Protecting your laptop when on the go

Laptops have become essential traveling companions. But that mobile lifestyle comes with its share of obstacles and potential pitfalls—your laptop could be stolen, lost, or even dropped and damaged. And don't forget that wandering eyes might try to steal your passwords when you surf the web in a public place. Read on for ways to combat these dangers.

Planning ahead

You wouldn't go to the beach without sunscreen—and you shouldn't go on a trip without planning ahead to care for your laptop.

Back up your files. Even if you aren't normally diligent about backing up your computer, an upcoming trip is an excellent opportunity to make a copy of important information. That way, if your laptop is lost, stolen, smashed, or thrown from a high-speed train, your documents, pictures, and other important files will be safe. To learn how to back up your files, see Back up your files.

Use strong passwords. Strong passwords help prevent thieves from getting to your data and personal or financial information. For more information, see Tips for creating strong passwords and passphrases.

Write down other relevant information. In addition to backing up your files, it's a good idea to keep information about your laptop in a safe place. Record your laptop's brand and model name, as well as the serial number. Keep a copy of that information in your wallet so that you have it readily available for police or security in case your laptop is lost or stolen.

When you're on the go

Life can be hectic when you're on the road. Here are some things to keep in mind to make your travels go more smoothly—at least for your laptop.

Show all

At the airport

The airport can be a risky place for your laptop. However, by taking a few simple steps, you can take care of your computer. Here's how:

  • The traditional black laptop bag can be an invitation to thieves, because they know exactly what's in there. It's a good idea to pick an unconventional-looking bag for your laptop. The less obvious it is that you're carrying a computer, the better.

  • When you pick a travel bag, make sure it has enough padding to keep your computer safe from bumps and bruises. Look for a backpack that has a special padded section for a laptop, or you can get a padded sleeve that fits around your laptop, and then put that sleeve in your regular carry-on bag.

  • It pays to be extra vigilant at airport security checkpoints where thieves know people can be flustered. Even if you have an unconventional-looking computer bag, you might have to take the computer out of its case while going through security. Try not to take your eyes off of your computer while you're passing through the metal detectors. Being alert can save the day at these potential points of confusion.

When you finally get on board the airplane, store your computer under the seat in front of you, instead of in the overhead compartment. That way you can keep an eye on it during the flight, and have easier access to it as well.

At the hotel

Hotel rooms are a lot less secure than you might think. Here's how to help protect your computer in a hotel room:

  • If you have to leave your laptop in your hotel room when you're not there, put it in the room safe. Not an option? Then at least make sure your laptop is out of view (such as in the bottom of a suitcase filled with clothes), and leave the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door. Or, better yet, use a security cable to lock your laptop to a heavy piece of furniture such as a large desk or a clothing rack in the closet. You can buy a security cable from almost any store that sells computers.

  • Many wireless networks available in hotel rooms are unsecured, which means that while you can use them to catch up on e‑mail, surf the web, or play games, you should avoid visiting websites that might display your bank account, medical records, or other personal information. If you must access one of those websites, seek out a wired network or a security-enabled wireless network. For more information, see How do I know if a wireless network is secure?

What to do if your laptop is lost or stolen

If your laptop is lost or stolen, you should first contact the security department wherever it went missing. You can give them the serial number and other information that you prepared before you left on your trip.

If your laptop has personal information on it, such as bank accounts or credit card numbers, immediately contact your financial institutions to have that information changed.

Having your computer when you're on the go can help keep you in touch with friends, family, or coworkers, and it can help you be more productive during unexpected free time, like when your flight gets delayed. By using the tips in this article, you can help your laptop survive the journey.