However much we try and get away from it all when we head off on holiday, few of us can last the duration without touching base with relatives or colleagues. The occasional text message shouldn't rack up too much of a bill but, given the prevalence of cheap internet access at bars and cafes, it's tempting to log on and get an update on what's happening in the wider world.

Unfortunately, convenient connectivity can extract a hefty price. Very few internet cafs and Wi-Fi hotspots have more than rudimentary security, making them prime targets for wireless snoops. But after a great day at the beach or visiting an iconic destination, many of us are far too relaxed to worry whether someone has an ulterior motive for hanging round a web caf for hours at a stretch.

It may be expensive to call your bank from abroad to check your balance before making an extravagant souvenir purchase, but using a free Wi-Fi connection to check your balance online could be pricier still. Wi-Fi sniffing and keylogging are rife in some parts of the world, so you really shouldn't be entering password-protected sites or conducting confidential transactions of any sort.

Worryingly, even the commercial Wi-Fi operators offer few guarantees that your data is safe if you log in with them. You may have signed up and got a password and username in return, but not all hotspot services are as secure as they might be. Business users should be cautious about using such services in an open setting - especially if your rivals are likely to be logging in at the same hotspot.

There's a lot to be said for disposable email addresses that you use for a single purpose, whether that's as the spam-catcher for the mandatory registration email for a competition you want to enter, or so you can safely conduct conversations from a potentially insecure location without compromising your inbox and contacts.

Here, we look at how to secure your Gmail account for use abroad.

Use a Gmail account to access your email abroad

Step 1. Use a webmail system with HTTPS for the whole session. Most use HTTPS when asking you to log in, but they usually switch back to HTTP after authentication. The two exceptions are the web version of Microsoft Outlook and Gmail. Unless you use one of these, your mail won't be secure.

Step 2. If your email isn't encrypted, everyone on the same Wi-Fi network can read the content of your messages. In certain cases, a person can steal your session cookie and log into your webmail without your password. If you check your work messages using local software, you may or may not be using encryption.

Step 3. If you need to access your whole Gmail inbox while you're away, POP email is your best option. Go to Settings, Forwarding and POP/IMAP and tick 'enable POP for mail that arrives from now on'. Click Save Changes. Messages in your inbox will be readable from Google's servers even if you aren't connected to the web.

Step 4. Even if you don't usually use Gmail, it's worth signing up for an account and having emails redirected using it for the duration of your trip. Sign up at the Google website, then go to Settings, Accounts and Import and enter details of your other webmail account. Enter the password and choose how Gmail should handle the messages.

Step 5. If you wish, you can use the custom 'From' option in Gmail to make it appear as though your email is being sent from your regular email account. Go to Settings, Accounts and Import and click 'Send mail from another address'. Enter your email address details, click Next Step and follow the prompts.

Step 6. If you anticipate having to wade through a lot of emails, adding a filter to the message list will let only important mail get through. Go to Filters, Create a Filter to set up a new rule. When you return from your trip, turn off the email forwarding service in the Settings, Accounts menu.