Should You Bring a Laptop When You Travel?

by Johnny Ward

To laptop or not to laptop huh?! A tricky question indeed. This is an issue close to my heart, one that thought long and hard about before first hitting the road. Lets look at some of the pros and cons involved with bringing your laptop:

should i bring my laptop traveling

Some laptop time as I wait for a boat in Malawi!

CONS:

HASSLE -. Generally you have to carry it in your hand luggage to avoid some underpaid and overzealous local transport employee hurling your backpack and smashing your laptop into a million pieces.

WEIGHT – Laptops can be pretty hefty and are normally a couple of kgs additional weight to lug around with you

FEAR – For me this is the worst hassle. The constant mental task of trying to keep your laptop safe from theft and damage, it’s got to always be on your mind. Also, the fear of losing all your photos and videos for your epic trip is awful so make sure you keep backing up!

PROS:

ONLINE – With the prevalence of wifi in coffee shops, malls, airports and hostels growing every day – if you have your laptop you’re online in a heartbeat, and you avoid the often extortionate per minute fees some tourist hotspots love to charge

MOVIES – With movie piracy rampant around the world (SE Asia in particular) you can pick up the new releases for under $1 and what better way to avoid hitting the booze for yet another night than settling down with your mate for a bridget jones session The Godfather trilogy :P

PICTURES – With your own laptop you can edit and upload you pics the same day as taking them, no need to mess around with finding internet cafes to burn DVDs etc. Just find a power socket and way you go

BOREDOM – Believe it or not, traveling isn’t all bungee jumps and foreign beers and many evenings you’re left at a loose end. With your laptop though you’re rarely bored – you can blog, play games, read books – anything to keep your sanity so far from home!

So with that in mind I hope you’re further on in your decision whether to bring a laptop or not. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t dream of bringing a laptop on their travels, and they relish the lack of contact with their normal life. Equally, I know many people who wouldn’t consider leaving home without their beloved laptop. A common solution these days is a netbook– small, light, cheap (can find them for less than $300) although unfortunately I’m an apple convert so that’s not an option for me! I love having my laptop with me when I travel, all the cons still exisit, but personally I think the pros outweigh them. Happy decision making!

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28 thoughts on “Should You Bring a Laptop When You Travel?

  1. andrew

    in terms of backup, rather than take a drive with you, consider a service like Carbonite that lets you back up all your data to the cloud (USD60 / year for one PC). The only problem is the first backup can take weeks if you’re uploading your whole photo collection, but after that it easily handles about 100 to 200MB per hour of being on (it works in the background) with a decent connection.

    Alternatively, for stuff that you don’t need to access often, consider Amazon AWS Glacier service, the only problem is restoring can be expensive if you want it all at once. Storage is 1 US cent per gigabyte per month. It’s not automatic, but could be great for your old photo archives if you’ve no more space on your laptop.

    Reply
  2. BioHzrd420

    Great post. I am torn on this issue for the reasons listed above. I am a scientist and my laptop is my life. While I back up my data and programs, being without a computer for a time while I get a new one would be impossible. I would be ragged. I’m already going to have to keep track of a nice camera and the thought of keeping up with the computer too seems too much of a hassle. Since our trip is only 2 weeks, I might err on the side of bringing my external hard-drive instead and doing a test-run that my camera can back-up on it.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      i can’t leave home without my mac! i’m an addict, once it’s got ya, it’s got ya! Whats the 21st century doing to us?! aaaagh

      Reply
  3. Tara

    As our daughter is planning on backpacking around europe this summer and wants to take her laptop with her i found your post invaluable. I have to say though that i think my biggest concern is that some unsavoury type would see the laptop and see it as a soft target, but on the other hand it would allow her to keep in touch with us so i’m somewhat torn in that respect. Anyways, hankyou for this post, it has some great information in it!

    Reply
  4. Aaron Schubert

    Technology has become so attached to us these days. I always take my laptop, and try to look after it as best I can. However, I don’t keep much of value on it and at the end of the day they are so cheap that if it did get stolen I would just replace it.

    Its great to be able to sit around a fire and write a post though!

    Aaron

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      i guess we’re lucky to be travelers at this point in time, so we can feasibly carry tech with us and if it gets lost/stolen it’s not the end of the world and can be replaced without having to rob a bank!

      Reply
  5. the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell

    My 2.7 cents worth … As a global nomad since 1988 (and a digital one – 1st laptop in 1994 & cameras since 2001), I have no choice but to carry one.

    Why? My hobby is photography, art, video, and I produce as I move. So unless others are into this also – travelers for short term trips, don’t need one unless, they like posing with gadgets.

    Weight: most latops are still too heavy but I have had an Asus M5 PC since 2006 (bought in Cambodia) @ 1.5 kg, 12′ screen; great for video editing and Photoshop as it has the CPU power, that netbooks lack.

    Safety: don’t pose in public and have it locked with your backpack in room. Also always carry in a dayback, while moving.

    Back-up: use an extra external drive, and online.

    Movies, music, etc: carry an ipod, etc.

    Bottonline (until the tech gets better): unless it’s a really long journey and you’re a keen image maker, most people should just carry a decent compact camera with heaps of cards, and maybe a portable drive reader for back-up or use an online service, uploaded via a cafe.

    the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      in all your time on the road, ever had any technology stolen/vandalised etc? I’ve ‘lost’ two ipods thanks to some slippery indian hands, broken a couple of digital cameras (not my SLR tho thank God!

      Reply
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  7. Bryan

    For me, to lessen that con about getting your laptop stolen, I bought myself a bag that doesn’t really look like a bag for laptop so that thieves won’t suspect it much. I always bring my laptop with me. :)

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      good move mate, stressing about getting it stolen is horrible. Is the bag discreet enough to leave it in a dorm when ur out for the day?

      Reply
  8. MsNomadica

    I chose to go the refurb route. I paid $175 for my refurbished netbook. It weighs under 3 pounds and I back it up to a micro SD in my smartphone. That way, I don’t really worry about it breaking or getting stolen, because I’m not out a lot of money and I’ve got virtually all of my data even if anything should happen to it.

    I didn’t think there was any possible way that I could travel without some type of laptop, my Kindle and my smartphone. However…

    I’m hearing that the new iPad will be available in a 7″ version, and have a USB port and camera, maybe an SD slot. If it’s light enough, I may be able to use that in place of both my laptop AND my Kindle. Problem is, iPads aren’t meant to be standalone devices. So, at least for the initial setup, I’d need my little netbook. Also a foldup keyboard.

    Of course, it will depend on whether I can live with a 7″ display. My current net book has an 8.9″ screen, so maybe it won’t feel like too big of a jump. Price will naturally be a factor, too, but I’m figuring it has to be significantly lower than the current larger form factor. No optical drive, but my netbook doesn’t have one either, I only use digital entertainment that I download.

    In any case, we should be finding out in April what the deal is on 2nd gen iPads, and they will probably be released around June or July. Hopefully, the news will be good. Because if I can get by with a total of 1.5 pound of tech, I will be *such* a happy camper.

    Anyway, I’m considering a few different options. But they are all aimed at getting by with the least amount of weight/worry. I’ve found that I’m willing to accept a lot of tradeoffs to achieve that goal.

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      wow! uv got it worked out :) thats a great plan, i might just copy your ideas after ur explanation :P refurbed netbook, good shout but a smaller ipad would certainly be an interesting option, lets wait and see what apple release :)

      Reply
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  10. Joseph

    I have a netbook, and I carry it around with me wherever I go (just found out I might get a scholarship for a month in Budapest *celebration dance*, so the netbook will be in my backpack)…it’s also nice to have your photos, movies (even though it doesn’t have a cd-unit there are opportunities to view the movies online), or plain old communication and travel blog surfing :o)…and speaking of bloging, when I will travel, I will need a netbook – I write too slowly by hand, have to carry notebooks, scratch irrelevant notes (what a hassle), also have an insane amount of things to say, and writing them all down could cause severe nerve damage to my hands!

    Reply
    1. Johnny Post author

      can’t remember the time i wrote more than a sentence or two by hand :S it’s a forgotten skill i reckon mate! good luck in Budapest, that’s cracking

      Reply
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    1. Johnny Post author

      hey jill – im on a standard 13″ macbook which is ok, if i had cash to burn i’d use the the macbook air too but it’s so pricey :S it’s terrible because once u go mac, you don’t go back so a netbook is out of the question for me, damn apple!

      Reply
      1. Amy

        I’m a firm believer in once you go Mac you never go back…thats why I hacked my Dell mini and it’s now a “baby Mac” running snow leopard :)
        Probably the best idea I ever had!

        Reply

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