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How to back up your precious photos while traveling abroad

CNET's Maggie Reardon helps you prevent phone thieves in foreign lands from stealing your vacation memories.

It's tragic enough when your phone is lost or stolen while you're on vacation, but it's even worse when it also happens to contain every one of the thousand pictures you took on your holiday.

Phone cameras have gotten so good, you may not need to take a separate camera on vacation. Many shutterbugs are opting to leave their point-and-shoot and DSLR cameras at home so they can travel lighter. But phones also have a sneaky habit of sliding out of pockets on cab rides or disappearing into the hands of clever pickpockets while their owners are taking in the local sites.

In this edition of Ask Maggie, I offer some advice about how to back up those cherished memories so they're not lost forever.

Dear Maggie,

Two years ago my family went to Turkey for vacation. Two days before our trip ended my phone, which had all the pictures, was stolen. I was devastated. We're about to embark on another vacation. This time to Italy and Spain. I'm hoping my phone isn't stolen again, but just in case, what's the best way to back up my photos while I'm on the road?


Jaded Traveler

Dear Jaded,

Luckily, you have two great options to consider.

Automatic phone backup

The simplest and easiest way to ensure you never lose any of your photos is to sign up for an automatic photo backup service, which will store your images in the "cloud." It doesn't matter which cloud service you use. There are several. Apple users may opt for iCloud. There's also Google Photos, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Amazon Cloud Drive, and even Facebook.

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These services can automatically suck your photos in the cloud, so you don't even have to think about losing them. Some can also delete images on your device as they're stored in the cloud so you never run out of room on your phone. Services like Google Photos will help you organize and keep track of your photos by automatically tagging people and identifying well-known tourist sites. G9ogle Photos can also organize your trip into albums or a video of snapshots.

But there is one big downside to these services. Backing up to a cloud requires that you have a data connection, and roaming overseas can get costly. So make sure you're only backing up pictures while using Wi-Fi.

The portable method

If Internet access is too pricey or you have security and privacy concerns about storing all your images in a cloud service, you can use a portable hard drive that connects to your phone via Wi-Fi or some other short-range wireless technology to transfer files. You could also just take your laptop and back up pictures to it, which is likely what you do at home. But carrying around a laptop while traveling makes you an even bigger target for thieves, so I say leave the Macbook Air at home and get a more lightweight, less expensive portable hard drive.

CNET just put together a terrific list of these devices. They range in price from around $60 to $360.

The bottom line

Why not use both? Using both a portable hard drive and automatically storing images in a cloud service will ensure you don't lose any of your cherished memories from your vacation.

A couple of more tips

  • Before you leave home, make sure you have enough memory on your phone. Delete photos that have already been backed up to the cloud or your computer, as well as digital books you're not reading and music you're not listening to. And uninstall nonessential apps.
  • When using Wi-Fi to send your pictures into the cloud service, set it up to transfer at night while you sleep in your hotel. The Wi-Fi network will likely not be over taxed then, and you'll wake up knowing all your pictures are safe and sound.

For more tips about backing up photos on the go, check out this story from my CNET colleague Lexy Savvides.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.