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What to Do Before Packing Your Laptop in a Checked Bag
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What to Do Before Packing Your Laptop in a Checked Bag

Kristin Wong, Gawker Media

Photo by Strange Luke

If you're packing your laptop in a checked bag, the best advice is probably don't do it. From lost luggage to lost data, there's so much that can go wrong. With the threat of a laptop ban looming, though, you may not have a choice. Whatever the circumstance, you want to keep your laptop safe once you drop off your bag and go on your way.

The Department of Homeland Security has already placed an electronics ban on flights to the U.S. from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Reportedly, the ban was implemented because of intelligence that terrorists learned how to develop bombs that can hide in portable electronic devices, like laptops (though it's unclear how allowing them in checked luggage would be any safer, consider checked luggage still goes on the plane).

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At any rate, last week, DHS Secretary John Kelly said some new airport security policies are going to be implemented and are mere months and weeks away.

If you're going to check your laptop-or if you're forced to do so-here's how to keep it safe.

Back Up Your Data

Let's be clear: you should back up your data even if you're not traveling. One day, your hard drive will fail, and if you're backed up, you won't have to deal with the stomach-churning feeling of losing your documents, photos, and whatever else you store on your computer's hard drive.

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We've told you how to do this in detail, but it's pretty easy to begin with. You can back up your data online using a program like Crashplan or Backblaze, for one. If you don't like that idea, you could always use an external hard drive and your computer's own backup tools.

Once you're properly backed up, consider slimming down your data as much as possible by reinstalling or reimaging your laptop with a data-lite version. As former Lifehacker editor Alan Henry put it:

The best way to make sure you don't lose important data-or that someone doesn't get access to it while you're using free airport Wi-Fi-is to not have it on your machine at all. This also makes you less vulnerable to spyware or other malware-if anything's detected, blow the system away and reinstall. You have nothing to lose. Travel light.

You could also store everything you need on an external hard drive and just toss it in your carry-on - assuming that's still permitted, of course.

Delete Sensitive Information

If you don't feel like reimaging your whole system, just make sure you get rid off any and all sensitive information. Log out of websites (including social media), delete your autofill data, and clear any other nonessential information.

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Some password managers will do this for you, too, for the sites you have saved. 1Password recently added a Travel Abroad feature for its cloud subscribers. It removes all nonessential info stored on your devices, and you can pick and choose what kind of info you'd like to keep on which device. Everything else is wiped and stored in your online database. LastPass has its own travel feature that restricts access from select countries.

Encrypt Your Info

Take your security a step further and encrypt your info, too. Obviously, you want to lock your laptop with a password, but encrypting your laptop makes it much harder for anyone to access it. That said, encrypting your entire drive can cause complications, too, so you might just want to encrypt the files on your computer. Either way, here are a few of our readers' favorite encryption tools. Just make sure to make a note of your password somewhere safe because if you lose it, you won't be able to log into your hard drive or files.

Also, avoid working from an administrator account to log into your files and make sure that account is protected with a totally different password. Set your laptop to lock automatically when it's idle or asleep. This way, it will require a password to start it back up again, too.

All of this might seem like overkill, especially considering the DHS has said they're not collecting our data, but it doesn't take much effort to lock down that extra level of security.

Keep Your Luggage Safe

You don't want strangers accessing your laptop-filled luggage, so get yourself a TSA-approved lock.

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There's always a chance the airline could lose your luggage, too, lock and all. Airlines are at a record low for mishandled luggage, but you probably don't want to take any chances with your laptop. You can use a luggage tracker to keep tabs on your bags. A tracker won't exactly to keep the airline from tossing your bag onto the wrong flight. However, if your bag is lost, and your laptop along with it, a tracker will make it easier to find. Of course, there's location-tracking software you can use with your laptop, too: Prey, LoJack for Laptops and Find My Mac to name a few.

You could also put your laptop in a tamper-evident bag (and some airports will do this for you). The TSA still has the right to open it up if they want to, but at least you'll know if your laptop was tampered with.

Prevent Damage to Your Laptop

If you've ever watched luggage handlers at work, you know your bag gets thrown around a lot en route, so make sure your laptop itself is secure in your luggage. Of course, a good laptop sleeve or case will probably do the trick, but you might as well wrap it in something soft so it stays nice and padded.

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When I travel with anything fragile, I bundle it up in the clothes I'm bringing, then pack it in the middle of the bag so it's insulated. A case or tamper-evident bag can also help protect your laptop against anything that might leak or burst in your luggage.

If you have to check your laptop, it's obviously important to keep your data safe and secure, but don't forget to protect it from bumpy rides and errant sunscreen bottles, too.

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