Ask any frequent traveler what they cannot leave home without and you will receive a variety of responses ranging from a pillow to a water bottle. Ask any security professional what they will not travel without and their list will include easy-to-use gadgets, mobile applications, and old-school devices all geared toward enhancing safety and even saving lives. With the summer travel season in full swing, the travel risk management experts at K2 Intelligence are recommending that the following items be added to all travelers’ toolkits.
The Smart Traveler and Mobile Passport Smartphone Apps
Smart Traveler and Mobile Passport are both free U.S. government agency authorized apps that together provide assistance during every phase of travel—before departure, while abroad, and during re-entry. The Smart Traveler app, operated by the U.S. Department of State, provides official country information including entry requirements, local laws, safety and security concerns, and contact information for the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. The app also offers users the opportunity to enroll in the Safe Traveler Enrollment Program, which both informs the program members of travel alerts in countries they are visiting and also informs the local U.S. Embassy of their presence in a country in the event an incident occurs. The app is filled with useful information, such as which prescription medications are illegal in different countries, how the recent TSA scrutiny of powders in travelers’ carry-on bags will impact re-entry, and local and foreign customs restrictions.
The Mobile Passport app, authorized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), allows U.S. citizens to skip the paper declaration form and long customs line upon re-entry into the U.S. at 25 airports and one port. Usage is as easy as creating a profile before your trip, answering a few questions about your trip, and submitting said information to CBP upon entry back in the United States. While you don’t receive benefits when passing through security—like you would with Global Entry—the customs line for Mobile Passport entry is often shorter!
A Mobile Hotspot
Unless you’re headed to Patagonia for an off-the-grid backpacking adventure, the need to continue to be connected to clients, coworkers, friends, and family never ends, even when traveling. Connecting to public WiFi such as free airport WiFi, café WiFi, or hotel WiFi can be a dangerous proposition—opening up you, and possibly those you are communicating with, to data compromise and other cybersecurity risks. A mobile WiFi hotspot can be an investment well worth the cost for cyber peace of mind.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Sometimes connecting to public WiFi is unavoidable when traveling—such as when your personal hotspot runs out of battery or has no service, or you realize you accidentally forgot to pay your rent and must quickly log on to your banking site. In instances such as these, connecting your device to a VPN service provides an extra layer of security when your device communicates with the network. Without the use of a VPN, your banking credentials can easily be retrieved by a threat actor who is purposefully sitting on the network to read the communications being transmitted. Using a VPN encrypts your data and makes your communications and other online information very difficult for that threat actor to read. Before departing, be sure to review your itinerary to determine if your destination is one of the countries who have prohibited or restricted the use of VPNs.
A Data Blocker
When you plug in your phone via USB to your computer, your computer automatically commences a data flow—your phone’s data is backed up, your photos are downloaded, and so on. The same data flow occurs whenever you plug in using a publicly available USB port (e.g., airports, car services). Always opt for wall-socket charging when possible, but when USB ports are your only charging option, secure your information by using a data blocker—a small piece of hardware that looks like an extender and is no larger than a thumb drive—which blocks the transfer of data, limiting your risk of viruses (such as spyware and ransomware) and data loss. Further, when connecting to a vehicle (ride share or rental), whether it be through a physical USB connection or via Bluetooth, remember that while the data flow allows you to use hands-free dialing and listen to your favorite Spotify playlist in a rental car, information like your GPS coordinates, contacts, and basic identifiers are stored on the car’s hard drive. Before returning your rental car, always delete your personal information.
This low-tech, old-school piece of hardware fortifies your hotel room and provides an extra layer of security and peace of mind when sleeping. While most hotel rooms are secure, offering deadbolts and chains, the use of a simple rubber doorstop may help stop an intruder—or at least provide you with extra time to call for help or find another means of exit. And always consider all access points to the room: Is there an adjoining room? A balcony door? Strategically placed doorstops will often deter criminals from using these more vulnerable points of entry.
Here are a few more of our favorite tips for traveling.
- Stay apprised of local news by downloading mobile apps from local news outlets. They’ll push breaking news to your phone so you can plan your days around the occasional local transportation strike or demonstration.
- Keep a physical, paper copy of your passport near you. On the back, note the U.S. Embassy’s location and other emergency contact numbers. Store that same information on your phone.
- Wear a wristband with information such as your blood type, medical conditions, and allergies. This information will save time—and possibly even your life.