For many of us, our summer vacation packing lists now include more than just swimsuits, beach towels and travel guides. They probably include laptops, tablets, smartphones and digital cameras too. After all, these devices play essential roles in our everyday lives, and they can make a vacation more fun. But taking your gadgets on the road also means you’re taking risks.
Harried travelers leave gadgets behind on airplanes, in taxis and at airport security checkpoints. Charging cords are forgotten in hotel rooms. Slick thieves target forgetful tourists who turn their backs for just a minute. Devices receive accidental baptisms in water or sit too long in the hot sun.
There’s nothing like the loss of expensive electronics or irreplaceable family photos to ruin your vacation. Being a smarter traveler can go a long way toward protecting your gadgets -- and ensuring you don’t go home feeling more stressed than when you left.
Your Pre-vacation Gadget Checklist
Thomas K. McCabe, president of HeroTechs Inc. -- a computer service company based in Long Island, N.Y. -- has seen his clients encounter all sorts of gadget-related catastrophes on vacation. His years of experience have led to this advice:
- Pack only what you need. Consider whether you actually need to place so many gadgets at risk. “One smartphone can take pictures and videos, provide GPS directions, surf the Internet and do many other useful things on a trip,” says McCabe. Leave the other stuff at home.
- Do your research. If you’re traveling outside the United States, research the power requirements for your destinations and bring the proper universal power adapter. It’s frustrating to run out of power, only to find yourself scrambling to buy an adapter … or use the wrong adapter and fry your device.
- Prepare your technology. “Laptops get stolen all the time,” says McCabe. “Back up your data and remove it from your laptop prior to going on vacation.” Store sensitive data elsewhere, such as on an external hard drive or in the cloud, until you return home. Back up photos that are stored on your camera’s memory card. “Many people keep the last 100 years of pictures on that large memory card in the digital camera,” says McCabe. “Doing so puts your pictures at risk of being lost if they’re not backed up.”
- Beef up security. Consider remote tracking programs that lock down your data and help track your laptop in the event of theft or loss, says McCabe. Install tracking capabilities on your smartphone. Take the time to password-protect your gadgets when possible. And keep security software updated and running.
Your Electronic Gadgets on the Road
Once you’re on the road, follow these tips to ensure all of that preparation wasn’t a waste of time.
- Protect your gear. McCabe fashions a technology amenity kit with padding. “I use a bathroom amenity kit for all of my power cords, adaptors, converter cables and headphones,” he says. “I zip this bag up and place it into a padded backpack made for laptops with all of my other technology devices. When I am asked to remove the contents at a check stop at an airport, it is not only easier for everyone, but also faster. This is the bag I bring onboard as my carry-on.” Don’t leave electronic screens exposed to sunlight for too long, and consider protective waterproof cases for gadgets such as smartphones.
- Bring your tools. A power strip will allow you to keep electronics in one place in hotel rooms. “Having them in one place makes it less risky to forget an item,” says McCabe. Carry a small USB hub to enable family members to charge multiple devices at one time. Consider carrying an extra recharging cord if you’re traveling where it might be difficult to find a replacement for a critical gadget. Encrypted memory sticks can be valuable vacation tools. You can use a memory stick to store data rather than keep it on a laptop that might be stolen. At the end of each day, you can place photos on an encrypted memory stick and upload them to an online photo service.
- Be vigilant. Don’t pay cab drivers until you’ve double-checked the backseat and retrieved your luggage. Assign someone to scour the hotel room before you check out. Of course, never leave gear unattended.
Kim Boatman is a Silicon Valley, Calif., journalist who writes about security and technology. She spent more than 15 years writing about a variety of topics for the San Jose Mercury News.