How Do You Protect Your Privacy When You Are Traveling?

Updated on 6/28/20

Problem scenario
You want to travel and protect your privacy.  You use a cell phone, smart phone, and/or laptop like anyone else.  What can you do to enhance or preserve your privacy?

There are three parts to this solution.  The first part involves items you would bring with you.  The second part is for items that help secure your home when you are away.  The third part is a list of external articles to help educate yourself about privacy.

Part 1:  Products and Services to Protect Your Laptop

Here are 18 items to bring with you when you travel:

1.  A laptop lock.  Smash and grabs are easy for a thief.  A laptop lock can deter this.

2.  A security camera.  Set up an EZVIZ camera with a WiFi connection to watch your hotel room.  This one has a motion detector ability to make playback review a snap; if you are traveling by yourself, you will know when there should movement in your room.  There is a timeline in the Ezviz application to quickly see when activity was captured.  A web browser or an Android app allow you to view the playback.

3.  A USB battery bank.  If you do not trust the hotel to keep the electricity going, you may want to purchase a travel battery for your EZVIZ camera.  These battery banks can power a trusted WiFi source.  While traveling, you may find USB charging stations in a number of convenient locations.  But beware! CNN recommends that you do not use public charging stations to protect your data from being stolen.

4.  A VPN tunnel (sometimes referred to as a proxy service or an IP masker) as some WiFi networks are not trustworthy.  Three options include NordVPN, PureVPN, and VyprVPN. But there are many different choices you can make. To pick the best one for you, your needs and budget, you may read one or all of these six links:

5.  A comprehensive anti-virus with software firewall for your laptop. For just the anti-virus, we have had a good experience with ESET. ESET makes antiviruses for Linux (but usually you do not need one for *nix OSes). ESET is available for Macs and Windows too.

6.  Complementary anti-spyware application (e.g., SUPER AntiSpwyare).  One anti-malware vendor is not enough for Windows devices (e.g., you need something beyond #5 above).  We recommend the professional edition of SUPER AntiSpwyare to save time over the long run.  But to save money the link above will give you the option to use the free version.

7.  Vaultz bags for your USB sticks.  These are good for plane trips if you fall asleep and want peace of mind.  

8.  A Doberman bag protector alarm (SE-0304OR).  These sound very loud if they are physically moved.  They are smaller than an orange and can be hidden in a suitcase bag on top of something valuable.  Some housekeepers at even fancy hotels are not trustworthy.  The sound is so loud that the batteries get drained almost immediately.  It is not overly useful in many  situations.  However for certain situations (e.g., putting your belongings in a storage facility without power or when you need to quickly leave a hotel room due to a policy with the hotel when your room is being serviced by the maid), it can be another line of defense. 

9.  The Ghostery plugin on your web browser.  

10.  A JetPack or hotspot with a reputable ISP.  Use an internet service you can trust.  Verizon is supposed to have a better subpoena policy than AT&T for notifying subscribers.  Verizon can have better coverage for some remote parts of the U.S. 

11. A money-stash side bag.  Like holsters these can be worn under clothing.  They allow you to keep your hotel and car keys and/or precious USB sticks with you if you go jogging or running.  Outdoor activity can make valuables drop out of your exercise clothes pockets.  This one that is linked is machine washable; a more affordable nylon money belt which is like a mini-fanny pack is probably washable too.  If you want to bring tissue packets and wear pocketless shorts or sweat pants, this allows you to keep things close-by when you leave your room.  It can be nerve-racking remembering times when you left your keys unattended.  Some fitness centers allow trusting visitors to hang keys unprotected in the open near the door.  People who do not want their cars stolen or otherwise want to prevent nosy intruders from going through their cars may not want to use such key racks.  A thief or unscrupulous nosy person could grab the keys without permission from the owner and identify the car using a button on the key chain to deactivate the alarm.  Often a sound will be audible and the headlights will flash upon pushing a button to unlock the car.  If you do not have a car alarm, the parts often cost less than $70 when purchased online.  A car alarm is advisable for protecting your privacy when you are on a road trip.  Vehicular break-ins are common in certain metropolitan areas.

12.  A headlamp.  If inclement weather causes an electrical blackout, you may need to put away certain papers quickly.  You may also be in danger by not having good visibility of what is at your feet or what is in your surroundings.  Being in an unknown building with different electronics plugged in can set you up for a temporary room power outage.  Some hotels have circuit breakers that will trip unexpectedly because guests plug in appliances at their disposal without knowing the limitations of the building.  A useful way of keeping your hands free while protecting your personal belongings in the event of unexpected darkness is to have a headlamp like this.  Quickly finding your way around a dark motel may be the difference between your preserving your privacy and protecting your personal security.  Opportunistic thugs frequent affordable motels in expensive big cities.  Another benefit is to see if you forgot something under a bed or behind a credenza.  Expect the unexpected when traveling; do not be dependent on others if/when there is shortage of flashlights.

13.  A locking suitcase that can be brought on to a plane as a carry-on.  At 9 x 21 x 14 inches, it is virtually the biggest suitcase that you can get and still be allowed as a carry-on for US flights.  Keeping an item as a carry-on allows you to keep an eye on your belongings and not get separated from your private items.  Please note that airlines may have different size limitations for luggage that is brought into the cabin.  The FAA regulations do not always govern every carrier.  Sometimes the airlines can be flexible with their own policies.

14.  A locking briefcase that is smaller than a suitcase may also be helpful.  The aluminum exterior would be difficult to cut.  It does not have the capacity of the suitcase above that is still allowable as a carry on however.  In the Silicon Valley, professionals do not dress formally when they conduct business.  They wear backpacks, shorts, and sandals.  For most companies in the Silicon Valley, it is inappropriate to go to an interview in a suit-and-tie.  Read that again: wearing a suit-and-tie to a software start-up interview in the Bay Area will usually reduce your chances of being hired.  You may not want to have a leather briefcase because many metropolitan businesses have officers or employees who support animal rights.

15.   Prepaid cell phones.  You may want to purchase them with cash from a retailer in person.  If you are not concerned about being traced to the point of purchase, you can buy them from Amazon.

16.   This item category is lightweight. Use 
or as your search engines.  They are known for being better with privacy than Google.

17. To avoid blackmail attempts, be sure to cover the camera of your laptop when you are not using it. To read more, see this external posting entitled Why Is Everyone Covering up Their Laptop Cameras?. Webcam hacking is a problem; if you want to learn more see this posting.

18. You may want to bring your laptop with you when you leave the hotel room. Here is a bag that can hold laptops.

19. For your online passwords, you should change them regularly. To make strong passwords (that are difficult to remember) and change them frequently, you may need a password manager. Roboform is one such option that can be installed on a smartphone or a laptop.

Bonus:  For protecting yourself when you make a purchase online, you may want to read this article.

Part 2:  Privacy at Home When You Are Away
For your home you may want to purchase these items (rather than be locked into a home security service subscription with a 36-month commitment):

COOWOO ST30 Professional Wireless Smart Home Security Alarm System DIY Kit

Maximus Smart Home Security Outdoor Light & Camera

Nest Protect Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Alarm (great if you have pets)

Ring Wi-Fi Enabled Video Doorbell

Civil or criminal subpoenas often request bit-for-bit backups of USB sticks that pertain to a subject related to the  litigation or investigation.  If a hacker takes control of your computer, your devices may be the subject of a subpoena because of the damage he inflicted to others.  You  may want to have extra USB drives to ensure sequestration based on subject.  A hostile investigator or attorney will use any  facts he/she can against you.  You may want to purchase a USB splitter such as this with ample USB sticks to keep your files  segregated in case you are subpoeanaed.  You may want to label them to keep them separate.

Part 3: Learn about the Law
While the laws are only part of privacy (some aspects of privacy are best addressed using a different or preventative way), it is advisable to learn about the laws of your state. You may want to purchase a Nolo product to begin to learn about the law:

If your privacy has been violated or you have specific questions about the laws in a given state before you travel, you may want to hire a personal injury attorney (but please note that we do not warrant external websites or third party companies such as individual attorneys):

Part 4: Educate Yourself about Privacy in General
You may want to read these articles:​

October 11, 2020 update: This external article is about an Apple-Google project that deals with COVID-19 and privacy.

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