We are planning a long trip abroad, passing through many countries (mainly European). What’s the safest way to use Internet banking outside your home? Do we need to take our own laptop? We would be interested and grateful to hear from other travellers.
The rule is to avoid using PCs in internet cafes or hotels, especially those with the Windows operating system. The risk is that they are compromised by spyware, which will record your keystrokes when you log into your bank. This will then allow others to access your account. You can take your own laptop, but there are lighter alternatives. If you have a mobile phone that needs to be upgraded, choose a Wi-Fi enabled smartphone. For a list of these, click here. Free Wi-Fi in cafes and bars is becoming more and more common, even if you are reasonably expected to buy a coffee or a beer. It will cost less than mobile roaming rates and the connection is usually much faster. A phone like the Nokia N95 is a good bet and also comes with decent optics for photos and videos, as well as GPS if you get lost. Another approach is to gift yourself an iPod Touch. It is Wi-Fi enabled as standard and comes with the Safari web browser on the Unix-based Mac OS X platform. The iPod Touch will also allow you to carry your music collection, watch video clips and check your e-mails. Add a wireless transmitter for a ten and you can also listen to your music in any vehicle equipped with an FM radio. Since you mainly travel within the Eurozone, you should consider getting a Caxton FX Euro Card. You can load it through your internet bank, get a better exchange rate and save on most transactions.
Aidan Roe, Manchester, who wins this week’s national £25 pound token
The laptop is a lifesaver
I would definitely take a laptop. It made my life so much easier when I was traveling all over Europe. You’ll be able to upload, organize and edit your photos as you go, and keep notes and records while things are fresh in your mind. You will be able to write emails offline, ready to send when you can connect. You also need to back up all your data in case the laptop is stolen – you can consider one of the online backup services for that. When it comes to the bank, there is a small risk, but you can use your common sense to avoid problems. You can get free wireless at some tourist information centers, which should be safe enough. The safest bet is to use the internet connection of someone you trust. Some people leave their internet connection unprotected for others to use, and there could be a security risk here. Change your password regularly if you are worried.
Robin Beadle, Cumbria
My partner and I traveled extensively (25 countries) in a van across Europe in the last year. We decided to take our laptop for a variety of reasons and found that many campgrounds have wireless. failing that, you will find an internet cafe in almost every town. If you are hiking, leave the laptop behind because it will start to annoy you and you will always worry about its safety. Take as many euros and US dollars as you feel safe and leave travelers checks behind – we tried six times to cash euro travelers checks in Barcelona (four banks hadn’t heard of it !) and you lose too much money in fees. Our Abbey online bank was perfectly safe, but beware if you are asked for your PIN code on a computer in an internet café. Never give it away – it will be a scam put on the PC (not necessarily by the owner). We were able to transfer money between accounts quite easily and used one account to withdraw cash from ATMs when we had run out of euros/dollars. Of course, you will be charged a percentage each time, but if you divide this amount by the time away and the amount you save on food and wine, it’s really nothing! Check that the Maestro/Cirrus sign is displayed and always get your maximum amount every time you withdraw money – you are charged the same percentage regardless of the value. Take two cards for one account in case the ATM gets hungry and swallows the card. We also took a long trip around the world and used the exact same method without a hitch – there’s even an internet cafe on Easter Island. Use your credit card for larger purchases, collect points and pay online again in time to avoid interest. Tell your bank that you’ll be using your cards overseas, and if you know the countries you’re traveling to, get a list of ATM fees.
Liz Richards, Sales, Cheshire
Using internet cafes to check your bank details is very risky because anyone could have installed spyware to obtain your personal data. I would suggest getting a contract for an internet-enabled phone such as a Blackberry. It will allow you to keep in touch with your friends by phone and e-mail, and will allow you to do Internet banking from a known and secure terminal. The cost of mobile calls since has also come down recently.
Graham Hunt, Cambridge
This week’s question
My 15 year old son is desperate to earn money and wants to do a paper tour starting at 6am. Although I want him to learn the value of money, I’m afraid his schoolwork will suffer because he’s so tired. Am I worrying needlessly?
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