Bulletproof Traveler: How to Protect Your Stuff and Your Identity on the Road

These days, even non-techies often travel with more $2,000 worth of gear. At the very least, most first-worlders are toting a laptop, a tablet, an e-reader, and a smartphone. Add in a bit of photography equipment (and all the necessary travel photography accessories), and that estimate easily doubles.

The question then becomes: how to protect all your stuff while on the road?

In the last ten years, I’ve spent as much time traveling as I have at home, often with more than $5,000 worth of electronics in tow. I’ve learned how best to protect not only my valuables, but also myself and my identity as well. Here’s what I recommend.

Protect Your Stuff

The perennial challenge with safeguarding your valuables while traveling is: is it better to keep everything in your hotel room or on your person? My suggestion is: diversify.

Keep your most important documents on you at all times. This includes passport (in some countries, this is required by law), itinerary, and a printed hotel confirmation or at least the name of the hotel where you’re staying. Store digital backups of everything in the cloud where they’re easily accessible on your phone.

Divvy up your physical valuables based on what you need each day. For example, if you’re heading out for a day hike, pack your day bag with camera(s), accessories, smartphone, and the like. Assuming you don’t need them, leave your other electronics (e.g., laptop, headphones, and e-reader) at the hotel. This seems obvious from a packing standpoint since it helps lighten your load. But, it also ensures you’re diversifying your valuables — half travels with you where you can keep an eye on them, while the rest stays back at your hotel.

At the hotel, you have three clear options. The “good” option (“better than nothing” is more accurate) is to keep what you can in your in-room safe. While this is better than simply leaving everything out in the open, it’s worth noting that hotel safes are hardly secure. Watch this horrifying video and you’ll never rely on one again.

The better option is to store your valuables in the hotel’s own safe. Most decent hotels offer a house safe that’s free for guest use. Request a written inventory of anything you leave with hotel staff to account for all your valuables.

The best option — the one I recommend — is to invest in a portable travel safe. This will allow you to securely stow your valuables in your own room. I’ve used Pacsafe for years and love the simplicity, versatility, and durability of their products. I highly recommend the Pacsafe Travelsafe line. The Travelsafe 12L GII, in particular, is large enough for most travelers with room for a laptop, e-reader, smartphone, and other small miscellaneous valuables. Similar to a steel cable bike lock, it tethers to any secure fixture or piece of furniture in your room and is virtually impossible for thieves to cut away.

Protect Your Identity

Thankfully, protecting your identity — including your personal information, credit card details, and even your actual travel plans — while traveling is more straightforward. There are two key ways to do this.

The first is by limiting where, how, and how much you share your information while abroad. If you’re planning a short trip, take care of sensitive online interactions before leaving home. Check your bank statement, pay your utility bills, etc. from the security of your own Wi-Fi network so you won’t need to do it while traveling.

Of course, even on a long weekend away, you’ll likely need to send a sensitive email, login to Facebook, or hail an Uber. All of these require sending identifying information — username, password, location, and other personal details — over some insecure Wi-Fi or foreign cell network. The best way to protect yourself is with good VPN software.

How the software works is best left to geeks. What’s important is what it does: create a secure connection between you and whatever website or app server you’re connecting to. This locks down (or “encrypts”) any sensitive personal data you transmit so that it’s garbled and therefore useless to hackers.

Non-tech-savvy travelers can easily install the software in minutes. Once installed, it runs invisibly in the background with no user intervention required.

There are plenty of free options available. But, most pre-paid annual subscriptions average $5-10 per month. It’s a small price to pay for the peace of mind of not having your identity stolen.

What are your favorite ways to protect your valuables and protect your identity while traveling?

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