Travel Tech
Cyber cafe, Dschang, Cameroon

Not/not where you want to access your bank account.

I have two questions for you:

  1. How much tech gear do you travel with? A laptop? Tablet? Camera? Phone? e-Reader?
  2. Have you looked inside a cyber café lately?

They’re not the kind of place I’d want to use to broadcast all my personal information. With smartphones and tablets getting lighter and more portable than ever, the connectivity and communication benefits of taking your own portable device drastically outweighs the minor weight addition, even for light travel. Plus, the smaller all these devices get, the easier it is to secure them in your room while you’re out exploring.

Let’s start with devices:

Phone:

I have a dedicated travel phone: I kept my previous phone, had the provider unlock it, then I wiped it, reinstalled an OS and now use it as my travel phone. I don’t use it at home and have minimal personal data on it. I swap out SIM cards wherever I go for local service (and no overages). Local rules are different, make sure you get a 3G (or better) SIM card.  In some locations, you can go to an internet boutique and buy a SIM after filling out a form – they will usually want a copy of your passport.  There may be some configuration involved, but that can be resolved with a quick google search (which you should do before you leave the country).

Computer:

Currently I roll with an ASUS tablet loaded with Windows 8 as my main laptop for traveling or in cafés (like the one I’m in right now). Keyboard is bluetooth and mouse is USB, which is my usual setup when I need to work. Otherwise when I need to go barebones, it’s just the tablet itself. All my info is on it, so if ever out of sight, it is under lock and key.  For the higher security threat areas, I describe my previous setup below.

Gear for the paranoid:

If you are super security conscious, or traveling to China/North Korea on business, you might want to up your cyber security game.

  • Dummy phone:

    For those with unlimited funds, why not buy a clean phone with no contact info or data stored on it just for the trip? Wipe and recycle afterwards or buy a burner for each trip. Pro tip: Only store the contact numbers of those you’ll need while traveling.  Also, do not sync this phone with your personal email accounts, and don’t access bank information, etc.

  • Dummy laptop:

    Depending on your budget, buy a new cheapy laptop or tablet, then wipe it and recycle it after your trip.  Previously I traveled with an ASUS EEE that I would load up with a free OS like Ubuntu or Linux Mint before the trip, then wipe with DBAN (Duke’s Boot and Nuke) at the end of the trip, ready for a fresh install before I hit the road again.

Physical security for your gear:

  • A cable lock will keep your laptop from walking away at a cafe.
  • Use a Secure, locking bag to store your gear while you’re away from the hotel.
    • Alternatively, keep your gear in sight at all times.
    • Hotel security can access your hotel safe at any time, or will allow local services to access your room. Secure your gear in the room or keep it with you.
  • Use a strong password on your computer and phone, lock the screen whenever you walk away.
  • Laptop tracking software: Prey (click here for my full review) or Lookout (another full review here) will track, locate and disable your device remotely if you lose it.
  • Backup any important data before you travel – take only the files you’ll need.

Got your gear figured out? Great! But there’s still all those 1s and 0s floating all your information out into the world. This begs the question: How do we keep our DATA safe while on the road?  A question we will answer in Pt 2 of our security series.

Traveling with tech presents some challenges, but for every challenge there is usually a driven entrepreneur with a great solution. Keeping your gear safe while traveling will become second nature once you put some best practices into place.  For more on the extreme end, Tim Ferriss has a great interview with Marc Goodman, an FBI futurist who has some excellent tips on keeping your data and gear safe from serious hackers plus some low-tech kidnapping schemes going on in Central America.

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