Have you ever lost your suitcase on vacation? You arrive at baggage claim, keeping your eyes peeled for your belongings. The carousel goes around and around dozens of times, but there’s no mistaking it: Your bag is gone. It could be anywhere!
Now, you have to shop for new outfits and restock your toiletries. A logistical headache for sure.
But have you ever lost your smartphone or your personally identifiable information (PII) on vacation? The stress and ramifications of either scenario puts the minor inconvenience of buying toothpaste into perspective. Not only is it an expensive piece of technology to replace, but the real cost comes from sensitive personal information stored on your phone that could land in a stranger’s hands.
To travel-proof your PII and mobile devices, here are some key steps you should take before, during, and after your big international trip.
Before Your Trip
The surefire way to ensure your device isn’t stolen or lost while traveling internationally is to leave it at home. If that’s a viable option, do it! When traveling outside your home country, your phone plan might not even work abroad. Before you depart, think about how you might use your smartphone on vacation. To stay in contact with your traveling partners, consider outfitting your party with prepaid phones. These basic phones are usually inexpensive, and you can buy them at most airports and convenience stores when you arrive at your destination.
If you do decide to bring your phone, here are a few quick device security measures you can put into place to protect your device and the sensitive information you have on it.
- Enable passcode entry or face ID. If your device does fall into the wrong hands, passcode-protecting your device is a great way to immediately deny someone access, thus keeping your PII private.
- Clear your cache. Before you depart, clear your cache and browsing history on your phone. This way, you don’t have any of your usernames or passwords stored, and there are no hints on your device as to which bank you use or online shopping sites with which you have an account.
- Invest in device security accessories. You’re not going to win any fashion awards, but phone tethers are one way to keep your device attached to your body, making it very difficult for someone to steal it.
Also before you depart, do some research on the local dress, polite customs, and a few useful phrases in the local language. It’s best to try to blend in as much as possible while traveling. Revise your packing list to carry as little as possible. Wrangling a pile of luggage could distract you from paying attention to your surroundings.
Seeing world-famous landmarks with your own eyes is one of the best parts of traveling, though tourist hot spots are infamous for various pickpocketing schemes. Even when you’re dazzled by the sights, remain aware of your surroundings.
Another way to protect the information on your device is to be careful when logging into public wi-fi networks and scanning QR codes while you’re traveling. Cybercriminals can lurk on the free networks provided by hotels, cafes, airports, public libraries, etc. They wait for someone to log on and make a purchase or check their bank balance and swoop in to digitally eavesdrop on their sessions.
Luckily, there’s an easy way to surf public wi-fi networks safely: virtual private networks (VPN). When you enable a VPN on your device, it encrypts all the information running into and out of your device, making it nearly impossible for someone to track your online comings and goings. McAfee+ includes a VPN among its many other services.
QR codes are a convenient way for museums, restaurants, and other establishments to direct customers to a website for more information instead of dealing with paper pamphlets and menus. When you scan a QR code, double check that it’s official and ok to scan. Cybercriminals may post legitimate-looking QR codes that direct to suspicious sites or download malware to your device.
Once you’re home from your adventure, it’s best practice to do some digital housekeeping. For example, delete your vacation-specific apps, like the train services you used to check schedules or book tickets. The fewer apps you have, the fewer chances a cybercriminal has of stealing your personal or payment information.
Then, for the next few weeks, keep an eye on your credit card statements and any suspicious activity regarding your credit or identity. While you’re monitoring your accounts, might as well change your passwords while you’re in there. McAfee+ offers identity monitoring, credit reports, and identity theft coverage to give you extra peace of mind.
Don’t let the unease of pickpockets or hidden malware stop you from enjoying your trip! Really, it only takes a few moderations to your daily routine to help you keep your devices and identity safer.
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