Most travelers carry some technology, some combination of gadgets, with them these days as they bounce around the world. Yet some travelers actually don’t carry any technology with them at all. It all depends on one’s needs. For me, in order to get my blogging/online work done, ensure I read often and keep me as connected to friends and family around the world as I can, I always travel with the following:
Macbook Pro 13.3” Retina
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 Camera
Samsung Google Nexus S smartphone
(You can read more about the items I travel with on my “Travel Gear” page.)
This is an ideal combination of ‘stuff’ for my situation. It’s not so much that I am weighted down, having to drag around two extra daypacks with me everywhere I go, but at the same time, it’s enough to help me run my blog and other online projects while living a nomadic lifestyle.
However, the question then becomes, “Do I have to worry about keeping these expensive gadgets safe all the time?”
Personally, I do worry about the stuff I carry, but in reality, I don’t worry about it any more than I would if I were back home. And in the years I’ve been traveling, I’ve never had any piece of technology stolen or lost for good, which is why I’m quite sure that I won’t be changing my ways any time soon.
Keeping My Gadgets Safe
There are two schools of thought when it comes to traveling with technology and keeping gadgets safe. Some travelers feel that the best method to keep their stuff safe is to always carry everything around with them so that they can always keep an eye on their laptop, camera, mobile phone and often times, all of their money and credit cards too. And then there are the travelers who feel that keeping everything in their hotel room or the hotel/hostel safe is the way to go because this way, all valuables can be safely locked up while they’re out and about.
I’m a follower of the second method myself, always preferring to leave my stuff in my hotel/guesthouse room every day. All I take with me when I go out is the stuff I need, a small amount of money and that’s it. I don’t carry my laptop or kindle or my credit cards around if I’m not going to use them. I personally don’t enjoy my days of wandering when I need to lug around my heavy daypack and try to remember to keep it in sight at all times. I’d rather have almost nothing in that daypack so that it’s no big deal if I accidentally misplace it.
But isn’t there a chance that my gadgets could be stolen out of my hotel/hostel room?
Well, here’s my theory on why that’s not very likely to happen. (It’s never happened to me, in any country I’ve ever been to.)
First, I don’t choose accommodation options that have a suspicious atmosphere where it seems that the staff, or other guests, would be quite eager to steal my stuff. I choose places that feel safe and secure, with staff that seem trustworthy. Also, if a place is busy and/or has a lot of foreign guests, the chances are quite high that the owner does not want to risk their reputation, and all future business, by hiring staff or allowing in guests that would steal something out of a room. One such incident and even the most popular hotel on Tripadvisor or the most popular hostel on Hostelworld.com will drop in the rankings and lose a ton of business. Why would they want that to happen?
Over the years, I’ve kept my stuff locked up safely (usually just on my bed or maybe inside of my backpack) in budget hotel and hostel rooms all over the world, including a 60 cents/night, grubby room the size of a bathtub in the Bangladeshi countryside where a prostitute stood outside my door every day trying to convince me to make use of her services. When the owner of that hotel saw me walk in, he was eager to chat and super-excited to have a foreign traveler at his hotel, so excited in fact that there was no way he was going to let anything happen to my stuff.
And as for the idea that traveling with technology, especially expensive technology, makes us bigger targets for theft, I don’t really think this to be as true as one may think. It’s not as if I pull out my new Macbook for an hour while on a local train packed with hundreds of people before placing it under my bench as I nod off into a deep sleep. I also don’t pull out my Macbook or Kindle or phone while waiting for the city bus, all alone on the sidewalk, in a part of town I’ve never been to or while I’m sitting in a seedy, half-empty restaurant located down a dark lane at 2am. I pull out my Macbook when I’m in my hotel room or at a nice cafe with wi-fi most of the time. And when I’m done working online at such a cafe, I pack up my laptop, put it in my backpack and bring it back to my hotel room before heading out to wander around the town or city I’m visiting.
As a result, very few people will ever know that I even have such equipment with me.
In the end, the only time I’ve ever lost my stuff is when I’ve broken from my norm and carried my valuables with me during the day for one reason or another. I’m forgetful at times and so I may put my bag down for a moment or leave it on the back of my chair at a cafe and simply forget about it when I walk away. But even when I have left my daypack somewhere with my laptop or camera inside, it wasn’t missing for very long. I’ve always had it returned to me with everything still there, including the time I left my backpack at a shisha cafe in Istanbul for over 16 hours, with my camera and passport inside.
When the time comes to crack open my laptop and get onto the internet while traveling, I do have a different ‘security’ mentality than I do with the physical gadgets themselves. I want to always protect my data/information as much as possible, both on my laptop and on the secure websites I use (ie. Bank accounts, PayPal, etc.), and so I pay close attention to how I connect to and use the internet overseas. Here’s some of the main precautions that I take:
- Avoid doing anything that requires me to log in if I’m on a completely open network at an airport, cafe or anywhere else.
- Obtain a PayPal ‘security key’ and password tokens from my banks, which adds an additional layer of security to those websites. After entering my password on these sites, I then must generate a code on my security key/password token that I also need to enter or else I won’t be able to log in.
- Limit the time I spend on secure websites. If I need to check my bank account, I do so quickly and immediately log off once I’m done.
- Always try to connect to a password-protected network associated with the cafe or hotel I’m at, not just any open network that I might come across. This doesn’t guarantee security of course, but it seems like a smart move nonetheless.
- Do whatever I can offline and then connect to the network only when I need to. (For example, I will write a post in Word and edit any accompanying photos offline and then when it is all ready to go, I’ll quickly transfer it to my blog.)
- My passwords are all computer-generated and completely different for every account I need to log into, something that goes a long way in protecting your online data.
- If something seems odd about any network connection I’m on (pop-up boxes start flashing on the screen, strange messages, etc.) I immediately disconnect and go somewhere else.
And while it’s impossible to be 100% secure all the time as you travel around the world and connect to the internet from so many different places, the above certainly helps, even if it requires you take a few extra minutes to get online or your work gets delayed from time to time when you discover you’re on a risky connection. As soon as we get lazy and start breaking a few simple security rules, everything can change very quickly. All it takes is one hacking of your website (I’ve seen the enormous troubles this has caused for some other bloggers), one hacking of your bank account or one security breach of anything you do online to really create a major problem, one that can potentially ruin a part of or even all of your remaining travels.
As for keeping your physical gadgets themselves safe though, as I said, I don’t believe it’s worth worrying about them to the point where you load up your daypack with every piece of technological equipment you own, strap that pack to your front every day, grasp it so tight as you wander around and look at everyone that walks near you with a suspicious eye. Just lock up your stuff in your hotel/hostel, go outside carrying only what you need, trust in your fellow mankind and enjoy yourself. This method has certainly worked quite well for me over 13+ years and 84 countries.
*On a side note, a reader recently asked how I access such websites as Facebook, Skype and YouTube while in a country where that content is blocked (as is the case in several countries). I’ve always used Hotspot Shield VPN, a solid Virtual Private Network service that allows me to access any content from anywhere in the world. Most long-term travelers are quite familiar with Hotspot Shield and it’s definitely a useful service for anyone on the road.
How do you handle technology while traveling? How do you keep your gadgets safe? Any questions about gadgets, internet security or anything else?