Eight easy ways to keep your phone & data safe when you travel

It seems impossible to imagine traveling without our phones these days. A smartphone lets us capture precious memories, keep in touch with our loved ones, and navigate strange cities. So picture what would happen if your phone was lost, damaged, or stolen in the middle of your trip.
Try these eight easy tips for protecting your phone and your data while traveling – for a worry-free vacation!

by Alyssa Schmitt
Man and woman lean against car on shore looking at phone
Keeping your phone safe and your data secure means a more relaxing trip for you!

Here’s how to protect your phone by taking a few simple steps:
  1. Physical protection for your phone
  2. Beware of free Wi-Fi networks
  3. Activate find-my-phone function
  4. Display emergency contact information
  5. Lock down your lock screen
  6. Back up your photos
  7. Write down important numbers
  8. Install updates before you go

Remember to physically protect your phone

When enjoying a vacation, no one needs the hassle of cracking their phone’s screen, damaging or destroying the phone in water or sand, or having it swiped by pickpockets. Here are three things to keep in mind:
  1. Make sure you have both a screen protector and a case from a reputable manufacturer. If you have a new and expensive phone, consider using a case that hides rather than highlights the brand and model. Depending on your planned destination and activities, you might even consider getting a sturdy, less expensive phone for travel.
  2. To help keep your phone safe from pickpockets, carry it in your front pocket, not your back one – or even better, use something to attach it to you physically, like a lanyard or a crossbody phone strap. And this can’t be said often enough: Don’t leave your phone lying on tables in restaurants, even if you are sitting nearby, because someone could snatch it and make a run for it.
  3. To keep your phone safe at the beach or pool, seal it in a sturdy zip-lock bag. This is usually enough to protect it from sand, splashes or a quick accidental dunking; however, if you want to take it in the water, invest in a high-quality waterproof pouch.

The dangers of public Wi-Fi networks

Using public Wi-Fi networks can seem like a great way to stay connected and save data when travelling. However, open Wi-Fi connections are often not secure. In what’s known as a “man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack,” hackers look for security gaps to intercept data, like financial information or account logins. Scammers may also set up a Wi-Fi connection with a fake name similar to a legitimate hotspot.

If you depend on public Wi-Fi during your vacation, consider installing a reputable VPN (virtual private network) app on your phone. You may have already heard of using a VPN to disguise your location (e.g., if you want to stream content that’s only available in another country). But a VPN also encrypts the connection, which keeps hackers from being able to read your data. This will give you more peace of mind if you have to perform sensitive transactions like online banking using a free Wi-Fi network.
 
Pro tip: Turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them can help save battery and extend your time between charges when traveling. For more battery-saving tricks, see our explainer: 10 ways to get longer battery life (and lifespan) on your phone

Turn on the “Find My” function

You probably know that many smartphones offer a function that finds your phone’s location, but you might not be aware that the find-my-phone function is not automatic – you have to switch it on. Before you go on a trip, consider setting it up in case your phone is lost or stolen.

Keep in mind that the phone must be on and connected to a network (cellular or Wi-Fi) for this function to work. Unfortunately this means that if a thief turns off your phone or if the battery dies, you are out of luck. This is where an iPhone’s “Send last location” feature comes in handy: when you activate it, your phone’s location is saved to iCloud whenever its battery is critically low.

On an iPhone you can find these settings under Settings > Your name > Find My. On an Android phone, go to Settings > Security > Find My Device.

Update and display emergency contact information

If you lose your phone and it’s found by a Good Samaritan who wants to return it to you, make it easy for them by displaying your contact information on your device. On many devices you can set your emergency contact information to be displayed on your lock screen at all times. If you have activated the “Find My…” functions described above, you also have the option to lock the phone remotely and display a custom message with your contact information.

If this feature is not available on your phone, an alternative would be writing your emergency contact information on a piece of paper, taking a photo, and making that photo the wallpaper on your lock screen. For a completely low-tech option, tuck the piece of paper with your contact information into your phone case.

Turn on PIN or biometric protection for your lock screen

If you don’t have the lock screen on your phone protected by a code, fingerprint ID, or facial recognition, we urge you to set that up before your vacation. A locked screen is an easy way to protect your phone if it is lost or stolen because it’s so much harder for an opportunistic thief to do anything with your phone or access your data.

To set up the screen lock on an Android phone, go to Settings > Security > Screen lock. On an iPhone, you’ll find the screen lock options under Settings > Face ID & Passcode.
 
Pro tip: If you use the mail.com mobile app to check your emails on your phone, you can give your inbox an extra layer of protection by activating a PIN or biometric ID for your email as well. To find out how, see: Protect your email app with fingerprint or facial recognition

Back up your photos and activate automatic uploads

If your phone is lost, damaged or stolen on your vacation, you might also risk losing one of your most precious possessions: photos encompassing years of memories. If you don’t regularly back up your photos to online storage or a hard drive, take the time to do so before your vacation. And to keep all your new memories safe while you are traveling, consider activating automatic photo backups on your phone. 
 
Pro tip: We recommend using the mail.com Cloud to automatically back up photos and videos on your phone. This function is integrated in our Mail App. For instructions on how to get started, see: Automatic photo upload with the mail.com mobile apps

Write down important numbers before you go

When you are preparing for a trip, it’s always a good idea to take a moment and jot down important numbers of family members, etc. who you would need to contact in an emergency. Otherwise you’ll have no way to get in touch if you can’t access your phone’s address book.

Another number to check is your International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. This is an important identifier if you need to file a police report about a stolen phone. You’ll find the IMEI in your phone’s settings, or by typing *#06#. It is also a good idea to write down your cellular network provider’s helpline number so you can call and block or cancel your SIM card if your phone is stolen.

Update your operating system and apps to the latest version

Keeping your phone up to date is always important to your security: Updates are how developers patch vulnerabilities and roll out new security features. If you like to ignore updates, you might be leaving yourself open to hacking attacks and/or viruses. This is not something you want to be dealing with during your relaxation time, so make sure your device and apps are up to date before you go.
 
Pro tip: For more information on the importance of keeping your phone apps up to date, check out our explainer: Software updates: Why they are important to your security

mail.com wishes you safe travels this summer! And if you still don’t have a free email account from mail.com, you can sign up for free here.

Images: 1&1/GettyImages

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