Travel advice: what to do if your smartphone is lost or stolen

A lost or stolen phone could ruin a holiday. But it is possible to bounce back. Here is our essential travel advice.

A couple leaning on their car while looking at their phone
  • Sangeeta Kocharekar
  • March 2020

After your wallet and your passport, if you’re travelling, what’s the one thing you’d never travel without? Yep, you guessed it. It’s your phone.

While it should come as no surprise many of us consider our phone to be an extension of our arm – particularly when travelling – what is surprising is just how strong our attachment to it really is.

Case in point: our survey found that, when travelling, a whopping 80 per cent of Aussies would choose to use their phones for entertainment over packing a book. Some Aussies even went one step further, saying that, for the chance to bring their phone on a trip, they’d forgo packing a hairbrush (34 per cent), shoes (12 per cent) and even underwear (7 per cent).

Young woman in a hat at the airport looking at her phone.
A smartphone is an essential travel accessory for the modern traveller.

Whether it’s for using maps, getting travel tips on your destination, social media, keeping in touch with friends and family or even making payments, clearly we would struggle to travel these days without our smartphones.

But what happens then when, while travelling, your phone is lost or stolen? It may be a terrifying thought, but no need to panic – here’s what you need to do.

Back-up all your data

To put you in a better position should you lose your phone while travelling, you’ll want to do a few things before you go.

Make sure your phone is backing up properly – either to a computer or to a cloud service such as Apple’s iCloud or Google Drive, says tech journalist Alex Kidman.

“You can always replace the hardware, but your precious photos and other documents can’t easily be retrieved,” he says.

A woman holding phone while sitting in front of laptop
You should always make sure your phone is backed up before you jet off.

Put your contact details in your phone case

Another practical thing to do before you go? Slip your contact details into your phone case, says Alex.

“Don’t put in your full details,” he says. “Those could be used for identity theft purposes.” Instead, he suggests simply including your e-mail address.

“If a friendly type finds it, or it’s handed in to the local authorities, it’s got much better odds of making its way back to you,” he says.

Give your phone extra layers of security

Next is to ensure your phone is completely secure. “Use a strong passcode, which should never be a dictionary word on your phone,” says Alex.

“Some phones and apps also offer on-device encryption for specific files and folders. Consider using these if you’ve got particularly sensitive data on your device.”

Depending on where you’re travelling, Alex says it may also be wise to temporarily uninstall or block specific apps that store personal details on your phone.

A woman holding a pink iPhone
Making sure your passcode is strong will give you an extra layer of security.

Stay calm

You’ve done all of the above and watched your phone like a hawk, but still, you’ve managed to lose it, or have it stolen. What next?

The first thing to do is to keep your calm, says Henry Viana, driver guide for tour company AAT Kings.

“Stressing out isn’t helpful for anyone,” he says. “Details can be missed if you’re not thinking clearly.”

Retrace your steps

Calmly think about where you might have misplaced the phone. “Retrace your steps and contact the restaurant, café or hotel where you think you may have left it behind,” says Henry.

It’s also worth checking tracking apps like Find My iPhone if they were set up on your device, says Alex. “Though that will only track to a location area, it just might help,” he says.

File a police report

Once you’re certain your phone is actually lost or stolen, head to the local police station to file a report.

This is important not only because someone may have handed it in, but also because you’ll need the report to file a travel insurance claim.

A man sitting at a desk infant of his laptop.
Report your lost phone to the police so you can make a travel insurance claim.

Embrace the situation

And finally, though you may want to buy a second-hand or cheap phone to use in the meantime, also consider going temporarily without. “Your phone is a material object that can be replaced,” says Henry. “Your memories, however, cannot.”

“So, focus on your holiday and remember to have a good time. Maybe it was a sign a digital detox was needed.”