A Guide to Protecting Your Information & Privacy While Traveling

Imagine hopping on the airport’s WiFi while waiting for your flight, or booking a hotel room from your taxi ride. Seems safe enough, right? Think again. The truth is, travelers are incredibly vulnerable to identity theft and fraud.

Think about it — jetsetters and travelers are constantly using unsecured wifi connections, carrying loads of personal documents, buying things from unauthorized vendors, and withdrawing money from questionable ATMs.

In the end, the victim pays a steep price. They can lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Not to mention the sleepless nights and never-ending headaches caused by the fallout and cleanup.

Expert Insight

Before delving into the specifics behind how to protect your identity, personal information, and privacy while traveling, let’s get a quick glimpse by taking a look at what some industry experts have to say.

Expert Insights

General Tips for Protecting Your Privacy When You Travel

These days, it is practically a necessity to have gadgets and devices on us at all times while traveling. Technology helps us to stay connected while we are away from home and the office. With that said, reduce your risk of your personal information being compromised with the following tips that will get you all set before, during, and after your trip! After all, vacations are for relaxing, and not for worrying about fraud and identity theft.

Before Taking Off

Practice the following strategies to stay connected while remaining cyber safe on your travels. Before you take off, consider these pointers:

  • Only bring what you absolutely need when it comes to cards, travel documents, and other personal information. Not only will traveling lightly lessen the chances of everything getting lost or stolen, it will also keep your wallet compact and organized.

  • Hold off on posting anything on social media about your travel arrangements.

  • Secure your accounts and devices with strong passwords, passcodes, or mobile phone touch ID to lock your gadgets.

  • Avoid taking your work or personal devices with you on your trips, but if you must, be sure to encrypt or remove secret information.

  • Enable “Find My Phone” on your mobile device so that if it gets lost or stolen, you are able to locate it. Turn on remote wipe abilities and familiarize yourself on how to do this in case you need to.

  • Make copies of your travel records, ID cards, credit cards, and other personal information that you’re bringing with you on the trip. Leave these copies with a trusted family member or friend. This way, if anything is lost or stolen, you know where to trace back and retrieve the information.

  • Get all your gadgets up-to-date on the latest software for optimal security.

  • If possible, use temporary gadgets designated just for traveling. Examples would be an inexpensive laptop and a prepaid cell phone.

  • Back up any important data on your devices on an external drive that you leave at home in a safe place.

  • Turn off printer-sharing and file-sharing applications.

During Your Trip

While you are on vacation, consider taking the below measures to keep yourself protected on-the-move:

  • Keep in mind that public wifi networks and hotspots are not secure, so anyone can potentially see what you are doing on your device while you’re connected.

  • Turn off wifi, GPS, and bluetooth on your gadgets when you’re not using it.

  • Do not leave any of your devices behind, even in your hotel room. Keep them secure with you at all times, and if you must leave anything behind, make sure it is locked up in a safe so that no one can access it even if they get into your hotel room.

  • Wait on posting photos and status updates about your travels on social media until you are back home.

  • Avoid using ATM cards whenever possible. Credit cards and cash are recommended when traveling.

  • It is best not to log into any personal accounts on other people’s devices – whether that be computers in public areas, hotel business centers, friends, colleagues, or other travelers. Computers in public areas may have keyloggers and malwares on them, which can compromise your sensitive information.

  • Utilize a VPN on your devices to create an encrypted connection during your time away.

  • USB chargers in public spaces are big no-no’s. Criminals can access information on your devices through the USB cable since it has two wires – one for power and the other for data transfer. Rather than using a USB charger, find an AC power brick that plugs into a power outlet directly.

Back Home

Keeping yourself and your personal information secure requires regular attention, and does not stop before and after your travels. When you get back, we recommend that you:

  • Check your credit card statement to make sure there are no suspicious or unauthorized charges that took place on your trip.

  • Change all passwords that you used on your vacation.

  • Run full antivirus scans on your gadgets.

  • Remove any applications and related data you may have downloaded onto your devices specifically for your trip that you no longer need.

  • Finally share your photos, videos, and updates on social media for your friends & family to enjoy!

5 Things Every Vacationer Must Protect

Before heading off to your next destination, don’t forget to make sure that security is on your packing list! Travelers are big targets for identity theft because of all the information and devices that they constantly carry around. Below are five things you should protect.

Mobile Devices

According to a Bitglass report, 1 in 4 breaches in the financial sector resulted from stolen or lost mobile devices, including tablets, laptops, and smartphones. Since people rely on these devices so heavily these days, it’s no surprise that there are lots of personal information saved on these devices. When they are lost, thieves may resell them, causing a compromise of privacy and confidential data. The good news is that there are simple ways to prevent becoming a victim to having your devices stolen or lost during your travels:

  • Avoid getting pickpocketed by keeping your devices as close to your body as possible.

  • If you leave anything behind in your hotel room, be sure to lock them up in the hotel safe.

  • Do not leave any devices unattended in a public space, no matter how empty or safe it may seem. Popular public spaces that travelers frequent include coffee shops, airports, and hotel lobbies. Research has shown that 70 million cell phones are lost every year. Don’t let yourself become a part of this statistic!

  • Always password-protect your devices, and use strong passwords. By keeping your data protection software up-to-date and having full disk encryption on your devices, you minimize the chances of people getting access to your personal data in case they do get a hold of your phone, laptop, or tablet.

  • Only bring what you absolutely need on your trip, and leave the rest at home in a safe place.

Confidential Papers

Those traveling for work often carry with them many important documents and confidential papers. In fact, a Glassdoor report from 2017 indicated that 55% of vacationers take work with them. Many employees use their personal devices to access corporate data such as emails, financial data, and customer records. To prevent such data from getting compromised, consider doing the following on your trip:

  • Use a virtual private network (VPN) in public spaces like hotels, coffee shops, lobbies, etc.

  • When you are not using wifi or bluetooth, disable both.

  • Try to only take what you absolutely need with you on your trip.

  • Confidential documents that are no longer needed should be safely shredded.

  • Save digital documents to a cloud service.

ID & Credit Cards

Criminals often look for people’s ID cards and credit cards to assume false identities, which is why it is crucial to protect yourself from card theft. With that said,

  • Only bring along cards that you absolutely need – ideally one credit card and one debit card that you use often, and then your ID card. Leave the rest at home in a safe place.

  • Check your credit card statement regularly while you are away to make sure that there are no suspicious activities.

  • If your card is lost or stolen, report it to your bank immediately.

  • If you must absolutely use an ATM, make sure it is a safe one in a public area, and don’t forget to shield your PIN entry.

Travel Documents

Travel itineraries, passports, car rental documents, airline tickets, and boarding passes should be kept securely. These documents contain confidential information that you won’t want a stranger stumbling across. For your safety,

  • Scan a copy of your passport and keep that in a secure place or email it to yourself so you have access to it in case you lose it.

  • Keep your passport locked in a safe area along with your mobile devices. Do not leave it in plain sight. If you bring it along with you (and choose not to leave it behind in a hotel for example), make sure that it is close to your body as you would with your devices and wallet.

  • Do some research on popular travel scams and be cautious of them on your trips.

  • Never leave your travel documents unattended.

  • When your trip is over, shred all travel documents you no longer need so that it can’t get picked up by chance.

Internet of Things Devices (IoT)

If you use smart devices like heart pressure monitors and fitness trackers that connect to the internet to send and receive information, you may want to take extra measures to protect yourself. Bear in mind that cyber criminals may be able to access your data remotely. With that said, be sure to:

  • Keep your IoT devices disconnected from the internet when not in use.

  • Make sure that your gadgets are secured with strong passwords, and update them regularly.

  • Check your devices regularly for any new updates and keep the software up-to-date for best security protection.

Protecting Your Identity at Home

Heading out of town requires you to not only protect your identity while you are away, but also make sure everything at home stays safe, too. Since you won’t be around to keep an eye on things, you’ll want to add these to-do’s to your checklist before leaving:

  • Request that your mail be held at the post office until you return so that it doesn’t pile up and send a signal to potential thieves that you aren’t home. Alternatively, if you have a trustworthy neighbor, you can ask them to check your mail regularly and take it in for you temporarily.

  • House-sitters are great, but keep in mind that having one doesn’t exempt you from taking necessary measures to be safe. Even if yours is trustworthy, you still cannot predict whether or not your home may be burglarized while you are not there. Protect your identity by taking the extra step of locking up valuable documents in a safe.

Internet Security for Travelers

When it comes to protecting your information & privacy while traveling, you can never be too safe. It is better to take the time and precautionary measures for peace of mind, rather than have to deal with the consequences that may come later on if you fail to practice cautiousness. Keep your personal information safe with these tips:

On Your Own Device

  • Ensure that you are running the latest version of your device’s security software and operating system.

  • Make sure that your devices are password-protected so that people cannot easily access your information should you misplace any of your gadgets.

  • Decrease the time it takes for the screen to lock when the devices are idle. It can be a pain to have to keep entering your code, but totally worth dealing with if it means keeping your identity safe.

  • Check to see if your laptop’s file-sharing feature is activated. If it is, you will want to turn it off so that people using the same wifi network as you cannot get access to your files.

  • Use a personal hotspot whenever possible when you are away from home. If that is not an option, then only use legitimate wifi hotspots. Rather than trying to log into whichever wifi hotspots come up first, take the extra time to ask the hotel or coffee shop for the specific name of their network. Networks with strong passwords are better than ones that can be easily accessed by anyone. Turn off wifi on your device when not in use.

On a Public Computer

  • Using a public computer for things that do not require you to log into anything is totally safe to use (i.e. check train schedules, a business’ hours of operations, etc).

  • If you need to log into anything on a public computer, first see if there’s a way for you to open an “Incognito” window.

  • Before signing into anything, make sure that any box that says “stay signed in” or “remember me” is unchecked.

  • Make sure that you are logged out of your accounts when you are done.

  • After you are logged out, clear the Internet browser’s cache, cookies, and history before leaving the computer.

  • For your very important accounts, set up two-step verification. It’s an extra layer of protection that will require you to enter a password from another device that you own whenever you try to log into your accounts using unfamiliar devices. Most email providers and social media apps now offer the two-step verification.

  • Avoid logging into your personal financial accounts while you’re away, especially on a public computer. If you can, wait until you get back home and check on a secure connection.

  • If you are booking tickets online using a public computer and need to enter in any credit card information, make sure that the site is secure before doing so.

Conclusion

Today’s advanced technology has helped to make a plethora of things easier, including traveling, staying in touch with friends and family, getting work done on-the-go, being entertained, and more. For most, having an electronic device like a cell phone, tablet, or laptop is crucial to having a complete travel experience. But with these great perks, also comes drawbacks and increased risks for cyber theft and the compromise of personal information. In this guide, we have done our best to elaborate on the security measures you can take to travel safely. While our tips are not foolproof, it goes without saying that every measure taken can help to reduce the chances of identity theft. We encourage you to explore other resources to stay informed about fraud and identity theft.

Additional Resources

Below are more resources that may help you better understand the importance of taking precautionary actions to protect your personal information, data, and identity while you are away from home.

  • EDUCAUSE Review – How to Protect Your Data & Devices While Traveling with Tech

  • CN Traveler – How to Keep Your Data Safe While Traveling

  • Cyber Scout – Ways to Protect Your Identity While Traveling

  • Travel Channel – How to Protect Your Personal Data While Traveling

  • UCLA – Stay Secure While Traveling At Home & Abroad

  • Northwestern – Staying Secure During Travel