Whether you're a hopeless technophile armed with bleeding-edge gadgets or just want to take a dozen books to one of Asia's great beaches without getting a hernia, protecting a bag of expensive electronic toys and accessories around can be challenging.
From laptops and tablets to smartphones, use these tips for keeping your electronic devices safe as you travel through Asia.
Keeping Your Gadgets Safe
- Protect Your Chargers: Common sense dictates that any valuable devices (e.g., laptop, camera, MP3 player, iPad, etc...) should be kept with you at all times when taking transportation -- particularly overnight trains and buses. Stolen chargers and accessories are hot items in tourist markets because many travelers accidentally leave them behind in hotels then look locally to purchase a replacement. Keep chargers with the devices and in your daybag when taking night buses or public transportation.
- Prevent Petty Theft: Violent crime is rarely a serious threat, however, petty theft is a problem on transportation and in some guesthouses. Falling asleep on a night bus with an iPod in your lap is a great way to wake up with only some dangling earphones remaining. Choose hotels and hostels that offer a safe or lockbox at reception; carry and use your own padlock whenever possible. See more ways to prevent theft at your guesthouse.
- Don't Attract Attention: A backpack with a 'LowePro' or 'IBM' logo will make a thief's mouth water. Hide the logo or choose a nondescript backpack for daily use. Avoid advertising your expensive electronics in public as much as possible.
- Pack for Abuse: Bags and luggage are often crammed into tiny spaces on transportation to make room for more passengers. An unbelievable amount of screen-cracking weight could be placed on top of your bag; sometimes passengers even have to sit atop people's bags!
- Waterproof Everything: Luggage is often stored on top of tourist minivans, buses, and boats; you may not have access to your bag if rain comes unexpectedly. Waterproof everything electronic beforehand. If traveling during monsoon season, you may want to purchase a waterproof backpack to keep all electronics protected in one place.
Using Wi-Fi in Asia
Times have changed; you'll find a Wi-Fi signal in even remote places throughout Asia, and surprisingly most are now at least password-protected with WEP so that you must purchase something in order to get the password. Although WPA encryption is becoming more widespread in Southeast Asia, the default signal is typically 802.11b protected by WEP.
Beware of open access points -- your passwords and credentials are sent across them unencrypted and could be captured. Fake access points are regularly set up to 'harvest' thousands of email and social-network logins which are then later sold to groups who send out SPAM in your name.
Tip: Just because a cafe or guesthouse advertises 'free Wi-Fi' doesn't necessarily mean that it works; signs are there to lure in customers. Sometimes access points pump out strong signals with no real internet connection or you're expected to share an unreliable signal from a hotel across the street. If you're serious about access, check connectivity before committing to a stay.
- See what to expect from budget accommodation in Asia.
Internet Cafes in Asia
Even with lots of free Wi-Fi available, you'll still find internet cafes in all tourist areas that charge by the minute for access. Some are modern and surprisingly fast while others offer broken keyboards and internet speeds reminiscent of the dial-up era. Why would they maintain a fast network -- you're paying by the minute!
Asia was listed by eWeek as the most dangerous place in the world to access the internet due to viruses, malware, and keyloging. Aside from frustrating speeds and a distracting environment, some nefarious internet cafes capture their customers' login credentials; many are rife with viruses. Write-protect memory cards and devices before you connect them to public computers that may be infected with viruses.
- See how you can protect yourself when using internet cafes in Asia.
Power Problems in Asia
Unclean power is a real problem in many places, particularly small towns and islands. Electric sags and surges on the line happen during storms and when generators are started or fail over to backups. These spikes on the line can damage fragile electronics and cause latent failures.
The safest bet is to always be present when you are charging devices so that you can pull the plug when the lights begin to act funny. Keep devices unplugged during storms.
Consider picking up a portable solar charger if you need a safe way to charge must-have devices.
- See more about the power and voltage in Asia.
Using Mobile Phones in Asia
If a low cell phone battery gives you the shakes, you aren't alone. Asians are rarely without at least one or more mobile phones within easy reach. A 2012 study estimated that 45% of Indian cell phone users in Mumbai had severe nomophobia.
The cell network differs between countries in Asia, and American phones are not always compatible or must be 'unlocked' first. If you plan to use your smartphone for more than just applications and internet access, see using mobile phones in Asia to find out if your phone will work.
Alternatively, see how to call home from abroad for keeping in touch without relying on a mobile phone.
Purchasing Electronic Devices in Asia
Asians positively love their electronic toys and you'll find many entire malls dedicated to the latest tech gadgets in every middle-sized city in Asia. Places such as Hong Kong and Singapore have entire shopping districts dedicated only to phones, cameras, and computer paraphernalia. First, read some basics about shopping in Asia.
Shopping in places such as Bangkok's famous MBK Center or Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is enough to drive any technophile mad, however, keep the following in mind:
- There are many, many fakes. Even reputable shopping malls will carry cheap knock-offs of popular items such as iPads and mobile phones.
- Sometimes big Western companies use cheaper, second-rate components in devices manufactured specifically for markets in developing countries or send them refurbished warranty returns in new boxes; they do so to keep costs down and to remain competitive in the cheaper markets.
- The cheapest Chinese-made gadgets such as phones and MP3 players have a life expectancy roughly equivalent to the price. Don't be surprised if a generic product stops working in a month or two.
- To receive a deal better than what you can find from online retailers, you'll have to bargain hard. Fortunately, tech malls often have hundreds of stalls offering the same product so you can shop around easily and bid one vendor against another. See some tips for negotiating prices.
- Getting support, a warranty, or a refund/replacement for electronics purchased while in Asia could be difficult or impossible if something goes wrong later.
- Get a receipt and ask about VAT paperwork -- with a little effort at the airport on your way out, you will receive a refund for the tax you paid on a big purchase.