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Laptop Travel: How To Pick Your Perfect Laptop

by Kevin Allgood Sep 7, 2007

This is Part I of a new series on laptop travel.

Many people choose to travel with their laptops these days. And I’m not talking about business travelers; I’m talking about backpackers.

I should know. I lugged my 12″ Powerbook G4 around the world. And I couldn’t help but notice other grungy backpackers whip out laptops in hostels, backpacker cafes, and airports.

It isn’t really surprising when you consider how many people are blogging about their travels or working or staying in touch on the road. Traveling with a laptop has some distinct advantages, but I’ll talk about all that later.

For now, we’ll assume you’ve decided to take one with you, for better or worse, on your next adventure. But what kind should you bring?

First things first: PC or Mac?

If you want to bring a Mac, make sure you do it for the right reasons.

They tend to be heavier, more expensive, less conspicuous, more fragile (cosmetically at least), and probably dearer to the owner than their PC counterparts.

If I hadn’t a specific reason for bringing mine, I would have opted for a PC, no question.

If you go with a PC, you have a lot more choices. It will also be much easier to pick up parts, accessories, and software, as well as get your laptop repaired if something breaks.

Choosing A Model

If you’ve got the budget for it, and are planning on getting into some pretty gnarly situations (or just want the license to be very, very careless), then you might consider a Panasonic Toughbook.

They come in three different flavors, but they don’t come cheap. (If you are sure you need one of these, I want to come on your next trip).

Another great travel laptop would be one of the smaller Sony Vaios. They are small and light, but pricey. They also have the same problem you run into with a Mac; they’re not just expensive, they look expensive.

And who wants to bring such a pretty piece of equipment to exotic, electronics-destroying locales?

Considering the Specs

Now that I’ve covered what’s out there for those with particular needs, budgets, or desires, let’s talk about specs.

If you’re looking for a laptop but still want money for plane tickets, you can choose from standard Dell, Toshiba, Acer, Gateway, etc. laptops on the market.

I’d suggest the following considerations before making your selection:

  • 1. Weight – You don’t want to be carrying around extra weight, especially if that extra weight is valuable. A lot of standard laptops weigh around five pounds. Getting one that weighs less is preferable, but be prepared to pay for it. Five pounds isn’t too bad.
  • 2. Size – 15″ is a fairly standard size for most laptops, which is fine for traveling. 12″ will fit into your day bag a lot easier, and of course it will weigh less too. But again, smaller costs more, so don’t fret about it.
  • 3. Price – The higher the price, the more it will hurt if it’s lost, stolen or broken. Remember: the less you spend on your laptop, the more travel budget you’ll have left over (read: beer money).
  • 4. Battery life. Battery life is depends on how you plan to use your laptop. If you’ll mostly be working in hotel rooms, airport lounges, coffee shops and other places with power, then it’s not such a big deal. If you plan on being away from power sources a lot, then make sure your travel laptop gets 3 hours or more per charge. (Things like listening to music, using wireless internet and watching DVDs all drain the battery faster.)

There is one more factor that needs to be considered when choosing your prefect laptop: functionality.

To be suitable for the road, it’s going to have to meet a few basic requirements. You should have a hard drive with at least 40GB of memory; more if you plan on taking lots of pictures, listening to music, or editing videos.

It should have USB ports, so you can move data around with a thumb drive, or plug in peripherals. And it should have a CD-RW or DVD-RW drive for backing up data. The DVD drive is helpful for watching the odd pirated DVD, too.

Optional accessories, (though very useful while traveling), would be a wireless Ethernet card and the ability to plug in a headset/microphone for Skype or VoIP.

These minimum requirements should be enough for basic uses, like writing emails and blogs, surfing the internet, backing up and resizing pictures, listening to mp3s, watching DVDs, etc. If you have additional needs, like editing pictures, audio or video, adjust your specs accordingly.

Find Your Perfect Laptop

Now the hard part: finding the computer that has the functionality you need, at the right price, size and weight, and you’ve found your perfect traveling laptop.

Browsing eBay, Craigslist, or similar sites online, you can usually pick up perfectly good laptops that will fit these general specifications for a few hundred bucks.

They might be a little bigger and heavier than some ultra small, thin and light numbers out there, but they’ll do everything you need and you won’t form an emotional attachment to them.

Next in the series: What To Bring With Your Laptop On The Road

Kevin Allgood and his girlfriend Valerie Marhsall are currently traveling around the world and blogging about it via Big Trip Blog. Their site also features some great vodcasts, travel tips and more.

What’s your experience with choosing a perfect travel laptop? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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