Julianne where she lost her phone to the ocean in Hawaii

Backing Up Your Travel Photos: Hard-Won Lessons

Maybe you already know this, but I learned the hard way that iCloud doesn’t automatically create a backup of the travel photos you took that day with your iPhone … even if you have it set up to do so on your iPhone, and you have your phone’s WiFi turned on, and you plug it in overnight right next to your laptop, which is signed into WiFi with a password.

If that WiFi signal is spotty, your phone will not complete a backup to iCloud. If your phone is on WiFi but you have not physically signed into that WiFi with a password (even if it looks like your phone is using the WiFi), it will not complete a backup. Sigh.

Backing Up Your Travel Photos

If you don’t want to lose all of the photos of your beautiful trip to Hawaii when your phone slips out of your pocket for a moment and plops into a saltwater tidepool, then you should take a few steps to ensure you’re backing up your travel photos.

Manually sign into your accommodations’ WiFi with their password on your iPhone — even if it looks like it’s using the WiFi. 

And every night when you plug in your phone, you should go into your iCloud Backup settings (under General Settings) and select Back Up Now.

And then watch to make sure that it works.

Screenshot of an iPhone showing how to back up travel photos to the cloud.
This is the first screen where you go for backing up your photos to the cloud.
Screenshot of an iPhone showing how to back up vacation photos to the cloud.
This is where you can make your phone run a backup.

Another lesson: Make sure that you are an admin on your cellular plan, if you share a plan with your family. Otherwise, only the person who is the admin will be able to allow the Apple store to transfer cell service, if you need to get a new phone. 

You want to get this done before you leave the phone store. Because while awaiting access from that person, you might leave the Apple store with the previous SIM card in your new phone, only to discover later, after many hours on the phone and in chat with customer service, that your cellular provider cannot provide cell service to your new phone. Because it’s standard procedure to transfer the old SIM card to your new phone so that you transfer your telephone number; however, a moment in saltwater may also have fried your SIM card. And you will have to spend two hours taking a bus across Honolulu to the Verizon store to get a new one.

Other notes: My old iPhone 10XS 256G was supposed to be water-resistant. But saltwater eats alive the insides in a heartbeat. Yes, I had a great case — an OtterBox that prevented many other catastrophes. But again, a dunk in saltwater is no match for any case. If you don’t mind paying a bit for extra storage in several places to back up your travel photos, you can also set up automatic backups to Google Photos and to Amazon Photos. Here as well, however, having a strong WiFi signal is necessary. 

My (sadly, very expensive) new iPhone 13 Pro 256 GB also allows Back Up Over Cellular. But again, that requires a strong cellular signal, especially if you have a lot of data. Apparently, it’s not strong enough to do so automatically in my house.

If you’re traveling with a friend, then creating a Shared Album of photos in your iPhone’s photo app right from the start — and adding to it every night — means you both have copies of your photos saved. This might be the best solution for backing up your travel photos, provided you’re not traveling solo.

And finally, if you spend a blissful hour taking photos of the insanely turquoise waters off the eastern shore of O’ahu, the sweeping black lava rock hills, the other islands shimmering in the distance, and the little fishies and crabs and seaweed floating in the pools around your feet, and you want to rinse your feet before putting your socks back on, place your iPhone in a fanny pack with a zipper instead of in your pocket. Even if you’re unsure how successful you’ve been at backing up your travel photos, you’re less likely to drop your phone (or camera) in the drink. I just ordered three, including a waterproof one. You’re welcome!

A waist bag makes it easy to go hands free and save your phone from water death
Not my waterproof version (which is just plastic), but a great hands-free option.

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