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Traveling With Technology & How I Keep It All Safe

Traveling With Technology

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
Kindle eReader

(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?

Traveling with Technology - Hotel Room

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.

Internet Security

Wifi-Logo

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?

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44 Responses to Traveling With Technology & How I Keep It All Safe

  1. Mary says:

    Hey Wandering Earl!
    I love your blog. I’m so glad I found it. I recently purchased your cruise line guide as well as the living the nomad lifestyle guide. I have tons of questions for you. But the current one is about technology. I currently, since I am a photographer,have a 17 in. macbook pro. Which seemed fine until in 11 months I decided I am going to work and travel out of the US for months or years. Do you think I could sell mine and downgrade to the otehr pro or the super thin one they came out with? Thanks so much!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Mary – All I can say is that traveling with a 17in Macbook pro would be an incredible challenge and I would advice against it. I would definitely try to get something smaller/lighter for your travels as it will make a major difference for you.

  2. Brian says:

    Great post.
    I’ll just add this thought about the security of our stuff while traveling or at home: If someone wants your things badly enough, they’ll take your things. No amount of reasonable counter-measures will prevent a determined thief. Knowing that, if my things are to be taken, I’d rather have them taken from my empty room than from my person. So we generally leave everything we don’t expect to need in our room.

    That doesn’t mean we don’t take precautions. We lock our backpacks with a luggage lock and carry a lightweight bicycle lock to secure our bags to something fixed in the room. That’s enough to protect our things from snooping maids who might be tempted to hot finger something of interest. What it won’t do is protect our things from someone who has climbed through our window with an intent to steal. We figure we can’t stop the later crime, so we don’t worry about it.

    Brian

  3. Jade says:

    I am moving to South Korea in August to teach English and was wondering about insurance for things like technology… I will be receiving medical insurance through my school so don’t need to get full travel insurance so didn’t know what my other options were.
    My main gadgets are my mac and my IPhone so I will always have the Apple store for when things go wrong but not if theft is involved!
    What is your advice?

  4. mzuri says:

    Thank you for the referral for a good VPN – I’ll be signing up for same before I shoot out of the U.S. again at the end of the year. I’ll also be checking out the paypal security keys you mentioned.

    Re: money …. Some time ago I opened up a checking account at my credit union that is exclusively for travel. I ensured that this account was not tied to my other accounts (not all financial institutions will let you do this, so it may be necessary to open an account at a different bank or credit union), and I opted out of the otherwise-automatic coverage of overdrafts. Before I go out of the country, I deposit x amount of money in that account and use the debit card for that account at ATMs while I’m on the road. Security objective: If someone gains access to this account, they’ll only get what’s left in that account.

    I do bring a back-up credit card, but I generally don’t carry that around with me day-to-day. If I do have it on me, I carry it in a different place than my debit card (and I don’t carry that with me all the time, either – I agree with you about leaving things back at the lodging if I feel comfortable doing so.

    Finally, I have a money belt I really like (from PAC, only about 10 bucks) – it looks so boringly ordinary, and it prevents me from having to make too many trips to an ATM, which I think, in some places, are like watering holes where prey and predators gather. ;)

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Mzuri – Interesting method and a great idea. That’s definitely one way to limit what a person could get from you. And money belts do work if you use it as storage. They don’t work as well when people pull them out to take out cash in front of a lot of people when paying for something…that sort of gives it away!

  5. Tim Moon says:

    Good tips. I haven’t heard about password tokens for banks but that’s a great idea. People should also clear their browser cache regularly or better yet set their browser to automatically clear the cache (and cookies) upon closing the browser. Using an encrypted VPN helps too. Here in South Korea, I’m using mine to access Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other sites.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Earl, we do pretty much the same, just like I would do back ‘home’, leave things locked-up in hotel/hostel rooms unless we need them. I’ve had my iPhone out on public buses and never had any problems but I know of people who’ve had things stolen so it’s obviously different for everyone. We haven’t been so vigilant about what-networks-we-use-for-what though. Maybe we should think about that.

  7. Joe says:

    Great article – starting my own backpacking adventure soon, so this is invaluable advice, thanks! Just have 2 quick questions though;

    1) How easy is it to keep things like your smartphone/laptop charged up while travelling?

    2) (slightly off-topic :-) ) What’s the best way to keep in contact with your folks back home? Rather than buying an international sim, is it enough to rely on free/cheap WiFi for Skype calls, for example?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Joe – It’s quite easy to keep everything charged as any hotel/guesthouse/hostel you stay at will have plug outlets. Just make sure you bring a plug adapter so that your plugs fit into the outlets! And for keeping in touch with everyone at home, I just use skype both on my laptop and on my phone. So whenever there is wifi (which is pretty much most places these days) it’s easy to hop online and call some people.

  8. Luisa Sousa says:

    When you guys say “locked in the backpacks” what do you mean by “locked”?
    Do you use padlocks on the backpack? In a way that might attract more attention to the pack, giving a sign that there are valuable good inside…
    I imagine there’s also a difference between a private room and a shared one with tons of people… I’m sorry if my questions sound silly, I’m just trying to learn how other people do it so I can take some tips :)

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Luisa – For me, it just means ‘placed in my backpack’ and then I lock the door to my room of course. I don’t lock my backpack at all. And yes, a private room would be a room just for me so locking the door is sufficient but with a shared room such as a hostel dorm room, I would put my valuables in the locker or safe that the hostel should provide (and these are naturally locked so that nobody else can access them.)

      And those aren’t silly questions…so keep asking anything that comes to mind!

  9. I came across your web site while look for reviews of Condor Airlines. Decided to trust your review and booked a Frankfurt->Anchorage flight, so thanks for writing that up when you did.

    On this issue of gadget security, you’re 100% accurate. Security precautions overseas are no different than any big American city. Last year, while on an intercity train in Switzerland, I wasn’t thinking at all and put my bag up on the overhead luggage rack, and promptly fell asleep. It was gone when I awoke.

    I’m currently in Estonia, and two nights ago I got fairly intoxicated and didn’t make it home with my old iPod Touch (I carry that around instead of a smartphone). I vaguely remember handing it to somebody to get a phone number, and I remember it being handed back, because I saw the number. But then I think I set it down by my drink and then just walked away to mingle. Needless to say, two hours later it was gone. I wanted to get a newer device anyway. :)

    In nearly four years of extensive travel, these are the only two times I’ve had anything walk off, and both times I can basically blame myself for being stupid.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Thanks for sharing your stories Jason and I agree, most of the time, things get stolen or lost because we have a temporary lapse in common sense! It happens to all of us of course.

  10. Jocelyn says:

    We’re making videos as we travel the world, so keeping tabs on our semi-pro camera has been interesting. We bought a nice camera bag and a PacSafe cage/bag so we either have it with us or locked up back in the room. Great info on the PayPal security key, we’ll definitely use that!

  11. karen says:

    I also need to carry computer, camera etc when travelling and have found generally it’s not a problem. The only time I had a computer stolen was South America when I left my day pack on the bus floor by feet. It was daylight, a 90 minute trip and I was awake but the thieves in South America are very talented shall we say. So now I keep my daypack on my lap and I also have a pacsafe daypack which has a wire lining so people can’t cut into it even if I do leave it on the bus floor as long as it’s locked and I keep an eye on it. At the end of the day though you can only do so much so: backup all files, have receipts of all expensive items in case you need to claim while overseas and have good travel insurance.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Great tips on keeping technology safe. I agree with keeping items in your hotel room, much better than taking them out with you. I normally make sure I lock all my tech stuff in my backpack before I leave my hotel room and then it reduces the likelihood of any opportunistic thefts that may happen if expensive items are just left lying around.

    Also – never really thought of the danger of logging onto an open wi-fi network and I’m sure I did this many times whilst travelling as I was glad to log on to an unprotected network! However thanks for highlighting the dangers.

  13. Great article!

    To prevent my laptop from getting damaged during transit, I keep it in a Pelican 1090 case. It’s a bit bulky but still fits nicely in my backpack. That way, I never have to worry about rain, dust, mud, etc. The main benefit is that the laptop is secure from being crushed.

  14. Crystal says:

    Hi Earl,
    I am just about to set off on my never-ending trip around the world. Do you pay for property insurance? I am trying to find a good insurance company that ill cover my MacBook Pro and really expensive Camera Equipment as I am a Filmmaker and need these to make my projects. Most travel insurance places won’t cover stuff this expensive. Do you know of any? What Insurance company do you use?
    Crystal

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Crystal – All of my gadgets are insured through Clements.com. It’s easy to set up and very reasonably priced.

  15. GoYvon says:

    I carry a kindle, a dslr camera, my iPod and a phone. Most of the time I travel without my laptop. Never had anything stolen (knock on wood). I travel the same way as you; just carry what you need.

    I live in China and I have used different vpns. Freegate was ok for a while, but often got hacked by China. Also used Pandapow, which is ok. Now using astrill which is the best one I’ve had so far.

  16. IndianaJo says:

    I’m always intrigued by the tech kit other travellers carry – nice combination. I have a similar approach to securing my valuable (strew on my hotel bed usually). I did once lose an iPhone but I left it unsecured in a dorm so my fault. Otherwise no problems. For me the key is backing things up as usually it is the data – photos, work etc. that is harder to replace than the items themselves.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey IndianaJo – That is true about the data and luckily, it’s quite easy to back that stuff up these days. And I tend to think that a significant percentage of the times when people do have stuff stolen, it usually comes down to a mistake or temporary lapse in judgment. It happens!

  17. Julie S says:

    One item I brought with me to Guatemala was the PacSafe 55L with exomesh. It’s pretty much a flexible, metal mesh cage that you can slip your pack into and then lock to a permanent object such as a bed frame or pole. You then lock the cord, which gets smaller so the pack can’t be slipped out. The mesh isn’t tiny, but it’s small enough so important items can’t be removed, such as a lap top or Kindle. It weighs about 1 pound and folds up pretty small. I didn’t use it all the time, but I was really glad to have it with me when I did feel the need for some extra security.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Julie – I’ve see that mesh cage and am sure it can be useful. I’ve never felt the need to buy one myself but in certain areas, it would definitely provide an extra layer of security.

  18. george says:

    Great tips. I carry my netbook, camera and kindle and that’s pretty much it. My netbook is such a heap of crap that I don’t care too much if it’s stolen. I recently broke my kindle and had to replace it and it cost me $100 so it’s not a massive worry. That’s my most important piece of kit. Nothing too flashy.

  19. Jason says:

    Hey Earl, great information as usual! Have you always used Hotspot Shield or have you used any other VPN services in the past? I’m curious about what made you decide to use that particular service, are there things it offers that others might not? I use Private Internet Access but it’s been slow at times lately so I’m thinking about making a switch.

    Cheers and keep fighting the good fight!

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hola Jason – I’ve always used Hotspot Shield. I remember coming across them many years ago after a recommendation from a friend and I’ve just used them since. It’s always worked and I haven’t had any reason to change.

      I don’t even think I’ve tried any others.

  20. Emma says:

    Thanks for writing a post about travelling with tech that doesn’t just say that ‘the best solution is to leave it all at home’! We have a similar approach to you, but my philosophy is that at the end of the day, while it would be frustrating to lose an expensive piece of tech, it is all replaceable. I’d be more upset about losing my photos than my camera. That is a good list of internet security tips too.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Emma – Exactly. If something is missing/stolen, there’s nothing we can do about it so there’s no reason to be too upset. And luckily, with things like photos, you can keep those quite safe by storing them online so that you don’t have to worry at all!

  21. Anita says:

    I always love your travel tips and have used a lot of them during our long term travel. My husband and I follow the second method like you and keep the laptops, ebooks, etc. in our hotel or apartment, taking only what we need for the day. I hate carrying around a heavy backpack and feel like it’s a sign for, “here’s my really valuable stuff if you’re interested…”. We split up our cash between us and try not to carry a wallet unless absolutely necessary: a bank card fits securely in an extra pocket without the bulk. We carry only a copy of our passport and keep the originals wedged in between other papers of a couple of beat up looking notebook folios. We have two other bank accounts and cards that are active as backups just in case. Finally, we photographed or scanned all of our documents (passports, credit cards, vaccination records, etc.) and put all of our account information in a Dropbox file along with addresses we use and pictures. As much of a pain as it would be to lose any of our valuables having that information at our fingertips will make it a lot easier to replace any items if needed.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Anita – Those are some great tips as well and I think that’s the key point…there is no need to freak out about safety/security. You simply take some precautions, make some smart decisions and you’ll be okay. Having that important information backed up in a couple of places will definitely make things easier if something were to get lost.

  22. Andy says:

    Has PayPal ever let you down while travelling? I’ve had trouble using my credit
    card in combination with PayPal recently when I was abroad.

    The customer support said I can always access PayPal from anywhere in the world
    and send/receive money within PP but I can’t do credit card purchases with it while
    outside of my home country. Strange.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Andy – I’ve never tried to use PayPal that way. I simply use it to receive and send money through other PayPal accounts most of the time. Even with that I used to get blocked all the time but ever since I got that security key, everything has worked perfectly with PayPal. But again, I’ve never tried to use a credit card connected to my PayPal account. Maybe someone else reading this has?

  23. Debby says:

    Thanks, this is really useful information. I like to keep my stuff safe in the hotel too.
    I read somewhere that even secured wifi connections aren’t safe, but the way you deal with it must be. I’ve never actually thought of it that way but now I’m thinking of generating all my passwords too ;)

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Debby – That is all very true. Secured connections are not guaranteed to be safe, especially if many people have the password. But there are definitely some simple steps to take to hopefully ensure you are as safe as possible while online!

  24. Thanks for the hotspotshield site and the tips on using wifi abroad. I got my paypal account hacked a couple of years ago when traveling to the Dominican Republic. Not a good time.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Gabriel – You should get the PayPal security key I mentioned in the post. Ever since I got that thing, I’ve never had a problem with PayPal.

  25. Awesome Post!
    We take the exact same precautions as you do. We prefer to leave our expensive items back in our room (usually locked in our backpacks), rather than bringing them with us. We also carry a MacBook, Kindle and Panasonic Lumix camera…no smartphone yet though, we still have a super basic, indestructible Nokia phone! haha. No need to worry about that getting stolen.

    In China we need to have a VPN as you mentioned. We use Free Gate and Hide My Ass…both work pretty good.

    Cheers for the post :)

  26. We have lost some stuff from hotel rooms and sometimes even the hotel safes are not safe. The less technology we travel with, the less safekeeping is needed. The problem with all valuables including money is that our possessions start to possess us. They limit our choices and force us to take protect and watch over them. To be completely free to travel one should carry only such things one can afford to lose.

    With Internet security it is more tricky issue but it also boils down to money. The less money, accounts, credit cards etc. one has the less worries there are. Our friends travelling completely moneyless (hitch-hiking, squatting, hospexing, dumpster diving, …) have appeared to be the least upset about internet security.

    • Wandering Earl says:

      @GlobalNomads – Yes, I do understand your points but for the majority of people reading this and traveling, they like to carry around some gadgets, or as is my case, really want to carry them around so that I can continue building this blog and helping others get out there and travel :)

      And as mentioned in the post, I don’t worry too much about my stuff and if I lose something, even my Mac, I’d probably react with a “That’s a shame, oh well.” What can I do about it? Things happen in life and travel tends to teach people that most things are not the end of the world as they say.

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