40% U.S. travelers feel social pressure to share their locations

Even though the vast majority of survey respondents are concerned about sharing travel details on social media.
Privacy news
7 mins

Ever caught yourself ready to post that perfect vacation snapshot on Instagram or quickly check emails using a cafe’s Wi-Fi while on holiday? You’re part of a vast crowd. A recent ExpressVPN survey reveals American travelers’ digital behaviors, highlighting their eagerness for adventure and digital connectivity, despite the privacy risks.

When surveying 2,000 Americans about their last 12 months of travel, we found that 40% explored only within the U.S., 8% only ventured abroad, and 14% experienced the best of both worlds. This enthusiasm for travel not only highlights our love for discovery but also sets the stage for how these adventures are shared: digitally.

It turns out, our journeys don’t just take us to new places; they propel us into an online world of sharing and connecting. Many respondents confessed to a habit of posting travel updates on social media—from location-tagged photos to live check-ins at must-see spots. Yet, alongside the snapshots and stories, there’s a significant reliance on public Wi-Fi, chosen by many for its convenience despite well-known privacy and security risks.

This dive into the travel and online sharing habits of Americans raises an important question: how do we maintain our digital privacy while embracing the convenience of connectivity on our travels? Join us as we find out.

Read more: How concerned are travelers about cybercrime during their vacations? 

Jump to…
Social media sharing vs. privacy concerns
American’s public Wi-Fi habits
The dangers of using public Wi-Fi
The easiest way to stay safe online on vacation
Tips for protecting your privacy on holiday

Social media sharing vs. privacy concerns 

As Americans go about their travels, using social media is a big part of the experience. Even though a lot of respondents know about the privacy risks, they still end up sharing their adventures online. 

81% of travelers worry about sharing personal travel details  

Most of those we surveyed voiced their concerns over privacy and security risks associated with sharing travel details on social media. Specifically:

  • 81% worry about posting photos of travel documents like boarding passes
  • 76% are concerned about sharing their location
  • 72% are wary of sharing images of their hotel room or vacation rental online while still checked in

However, despite these concerns, the actual sharing habits on social media paint a different picture. About 48% of travelers share their location online—usually through check-ins, location tags, or geo-tags—with 11% doing so regularly.

Additionally, 23% have shared photos of their boarding pass or travel documents, with a small percentage (9%) leaving personal details uncovered. Photos of hotel rooms or vacation rentals are also shared by 34% of travelers, with 10% regularly showing off their accommodations and 24% sharing if the place is unique. 

 And which platforms are they sharing these on most? 

  • Facebook: 61%
  • Instagram: 33%
  • Snapchat: 24%
  • TikTok: 24%
  • X: 14%
  • Life360: FindMyFriends: 14%

The pull of social pressure

Around 40% of American travelers feel the push to share where they are online, driven by what feels like a modern need to live out loud on social media. But this urge to share comes with some regrets—28% have felt it. Perhaps because the risk wasn’t worth the like.

Up to 12% of respondents have experienced privacy and security issues from oversharing while on the move, while 18% know someone who has. 

Updating loved ones is the top reason for sharing travel experiences

So, what exactly is driving this sharing spree?

  • Keeping friends and family in the loop: 58%
  • For safety, so people know where I am: 40%
  • Documenting and sharing experiences: 30%
  • Showing off travel adventures: 25%
  • Receiving recommendations and tips: 20%
  • Getting likes or positive feedback from followers: 17%
  • Connect with other travelers or local communities: 15%
  • Promote a travel-related business or brand: 10%

While keeping friends and family updated is the main reason people share their travel experiences online, the act of sharing sensitive information like boarding passes, location, or details about accommodations on a public platform can pose significant risks. 

Those barcodes on boarding passes aren’t just random patterns—they can contain personal information that, when decoded, can give data thieves everything from your name to your future travel plans. And broadcasting that you’re in a gorgeous Airbnb in Milan tells potential burglars that your home is empty, making it a target.

While we navigate the pitfalls of sharing too much online, our need for constant connectivity ushers us towards another digital crossroads: public Wi-Fi. This convenient service is essential for travelers but often overlooks significant security risks.

Public Wi-Fi: A double-edged sword for travelers

As Americans hit the road (or the skies), they often have to rely on public Wi-Fi. Nearly half of respondents (44%) opt for hotel networks as it’s likely where travelers spend most of their downtime. This contrasts with the slightly less popular choices of cafes and airports, where only 29% and 25% of travelers browse the internet, respectively.

ActivityHotel Wi-FiRestaurants/Cafe’s Wi-FiAirport Wi-Fi
Browsing the internet44%29%25%
Streaming content39%21%20%
Accessing social media 39%27%22%
Checking personal emails37%18%13%
Playing games35%12%12%
Shopping online 27%21%20%
Accessing online banking 24%12%13%
Accessing work-related documents or emails23%21%20%
Watching adult-only content15%7%7%
Accessing the dark web 9%7%6%

Whether it’s streaming our favorite shows, scrolling through social media, checking in on emails, engaging in some online shopping, or even diving into gaming, the reasons we connect to public Wi-Fi while on vacation are as varied as our destinations. 

3 out of 20 Americans use hotel Wi-Fi to access adult content

However, it’s interesting to note that a small number of those surveyed venture into more sensitive online activities via hotel Wi-Fi, including 15% of respondents accessing adult content and 9% exploring the dark web. And these activities aren’t confined to the relative privacy of a hotel room—7% admit to accessing similar content through cafe Wi-Fi, and 7% and 6% through airport Wi-Fi. 

Many of our respondents also admit to working during their vacations, with 23% relying on hotel Wi-Fi to engage with work-related documents or emails, followed by 21% who use restaurant or cafe Wi-Fi, and 20% who rely on airport Wi-Fi. This brings up additional security considerations about accessing sensitive work information over public networks.

Read more: 8 tips for online safety this travel season

The dangers of using public Wi-Fi 

Using public Wi-Fi when you’re on vacation is a prime example of a convenience that comes with risks. Tourists use it everywhere—to get directions, to post on social media, or to check in with family. But each time you connect to a public network, you’re potentially exposing yourself to cyber attacks.

Here are some of the ways your personal information can be compromised over public Wi-Fi networks:

  • Evil-twin attack. With this method, criminals create a network with a similar name to the public network and gain direct access to the computer of any guests who accidentally connect to it. 
  • Man-in-the-middle attack. In man-in-the-middle attacks, a hacker secretly relays and possibly alters the communication between two parties who believe they are directly communicating with each other. 
  • Packet sniffing. This is where a hacker records the packets of data that pass between you and an unsecured Wi-Fi router.
  • Snooping by Wi-Fi admin. Someone who oversees the network (such as hotel staff) could deduce what sites each guest has been visiting based on Wi-Fi logs.

All of the above risks can be mitigated by using a high-quality VPN on your device when you go online.

VPN: the easiest way to stay safe online on vacation 

Connecting to public Wi-Fi is like a reflex for many of us while traveling. It’s convenient, sure, but safe? Not so much. However, staying safe isn’t about avoiding public Wi-Fi altogether; it’s about how you use it.

Enter VPNs. Using a VPN on all your devices encrypts your internet connection, essentially scrambling the data so it becomes unreadable to anyone who might try to intercept it. This includes ISPs, the admins running the public Wi-Fi, governments, or man-in-the-middle attackers. 

Now, let’s talk about making VPN protection as seamless as possible, especially when you’re on the move. ExpressVPN’s Aircove Go is a travel router designed with your digital safety in mind. Imagine connecting to any Wi-Fi network anywhere in the world and having all your devices immediately covered by VPN protection. That’s exactly what Aircove Go offers. 

Other tips for protecting your privacy on holiday 

On top of using a VPN when traveling, it’s important to find a balance between wanting to share those picture-perfect moments and keeping your private life, well, private. Here are some tips to keep your personal details a little more secure while traveling:

  1. Think before you share: Ask yourself if what you’re about to post on social media could give away too much about your location or plans. It’s also wise to post after your trip.
  2. Avoid sharing live locations: Wait until you’ve moved on from a location before posting about it to prevent making yourself and your home vulnerable.
  3. Cover sensitive details: If sharing a photo of your boarding pass or travel documents, ensure personal details are obscured, or better yet, avoid sharing them at all.
  4. Beware shoulder surfers: You might have your guard down while traveling. But stay alert to people watching your screens while you enter passwords or read your emails. A privacy filter can make your screen look black when not viewed exactly head-on.
  5. Turn off your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when not in use. This lessens the chance of connecting to a network or device when you didn’t intend to.
  6. Take caution with QR codes. There are malicious QR codes out there that could take you to a phishing site or worse.

Bonus: Enable “find my device”: Turning on location tracking for your device can help if it gets lost or stolen.

Do you have more travel safety tips to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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