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Thursday, 15 January 2015

How To Keep Your Gadgets Safe In Public

While you unfortunately can’t prevent every theft while traveling, there are definitely ways to make you and your gear less attractive to criminals. In some cases, these few steps may be all you need to do to make someone opt for an easier target instead.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

The best way to avoid having your expensive electronics stolen is to not advertise that you've got them at all. Keep your phone out of sight as much as possible when you’re in public places. If you really need to look at it (to check directions, for example, or answer a call), try to find a nearby shop or other semi-private space to do so. Keep any expensive items that you’re carrying on the side of your body furthest from the street, where they can’t be grabbed by someone on a motorcycle. That includes your bag if you’re wearing it on one shoulder.

Even when you’re dining with friends or sitting in a cafe, keep your electronics off the table. While you’re focused on your meal, friends or project, it’s very easy for someone to quietly walk away with your gear. If you’re going to keep valuable items in a bag under the table, though, be sure to wrap a strap or handle around your chair leg for a little security. If you’d prefer a technological solution, install Best Phone Security (iPhone) or Don't Touch My Droid (Android) -- or consider buying a nio Tag -- to sound a loud alarm if your phone gets moved without your permission.

When you’re on the move, especially in crowded spaces, keep the zips locked on your daypack to deter pickpockets. While standing on trains and buses, keep your bag in front of you with the zips where you can see them.
Keep it Simple (and Ugly)

Speaking of bags, the older and more beaten-up it is, the better -- fancy brand-name bags just advertise that you have something worth stealing. Instead, opt for a somewhat dirty, weathered daypack or similar. If it looks like the kind of thing that you might have been using to carry textbooks to college for the last few years, that’s ideal. The same approach applies to laptop, tablet and smartphone cases — keep them as plain as possible.

Lock it Up

While I prefer not to leave my electronics in my room when out exploring, it’s often not practical to carry everything around with me. Unless you have a large safe or luggage locker (that can be locked with your own padlock) available, it's hard to protect against a determined thief. Although metal luggage cages like those from Pacsafe can provide some comfort, they’re also heavy, bulky and need to be locked to an immovable object for real effectiveness.

Instead, I just choose my accommodation with some degree of care, paying a little more if necessary, and have luggage with lockable zips. It won’t stop somebody with a knife or razor blade from getting into my bag if they really want to, but it will stop a casual thief from just opening it up to see what they can find.

When All Else Fails

Despite your best efforts, there’s always a chance that your electronics will get damaged, lost or stolen. Having a comprehensive backup plan deals with the data loss (which is arguably the most important), and there’s always insurance for replacing the physical equipment.

Be sure to check the fine print, however — many travel insurance policies have low limits on electronic items by default, only fully covering them if they were specified (at additional cost) when the policy was purchased. Additionally, you’ll probably need serial numbers and/or proof of purchase to be able to make a claim, so be sure to take photos of receipts and save serial numbers in a document or email online.

With everything else that goes on each day when you're traveling, it’s easy to forget about your security until something happens -- by which point it’s already too late. Being alert in public places and taking a few precautions will go a long way towards ensuring that your gear stays firmly in your possession.

Read more about keeping your data safe and avoiding identity theft in the rest of this series on travel security: