It’s time to think about backups, while you’re at home

OK, let’s be honest with each other. Have you ever said one of these things?

“I lost all my contacts when I changed phones.”

“I don’t have that photo anymore.”

“My stuff was on my last computer and I don’t have it anymore.”

Don’t be ashamed, it happens to the best of us. But you don’t have to deal with that kind of thing anymore. You can take control of your future and make your own backups of your important data.

Why not just let the cloud handle everything?

Yes, it’s true that I don’t hear those excuses as much anymore. Google and Apple are more than happy to store your contacts and photos on their servers for free. That’s great especially when you change phones. A lot of your contacts just move over from one to the other.

But, really, you can’t count on that. There hasn’t been a catastrophic loss of data from Apple or Google, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be. It’s not just a question of “if” at this point. It’s a question of “when.”

I’m not going to try to turn you off of cloud-based services. They’re super convenient and really better than nothing. But they shouldn’t stop you from making your own backups as well.

How to back up your contacts

First, you need to actually have contacts. You know what I’m saying. You have to fill up your contacts list with the names, numbers, and emails of people you want to know. It’s all too easy to just reply to emails or texts without adding those contacts to your list. Get in the habit of adding people to your contacts list. You can always take them away later. I have hundreds of people in my contact list, so many that I sometimes forget who they are. But it doesn’t matter. Contacts take up practically no space on your phone so who cares?

Apple users

Apple users, if you’re not using iCloud, why not? Set up iCloud just like your phone has been nagging you to. This will back up all your contacts. Then, you can back them up to your Windows PC easily. (This same technique also works on Macs, Chromebooks, and other stuff like that.)

You can export one contact at a time by going to iCloud.com and exporting a vCard. You can select all your contacts by selecting all of them and doing the same thing.

Android Users

You can do something similar with your Google synced contacts. Start by going to contacts.google.com. You don’t need to select all your contacts. Just click on the export button on the side.

Photos

Backing up your photos is a little different. The best discipline comes from actually syncing up your phone on your PC every so often. You can copy your photos to your computer at that point. For iPhones you can also do backups easily this way.

However, if you don’t want to do that, you can also download images from Google or Apple.

Going to iCloud.com will let you look at your photos, select them, and download them to your computer. Doing it in Google Photos is a little harder, but Google gives you a really comprehensive tool for downloading your entire digital life.

Go to takeout.google.com and you’ll find a simple tool to download your entire digital life. You can check everything that you want to archive and determine how you want that backup to be delivered. You can move it to another cloud service or you can download it directly. I’d recommend that you download it directly.

Make two backups onto flash drives.

Buy a couple of flash drives. I know, they’re SOOOOOO 2010. But the good news is that they’re dirt cheap now, you can get pretty massive ones for very little money. If you need more than 256GB, buy cheap solid state drives instead. They’re really just like flash drives but you’ll need an adapter like this one to connect to your computer.

Make two identical backups. Keep one at home and put one … somewhere else. Give it to a trusted friend or family member, or put it in a safe deposit box if you’re really old school. You don’t want all your backups at home in case something happens to your house.

Then… keep it up.

Make new backups every six months or year or so. Whatever timeframe makes sense to you. The more often you make backups, the less likely you are to lose something. And that’s what it’s all about.

Taking this extra step instead of relying on the cloud to do it for you will make you feel more secure. Maybe you’ll never need to use those backups, but you’ll sleep better knowing that you have them.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.