Tricks for Traveling with Your ElectronicsMichelle V. Rafter
When William Sparkes goes on vacation, he takes all his electronic gadgetry with him -- but you’d never know it. The Eau Claire, Wis. man keeps his laptop, cell phone, digital camera and DVD player within reach at all times. The trick, Sparkes says, is hiding everything inside a special canvas bag. The bag resembles an ordinary backpack, but is specifically made for carrying electronic gear.
“No one would ever guess we have $4,500 in camera, computer, and cell phone equipment in there,” says Sparkes, who used the bag recently on a trip to Croatia with his wife and 18-month-old son.
When it comes to traveling with electronics, finding a strategy for safeguarding your gadgets begins before you hit the road. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your stuff is safe during your next vacation.
Before You Go
Create an inventory. Start by making a master list of the electronics you plan to take. Next, take photos and make copies of the original purchase receipts. All this information could help you and your insurance agent calculate costs and replacement values should anything be lost or stolen, according to Marie Dodds, director of public affairs for AAA Oregon/Idaho, the automobile travel service.
Label everything. Put your name on all electronics. Engraving is the best method and many local police departments offer the service at no cost to residents, Dodds says.
Check employer laptop policies. If you’re planning to use your laptop to get a little work done on the plane or poolside, check your employer’s policy for putting company data on your personal laptop. If it is allowed, consider encrypting important files and storing them on a flash drive or USB memory stick that you can remove and carry with you.
Make back ups. Copy documents, contact lists and other important information so if your laptop, iPhone or camera is lost or stolen, you’ve got back ups at home. Sparkes, the Wisconsin dad, synchs his phone with his work computer and backs up his contacts on an Excel spreadsheet.
Protect sensitive information. It’s not wise to keep credit card numbers, bank account PINs or other financial information on a laptop or cell phone. But if you do -- and a lot of people do -- disguise it, Dodds says. One example: instead of putting your ATM PIN number under your bank’s name, store it under “a random word or phrase people would have a hard time figuring out,” she says.
Take extras. Don’t count on buying batteries, chargers or memory cards where you’re going, especially if it’s somewhere remote. Bring anything and everything you may need, including adapters for plugging multiple devices into one electrical outlet -- a must for families with one cell phone per person.
On the Road
Don’t stow electronics in checked bags. Jonathan Hightower, a Dallas resident, learned the hard way not to pack portable electronics in checked bags. On a flight to Seattle several years back, he had a digital camera stolen out of his suitcase. “Luckily, it was on my way to a cruise in Alaska, instead of on the way back, so the camera was empty,” Hightower says. “I ended up spending $26 to buy two disposable cameras on the ship.”
Keep things hidden. Don’t keep electronics inside your car or hotel room where they’re begging to be stolen. That goes for power cords and adapter cords too. “Don’t leave anything lying around that even suggests you have something,” Dodds says. Jay Bryant, a New Jersey husband and father of two teenage daughters, books hotels with in-room safes whenever possible to lock up the laptop, cameras, GPS, iPod Touch, video recorder and other gadgets his family brings on vacation. To be safe, “We back up anything we can prior to the trip,” Bryant says.
Keep things close. Use a high-tech homing device. One such system consists of miniature transmitters that hook onto cell phones, cameras or other small gadgets and sound an alarm if they move too far away from a master unit that can be slipped into a pocket or attached to car keys.
Be inconspicuous. Peter Korchnak, a Portland, Ore., marketing executive, uses dull-colored carrying cases to avoid drawing attention to his electronic gadgets and credits this strategy for never having had anything lost or stolen.
Upload information to the Web. Sparkes, the Wisconsinite, pays $20 a year to upload pictures to a major photo website whenever he wants -- a perfect way to back up vacation snapshots from the road. “In Croatia, we found Internet cafes and uploaded each day’s photos and burned CDs just in case, plus it was nice to let people at home share our adventures,” he says.
Use passwords. The password protection on laptops and smart phones can be a pain if you want to log on quickly to check email or send a text message, but it’s there for a reason. If the device is lost or stolen, a password could prevent your personal information from falling into the wrong hands, says Dodds, the AAA spokeswoman. When choosing a password, don’t go for the obvious choices like a pet’s name, pick something more obscure, Dodds says.
Responding to a Loss
You can take all the necessary precautions and still lose something or have it taken from you. If that happens, don’t wait to get home to report it. Contact the local police, airport, hotel staff or other responsible parties as soon as possible. “You never know, things get recovered all the time and you’ll have a better shot at getting your stuff back,” Dodds says. Call your insurance agent right away too so they can get started on a claim, Dodds says.
Heidi Titchenal took that advice to heart during a trip to a national park near her home in Anchorage, Alaska. While she and her family were at dinner, someone broke into their room and stole her 8- and 12-year-old’s Nintendo GameBoys. Titchenal got the police and hotel management involved immediately and averted possible vacation disaster. Says Titchenal: “The hotel wrote a check and we were able to replace the GameBoys.”
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