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Many travelers are taking unnecessary risks when they use homesharing services like Airbnb or ridesharing services like Uber — in ways that could lead to identity theft — according to a survey by LifeLock.

identity theft data security


The provider of identity theft protection services reports that if you’re considering renting out your home or spare room, you’d better assume your guests are snoops: 41 percent of survey respondents (including 57 percent of millennials) admitted to looking through personal items when visiting someone else’s home. Meanwhile, 49 percent of respondents said they often fail to lock up personal documents in their own homes.

Even if you wouldn’t consider having a stranger stay in your home, the LifeLock survey found that many people make what could be costly mistakes when they’re traveling; 37 percent of respondents do not put their mail on hold during vacations. LifeLock notes that criminals could gain access to personal data by accessing your mail while you’re away. We’d also add that an overflowing mailbox is a signal that you’re out of town, which could entice burglars to target your home. (For more on this, see Keep Your Home Safe on Vacation: 9 Essential Tips.)

Ridesharing services and taxis are another opportunity for your personal data to be compromised. Nearly a quarter of survey respondents (24 percent) admitted that they’d left a valuable personal item such as a wallet or cell phone behind in a taxi, Uber or other ridesharing vehicle. The number was even higher among millennials at 41 percent.

So how can you keep yourself safe? LifeLock recommends password-protecting your devices and enabling the “lost phone” function (so you can track the device or even delete its contents remotely). If you’re hosting guests in your home, make sure any sensitive documents are safely locked away, and offer a different Wi-Fi network for guests than the one you use yourself.

For more ideas on how to protect yourself, see 11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling.

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Getting ill or injured abroad is a risk that could strike any traveler. Purchasing travel insurance is one way to protect yourself; another is to carry an emergency medical ID card from a company called Nomad SOS.

nomad sos emergency id card


The photo ID card lists vital information such as your blood type, allergies, medications, health issues and physical impairments — which could save your life if you’re unconscious or otherwise unable to convey this information to a first responder yourself.

Also on the card are other useful facts such as your nationality and the languages you speak, as well as two emergency contacts. Note that there is no translation on the card, so everything will appear only in English unless you submit your information in multiple languages.

Nomad SOS is particularly useful for solo travelers, people with severe allergies or medical conditions, and those who regularly travel with companions who aren’t intimately familiar with their medical history. And it’s not just for travel; you can keep it in your wallet all year round in case you encounter an emergency at home.

The card costs $29.99 for a lifetime membership. It is printed on waterproof polycarbonate and, if lost or stolen, can be replaced within 48 hours for $14.99 (including worldwide shipping).

Nomad SOS is offering an exclusive discount for IndependentTraveler.com readers. Enter coupon code INDIETRAVEL when purchasing the card to get 40 percent off. You can purchase the card at the Nomad SOS website.

18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling
How to Find Health Care Abroad

— written by Sarah Schlichter

With germs lurking everywhere from airplane tray tables to ticketing machines at train stations, hand sanitizer is an essential part of any smart traveler’s bag of tricks. After all, you’re on vacation — who’s got time to get sick?

touch sanitizing germblock


I recently tested a new type of hand sanitizer called Touch, and it’s a little different than the usual antibacterial gel most of us pack for a trip. First off, it’s a mist rather than a gel or lotion, so it comes in a little aerosol spray can. Secondly, it doesn’t contain any alcohol, relying instead on a main ingredient called benzalkonium chloride to kill germs, bacteria, fungi and viruses. Finally, it’s formulated to stay on the hands rather than evaporating, protecting against germs for up to six hours.

Here’s what I liked and disliked about the product during our test on a recent trip to Europe.

The Good
We didn’t get sick: My husband and I used the spray at least every other day during our two-week trip, and we came home healthy. I admit that one trip isn’t exactly a scientific study, and it’s impossible to know whether we would’ve gotten sick if we hadn’t used Touch (or if we’d used a different hand sanitizer instead), but it’s still a good sign.

It’s a convenient travel size: Touch comes in a 1-ounce container that is easy to fit into a purse or daypack and will get through a security checkpoint in your quart-size bag of liquids and gels.

The long-lasting protection offers security: I liked that I didn’t need to keep reapplying Touch every hour or two.

The Bad
It’s not very discreet: One nice thing about using hand-sanitizing gel is that you can squeeze a dab of it into your hand without making noise. There’s no avoiding the sound of the aerosol spray when applying Touch — which made us a little a little self-conscious when we were trying to sanitize our hands in public places like a plane or a nice restaurant. (A Touch spokesperson tells us that spraying the product rather than rubbing it on helps ensure quicker and fuller coverage.)

It doesn’t necessarily leave hands feeling soft: Although Touch contains “skin-softening essential oils” (according to a product fact sheet), my husband and I didn’t love the way our hands felt immediately after spraying. It was an odd, almost powdery texture, similar to the way your hands might feel after pulling off a pair of latex gloves. Luckily, it didn’t last long.

It’s not available online: Touch is currently only available at Walgreens pharmacies. (Other sales channels are in the works.) The recommended retail price is $5.99 per 1-ounce container. Touch comes in four scents: ocean mist, tropical breeze, mint green tea aloe and unscented.

Want to give Touch a try? We’re giving away a sample of the mint green tea aloe product. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday, June 30. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the can of Touch. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.

Avoiding the Airplane Cold
18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

— written by Sarah Schlichter

This morning, a colleague received an email from the U.S. State Department with a rather alarming subject line: “Message for U.S. Citizens: Worldwide Caution Update.” The email was a transmission of the Worldwide Caution released on the State Department’s website on March 3.

danger ahead sign stormy weather


The message offers nearly 1,800 words of warnings about terrorist threats around the world, particularly in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia/Pacific. “U.S. citizens continue to be at risk of kidnappings and hostage events as ISIL, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates attempt to finance their operations through kidnapping-for-ransom operations,” the State Department wrote. “U.S. citizens have been kidnapped and murdered by members of terrorist and violent extremist groups.” Threats include suicide bombings and attacks on highly populated places such as trains, shopping malls and restaurants.

“No wonder people are afraid to travel!” my colleague said. “This is a terrifying email.”

If reading the message makes you want to hide under your bed until the world gets less scary, you’re not alone — but there are a few important things to keep in mind before you call off your next trip and retire your passport. First, this Worldwide Caution isn’t new. The State Department updates this overarching security warning at least every six months, according to the Washington Post, in order to provide information on the most current threats. So if you’ve felt comfortable enough to take a vacation in the past couple of years, you were already traveling under a worldwide warning.

Secondly, the chances of being affected by a terrorist attack are still extraordinarily low. Wendy Perrin, Travel Advocate for IndependentTraveler.com’s parent company, TripAdvisor, notes that the largest cause of death for Americans traveling abroad is actually motor vehicle accidents, and that in recent years more Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil than in attacks overseas. (See 7 Keys to Traveling Without Fear Despite Terrorist Attacks to learn more.)

Conde Nast Traveler editor-in-chief Pilar Guzman makes another important point when she tells the Wall Street Journal that by avoiding certain countries that rely on tourism — such as Egypt — we might be helping to destabilize those countries and make them more susceptible to radicalization. You can check out the full video below:


Government warnings have an important place in helping travelers decide which countries are and aren’t safe to visit; each of us has a different tolerance for risk, and the more information we have, the better able we are to make the decisions that are right for us. (See Travel Warnings and Advisories for tips on how to use and evaluate government advisories.) But the danger of a Worldwide Caution is that worried travelers will decide not to go anywhere at all — leading to a more insular worldview that is driven by fear, not empathy and understanding.

Does the threat of terrorism make you more afraid to travel?

— written by Sarah Schlichter

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

After taking a few weeks off for the holidays, we’re back with another round-up of all the travel news you need to know.

uber steering wheelUber Is Thinking of Getting into the Travel Business
Uber has already revolutionized the way many of us travel, and the company isn’t done yet, judging by a recent patent. Business Insider explains how a new feature called “Uber Travel” would allow the company to find you flights and accommodations, as well as recommend the best time to call an Uber based on when you’re scheduled to land at an airport.

Hilton Wants You to Pay $50 for What?
As if we needed more fees in our life! Time reports that Hilton is testing out a new program that charges a $50 fee for any cancellation, even if it’s far in advance of your stay. (Wait till the day of arrival and you’ll pay for a full night.) The charge is designed to discourage travelers from using websites and apps that hunt for price drops and rebook them at a lower rate.

Hidden Hotel Fees

Zika: Coming to America Through Mosquitoes, Travel and Sex
In other bad news, there’s a new virus spreading around the world, according to Forbes. Known as zika, the illness is related to yellow fever and dengue, and was first discovered in Uganda. These days it’s heading northward from Brazil, transmitted mainly via mosquitoes. (Sexual transmission is suspected but not proven.) The best prevention method is to use mosquito nets and bug spray when traveling in affected areas.

The TSA May Now Deny You the Right to a Pat-Down
Those of us who feel uncomfortable with the TSA’s full-body scanners have always had the option of choosing a pat-down by a security officer instead — until now. The Department of Homeland Security released a statement last month giving the TSA the right to make a full-body scan mandatory “as warranted by security considerations,” reports Frommer’s.

Who Are the World’s Safest Airlines for 2016?
Nervous fliers won’t want to miss this annual list from AirlineRatings.com, which highlights the 20 safest airlines in the world. And the winner is … Australia-based Qantas, which tops the charts for the third year in a row. Several U.S. airlines made the grade, including American, Alaska, Hawaiian and United.

These 38 Airlines Have the Lowest Airline Safety Ratings
And here’s the counterpoint: the worst-rated carriers on AirlineRatings.com, as rounded up by Travel + Leisure. The good news is that you’ve probably never heard of any of these airlines, so you’re not too likely to fly them. (TransNusa? Daallo Airlines? Anyone?!)

Fear of Flying

We wrap up this week’s edition with a short film from western Mongolia, which captures the day-to-day life of the nomadic Kazakh people, including the fascinating way they train eagles to hunt for game.


— written by Sarah Schlichter

eiffel tower selfie parisSeveral weeks have passed since Leigh Smythe Merino hastily departed Paris following the terrorist attacks last month. The Alexandria, Virginia, resident had arrived for her first-ever visit to the French capital the morning of the mass assaults on November 13.

“I felt so many emotions at once,” Merino, 42, said in an interview this week. “I was so profoundly sad about the people who had died. I was scared for the people of Paris. I was anxious. I was conflicted about staying or going.”

She was staying at a friend’s apartment a short walk from the cafe where 19 people were killed and nine were injured. After several texts and a few phone calls with her husband back home in the States, Merino decided to leave Paris the next morning.

Now that some time has passed, Merino has had a chance to reflect on that day. She never before considered what to do in the event of an emergency departure from a city, but she feels better prepared now.

“I do not want to diminish the horror of the events of that day. But I hope my experience could help other people think on their feet and act quickly,” she said.

If you find yourself in a similar high-risk scenario — one that the U.S State Department has alerting us to in its latest travel warning — Merino offers the following advice:

Contact your airline as soon as possible to rebook your flight. Airlines will be aware of the situation and often will rebook you for free and with no questions asked. Merino was wise to email her husband back in Virginia and have him call United Airlines to schedule a new flight. Given the number of other fliers trying to rebook, Merino would have had a difficult time trying to get through to an agent in France. “My husband got through right away to a U.S.-based agent, and he easily got me on a new flight,” she said. “It took only minutes.”

Keep your wits about you. Merino admitted she wasn’t thinking as clearly as normal. But she took a deep breath and took a moment to prioritize what was most important: making sure her wallet and passport were handy yet secure. To locate her emergency credit card, in case she needed it. To keep her cell phone charged. To make sure her Uber app was working to get a ride to the airport the next morning.

Try to get rest. It was impossible to sleep that night, Merino said. Sirens sounded all night. She and her friend stayed glued to the news. A thousand thoughts kept her awake. “There was no way I would have been able to fall asleep,” she said. “But I expected the next day to be tough and I tried to rest as much as I could.” Same goes for eating well, staying hydrated and otherwise taking good care of yourself.

charles de gaulle airport lineGo to the airport far, far earlier than usual. Merino had an 11:55 a.m. flight. Anticipating large crowds and heightened security, she arrived at the airport four hours before her flight. As it turned out, the airport was packed, and security lines were chaotic and slow-moving. (In fact, her flight departed 90 minutes late because so many passengers were still in security lines.)

Muster the most patience you’ve ever had. The experience at Charles de Gaulle was frustrating to say the least, Merino said. There were few staff controlling extra-large crowds, and only a handful of officers were working that Saturday morning at passport control. Lines became masses, and people became unruly. “I kept reminding myself to keep perspective,” she said. “People were going through far, far worse in Paris. I could handle this.”

Register your trip with your government. In advance of overseas travel, Merino said she’ll now register her trip with the U.S. State Department. Doing so can give you access to information from the local embassy as well as help friends and family at home contact you in an emergency. (U.S. citizens can register themselves here; other countries have similar programs.)

Obtain international cell service. Merino also said she will contact her cell phone service provider to make sure that her phone has temporary international service; she recommends the same for all travelers who can’t currently use her phone abroad as part of their current plans.

Travel Warnings and Advisories
Travel Safety and Health Tips

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

neck pain woman on trainHaving taken three weekend road trips in a row, it’s no wonder my back has been tied up in knots. And an autumn cold came on during this last trip, giving me lots more downtime at a West Virginia Airbnb cabin during the height of fall foliage season than I wanted.

I take good care of myself at home, but traveling requires a different set of healthy habits — ones I need to pay more attention to, even during long weekend getaways and small trips. Here are the articles I’ll turn to next time, and the best tips, from head to toe:

Avoiding Airplane Colds: We’re constantly lectured to stay hydrated on airplanes but rarely told why. It’s because humidity is lower at higher altitudes. This dries out the throat and nasal passages, which are the first lines of defense in preventing colds, explains IndependentTraveler.com’s Ed Hewitt. Best tip: Sip water throughout a flight to stay hydrated and you’ll be better poised to prevent a head cold.

How to Travel with Neck Pain: Best tip: Pack disposable heat wraps, or bring an empty resealable bag on a plane and ask a flight attendant for ice.

8 Expert Tips to Prevent Backache: If you must lift a heavy bag into an overhead bin, first lift it to seat level, then lift it to the bin. Don’t lift it from floor to bin in one fell swoop.

Preventing Traveler’s Diarrhea: Don’t be embarrassed — we’ve all been there. You probably know to tote hand sanitizer, but another good tip is to pack your own bar of soap and keep it in your daypack. Then you can use it at restrooms where soap isn’t provided. (For more advice, see our own guide to warding off traveler’s tummy.)

6 Tips for Traveling with Knee Pain: It’s all about the aisle seat.

Shoe and Foot Care During Travel: I tend to travel with two pairs of shoes — one set of walking shoes and the other a nicer set of flats for the evening. But based on advice from experts, I’ll be switching over to two pairs of super-comfy kicks and alternating them by day. Best tip: Clean your shoes frequently. Clean shoes breathe better.

18 Surefire Ways to Get Sick While Traveling

— written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

boarding pass passportWe’re already used to destroying bank statements, tax forms and other sensitive documents when we need to get rid of them; now it turns out you should add your used airline boarding passes to that list.

KrebsOnSecurity, a computer security blog, recently reported that the bar and QR codes on your boarding pass can easily be decoded, revealing not only your name and itinerary but also your frequent flier number and any other information associated with it (such as your phone number or future flight bookings).

The blog points to this website as a free online resource for reading bar codes. Anyone who finds your boarding pass could snap an image of it, upload it to the site and access your information. He or she could theoretically make changes to your frequent flier account and even cancel your future flights.

How likely is this to happen if you accidentally drop your boarding pass into a recycling bin? It’s hard to say — but I’m not taking any chances. I’ll be shredding my boarding passes from now on. Will you?

11 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft While Traveling

— written by Sarah Schlichter

solo traveler on horsebackWe’ve written often about the joys of traveling alone, including the freedom to decide what you want to do and the greater opportunity to meet new people. But going solo always has an element of risk to it as well, and that’s where a new site called My Important Information can help.

One of the dangers of traveling by yourself is that if you’re in an emergency and unable to communicate with first responders or doctors, there’s no one else to convey your wishes or share pertinent information about your allergies and medical history. My Important Information is a subscription service that allows you to enter this type of personalized data into an online profile featuring as much or as little as you wish to share. Emergency contacts, medications, physician info, medical conditions, allergies and even the location of your living will can all be uploaded to the site.

The $30 annual membership fee includes a wallet-friendly card with a QR code that can be scanned by a smartphone, as well as an emergency code that can be entered into the My Important Information website. Either option allows first responders, hospital staff and the like to access data that could save your life in an emergency.

The service isn’t just useful for travelers; you also get a window sticker and two refrigerator cards for your home, which are especially useful if you live by yourself.

Hotel Safety Tips

One caveat for international travelers: There’s currently no translation feature on the site, so if the person reading your profile doesn’t speak English, the information may not do him or her any good. A spokesperson for the site tells us that a translator is an enhancement that may be added in the future, with Spanish as the likely first option. In the meantime, because you can change your profile at any time, you may want to tailor it before each trip. If you’re headed to Brazil, for example, you can copy and paste the most important info into a service such as Google Translate and get a rough Portuguese translation to add to your profile.

You can cancel your membership at any time; if you don’t, the service will automatically renew (and charge your credit card) each year.

Want to give it a try? My Important Information is offering a special discount to IndependentTraveler.com readers. Enter the code IT10 when signing up, and you’ll get 10 percent off the $30 annual fee. (Future renewals will maintain the discount.)

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Traveling Solo

— written by Sarah Schlichter

tired traveler with suitcasesEver arrived early at a new destination in the morning after a long red-eye flight and not had a hotel room where you could crash?

It happened to me on my last trip, when I landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, at 6:30 a.m. on the same day I was scheduled to board a cruise ship bound for Greenland. The ship’s reception staff were willing to hold my suitcases for me, but my cabin wouldn’t be ready to enter until late afternoon. That left me with most of the day to explore the city — if I could stay awake that long.

The morning started well, with a stroll along the waterfront and visits to the city’s most famous church, Hallgrimskirkja, and its avant-garde new concert hall, Harpa. But the combination of jet lag and a long, sleepless flight the night before had me drooping after a few hours.

As long as I was walking outside in the fresh air and sunlight, I could stay relatively alert. Any time I sat down, though — at a restaurant for lunch, on a pew in Hallgrimskirkja to listen to the organist practice, or, worst of all, inside a darkened theater to watch a timelapse photography presentation on the northern lights — my eyelids got heavy and my chin drifted inexorably toward my chest until I jerked myself awake again. As the hours wore on, my pleasurable day of sightseeing turned into a forced march through the city streets until I could board my ship and finally, finally take a nap.

10 Things to Do in the First 24 Hours of Your Trip

Even if you have a hotel room booked for the night, it’s not uncommon to arrive before the official check-in time and be told there simply aren’t any rooms available yet. One alternative is to try to find a day room where you can nap and shower. I recently discovered Between9and5.com, a site dedicated to hotels with same-day check-in and check-out. Unfortunately, offerings in some cities can be slim. There’s currently only one option in Reykjavik, and it starts at more than $200 a night — more than I was willing to pay for just a few hours.

Short of sleeping on a park bench, what do you do to stay awake and make the most of your first day when you’re exhausted after a flight?

— written by Sarah Schlichter