes!! That sucks … I swear everyone I know has some level of shatter effect on their screen lol

  2. Had the screen shattered by a kid in line at a museum suddenly he was there my himself as no parents wanted to own him.

    • Ouch! Where was this? Did you manage to have it fixed in the same city? Pretty sure the kid was terrified, too.

    • 🙁 That’s terrible!! I can’t believe people don’t take responsibility for their kids anymore!!

  3. “Setting aside the scenario where you forget it’s there during a bathroom break and it falls in the toilet.”

    Yeah I’ve done exactly the same! I hadn’t weeed yet so I retrieved it, but it was a model with unremovable battery and it was fried.

    • Glad it’s not just me then!!! – My new phone is a model with an unremovable battery lol so hopefully it won’t go for any dives!

  4. I left mine at the car rental agency in Dublin last year. At first I thought I had left it in the car we just returned. It turned out it wast sitting at the reception. Hopefully my boyfriend kept calling it so they realised it was not in the car.

    • Glad that you managed to get it back! 🙂

  5. Thank you for sharing these tips, I’ve lost my 2 phones while traveling, I hope these tips will help me to keep my phone safe.

    • You’re welcome Stephen, I’m glad the post was helpful for you 🙂 3rd time lucky!!

  6. I fell asleep at the beach a couple of years back now, and woke up quite abruptly when the tide started coming in. Unfortunately the phone was water damaged beyond repair. I’ve always set myself up as far back from the actual water line since then!

    • Oh no! I’ve recently picked up a cool waterproof sleeve that I put my phone in when I go to the beach – it’s brilliant because you can still use the touchscreen through the plastic, but it keeps sand and water out. A waterproof case is probably a good idea as well for your new phone 🙂

  7. This is really great advice…as someone who has had their wallet stolen from my back pocket, I can absolutely back the value of what you’ve said here.

    • Glad you enjoyed the post Juan – sorry to hear about your wallet being stolen. Yes, front pocket always! It’s way too risky otherwise.

  8. Reminded me that I still don’t have a phone case – thanks for the kick in the ass!

    • You’re welcome … they’re so essential!

  9. Keep it at home. 20 years ago no one even knew what a mobile phone is. Let’s not forget a smartphone. Hmm my phone is notbart enough to block advertisement and unwanted calls.

    • I see it as a safety device when we’re overseas – the ability to call / communicate and access information if you find you need help. And I use mine as my camera too 🙂

  10. My husband broke his iPhone in Mexico while we were in Cancun. He smashed it and put it in the trash. An hour after the trash was picked up from our Air BnB he received an email thanking him for the purchase of a new gold iPhone and accessories from somewhere in Florida. Fortunately, we had the transaction cancelled.

    • Oh yikes!!! I’m always so paranoid about that – I have a drawer of my old phones even after I’m smashed them – so scared that someone will pick it up and get the information off it somehow.

      So glad you managed to have the transaction cancelled. Hope it was a good vacation otherwise!

    • Yes we want to go back to the Yucatán semi-permanently. It was an amazing six weeks.

  11. Just remember- that tracking app means YOU are tracked. How badly did you want your phone back?

    Oh, and one idea missing- ICE and Reward on your phone. One that shines on despite it being locked up tighter than a drum. I vote for that over a tracking app any day of the week.

    • Thanks for the tip Roy, I’ll check into more details about ICE and Reward 🙂

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