Quick Tips For a Safe and Secure Vacation

Summer is coming (at least for those of us living north of the equator), and that means many of us will be heading off for some well-deserved vacations. Becoming infected with malware, the victim of fraud, or some other cyber-malady is bad enough in and of itself, however the problem is magnified substantially when traveling. Here is a quick guide to an (electronically) secure vacation.

vacation

Planning for a secure vacation is just that: planning. Most of these tips are things you will be taking care of in the days leading up to your traveling adventure. 

Booking

First, book your hotels, beach houses, ocean bungalows, or other accommodations in advance. And book on a trusted site – not just wherever the best deals are. Read reviews for the services you are going to use. VRBOs – or vacation rentals by owner – are great. It’s the only way I book vacations, but you have to be particularly careful, which is why using a trusted service is key.

VRBO.com has an excellent list of tips for staying safe from scams when renting directly from a property owner. In fact, it’s a pretty good guide for renting from anyone. I’ll give you the abridged version of their findings (not including recommendations I’ve already made):

  • Ask for referrals from previous renters
  • It’s possible that the property you are aiming to rent is part of a homeowners association. Contact that association and ask if the person offering to rent you the home actually owns it
  • You could also inquire as to who provides professional cleaning services to the property and contact them or anyone else that services the property
  • Before you send any money to a renter, make sure you receive a rental agreement or contract specifying pertinent terms of the agreement like the dates you are staying, fees, deposits, etc.
  • Use a credit card – many of which have built-in protections for scams. There is no protection against a scammer if you send them a wad of cash or even a check or debit card payment in some cases. You should not use a money transfer service.

Beyond these, if you are paying online, as always, make sure your machine and browser (and all of your software) is totally up-to-date with the latest versions. This should protect you from anything except zero-day vulnerabilities. Make sure the service you are about to pass money through is secure (green padlock, encrypted HTTPS connection). And always run a solid antivirus program with a built-in safe money protection feature. Here’s a thorough guide on how to conduct secure transactions online.

Devices

There is a decent chance that you will bring some mobile devices and computers with you. I have a Chromebook that I use almost exclusively for travel. It doesn’t have anything important stored on it. It’s just a blank, web-surfing machine. However, if you’re bringing machines with important data on them – whether it’s your phone or tablet or a laptop – make sure you back it up before you leave. And back the data up on a device that stays home. This way, if you lose your laptop overboard in some rough seas, you will at least have all of your data on an external hard drive back home.

For mobile devices, install some sort of anti-theft protection or at least familiarize yourself with the anti-theft features available to you on whatever device it is you work with. We recently published a comprehensive article about ways to avoid losing your gadgets.

Vacation

So many numbers: emergency numbers, dial-out numbers (if you’re abroad), numbers for hotel and flight reservation information… that might actually be all the numbers. Either way, there’s no guarantee you’ll have Internet access at all times, so you may want to make either written lists of these or offline lists on your computer or mobile devices. If you have kids, you’ll probably want to familiarize them and whoever else is traveling with you with the emergency numbers at the very least. Again, if you’re traveling out of the country, learn the process for dialing back to your home country before you leave.

As always, don’t use public Wi-Fi. Don’t even use hotel-room Wi-Fi unless it is encrypted and password protected. If you have access to a virtual private network (VPN), then use it.

Lastly, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. And by eggs, I mean money. Bring two or three or more credit or debit cards, so if you lose or have to cancel one, then you have a backup plan. If you’re holding large amounts of cash, put it in the hotel safe (along with your passport unless you need it). I also recommend keeping any mobile devices or laptops in the hotel safe as well.

I think that’s all the ideas I have, but you’re all smart people, so leave your own suggestions in the comments section if you have any.

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