USA TODAY’s Elizabeth Weise provides a low-tech explanation of a high-tech tool we use every day: the virtual private network.
Summer has arrived, and millions of people will take time off and fly to exotic destinations around the world. They will seek out beaches, lakes, hotels, rentals, cars, planes, trains, restaurants, museums – and badly needed Vitamin D.
As you book your vacation, put consumer tech to good use. For example, hidden cameras are a concern in hotel rooms and vacation rentals.
An unlocked smartphone lets you access websites and apps almost anywhere. This can be very empowering, whether you’re a solo traveler, a family, or a tour group. (If you’re feeling flexible and adventurous, you can also find trusted travel companions to help you split costs.)
So as you put together your jet-setting itinerary, here are some hacks to make your journey even smoother. While you’re at it, you may want to see the new security document requirements that will go into effect in only a year or so.
1 – Mobile Passport
Nobody likes to wait in line. Especially at the airport. Worse with young children. Worst at an international border, where a stoic official scrutinizes your documents.
Mobile Passport was invented to expedite this process. After all, border security doesn’t like long lines any more than we do, and the less time agents have to waste on good citizens going about their business, the more time they can dedicate to weeding out suspicious characters.
Just download the app, enter relevant information, and you’ll end up with the special barcode. This app entitles you to skip the long lines; for families traveling together, you can enter all their data at once – including passport numbers and the length and purpose of your stay.
If this sounds too good to be true, don’t worry: It was TSA that helped develop it.
Google Flights is a great site for seeking good prices on airline tickets. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)
2 – Google Flights
Finding online deals on airfare is an art form, and once you’ve mastered this sudoku-like skill, you may find yourself browsing flights just for the fun of it.
Google Flights has become the reigning champion of online booking, partly because it’s information is so comprehensive, and partly because its price tracker helps you land the right deal at the right time. Enter any destination in the world, plus a reasonable date range, and Google will keep you posted about price trends and dips. You can also use its digital map to spot bargains and get ideas.
That’s not all, of course. There are lots of ways to use Google to your vacation-planning advantage.
Avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots, if you can, or at least use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) and refrain from typing in passwords. (Photo: HP)
3 – Use a VPN and beware of public Wi-Fi
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: do not use public Wi-Fi for anything you don’t want to be exposed on the internet, except in emergencies. Any free signal has the potential to be a cesspool of hackers and viruses, especially when you’re globetrotting. Most of us seek out Wi-Fi in places like airports and hotels, but unless the signal is vetted and secure, you could be inviting trouble.
Still, you will probably have to log onto the internet somewhere, so your best defense is a virtual private network or VPN. Such networks are inexpensive and easy to use, and they fortify you against roving cyber-criminals.
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4 – Scan important documents and save them to a cloud
For years, travelers photocopied their passports and stowed them away in special wallets, just in case their most important identification was filched. Now, you can just snap a digital photo of your passport and save it to a cloud; that way, you can easily prove to the local embassy that you are who you say you are. Replacing passports is a pain, but embassies do wonders to help undocumented travelers on the road.
You can also save photos of your credit cards, health insurance, and other vital materials. Pickpockets can ruin a vacation, but with your card information safely available, you have the option to book an early flight home (before you cancel cards and alert your bank to any unexpected charges).
If you use an iPhone, the Notes app is perfect. Check out an insider trick to scan documents.
5 – Set up Find My Friends on your phone or Life360
Find my Friends raised a lot of eyebrows when it first hit the market, but millions of Apple users have benefitted from this location-tracking app, and the software has apparently saved lives.
There are many apps that are designed to pinpoint loved ones, such as Phone Tracker and Life360. These are especially handy for young travelers equipped with smartphones.
Since these apps depend on an active signal, they are most effective in your home country or in a place where you have secured a Sim card.
6 – Come up with a code word that only your family knows
This little trick is as old as time, and it’s useful in everyday life as well as on family vacations. Parents and children can pick a “password.” In the classic scenario, a stranger approaches a child and says, “Your parents asked me to drive you home.” If that stranger doesn’t know the password, the child should seek out an adult. This works particularly well on the road, where people and places are unfamiliar, and dangers are harder to identify.
Now that password can be extended to cell phones. If children feel threatened or worried about their environment, they can text a password to parents – which means nothing to the people around them – and covertly request help.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.
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