How to Protect Your Privacy When Posting Your Vacation Plans Online

Sharing your vacation plans with friends, family, and co-workers is a wonderful way to gain excitement about upcoming trips while letting others know when you will be away.  With today’s instant modes of communication and the public nature of social networking and the Internet, it will do us all good to stop and take basic precautions to protect our privacy.  This concern won’t go away anytime soon but with some basic knowledge and useful tips, you will depart on your next vacation with minimal worry.

Social Networking and Vacation Privacy

There are many ways that we all stay in touch online with the people we know including the most popular social networking site Facebook.  Other places where people may post vacation plans include LinkedIn, MySpace, Twitter, FourSquare, Meetup, Yelp, and too many other general and specialized sites to name.  Wikipedia offers a comprehensive list in case you are curious and a simple search for “social networking” plus the a word or two to describe your interest will reveal more.

Social Networking Privacy While Traveling

What does this all mean?  Why should you be concerned about privacy when discussing your vacation plans?  The most often cited example of risk is if a criminal found out when you are not at home and took advantage of this opportunity to rob your house.  While there is no strong evidence this is actually happening, it makes common sense to keep your travel calendar private and between friends and relevant people from work at all times.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a full article covering the topic of locational privacy that is worth a read.

Fortunately many social networking sites have taken a serious look at privacy controls and offer settings that you can adjust to keep certain kinds of personal information and status updates hidden from all but your inner circle of connections.

As promised, here is my list of ways to stay safe when telling others about your travel plans and when you will be away from home on vacation.

Home Safety Tips

  • For Facebook and similar social networking sites, avoid posting status updates that make it obvious you are on vacation unless those messages are only visible to your friends.  Review your privacy settings and do a test to verify what is visible to friends and what is visible to friends of friends and everyone on the Internet to be sure.
  • Do not check in using FourSquare, Gowalla, or other popular geolocation apps on your mobile phone when visiting a far away destination unless your username is not your real name nor easily found with a Google search against your profile information.  These location-based services offer many ways to discover fun and interesting places nearby as long as you are smart on how you sign-up and check-in locally.
  • For those of you that made it a habit of connecting with everyone that asks (not just friends and colleagues) or if you typically post online to a large group of connections (e.g. LinkedIn Groups) or followers (e.g. Twitter), consider waiting until you return from a trip to share.  This means holding off on posting updates, tweets, photos, and videos while on vacation and connecting with your vast network of friends once you are back home.
  • Check which of your social networking sites are pinging others with status updates and disconnect or turn off these automated messages where appropriate.  For example if you tweet under a pseudonym while traveling and you have activated an app to auto-post them to your Facebook wall, your cover may be blown.  Consider creating a separate account without using your real name so that you can continue to blog, tweet, and check-in while on vacation without the world knowing.

Work Safety Tips

  • Do not mention on your out-of-the-office voicemail and auto-response email that you will be out-of-town or where you are traveling to.  Only mention that you will not be available during a specific date range (work days only) and share work related details pertinent to your role such as who will be handling your responsibilities and who to contact when a call is urgent.
  • Do not send out a vacation notice to the “ALL” email list group at your workplace because you think it is the fastest way to get the word out.  Only communicate with select co-workers and colleagues that need to know you will not be at work.  Of course if you can discretely find out which fellow employees have visited vacation destinations that you will be visiting, reach out and arrange a coffee break or grab lunch together to gather ideas and advice.
  • Avoid checking your work email from your vacation destination and if you must do so, follow the same rule to only mention that you are not at the office.  Try to avoid talking about how you are sunning yourself on the beaches of Hawaii or gambling in Monte Carlo (two very typical examples, I’m sure).  While I understand the desire to share, it will appear more professional if you simply handle the issue and explain how you will follow-up further when you are back in the office.

Credit and Identity Theft

When you are on vacation the last thing you want to worry about is identity theft. Can your bank or credit card company get in touch with you if they detect suspicious activity on your account? Often when traveling abroad it can be difficult to stay connected, especially if you are on an international trip or going on a multi-day hike or on a cruise for example. I often buy a local SIM card for my phone when calling rates to receive or make calls are very expensive in a foreign country.

One smart idea is to lock down your credit so that no one (you included) can apply for credit without taking extra verification steps. The three credit reporting agencies can handle your request to put a lock on your credit report (rules and fees do vary) so do look each into those options if you are concerned. To take this advice to the professional level, sign up for a credit and identity theft monitoring service. Experian offers a service called IdentityWorks which does just that. They’ll monitor all 3 credit bureaus, keep an eye on the “dark web” to make sure your information has not been compromised, provides address change alerts, and offers identity theft insurance.

Post Summary

The purpose of this post is not to make you worry about communicating via social networking, email, and smart phone apps while on vacation, but to raise the issue of privacy so you are well-informed.  Technology is changing rapidly and we are constantly asked to take responsibility for our online lives as what we share with others is a major part of our identity.

Take my advice as a starting point and based on the sites and apps you visit on a regular basis, come up with your own list of rules about staying in touch and taking reasonable precautions before, during, and after a vacation.  Also ask your employer if there are official policies that all employees are asked to follow.  You’re in control, so be smart with your vacation plans and share with care online.

Happy Traveling…

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