Getting ready for that getaway has never been easier thanks to the Internet. Booking your reservations online for hotels, camping sites, tours, auto rentals, and museums is just the beginning. The Internet provides so many ways to optimize your time once you've reached your destination, too. Of course, there are also missteps and mistakes you'll want to avoid online that can put a real damper on your vacation and jeopardize your safety and security.
Make Planning Fun
Whether you visit the website for the park of your dreams, download podcasts of walking tours of ancient cities, or lock in dinner reservations at that hard-to-get-into Manhattan hotspot, the Internet makes travel so much more enjoyable. You can view a virtual tour or check out photos, videos, and travelogues. Read hotel reviews on websites before making your selection. Download street maps and walking tours to your smartphone. You can even purchase apps to translate key local phrases or to check conversion rates for foreign currency. There's no doubt that technology makes travel much better. I was recently in a foreign country and had to drive to an unfamiliar location. My smartphone's built in maps and directions were so easy to use!
Part of the travel experience is spontaneity, so try not to book every single minute of your trip. Leave some free time for things that come up, or for just doing nothing with the family. When at your destination, check out the online versions of local newspapers and event sites to learn about festivals, concerts, and tourist discounts. Be sure to plan, but leave some room for spontaneity.
Don't Leave Breadcrumbs
So you're using the Internet for planning, but did you ever think that some of your research may tip off the bad guys? For example, let's say you post a few questions about specific travel destinations in an online travel forum or blog. Are you leaving enough information for someone to figure out where you're going and when you're leaving and returning? It's very common for people to post a query like, "We're going to southern Italy for the week of July 4th. What are the must-sees?" Other accidental clues to your personal whereabouts and "whenabouts" might indicate a specific hotel, when you're checking in and checking out, and exactly what you'll be doing on particular days or nights. We see so many online posts like that, it's easy to believe it's normal to do it and safe as well. It's not!
Why might this information be valuable to anyone but you? Well, for starters, someone smart enough to piece together your itinerary and activities will know when your home is unoccupied, making it a perfect target for burglary. Or they may use your known absence to impersonate you and commit identity theft. There are tales of crooks noticing planned trips on social networks and taking advantage by scheduling break-ins during the victim's vacation. Or they could start taking over your accounts by filing a postal change of address form and intercepting the verification form that gets sent out.
The solution is to not be specific about who you are and exactly where you're going. You also don't want to divulge your exact dates of travel. Too many times I've seen people using their real names or personal email addresses while posting their planned travel dates and destinations. If you post questions about travel in an online travel forum, don't be specific about your dates or hotels. Make sure nothing in your online name makes it possible to find you in the real world. Don't use the same online name as in other accounts that might give more clues to your real-world identity. When you post inquiries and tips to other travelers, make sure your identity is shielded and everything you write is general enough so you won't jeopardize your personal security. If someone on a message board offers to help you and asks you to email or telephone them, be guarded and careful about what you tell them. Most likely they are simply being helpful and generous with their travel experience, but there are enough online crooks that it pays to be slightly paranoid about any cyber stranger.
Be on Guard
Be extra cautious about documentation that contains your personal information, too. A dropped boarding pass may enable someone to engage in identity theft. Cybercriminals have demonstrated how easily the limited information on a boarding pass stub (full name and frequent flier number) can provide access to a traveler's profile on an airline's website. Often, those profiles include home and business addresses, telephone numbers, and even passport or credit card data.
Offline, limit the information you put on your luggage, too. It's not necessary to tape your name and address on your bags. Don't even include your home information. I'd recommend a first initial, last name, and a cell phone number or email address only. The airlines can use that to find you, and it's not enough for a criminal to determine your address and do damage while you're gone.
Hit the Road Safely
The ability to make travel plans on the Internet saves you time, money, and a lot of hassle. But just remember that the information you share online can lead you onto roads you just don't want to travel down!
Remember to be vague about your itinerary, and don't let your online entries identify exactly who you are, where you live, and when you're leaving home. As long as you don't get careless with the information you're sharing online, the Internet is a great place to plan your vacation.