Keeping Your Computer Safe and Protected During Travel

If you are on a business trip (or work while traveling) you should be extra careful with your computer and other electronic devices.

If a traveler loses his cell phone, it’s annoying and it might cost a lot of money to replace it, but that’s about it. If you lose your computer, you also lose valuable work time and, potentially, confidential information. It will quickly go from a vacation-destroying event to a life-destroying event.

Whether you’re a digital nomad, a traveling writer, a small business owner hoping to answer a few emails on the go, or a full-time traveler, there are steps you should take to keep your critical gear safe while traveling. In this tutorial we’ll look at how to secure your computer to try and stop the worst from happening.

Save your computer when traveling

What Happens If You Work While Traveling

While on the move, there are three main threats to your computer:

  • accidental damage
  • theft or loss
  • and data loss.

When you move from one place to another, there is a chance that your device will be bumped or lost. You may also be using an unsecured wireless network which opens up the possibility of your data and personal information being stolen.

Problems like this can happen anywhere. Whether you’re traveling in Texas or Thailand, your device is far more risky than when placed in your home or office.

In fact, some of the precautions I’d recommend should be used even when you’re just working at a local coffee shop. Let’s explore some best practices on how to keep your computer safe and protected when working on the road.

1. Accidental Damage

Accidental damage is one of the most common problems when you travel with your computer. Practically there are very many possibilities of damage that occurs. You could accidentally spill coffee on your keyboard, drop your phone, sit on your computer, have a dog eat your charger, and many more common and ridiculous things. Protecting against accidental events is the simplest way to make your device more secure.

First, cases are very important—and not just for phones. Everything from your computer to your Kindle should have its own protective case. It is very possible for the device to fall accidentally or a collision occurs.

The extent to which your case is capable of protecting depends on how likely it is that your device is damaged. I have a hardshell Incipio case for my iPhone, similar to the one recommended by The Wirecutter, and soft padding for my MacBook and iPad.

I’m pretty good at maintaining those devices so I don’t feel the need to do anything with Otterbox or other over the top cases. You should assess your own personal risk and to what extent you can tolerate it. If you drop your phone often, then what you need is a thicker and more springy case.

Cases are just one way to protect your device from accidental damage. Your device may be great for everyday use, but when traveling by plane, train and car, you should make sure that your belongings are better protected. In general, computers are more susceptible to damage when you are traveling.

The best way to protect it is to use a bag that has a special section for a laptop. A good laptop bag will have plenty of cushioning, and maybe even a shock-resistant suspension system, to keep your computer safe while traveling. If you work online, your computer is your business so it can’t be overprotected.

2. Theft and Loss

Accidental yak damage isn’t the only threat to your computer while traveling; tourists and other travelers are always the target of thieves and pretenders.

Secure your computer from theft when you are on the go.

The safest way to protect your belongings from theft is to be aware that it can happen. Don’t leave your computer out of your sight for even a minute. It doesn’t matter what city or country you are in, there will always be someone willing to pick up your stuff.

The mistake for too many people is to assume that cities in North America or Europe are much safer than cities in Asia or South America. The chances of having your laptop stolen in Paris are the same as when you were in Bangkok. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that by being in Western cities, your device is safer.

Especially when you travel by plane, train, or bus, make sure your computer and other essentials are always nearby and within reach. Do not place it on hangers or storage under the vehicle. They are very easy to lose—whether intentional or not—if they are far from you.

While constant vigilance sounds great in theory, in reality you’ll be distracted from time to time. Also, it’s definitely difficult to carry your computer anywhere. To help protect it, you should invest in owning a computer lock.

The Blade Universal MacBook Key

A computer lock is a cable lock that you use to attach your computer to something that cannot move. You can’t remove the lock without breaking the computer. It’s definitely not a system that can’t be tricked at all but it will make your computer a harder target to take. If you leave it unguarded in a hotel room, lock it to the radiator or something similarly firm.

A number of older and larger laptops will have a cable lock ready connection. For ultrabooks, MacBooks, and other lower-profile devices, you’ll need to purchase something like the MacBook Universal Blade Key. This lock attaches to your computer and provides the connection for the cable lock.

If you work in a coffee shop or other public place, attaching a cable lock to your desk can greatly protect your device. A photographer at the Rio Olympics has $40,000 worth of equipment stolen within seconds in a public cafe. If anyone tries the same trick for you, cable lock will slow them down considerably.

3. Loss of Data and Information

Physically losing a device can be annoying, but losing important data or personal information can be more severe. A new computer can be bought for a few hundred dollars, but some files can’t be replaced.

No data should be stored only on your computer. You should keep the backup somewhere else, outside of its usual location. As you work, save the documents you create to a cloud service like Dropbox, iCloud, or OneDrive. While not strictly as a backup, what this means is that if something happens to your computer, you’ll still be able to recall all of your work.

Apart from cloud applications, you also need a proper backup plan. As I mentioned in my article about getting your Mac ready for travel, you should leave a backup of all your files at home.

But that’s not enough. What happens if your house burns down while you travel and your computer is stolen? You have nothing left. Of course the probability of such a catastrophe is quite small, but it is not zero. The rule when backing up is one equals nothing, and two equals one. You need at least two backup copies of your data, and at least one of them is stored in a safe and secure place.

One option is to perform regular backups and store them at a friend’s house or safe deposit box. An easier option is to use a service like CrashPlan or Backblaze to set up an offsite backup. With a solid backup system in one place, you should never lose important data, no matter what happens to your device or home.

You can check this article for anti-trick backup strategies for buildings to get more detailed information regarding proper backups.

Another major threat to personal information is insecure wireless connections. If you transmit unencrypted information over a wireless network that you do not know is secure, you are exposing yourself to hacking. Anything sent to your computer could be directed to an attacker.

We covered on how to protect your information on public wi-fi earlier, so check out the post (above) for more; the short version is that you have to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which encrypts and directs your web traffic through a secure server. In this article, we’ll explain VPNs in greater depth and recommend options for small business owners and other traveling workers.

If your device is stolen or lost, you must rest assured that your data will not be harmed. On macOS you can use Find My Mac to find or delete data on your computer that was stolen. Windows doesn’t have a built-in solution but there are third-party apps like Prey that have a similar feature. As long as you have a backup, you can confidently wipe your device from a distance.

You Need Insurance

Finally, if you travel a lot, the question is not whether your device will fail, but when. There are so many things you can’t control. You can be as careful as possible but other passengers may accidentally drop your bag when they pick up their bag. There is nothing you can do to prevent such a thing.

It is important to reasonably know how secure your computer is and to keep it as safe as possible while on the move. What you can do is minimize the damage.

Have backups ready, store your files in the cloud, and have insurance. Often it only takes a small fee to protect your device from accidental damage and theft. For the cost of replacing the computer, you can insure it. Unfortunately the odds remain unfavorable for you.

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