Skip to content

Traveling With Your Computer

Here are some tips to keep in mind when traveling with your computer...

Before You Go

Here's a good source  directly from the security folks in ITS. Below I discuss the details associated with their suggestions.

Back It Up

You should always have two recent backups of your data, one that is going to stay home or reside in the cloud and another that you can carry with you. If you haven't already invested in an external drive for backups, now is the time. Generally speaking you want a drive that's twice the size of your hard disk. If you are traveling with a Dartmouth computer, you should consider backing it up to CrashPlan, a free cloud-based service. Contact help@dartmouth.edu and we'll hook you up!

Disk space is cheap compared to the cost of recovering lost data!

NOTE: DO NOT rely on a thumb drive for a backup or the sole source for a set of data. Thumb drives are awesome little storage devices but they are easily lost and easily broken. When a thumb drive breaks, the data it holds is very rarely recoverable. Always have a copy of any data you're carrying on a thumb drive.

NOTE: Verify your backup from time to time. Try to recover a file from a week ago. No system is 100% reliable and checking on whether your data is getting backed up is part of the process.

Update Your OS and Software

Keeping your computer updated is more important than ever. OS updates (within the same version) often fix security vulnerabilities and performance issues. There's little reason for not keeping your OS up to date. The same goes for your applications, like Microsoft Office 365. Developers are constantly making bug fixes and closing security gaps in their applications. Check for updates!

NOTE: Installing a new version of your OS is something you should check with us on first. For example, if you're running a version of OS X earlier than 10.10 (Yosemite) or a Windows version earlier than Windows 10 please contact us (help@dartmouth.edu).

Verify Your VPN Software

Before you leave, verify that your VPN software is working and that you can access the VPN server. Dartmouth uses the BIG-IP F5 VPN client for both Windows and Mac computers. Contact us at help@dartmouth.edu if you are unsure if yours is working.

Pack Your Adapters

Power adapters, video adapters, Ethernet adapters, USB adapters. The list may never end but at least be sure that you can connect your peripheral devices and charge them.

Research Your Destination

Does the country you're traveling to have internet restrictions? Does your computer contain data that is illegal? If you are being hosted by a university, they should help you answer those questions but you might also want to check the U.S. State Department website. The FBI provides this helpful brochure for business travelers.

Protect Your Data

Don't wait until you've removed your shoes and your belt to find out about the laws governing electronic devices. At border crossings you may not have as many liberties as you think.

What data are you willing to turn over to a border agent? Probably nothing, right? Well, currently the statutes are unclear enough that if a U.S. Border Agent asks you to log into your machine, and you refuse, he or she can confiscate it. And that's  in the "land of the free." Customs and immigration checkpoints in other countries may pose other issues.

So how do you protect yourself from having to turn over data?

This page on the ACLU website provides a recent update of U.S. Border policy regarding electronic devices. Here are some precautions you should consider:

  • Leave your "main squeeze" at home. Do you really need to take everything with you--that full bodied blend of the personal and professional that lurks within your laptop and phone? Perhaps you have another machine that you can use for travel--one that doesn't contain all your personal information or sensitive data.
  • Ship your computer or external hard disk ahead of you. Be aware that international packages are subject to search, but if the data is encrypted (see below) there's not much that can be discovered.
  • Encrypt your devices. By encrypting your devices, you protect against access to your data when a device is stolen or confiscated. Encryption does not protect against malicious network access, however, or if someone gets a hold of your password. And be aware that some countries like Russia and China have laws against encryption. Please contact help@dartmouth.edu before you encrypt your computer, especially if it's a Dartmouth machine (i.e. purchased with research funds or through the Dean's upgrade program). Dartmouth supports encryption but there some best practices that we'd like to share to save you from encryption headaches.When you encrypt a machine you'll need to define a strong password and keep a record of it in a safe place. If you lose a password to an encrypted device, you'll never see that data again, so be careful. There's even more information on encryption here.
  • Use the cloud. Dartmouth provides you with plenty of space for data in the cloud. OneDrive and Box are both good places to store data. You may have already set up these cloud resources. Contact help@dartmouth.edu for more information. If you are syncing files from the cloud to your hard drive, you may want to stop syncing and only use the web interface when you're traveling.The cloud can also serve as a storage place for photos. Do the pictures on your phone only reside on your phone? Set up a photo management system to prevent the heartbreaking loss of those 8,000 selfies you took this past year.

This page also has some helpful advice.