To you, your phone is your trusted travel companion, navigator, communicator and memory-maker. To a pickpocket, it's a really easy way to make $500.
We rely so much on our electronic gadgets that we sometimes forget how vulnerable they are to theft, hacking and damage. That's why you should take extra steps to keep your electronics safe while you travel, with anti-theft backpacks, rugged laptop cases, travel insurance and other precautions.
The absolute surest, foolproof way to keep your devices from getting stolen: Leave them at home. Instead of bringing your iPad, could you load ebooks onto your old Kindle? Instead of wearing your Apple Watch, could you dust off your old Mickey Mouse model?
If you do need to bring your phone or other device with you, always be aware of where you're keeping it. If you absentmindedly stash it in your back pocket, or leave it on a table while you order your coffee, it could be gone in a flash. Be particularly vigilant when you're traveling to a city known for its pickpockets — such as Barcelona, Paris or Prague — or street crime, such as Rio de Janeiro or Caracas.1-2
One smart idea: an anti-theft backpack. Travelon's classic anti-theft backpack looks perfectly ordinary, but its unremarkable exterior conceals some hardcore theft deterrents. It's reinforced with flexible steel mesh to prevent thieves from slashing the pack or the straps, and includes a locking compartment for your valuables. Whatever bag you bring, make it inconspicuous. A Nikon-branded camera bag is a very attractive target.
Think no thief would want your battered old MacBook? You may be right — but what about the information stored on it? To keep your laptop secure while traveling, encrypt (or delete) sensitive files, such as scanned personal or financial documents, business information, password lists, etc. If you use public Wi-Fi networks while traveling, set up a VPN (virtual private network) that will work in your destination country. Travel blogger Nomadic Matt has an excellent introduction to using VPNs while traveling, as well as some suggested providers.
Consider installing tracking software such as Prey, which not only locates your stolen computer or phone but can even send you a picture of the person using it and allow you to remotely lock down your device. A word of caution: Do not attempt to track down the thief yourself. Running down a back alley in Budapest, screaming, "Hey! That's my MacBook!" could end very badly. Instead, bring your evidence to local police.
As you near the top of the 289-foot Torre Del Mangia in Siena, you fish out your phone to take a picture. It slips from your grasp and goes clattering down the steps. Porca vacca!, as the Italians would say.
To keep your phone safe when you travel, consider upgrading your case to one that's designed to take a hit. The Defender series from Otterbox is considered one of the best for impact protection; customers have shared stories about phones flying from roller coasters or skidding across race tracks and surviving. The Ballistic Hard Core Tactical Case is another toughie, promising protection against 12-foot drops. If your travel plans include boat trips or beaches, look at cases that are also waterproof. Lifeproof's cases for phones and tablets are waterproof for up to an hour when submerged as deep as 6.6 feet.
Protecting laptops while traveling is a little tougher. If you're trekking, touring on a motorcycle or planning other rough-and-tough expeditions, you may want to invest in a high-quality rugged laptop case. Pelican makes some of the best laptop backpacks for adventurers, with built-in waterproof and crushproof cases. Some models are TSA-ready too, making it easier to clear airport security.
It's always wise to back up your travel photos while you're still on the road, just in case your camera, phone or laptop suffers a fatal blow. Bring a small external hard drive, or upload your memories to the cloud.
Does travel insurance cover stolen or damaged gadgets? That depends. If you break your phone by dropping it, or if your camera's stolen while you're sightseeing, that loss won't be covered. But if your electronics are lost, stolen or damaged by your common carrier — like the airline or tour operator — your travel insurance should cover the loss up to a certain amount. The Classic Plan with Trip+, for instance, includes up to $2,000 in coverage for baggage loss or damage.
If you travel frequently for business and you need your laptop/phone/camera for work, you should protect yourself with an annual travel insurance plan that covers business equipment. The Annual Executive Plan, a business travel insurance plan from Allianz Global Assistance, includes up to $1,000 to cover the reasonable costs of renting equipment if yours is damaged, plus up to $1,000 to repair or replace your gear. You get a whole lot of other coverage, too, including up to $50,000 in emergency medical and dental benefits and up to $45,000 in collision/loss damage insurance for your rental car. Travel happy!
Richmond-based travel writer Muriel Barrett has a terrible sense of direction, and has spent many happy hours getting lost in Barcelona, Venice and Jerusalem. Her favorite travel memories all involve wildlife: watching sea turtles nest in Costa Rica, kayaking with seals in Vancouver and meeting a pink tarantula in Martinique.