I’d love to say that I turn off my phone and leave my laptop at home when I vacation, but that would be ridiculously untrue, considering that I wrote part of this article during a New Year’s trip to Chicago. Love it or hate it, technology has become an essential part of modern travel. We use our phones to board airplanes, find restaurants, and document our journeys — and along the way, most of us make simple mistakes that could have significant consequences.
Here are a few tech blunders that most travelers make regularly, along with suggestions for what to do differently.
1. Buying The Wrong Travel Adapters
Travel adapters allow you to plug your devices into the local outlets easily, and they’re essential gear if you’re traveling internationally. However, they’re not all the same. Make sure that you’re choosing an adapter that works with the outlets in your destination country; avoid the “universal” adapters, as they tend to be large, heavy, and prone to falling out of the outlet.
Remember, travel adapters convert plugs, but they don’t always convert voltages. Many countries have mains voltages of 220, 230, or 240 volts, which can fry some American electronics. Pick up a voltage converter for any device that requires 120 volts (the standard voltage of electronics sold in North America).
Another mistake is buying too many travel adapters. If you’re sure that you’ll actually need a travel adapter, consider bringing one or two along with a power strip. That way, you can power all of your devices without overloading your luggage.
2. Connecting To Public Wi-Fi Hotspots
Hackers can use free public Wi-Fi connections to distribute harmful software or to bait users into clicking dangerous links. This is true everywhere, by the way. I don’t even connect to public Wi-Fi at American airports unless I’m sure that it’s trustworthy. After all, airports are common targets for cyber criminals.
To stay safe, prevent your devices from automatically connecting to available Wi-Fi. Use mobile data where possible, and if you do connect to a public hot spot, check with a business owner, airport employee, or other knowledgeable person before actually connecting. Don’t enter passwords or other sensitive info while you’re on public connections, and make sure that your antivirus software is up to date.
3. Paying For Expensive Mobile Data Connections
Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll probably want mobile data access during your trip. The good news is that AT&T, Verizon, and other providers offer international travel plans to keep you connected; the bad news is that many of those plans are fairly expensive. AT&T, for instance, offers a $10 per day International Day Pass, while Verizon offers a similarly priced TravelPass.
If you’ll be traveling for several weeks, international mobile data coverage can quickly eat up your vacation budget. I used local SIM cards during my trips to Mexico and Japan, so I paid about $20 for a month of consistent coverage in each country. Research your destination to find out whether you’ve got similar options.
There’s one important caveat: You can only use international SIM cards if your phone’s unlocked. Provided that you’ve paid for your phone in full, you can ask your provider to unlock your phone, but you should do this before you take your trip.
4. Trusting Your Phone As Your Only Translator
Tools like Google Translate can be extremely useful when you don’t speak the language of your destination country, but no automatic translator works perfectly.
I traveled to Japan recently with a friend who has a shellfish allergy. During a trip to a restaurant, he attempted to use Google Translate to tell the waiter that he couldn’t eat shellfish, but something was off with the translation tool. We learned later that my friend was repeatedly telling the confused waiter, “I won’t pay.” (Note: We did, in fact, pay.)
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use translation tools, but don’t expect them to work perfectly. Consider picking up a cheap guidebook with common phrases, and if you have the time, learn a few words in the language of your destination country before you go. Even if you only develop a basic familiarity with the language, you’ll be much less likely to commit an embarrassing faux pas.
5. Not Backing Up Your Photos
Of all of the mistakes on this list, this is potentially the most serious. Disasters happen — you might drop your phone or lose it, your laptop’s hard drive could fail, or you could lose all of your luggage due to a baggage-claim mishap. You can replace your stuff (and if you’ve got travel insurance, that’s a fairly easy process), but you can’t replace those photos you took during the trip of a lifetime.
Back up everything. Set up an automatic cloud backup (for instance, iCloud, Dropbox, or Amazon Drive) and sync your photos as frequently as you can. Most importantly, check your backups; open up your cloud storage and make sure that your backups are actually occurring.
If you’re traveling without a steady internet connection, transfer your photos to your laptop every day. Consider copying them to memory cards or burning them to CD-Rs when you get back home. If data is important, you need to have more than one copy, and that’s especially true if the data is irreplaceable.
Ultimately, if you spend time thinking about tech before heading out on your trip, you’re doing better than the vast majority of travelers. Try to plan for unexpected circumstances and don’t take anything for granted. With a bit of foresight, you can travel with peace of mind (and with all of your awesome gadgets).