Traveling with a Laptop
These days, it seems like everyone travels with a laptop. We’ve all become so addicted to our computers that it’s hard to imagine parting ways, even for a few weeks.
The big question with anything you pack is whether or not it’s going to truly enhance your trip or just weigh you down. Here are some things to consider:
How addicted are you to your laptop?
The first thing you should think about is how much and for what you use your computer at home. Do you keep write a daily journal? Do you play games? Do you research stuff? Do you make vacation bookings? These are all things that you’ll find valuable on the road.
My favorite things to do on my laptop when I’m traveling are:
1. Keeping a detailed journal
I’ve been addicted to my computer for so long, I don’t even know how to write by hand anymore. Okay, so that’s not quite true, but sometimes it feels like it. My first trip with a laptop (a 4-month backpacking jaunt through Europe) was a lot of fun, and these days I particularly cherish the memories I can relive through the great trip journal I kept.
On another trip (2 months through New Zealand), I decided to go without my laptop. I figured I could write just as much by hand as I would on my computer. Wrong. That journal quickly devolved into a boring list of what I did that day because handwriting just didn’t get my journaling juices flowing they way a keyboard does.
2. Transferring and organizing photos
I’m kind of an organization junkie, so the thought of importing, labeling, and categorizing hundreds of digital pictures at the end of a trip makes me shudder. Plus, I love being able to download and enjoy my pictures in their full glory at the end of the day. Then I can add labels and notes -- what was that mountain? who was that person I met at the hostel? -- to make sure I don’t forget what I photographed.
I download a few movies or games to my laptop before I go, and I’ve got all the entertainment I need on those long airport layovers or quiet evenings in. This is especially useful for beating boredom when you're traveling solo.
If I do some work ahead of time, I can replace a whole bag full of travel guides and other assorted trip materials (flight information, hotel details, passport copy, calling card numbers, etc.) by downloading them to my laptop. Lonely Planet even has a cool service now where you can download individual chapters of their travel guides in PDF format.
Where are you traveling?
Your destination is key factor in deciding whether or not you should take your laptop. The two issues here are wi-fi availability and safety.
1. Wi-Fi Availability
If you’re in a decent size town in a westernized country, chances are good that you’ll find free wi-fi at your hotel or hostel. There will definitely be loads of coffee shops where you can go online for the cost of your beverage, or just a few dollars more.
In smaller towns or less developed countries, wi-fi is a bit of a challenge. Case in point: I visited a small village in Austria last winter and, after much detective work, found the single cafe that had wi-fi. I was the first person to ever use it so, not only did they have to hunt down the manager to set it up, but they also charged a fortune. But then again, the one and only “internet cafe” in town was two computers in the corner of a smoke-filled video game arcade and cost a fortune too.
I’ve taken my laptop to Europe lots of time and don’t really lose any sleep over its safety. But if you’re traveling somewhere that has a higher crime rate or a less dependable infrastructure, I’d think twice about taking my computer.
Do you want to carry a laptop?
I’m not just talking about physically carrying your computer around, but also about the mental weight you’ll carry in worrying about your computer’s safety.
Your laptop is probably the most valuable thing you’ll be taking with you and you’ll inevitably worry about its safety. I’ve heard more than a few stories of people’s laptops getting stolen even if they were locked up or cleverly hidden, and sometimes, it’s just not worth the hassle.
In addition to the metaphorical weight on your shoulders, your laptop will literally weigh you down. I have a Mac, which is pretty light as far as laptops go, but even those few pounds will make themselves felt. Plus, you’re not just carrying the laptop. There’s the power cable, assorted device connection cables, maybe an external hard drive, probably some sort of laptop bag -- and don’t forget the international power adapters! That’s a lot of stuff that some traveler’s just don’t want to deal with.
Some other questions you may want to consider:
How long are you traveling? If your trip is longer, you may need to be more connected or you may want to travel extra light.
What is the purpose of your trip? You may really want to get away from the stresses of home, and bringing a laptop means “work” to some people.
If you do decide to bring your laptop, make sure you back up your essential files before you go. Also, consider finding a travel insurance policy that covers you if your computer gets stolen. Happy travels!
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