How Many International Travelers Are Practicing Unsafe Internet Behaviors? [Survey]

All About Cookies surveyed travelers to see how many people are putting their data at risk while traveling abroad.
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In the first three months of 2023, twice as many people traveled internationally as in the same period in 2022. These travelers use smartphones and other internet-connected devices to navigate foreign countries, but these devices can also put travelers at risk.

Cybercrime is expected to cost victims $8 trillion globally in 2023, and criminals do not care whether their victims are locals or tourists.

To illustrate the importance of digital security while traveling, All About Cookies surveyed U.S. adults who have traveled internationally within the last decade. We asked how many have had their devices or data stolen or compromised overseas, the most common ways people keep their information secure, how many have engaged in risky digital behaviors abroad, and more.

In this article
Key findings
How many people practice safe digital behaviors abroad
How many people practice unsafe digital behaviors abroad
Which items are lost or stolen the most while traveling
Best practices before traveling abroad

Key findings

  • More than one third (35%) of international travelers have had a cell phone, laptop, tablet, or smart watch lost/stolen while abroad.
  • Fewer than 1 in 3 travelers (31%) use a virtual private network (VPN) when traveling internationally.
  • Around 1 in 3 travelers don’t regularly verify public Wi-Fi networks before using them when traveling internationally.
  • Among internet safety best practices, purchasing a travel SIM card is the most commonly overlooked.

How many people practice safe digital behaviors abroad

When traveling abroad, a little bit of effort can go a long way toward keeping your devices and data safe. Travel and cybersecurity experts recommend people follow a few simple steps and best practices while in another country. But how many people actually follow that advice?

A chart showing percentages of people who practice various digital safety behaviors while traveling abroad.

There are three tips that more than half of international travelers follow most or every time they go abroad. Around half (52%) of people alert their financial institutions of travel plans and turn on “Find my device” features for smart devices they travel with, and 51% make sure that their devices are fully updated before taking off.

Over 2 in 5 international travelers (43%) power off their devices before going through customs or government checkpoints.

However, some expert advice is largely ignored. For example, less than one-third of international travelers use a VPN when they access the internet while traveling, and just 29% take the time to research internet privacy laws in the country they will be traveling to.

The least common advice travelers follow is purchasing a travel SIM card, which allows your cell phone to work on international networks. Not only can this save money on international data rates, it can also make it easier to browse the internet on a cell network, which is safer than potentially dangerous public Wi-Fi networks.

But what do experts say is different about traveling abroad? We asked John Hering, Senior Government Affairs Manager, Cybersecurity Policy and Protection at Microsoft, what travelers need to know about before leaving the house.

According to Hering, the real risk is in the information you don’t have about security in a new country.

“Anytime you are traveling somewhere new, you should accept that you have less information about the relative security of the ICT environment and practice good cyber hygiene. This means ensuring software is up to date with any necessary patches before traveling, enabling multi-factor authentication on all your accounts, and utilizing things like anti-malware and VPN services. Travelers should also be deliberate about which connected devices they choose to take with them on a trip to limit risk — this includes things like laptops and phones, but also other network-connected consumer products like tablets, smart watches, and even handheld gaming systems.”

How many people practice unsafe digital behaviors abroad

While there are plenty of tips for keeping data and devices safe while traveling, there are even more ways to put those things at risk. Some of these behaviors seem innocent enough in the moment, but can cause big issues for travelers who aren’t careful.

A chart showing percentages of people who practice various unsafe digital safety behaviors while traveling abroad.

Public charging stations can feel like a blessing for anyone with a rapidly draining cell phone battery, but the potential for these kinds of stations to spread malicious software to connected devices is great enough that the FBI issued a public warning about them earlier this year. Despite the dangers public charging stations pose, nearly two-thirds of travelers (63%) indicate that they have used one while traveling abroad before.

More than 40% of international travelers admitted they connect to unsecured Wi-Fi networks.

Smart devices such as TVs and speakers in hotel rooms pose a similar threat, as anyone who has had access to the hotel room in the past could have hacked these devices for nefarious purposes. Despite that, nearly half of travelers (46%) have connected their personal devices to smart devices located in their hotel room.

One of the most dangerous things anyone can do with their devices, both at home and while traveling, is connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi network. These kinds of networks are highly susceptible to hacking, something that also applies to any device that connects to them. Alarmingly, 42% of travelers say they have connected to an unsecured Wi-Fi network while traveling internationally before.

Which items are lost or stolen the most while traveling

Having an important item lost or stolen while traveling is both annoying and stressful to deal with while in another country. It can also have long-term consequences if the lost item in question allows a criminal access to their personal data and information.

A chart showing percentages of people who have had various items lost or stolen while traveling internationally.

A little less than half of international travelers, 46%, have lost or had stolen an item such as a smart device, cash, personal documents, or personal items. The most common affected item is cash — 22% of people say they’ve lost cash or had it stolen. Nearly the same percentage of people have had their cell phone lost or stolen abroad.

1 in 5 international travelers have lost their cell phone or had it stolen while abroad.

Limiting focus just to smart devices such as phones, laptops, tablets, and smart watches reveals that more than one-third of people (35%) have had one of those items lost or stolen while traveling internationally before. Losing smart devices can be a real headache since travelers must take steps to secure their personal data as well as deal with the hassle and cost to replace the device in question.

Best practices before traveling abroad

No matter when your next international trip is scheduled, there are steps you can take prior to takeoff to help to make sure your data and devices will remain safe and secure while traveling.

An infographic listing best practices for tech, banking, and finance for people traveling abroad.

Of course, travel safety doesn’t end once you’re back home. The FCC encourages travelers to update security software and change passwords on their devices upon returning from their time abroad.

More tips for international travelers

International travel presents unique risks, but there are plenty of ways to stay safe abroad. Some more tips for doing just that include:

  • Decide which VPN is right for you. Subscribe to one of the best VPNs for travel as a way to protect your data while on public Wi-Fi networks without compromising your connection speeds.
  • Sign up for an identity theft protection service. The best identity theft protection services have individual and family plans and are compatible with various types of devices.
  • Understand the risks of juice jacking. Read up on the ways you can prevent yourself from juice jacking and learn what to do if you suspect that you’re a victim.


All About Cookies surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults in August 2023. Only people that indicated they have traveled internationally in the last 10 years were allowed to respond.

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Author Details
Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how tech overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.