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How to Protect Personal Information While Traveling

7 tips to keep your data out of the hands of ID thieves

Passengers waiting at the airport using phone

Saklakova/Getty Images

En españolSome 2 million passengers are moving through U.S. airports daily, according to the Transportation Security Administration, crowding gates, eateries and security lines. And even more travelers are taking to the road. In early July alone Americans drove 16.8 million miles, bringing traffic to levels just below the same time in the summer before the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether in airport settings or new destinations, it's important to protect personal information. Here are seven tips and best practices to make for a well-prepared and safe journey.

1. Make copies of your ID and cards

In preparation for your travels, make copies of your driver's license and passport, credit and debit cards, and anything else that would be important to replace while away, according to Security.org, an online resource for safety and security information.

Keep the copies in your checked suitcase or carry-on bag, in case you misplace the originals in the bustle of the airport — or worse, they are lost or stolen while you are on the road. Also, it is recommended that you leave copies with a trusted family member or friend, so if you are stranded without them you can get proof of identity and credit card numbers sent to you.

2. Keep medical records handy but concealed

If you need or want to travel with medical records, bring physical copies of your prescriptions, proof of vaccinations, medical and allergy history, and a brief description of your medical condition, to be used in case of a medical emergency. Keep these records concealed but accessible, either on your person (in a pocket, purse or belt bag) or in a carry-on bag.

3. Save the toll-free numbers for card companies in your phone

Notify banks and companies that issued your credit or debit cards that you are traveling, and certainly use all credit cards with awareness so they are not lost or stolen. But before you travel, put all of the international and U.S. emergency phone numbers for your credit card companies somewhere you can access them easily. Write them down to store in a safe place, or save them into your cellphone contacts. You won't waste time if you need to report a card as stolen or lost. Find these numbers on the back of your credit card, or online on their website.


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4. Don't use public Wi-Fi for financial and health information

Public Wi-Fi — in airports, hotels, restaurants and cafés — is convenient when traveling, but it comes with security risks, according to Norton, a cybersecurity and identity-theft protection company. Norton recommends avoiding the use of public Wi-Fi to access any of your financial or health records, in case a cybercriminal is watching your activity.

According to Norton, public Wi-Fi is safe for finding a restaurant in town or checking the weather forecast — anything that can't risk information being stolen.

5. Don't use USB charging ports in public spaces

It is possible for people to gain access to information on your device when you use the USB cables at public charging stations, such as those available at gate kiosks all over many airports. It is possible for hackers to install malware or viruses, steal your information or install ransomware on your phone, which allows them to hold your device ransom in exchange for money. Instead, bring a portable charger to charge your devices, or find a power outlet to charge your devices with a cord charger.

6. Leave nonessential personal identification and devices at home

The safest place for your personal information and devices is at home. Passports, if you're traveling domestically, and additional credit cards are best left there to avoid added risk.

Also, leave unnecessary devices — perhaps a laptop or tablet — to lessen the risk and avoid the hassle of anything expensive being stolen.

7. Be aware of your surroundings while using your devices

When you're in crowded public spaces, do not enter passwords or sensitive information into your phone when someone can see it. When using a mobile boarding pass for flight, TSA recommends taking a screenshot or picture for easy, quick access. Whether you are using a mobile boarding pass or printed one, it is recommended to keep it concealed and safe when traveling through the airport.

Mikaela Cohen is a digital news and features intern for AARP.org. She is a graduate student at the University of Georgia, where she has covered business and culture news for The Red & Black Newspaper, a local publication.

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