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Smartphone on vacation | Safety and data savings checklist

You can do everything with it these days, from app and navigation to internet banking. A smartphone is indispensable when traveling. Almost everyone therefore takes a smartphone abroad, but does so without making any preparations in terms of security and data savings. Before you know it, someone will have access to your banking apps and you will be through your data bundle within two days, while this can easily be prevented.

In this article I will help you become aware of the risks of public Wi-Fi and give you tips to save (a lot of) data. Good preparation is half the job!

1. Spare phone, SIM card and random reader

Of course, you can always buy a new phone when you're on the go. But don't underestimate what you do on your phone these days. Internet banking, TAN codes, managing credit cards, trading cryptocurrencies (useful if passive income), mining government, tax returns, DigiD. All very privacy-sensitive matters that often require 'two-factor authentication' as extra security.

Blocked debit and credit cards

The fact that an unknown person may have access to all those sensitive items after theft is of course already very annoying, but you can't do anything yourself anymore. No debit and credit cards as they are blocked and no money transfer apps. So double stress. And that is not easy to solve remotely.

A spare phone with all important apps already activated is recommended when you travel
A spare phone with all important apps already activated is recommended when you travel

internet banking

Sending a new SIM card to Timbuktu can take a while… To reactivate internet banking on your new phone, you usually need your random reader again. Other banking apps ask you to scan a QR code on the new phone with your old phone to transfer the data.

Do you want to use DigiD? Even then you need your old phone to scan the QR code. To get to your Google Authentication 2FA keys, you must have your backup data with you, or have access to your old phone.

In short: you watch helplessly if you are not prepared and you spend days or weeks trying to solve it all again. Something that overshadows your entire trip or vacation.

spare phone

You can avoid all this possible misery by simply taking a spare smartphone with you. An old smartphone where everything is already installed and with which you have access to all of the above. Turn it off (fully charged) and put it in the bottom of your luggage, then it is always ready-to-go when needed.

In addition, it is also useful for longer journeys to have a spare sim card to have with you and forget you too random reader not. You never know when you're going to need it.

2. Data bundles and SIM cards

Without a data bundle you are completely dependent in the country of destination on free wifi networks, about which a lot can be said in terms of speed and safety (more about this in point 5).

Buy a SIM card

In order not to be dependent on risky, free Wi-Fi networks, it is best to buy a SIM card in advance so that you can use WhatsApp, email, internet and navigation immediately after arrival in the country. You can already do this at home via the website of Airport Telecom but did you know that nowadays you can also visit them at Schiphol last-minute? Airport Telecom at Schiphol has SIM cards available for 28 countries, including South Africa, Thailand, Dubai, USA en Canada.

Buy a SIM card at Schiphol
Buy a SIM card at Schiphol

top up

Many of these SIM cards are also available as e-Sim and the later upgrade is also a piece of cake. So you don't have to look for physical cards in stores to top up.

The Airport Telecom shop at Schiphol Plaza (Arrival Hall 1 & 2) is open seven days a week. On working days from 07.00 a.m. to 18.00 p.m. On weekends from 07.00 a.m. to 16.00 p.m. Use it to your advantage!

3. Save smartphone data

Have you bought a data bundle or SIM card for the destination country? Awesome! But keep in mind that many apps in the background constantly eating data of your bundle(s). Of course you have the well-known data eaters such as Netflix, which can make a possibly purchased data bundle go up in smoke in a few minutes. But there are many more apps that you should take a critical look at. Below are some tips to protect your data bundle abroad.


Save Facebook & Instagram data

In Facebook en Instagram you can go to the settings (Settings -> settings & privacy -> Media) enable data-saving options. For example, videos no longer automatically download and play on your bundle, but only when you are connected to a WiFi network. Both apps also have a 'data saver' function which can save an extra 40% in data.

Google Maps save data

More and more people are aware that you can download 'offline maps' via Google Maps, so that you can still use the app and navigate offline. You activate this by going to your settings and downloading offline maps (open google maps -> click on your account icon -> offline maps -> select your map).

Google Maps Offline Maps | Save data
Google Maps Offline Maps | Save data

However, what many people do not know is that these cards can also expire causing Google Maps to download them all over again in the background, fully automatically. You can turn this off in your offline settings or set it to 'Wifi only' before you leave. This is not enabled by default and it can seriously damage your data bundle without you noticing.

Netflix, Prime, Spotify and other streaming apps

Just like with the offline maps, you can now download a lot of music, series and movies on your smartphone with streaming apps such as Netflix, Prime and Spotify. Useful!

But where it often still goes wrong is that the 'auto download' option is turned on unnoticed. That option ensures that when you have finished watching an episode or season, for example, it automatically downloads the next one for you in the background. Handy on a WiFi network, but disastrous for your data bundle. So check the settings of all your streaming apps before you get on the plane.

Tip:: You can even use Spotify completely in offline mode for a month, before you have to connect it to the internet again. After a month you will see that many songs will stop playing unless you download/sync the songs again.

Connecting to a fast Wi-Fi network in online mode will ensure that everything is back to normal afterwards. Just don't forget to put the app back in offline mode immediately afterwards.

Apps that auto-update

Google and Apple play stores try to keep your phone as up-to-date as possible. This is essential to ensure the security of your device, especially if you also do online banking and manage your credit cards.

Apps often update automatically at night
Apps often update automatically at night

Often the phones ring auto update in the middle of the night, when the phone is on the charger and you don't notice it. With the wrong settings, this can also mean that your data bundle is completely consumed in one night.

Apps and games are getting bigger and bigger and updating everything can cost many gigabytes of data these days. Therefore, check your update settings and set the automatic update to WiFi-only or download the app updates manually once a week, when you are sure that you are on a good WiFi connection.

Cloud apps

Perhaps an obvious data guzzler, but also one that is often forgotten because it has become so normal: the apps that sync all your photos and videos from your device to the cloud. You have become so used to it in the Netherlands that you quickly forget it, but do yourself a favor and check the settings before you leave! Set auto-sync to Wifi-only or turn it off. It will save you many gigabytes of data during your vacation, when you of course take a lot of photos and videos.

Also read: Photo backups while traveling | Online or offline?

4. A sturdy smartphone is nice

Theft of your beautiful smartphone is an increased risk while traveling, of course we close a good one for that Travel Insurance off.

Smartphones are very vulnerable

Then there is also another big risk: the breakdown of your smartphone. Okay, you really don't have to buy a new phone especially for you world trip, that would be madness. Your high-end iPhone, Samsung or Huawei can just travel with you if you already have it.

A smartphone that can take a beating, or water, or sand...
A smartphone that can take a beating, or water, or sand…

Consider buying a less fancy, but sturdy smartphone.

Chris – Wereldreizigers.nl

What type of phone is suitable

But if you happen to have an expiring subscription, think carefully about the type of phone you are going to buy before you go on a world trip. Consider purchasing a less fancy, but sturdy smartphone. First of all, it will save you 500 to 1000 euros if you go for a cheaper model (something I also expanded in the 'save for your world trip in 10 steps' article explained).

Tip:: If you do opt for an expensive iPhone or Samsung, at least ensure good, very good protection. A little world traveler is coming always in situations where your phone takes a hard time.

Within 5 minutes you can get there here order one online at bol.com. Bol.com has almost half a million options to choose from!

5. With WiFi, a VPN is essential

Realize that Wi-Fi networks are not secure. If you are not at home, you never know who else is connected to the same network and is watching your internet traffic. The biggest problem with free Wi-Fi is that there could be a hacker between you and the connection point. Not a far-fetched idea, because anyone can do this.

Realize that Wi-Fi networks, with or without a password, are not secure.

Chris – Wereldreizigers.nl

With the name and password of a Wi-Fi network, someone can relatively easily turn on the hotspot function of a phone or computer and give it the same name and password. Users search for the network, enter the password, and thus connect to this hacker's device.

Hotels, hostels, restaurants and coffee shops

When it comes to a location with frequent returning visitors, their devices may even connect automatically without them noticing. Hackers then use simple free software to track the internet traffic of these connected devices. From there, the possibilities are virtually endless.

Free wifi, you probably know the signs in restaurants and hotels. Be aware that free WiFi is always a risk.
Free wifi, you probably know the signs in restaurants and hotels. Be aware that free WiFi is always a risk.

Where would hackers set these kinds of traps? Right, in the places where unsuspecting victims stay in the same place for extended periods and use their phones. Hotels, hostels, restaurants and coffee shops are places like this.

Password is written on a sign

Moreover, it is precisely there that you can easily find the data of a Wi-Fi network. Usually on a sign on the wall or on the menu. As a travel-loving visitor to these types of establishments, are you the next victim? I hope not.

When using WiFi, a VPN is essential
When using WiFi, a VPN is essential

A VPN is really worth the money

Fortunately, you can also protect yourself against this. A VPN (only 2,99 per month) not only can it make it look like you're in another country (for Netflix's offerings for example…), it also encrypts your connection in a cryptic way so that hackers can no longer reach it either. A VPN ensures that you can do internet banking and other privacy-sensitive matters with peace of mind, even on public and free WiFi networks. Take it from me that it is more than worth the three euros a month!

Also read: What is the best camera for a world tour? And why?

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Owner or Wereldreizigers.nl | Discover the world!
– Traveled 3+ months per year, 10 years in a row
– Traveled a year in USA & Canada in 2022

Stubborn & decisive world traveller
– Life is short, make the most out of it in literal sense.
– Never take no for an answer.
– If you think about it, DO IT!

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