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Laptop Travel: To Bring Or Not To Bring

by Kevin Allgood Nov 23, 2007

A laptop can be a handy tool to have on the road, especially if you’re blogging about your adventures or attempting to become an LIP (Location Independent Professional).

In previous articles I’ve given advice about what to look for in a perfect travel laptop, essential items to have in your pack to go with it, and how to keep it from getting lost, stolen or broken along the way.

But do you even need to bring it in the first place? Here are 3 questions to consider when you’re unsure of packing your laptop.

1. What, specifically, do you plan on doing with your laptop?

If you cannot answer this question with anything other than, “because it might be helpful,” or, “I might want to use it,” then perhaps you don’t need it. Increased responsibility can be a real bummer when you’re traveling, so if you don’t need something, why bring it along?

Write down a list of the specific ways you intend to use it. Typical travelers may come up with something like this:

  • Internet, email, Skype
  • Back up, edit, and manage photos
  • Maintain a travel blog or website

A laptop will handle all of these with ease, along with the added bonus of saving you money on Internet fees in cafes. Plus, you can find free wireless at airports, hotels, and cafes, and watch the odd DVD movie. But you still haven’t convinced yourself you need your laptop yet.

Taking your list from above, answer the following question:

2. Can you do any of that without the laptop?

Chances are the answer is yes. Thanks to the abundance of Internet cafes in areas frequented by travelers, you are usually never far away from a connection. As well, plenty of computers at cafes today have Skype installed with headsets.

If you’re worried about online security, using Portable Firefox keeps sensitive data stored on your iPod or USB drive.

Many cafes will also be more than happy to burn your digital photos from a memory card to a CD (for a small fee, of course). If you get CDs burned and upload your photos to a photo sharing site like Flickr, you don’t have to worry about losing any of your amazing travel shots.

With a special adapter you can even download your digital pictures to your iPod and store them there, or back them up on a USB thumb drive. And most blogging platforms have easy to use interfaces that don’t require any special software.

One excellent laptop alternative is an iPod or USB storage device loaded up with portable apps. They are applications that can run without being installed on the computer you use them on, so you never have to worry about what programs are installed on the Internet café machines.

The range of applications available is pretty amazing: everything from Firefox to Thunderbird, FTP and photo editing programs. The best part is they’re free. And if you’re worried about online security, using Portable Firefox keeps sensitive data stored on your iPod or USB drive, not the computer you use it on.

If you still have some tasks that can’t be achieved without your own computer, such as video and intensive photo editing, special software for business, or anything else, then you have a compelling reason to bring your laptop.

But hang on: there’s just one final question to ask yourself before you go:

3. Do you really need to be doing that stuff while you’re traveling?

I’m not one to talk; I brought my laptop, video camera, audio recording equipment, and everything that goes along with it on my journey around the world. It was worth it, but at times I questioned my decision to have a travelogue with so many multimedia trimmings.

To keep you from regretting your decision, just make sure you can confidently answer these three questions before setting off.

Of course once you are out there with your laptop, you can enjoy the benefits of having it with you: working on your photos and emails in your hostel (or at a street café) sipping a cold beer is much more enjoyable than a busy Internet café on an ancient computer.

To sum it all up, packing a laptop can be a great idea if done for the right reasons. Just keep in mind that unless you have very specific or heavy use requirements, you might want to leave it at home.

Between Internet cafes and portable apps, you could get by without the extra responsibility and liability that comes with the decision to bring your laptop traveling with you.

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.

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