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Use these summer vacation travel hacks to plan the perfect summer trip for your family
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Kim's column

6 travel hacks that will help you plan the perfect summer vacation

Summer has arrived, and millions of people will take time off and fly to exotic destinations around the world. They will seek out beaches, lakes, hotels, rentals, cars, planes, trains, restaurants, museums — and much-needed Vitamin D. If you plan to join them, you’ll need these summer vacation travel hacks.

For example, you need to be concerned about hidden cameras in your hotel rooms and vacation rentals. This is a scary privacy threat I’ve dealt with before. Tap or click here for a few ways to find hidden cameras in an Airbnb or rental property.

But don’t let the threat of creeps stop you from having fun. Use the tech tips and travel hacks I’ve learned over the years to make happy memories that will last you a lifetime. I’ve got the inside scoop on Google Flights, mobile passports, VPNs and everything else you need for a smooth trip.

1. Mobile Passport is a lifesaver

Nobody likes to wait in line. Especially at the airport. Worse with young children. Worst at an international border, where a stoic official scrutinizes your documents.

Mobile Passport was invented to expedite this process. After all, border security doesn’t like long lines any more than we do, and the less time agents have to waste on good citizens going about their business, the more time they can dedicate to weeding out suspicious characters.

Just download the app, enter relevant information, and you’ll end up with the special barcode. This app entitles you to skip the long lines; for families traveling together, you can enter all their data at once – including passport numbers and the length and purpose of your stay.

If this sounds too good to be true, don’t worry: It was TSA that helped develop it. Tap or click here to learn more about Mobile Passport.

2. Google Flights is one of those summer vacation travel hacks you shouldn’t go without

Finding online deals on airfare is an art form, and once you’ve mastered this sudoku-like skill, you may find yourself browsing flights just for the fun of it.

Google Flights is pretty much the reigning champion of online booking. Not only does it provide a ton of useful information, but it also has a useful price tracker feature. Basically, it helps you land the right deal at the right time.

Enter any destination in the world, plus a reasonable date range, and Google will keep you posted about price trends and dips. You can also use its digital map to spot bargains and get ideas.

3. Use a VPN and beware of public Wi-Fi

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: do not use public Wi-Fi for anything you don’t want to be exposed on the internet, except in emergencies. Any free signal has the potential to be a cesspool of hackers and viruses, especially when you’re globetrotting. Most of us seek out Wi-Fi in places like airports and hotels, but unless the signal is vetted and secure, you could be inviting trouble.

Still, you will probably have to log onto the internet somewhere, so your best defense is a virtual private network or VPN. Such networks are inexpensive and easy to use, and they fortify you against roving cyber-criminals. Tap or click here for five other ways not to get hacked while en route.

4. Scan important documents and save them to a cloud

For years, travelers photocopied their passports and stowed them away in special wallets, just in case their most important identification was filched.

Now, you can just snap a digital photo of your passport and save it to a cloud; that way, you can easily prove to the local embassy that you are who you say you are. Replacing passports is a pain, but embassies do wonders to help undocumented travelers on the road.

You can also save photos of your credit cards, health insurance, and other vital materials. Pickpockets can ruin a vacation, but with your card information safely available, you have the option to book an early flight home (before you cancel cards and alert your bank to any unexpected charges).

If you use an iPhone, the Notes app is perfect. Tap or click here to learn an insider trick to scan documents.

5. Set up Find My Friends on your phone or Life360

Find my Friends raised a lot of eyebrows when it first hit the market, but millions of Apple users have benefitted from this location-tracking app, and the software has apparently saved lives.

There are many apps that are designed to pinpoint loved ones, such as Phone Tracker and Life360. These are especially handy for young travelers equipped with smartphones.

Since these apps depend on an active signal, they are most effective in your home country or in a place where you have secured a Sim card.

6. Making secret code words is one of my favorite summer vacation travel hacks

This little trick is as old as time because it’s useful in many different contexts. In fact, you can use it in everyday life as well as on family vacations. Basically, parents and children can pick a “password.”

In the classic scenario, a stranger approaches a child and says, “Your parents asked me to drive you home.” If that stranger doesn’t know the password, the child should seek out an adult. This works particularly well on the road, where people and places are unfamiliar, and dangers are harder to identify.

You can even use cell phones to make this tip easier for kids to remember. If children feel threatened or worried about their environment, they can text a password to their parents. Strangers won’t understand they’re covertly asking for help, so it’s a good safety tip to remember.

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