Travelling with gadgets

The plane's coming into land and you are told to turn off electronic gadgets. You shut down the film you're watching on your tablet, and as it's so flat, put it in the seat-back pocket.

Then in the rush to be the first into passport control, you leave it behind. You are not alone.

Airlines like Virgin America and Delta alone have hundreds of unclaimed tablets in lost property departments.

They say it is almost impossible to trace owners because tablets all look the same – two makes dominate the market – and because most are password protected.

It's not all bad...

The “good” news is that as we lose more tablets, we mislay fewer mobile phones.

Even if it's insured, reporting the loss to the relevant authority - a key condition of cover – can be difficult especially if you are already a continent away and don't know where it was lost or stolen.

But insurance may not work anyway, according to recent research from Which? It found many travel policies have not been updated to cover the expensive gadgets we routinely take on holiday. Some plans would pay out just £200 or even less after the “excess.” (the first slice of any claim). The replacement cost of a high end tablet or mobile phone exceeds £500 – laptops can top £1,000. John Lewis Insurance travel policies offer optional “technology cover” to protect expensive items when on holiday.

One new alternative to the traditional travel policy is “gadget insurance” - it's like a mobile phone policy but covering tablets, laptops, and cameras as well. You can usually choose what you want to protect – there's often a discount if the plan includes more than one gadget.

The advantage is that it covers more risks than some traditional travel or household contents insurances. Gadget insurance typically includes accidental damage as standard as well as theft or loss – so the policy should pay out if you pour coffee over your computer. Some also promise to repair machines that suffer mechanical breakdowns (although not software problems). Policies may offer protection against thieves using your stolen phone to run up big international calling bills. And some will send replacement gadgets to wherever you are in the world.

Is it worth it? Gadget insurance typically starts at £1.50 a month - £18 a year – for low cost items. A top of the range tablet can cost £5 a month - £60 a year – while the most expensive laptops will weigh in at around £100 a year. A typical policy will only let you cover items purchased within the previous twelve months. There are excesses which can reduce payouts by £100. And you have to report the loss to the relevant authorities within 48 hours which is not always easy when travelling.

Unlike most household contents and travel cover, you have to insure each item separately so the cost can quickly mount up. Some will only cover items bought in the UK – so you can't protect that tablet you purchased on your last trip to New York or the great value laptop you acquired in Hong Kong.

But whatever the merits of any policy, the worst loss is never covered. For many, the gadget is not the problem – they might even welcome the excuse to buy a new, faster, sleeker, machine with more capacity and more capability. It's dealing with the loss of irreplaceable content such as personal pictures and documents that causes the real pain.

So whether the gadget is insured or not, always back up personal material. You can do this to an external hard drive, or, increasing to a “cloud” service – that's the data equivalent to one of those self-storage places but with everything kept on a mega-computer rather than on a factory estate warehouse.

Basic Measures

And insurance or not, take some basic measures to help finders re-unite you with your gadgets.

Keeping your tablet in a distinctive cover can help identification.

Incorporate your phone number on the home page (before the machine asks for a password) or just stick a label on the back.

Always register machines and keep serial numbers somewhere safe as many manufacturers can disable tablets and phones remotely – finders are more likely to return a gadget that does not work.

Never put any valuables – including jewellery - in luggage going into the aircraft hold. Most travel policies exclude payouts if high cost items go missing from there.

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Tony Levene is a renowned financial journalist, who has previously been a columnist for Guardian Money. He has written several books, including 'Investing for Dummies' and won the ABI lifetime achievement award and the Headline Money award.