Travelling isn’t easy. I’ve been hitting the road more often lately, and even beyond the normal complications (Did I remember to turn off the thermostat? Did I lock the door?), security concerns rear their ugly head the minute that you walk out the door. Here are a few thoughts on my own best practices for travel security.
Your phone and laptop should always have a password lock enabled, but even if you insist on skipping that precaution at home, please do yourself a favor and enable it on the road. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard the horror stories of leaving a device in a taxi. (or Uber. Or Lyft. Pick your poison.)
If you’re flying, TSA poses a hurdle as soon as you hit the airport. I always remind myself to be 100% vigilant at the luggage x-ray machine and metal detector… not because I think I need to stop the next hijacking plot, but because anytime my phone, keys, passport, laptop and everything else are exposed and out of my immediate control, I need to be on my game. If you have travelled with me before, you noticed that I’m completely willing to be ‘That Guy’ who holds up the line. Why? Because there’s not a chance in hell that I’m walking through the body scanner before my personal items have been gobbled up by the conveyor belt to the x-ray machine. No, I don’t trust the TSA agents or anyone else to ensure that my laptop makes it through. Especially when the next three people in line have identical MacBooks to mine. Maybe I should add a SafeLogic sticker to differentiate it on the road. Or I should register for TSA Pre, so I can leave it in my bag. Note to self.
Once you’ve made it to the gate, whether you’re at the airport, train station, or friendly local HyperLoop stop, the dilemma inevitably arrives before your boarding call.
Free, open WiFi. Do you connect or not?
I’ve asked that question of a lot of smart people that I respect, and the answers vary. Sometimes the folks that I expect to be most paranoid admit that they use every Starbucks hotspot that they can find, without hesitation. Others eschew any connection that has not been provided and approved by their employer, lest they inadvertently cause a data breach. It’s about the liability. Me? I take precautions, but I’m more usually worried about the weirdo sitting next to me trying to eyeball my screen than getting singled out and sniffed among the thousands of connected devices on the network.
I’m forced to be more accepting of dodgy WiFi locations if I’m traveling abroad for pleasure though. When I’m on vacation outside of the States, I usually just remove my SIM card. It protects me from unwanted phone calls while I’m relaxing. More importantly, it protects me from unwanted roaming charges. Nobody likes a 5-figure mobile bill when they get home. It does require me to leverage WiFi when offered at the corner boulangerie or pub so I can plan my next destination, but usually well worth the trade-off. (Pro tip: load a local map on your phone app while you are connected… then even without WiFi, your GPS beacon will appear and give you a fighting chance to navigate accurately.)
But I digress. Once you arrive at your location, plastic is your lifeline. Better hope your credit or debit card doesn’t get stolen, forgotten, eaten by a rogue ATM (yes, that actually happened!) or possibly more aggravating, disabled by a fraudulent use flag. The founders of Final give a great example in their origin story and built a product with potential to save us from similar future issues. In the meantime, make a solid contingency plan for if your go-to card is unavailable. (No, panhandling is not a viable contingency plan.)
Technology can be your friend with the sheer volume of traveling documents, too. I like to use the Apple Passbook for my airline boarding pass whenever possible. Removing the paper slip from circulation means one less thing I need to keep safe. This is true for your itinerary, train tickets, directions, and many other items. The only catch is knowing whether your app of choice is secure. Naturally, I gravitate towards solutions from trustworthy sources, especially those that I know have prioritized data security with strong encryption. SafeLogic customers, if I have the option!
Centralize and travel light. I’ve even eschewed the use of a wallet, choosing to carry the bare minimums – ID, cash, debit card and credit card – in a specialized case for my phone. Thanks Speck. Just one more thing that I no longer have to keep safe.
Lastly, you must cover your tracks like a trained assassin.
• Used the WiFi at your AirBNB flat? Disavow the network on your devices.
• Used a smartlock system like Kēvo to access your rental? Delete delete delete!
• Used the Bluetooth connection to play Pandora or Spotify tunes in your rental car? Make sure to remove your phone from the ‘paired devices’ list on the vehicle console. (I’m looking at you, Kevin Chiu who paired his Samsung Galaxy S5 with that blue Toyota Camry in San Jose before I rented it!)
If you consider the repercussions of every byte you receive and packet you send, plan for worst-case scenarios that could leave you stranded, and memorize at least one phone number to call collect from a pay phone, you’re in good shape. Or at least hopefully better than you were 10 years ago.