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How to Get the Most Out of Your Laptop Battery on the Road

Technology + Gear
by Richard Stupart Sep 4, 2013

Moleskines take poor photographs, and have never been especially good at keeping a music player charged. And a music player, friends, is an important thing. Your undemanding best friend on long bus trips, where world-embracing wonderment must eventually hit the emotional wall of a screaming child or the driver’s poor taste in radio.

Here, then, are some tips for getting the most out of your power supply on the road. Being far from a plug point is no excuse for travelling as though it were the 19th century.

Bring a laptop.

Unless you’re planning a funded expedition to Chad, complete with solar generators and storage, your laptop battery is probably going to be your most potent power supply. Bringing a laptop, and then learning to efficiently conserve and share its power, will be the core of any decent power management strategy.

If you fancy yourself the courageous digital nomad, your laptop battery is your electrical camel. Give it lots to drink beforehand and treat it well, and it’ll carry you safely to the next oasis. Or some similarly appropriate camel-and-electricity-themed metaphor.

Buy a bigger battery.

If an average-sized camel stores only so much electricity (and never confuses its metaphors), a fatter camel will store more. Many laptop manufacturers sell bigger battery packs for their machines, whose primary drawbacks are a bit more weight and an inelegant bump (where the extra power is stored) popping out the back of wherever the battery goes. For this, you can usually get a 50% or more increase in battery life. If you’re going to be off the grid for a while, this boost to your power supply is delightful.

This is even possible for travellers packing MacBooks. While Apple itself would sooner burn to the ground than offer a booster battery that would interfere with the delicate form of your machine, there are third parties that manufacture external laptop battery packs for Macs that can do the job. Albeit at Mac-appropriately painful prices.

Turn off the bling.

Turn down your screen brightness. That’s a saving right there. If you can’t see anything with a lower brightness setting, stop using the laptop in the sun. Your screen is one of the most power-hungry parts of your laptop. A fact which should be unsurprising, given that it’s a giant, battery-powered, colour-changing lamp. So put it on a diet from day 1.

Next up is wireless. Is it on? Why? What exactly are you hoping to pick up in the back of a Bolivian bus? Turn that shit off. You are a radio station broadcasting to nobody, using energy that’d be much better spent on other things, like charging your devices. Which reminds me…

Charge stuff off your laptop.

Did I mention it’s the biggest battery in your luggage? Many devices have the ability to charge off USB these days. Like your iPod, Kindle, and — depending on what you’re using — your camera. The GoPro, for example, pretty much insists on being USB-charged.

So make sure, when you’re out and about, that you’ve brought the necessary charging cables. For the most part, that’s starting to mean a USB-to-Mini-USB and a USB-to-Micro-USB cable. Though we’re not quite at a place where it’s “one cable to charge them all,” the world is getting there. Mostly, I’m looking at you, Apple — pretty much everyone else has joined the universal-charging-adaptor bandwagon.

Being able to plug devices into your laptop and leave them to charge in your bag is a great way to keep them juiced while you travel. One caveat, though, is to make sure your laptop is merely sleeping while charging is in progress, and not completely off. Also, check that its USB ports will passively charge your devices. Though it’s becoming normal, many laptops still can’t do this, which renders them next to useless as a portable power supply.


The longer you’re going to be away from your next opportunity to recharge, the more important it becomes that you don’t use that precious energy for anything you don’t strictly need. Movies, for example, are a truly spectacular energy drain. They’ll suck your laptop battery dry in no time flat if you’re watching them, and in half that time or less if you’re making them.

Beyond such an obvious suggestion, you should also consider drafting blog posts or other written material in your zero-battery Moleskine, and doing any reading off an actual book or a battery-sipping Kindle. Besides the artistic benefits of being forced to compose your epic tales of adventure by hand and with considered attention, your laptop can be preserved as far as possible for things that just cannot be done otherwise. Like charging stuff.

Your power supply will still run out in the end, of course. You aren’t Tony Stark. But every little inch along the way can add up to one more post, or one more photo that wasn’t possible before. What are your power saving tips when you know you’re headed far from electricity?

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