Pros & Cons of Bringing a Laptop When You Travel

by BootsnAll

We’re big fans of both traveling and computers, and we imagine you are as well. Can you picture your life without travel? What about without your computer? Now, computers and traveling aren’t mutually exclusive desires, and lots of people wouldn’t even consider going on a trip without their laptop. Still others think it’s impossible to have a meaningful travel experience if you’re always IMing with friends or updating your blog. As with most arguments, the truth for most people lies somewhere between the two extremes – and in this article, we’re going to explore the reasons why you may or may not want to bring a laptop with you when you travel.

Why You Should Bring a Laptop

  • Synching other devices: If you’re thinking of bringing a laptop, chances are good you’ve got other electronic toys in your bag of tricks as well, and having your own laptop means you’ll be able to download your digital photos, update the tunes on your MP3 player, or synch your PDA more easily than you could if you were using the slow computer in the hostel basement.
  • Work or school demands: There are times when it’s very difficult to completely get away, and you need to consider things such as papers, your thesis, job applications, resumes, etc. while you’re on the road. It’s a lot easier to work on a long application or revise a thesis on your own computer, in your own time, instead of at an internet café with a crappy connection that’s charging you $4/hour while you bang your head against the wall, trying to shake an idea loose.
  • Travel writing dreams: Planning on praticing some of that prolific prose? If you have dreams of being a travel writer, it’s easier – and more beneficial – to record events on a computer for future editing. Scribbled shorthand notes on the back of receipts and in ratty journals take longer to physically write out and are usually not as detailed. Things like writer’s cramp will keep your long-hand descriptions shorter than they might be if you had the freedom to type your thoughts into a computer. Plus, handwritten notes are a pain to transcribe later on.
  • Banking security: Internet banking isn’t always the safest option. Unfortunately, there are people who have installed spy programs on some public computers like the one you’ll find in hotels, hostels, and internet cafes. These programs record personal information such as account numbers and passwords and are used later on to electronically ‘break in’ to your accounts. If you have a personal computer, you can find a café that will give you a connection and you are able to surf – and bank – on your own machine.

Why You Should Not Bring a Laptop

  • Takes up space: Computers, even the newest, latest, and greatest laptops, take up room in a backpack and/or daypack. Even the smallest ones aren’t weightless, and when you throw in all the extra stuff you could need (mouse, power convertor, synching cables, battery) it can be a hefty addition to your bag.
  • Safety concerns: People like computers. Computers are expensive. People without computers like to take them away from those who have them. Plus, you can’t run away from thieves as quickly when you’re dragging the laptop and all the gear along for the ride. (Just kidding.) But, seriously, laptops do make you a more appealing target for theft, either on your person or at a hostel. However, as an ironic twist, if you will spend a large amount of time worrying about your computer and feeling like you need to be overly safe with it, it’s not worth bringing either, because the constant fretting will make you miserable.
  • Fragile: If you drop a computer, it is probably going to break, in one way, shape or form. Computers don’t like liquids very much, either. So if you’ll be roughing it, that means your laptop will be, too. And that’s probably not a very good thing at all.
  • Conversion hassles: On a long trip, chances are you’ll visit numerous countries, with differing plug-in systems and volts. Acquiring adapters, and using them correctly so as not to fry your machine, is just another problem to consider.
  • Inability to get online: You will not always be able to get online. Even a wi-fi card will only hook you up if you are near a router that you have access to. This can severely limit the usefulness of a laptop.
  • There are alternatives: Think about your reasons for bringing a computer and look into other devices that may be able to perform the operations you need most. For example, a PDA can perform many of the functions of a computer, and a mobile phone can also work as an alarm. Plus, there are so many internet cafes around the world, if you really need to check email or surf the ‘net for awhile, you can probably find a place closeby where you can do that.

Should you bring a laptop with you?

BootsnAll Sez: We’re an internet company, so we spent a good portion of every day on our computers. What, we often ask, did we do with our lives before the computer?!? (We shudder to think…) But we’re also travelers who try to pack light and really get into the culture of the places we visit. So unless you’re running a business from your laptop that’s funding your RTW trip, or writing the next great travel memoir, we’re actually going to recommend that you leave the laptop at home. We know, it sounds strange to us, too. But the truth is that if you’re on the fence about whether a laptop is really necessary equipment for your trip, that probably means it’s not necessary. And, as mentioned, with the proliferation of internet cafes in the last few years, you’ll still be able to send “wish you were here” emails to friends and family and update your travel blog regularly throughout your journey.

Recommended Laptops for Travelers

No matter what we suggest, we know some people are still going to tote their laptops with them wherever they go, as if they’re joined at the hip (and yes, we’re kind of describing ourselves sometimes). So if you absolutely must bring a laptop, and you don’t already own one, you’ve got a few choices to make.

The first is whether you’ll get a PC or a Mac. While PCs still dominate the market and are, on the whole, less expensive overall to purchase, Macs have a loyal following. Lots of travelers we know love Macs, partly because they’re especially cool for video and photo manipulation, but you’ll want to investigate the differences between the two platforms and choose the one that suits your needs and budget best.

After you’ve made that decision, the next choice is more subtle – do you bring a full-function laptop, or a tiny one designed just for travel? The answer to this question depends on what you’re planning to use it for. If you’re going to be writing a novel or storing huge photo files, you’re going to want a bigger machine that’s got more memory and storage. But if you’re just going to be updating your blog and will be saving documents and other files on thumb drives or CD-Roms, the newer laptops that are just for travelers are definitely something to consider. The pioneer of the tiny laptop was Asus with their durable and downright adorable Eee PC, but other computer manufacturers have followed suit. Dell even makes a tiny laptop now, too.

We recommend that you talk to a computer professional about exactly what you’re hoping to do with your laptop when you’re traveling, and what kind of traveling you’re going to do, so they can give you the best suggestions about not only the kind of machine would be best suited to you but also the kinds of things you can do to protect your investment while you’re on the road.