The Pros and Cons of Travelling with a Laptop
My husband and I have been traveling with our laptops for the last eleven months. We’ve visited sixteen countries, taken eighteen flights, fifteen trains and eight long-distance buses, not to mention numerous subways, tuk tuks, long tail boats, scooter taxis, local buses and lots and lots of walking.
And throughout the whole journey, a pair of MacBooks have been along for the ride.
For us, the question of whether to bring our laptops wasn’t really even a question. But it is something we get asked about a lot by other travelers – so here’s my take on whether or not it makes sense to bring a laptop on your journey.
The first thing most people ask when they hear we’re traveling with a pair of fairly expensive laptops is, “Are you insured? And aren’t you worried about theft?” No, we don’t have insurance on them, and yes, we are worried about theft. That’s probably why they haven’t been stolen yet.
No, we don’t have insurance on them, and yes, we are worried about theft. That’s probably why they haven’t been stolen yet.
Getting your laptop covered by home or travel insurance is pretty unlikely if you’re going traveling. Most insurers won’t cover you unless you pay a very high extra premium. Our insurance agent told us that we would have to “self insure” them – meaning if they get lost or stolen, we pay for new ones.
To reduce theft, we bought combination cable locks that plug into a slot in the side of the laptops. We use these whenever we stay at bungalows, hostels, or slightly sketchy hotels. While traveling, we always keep our laptops with us in our carry-on bags. Sometimes we’ll lock them up if we’re on a train and we’re both planning to take a nap.
Should you bring a laptop when you travel? It’s a highly personal question that depends on a lot of things – what you’ll be doing, where you’re going, for how long, and so on. In the rest of this article, I’ll share my own impression of the pros and cons of traveling with a laptop, then share a few guidelines that might help you decide whether to take one with you the next time you hit the road.
10 reasons you should bring a laptop
1. You can blog. Even when we were offline for days at a time, my husband and I could write new posts for our blogs. If the only local Internet access was at web cafes, we’d save the posts on a memory stick, lock up our laptops, and head out to the internet café.
2. It makes travel planning way easier. You just can’t plan twelve months on the road before you leave – you have to do much of your planning on the go. For our trip, we booked intercontinental flights, then planned and booked everything else as we went.
We researched destinations on Wikitravel, Travelfish, Lonely Planet, TravellersPoint, and lots of other great sites. We arranged free couch surfing accommodations with wonderful hosts in four countries. We researched and booked hotels on TripAdvisor. We found long-term apartment rentals on Owners Direct. We booked flights on Air Asia, Ryanair, and EasyJet. We booked bus and rail tickets on SNCF (France), DB Bahn (Germany), and lots of others.
And we did most of it from wifi-enabled cafes, hotel rooms, and apartments, often on rainy days when we would have just been killing time without a laptop. We’ve been able to avoid travel agency fees and save countless thousands of dollars by comparison shopping and finding discounts. The Internet has been the ultimate travel planning tool.
3. You can keep up with friends and family by email. Email has been a great way to correspond with future landlords, as well as with loved ones back home. Obviously, this is something you can do at internet cafes, but it’s so much nicer from the comfort of your hotel room or lobby or from your rental apartment. A lot of rentals come with free wifi.
4. You can call home for free (or very cheap) with Skype. We’ve enjoyed Skyping with friends and family — it’s always great to see each other while you talk. We even bought webcams for our parents before we left to make sure we could keep in touch. Plus, we’ve made tons of calls to landlines and cellphones all over the world using Skypeout, which lets you call from any web-enabled laptop for mere cents per minute.
5. You can store your trip photos. You can download digital photos to your laptop – where they can later be uploaded to photo sharing services like Flickr, Picassa, and Facebook. Saving them on a laptop gives you way more storage so you don’t have to worry about filling up your camera’s memory card.
6. Keeping a trip journal is easier. If you’re keeping a separate trip journal (aside from any articles or blog posts you’re writing), a laptop can be handy. I type a lot faster than I write, and stuff written on a computer is much easier to edit.
7. You get a lot of information storage in a small space. My laptop has maps, directions, bus and train schedules, must-sees for key cities, and lots more. Considering how much information I’ve got saved on it, it’s much lighter to carry around than several big guidebooks!
8. It’s an entertainment alternative. Sure, you’re traveling, and you should be out interacting with the locals and having adventures. But everyone needs some downtime. When you get stuck inside your bungalow during a rainstorm, or if you’re just too hung over to do anything else, you can watch all those cheap DVDs you bought in Asia.
9. You can work. If you’re a writer, a designer, or do any other kind of work that can be done from a computer, you can work and earn some money online.
3 reasons you shouldn’t bring your laptop
1. It’s a timewaster. You can get sucked in to online life and waste time on Facebook or surfing the web when you should be out experiencing the foreign city you paid so much money to get to.
2. It’s extra weight. If weight is an issue, you’ll lose a few pounds by not bringing your laptop, power adapter, and any other plug-ins and devices you use with it. (This point can depend on how many places you’re visiting, and for how long. For our yearlong trip, a laptop makes sense because it’s lighter than even a few Lonely Planet guides and novels stuffed in a bag.)
3. It could get lost, damaged, destroyed, or stolen. Depending where you’re traveling, the risks range from mild to extreme. We’ve made it through five southeast Asian countries, Australia, and eight European countries with no damage or theft issues. (Knock on wood!)
Only you know the answer for what kind of risk you can tolerate. If you do bring your computer, I recommend a soft case to keep it safe – we use water-resistant neoprene ones – and a good lock. And don’t do anything stupid like stow your computer in the luggage bin on that $9 bus ride through Cambodia.
Making the decision: Other factors
I’d say the biggest consideration is whether you feel you actually need a laptop. Are you a writer? Someone who works online? Someone who absolutely needs to stay connected? Then you probably never seriously considered the possibility of not bringing it in the first place.
Are you a writer? Someone who works online? Someone who absolutely needs to stay connected? Then you probably never seriously considered the possibility of not bringing it in the first place.
Your decision also depends on where you are going. The more remote your travel destination, the less likely it is that you’ll find a wifi connection. We visited a few remote islands that were lucky to have super-slow dial-up connections, never mind a wifi signal.
You also can’t assume that the wifi is free when you order a coffee or food. There are plenty of cafes and restaurants around the world that do offer free wifi when you order something, but that isn’t always the case.
(For example, Starbucks has free wifi in Kuala Lumpur, but in Sydney, they charge $12 an hour! If you’re in Sydney, I recommend the free wifi and internet at the public library. In Bangkok, Starbucks at MBK mall charges for access, but you can head upstairs to Coffee World and get it free.)
Depending on your needs, there are other choices too. If you want a smaller, lighter, less expensive alternative to a laptop, consider bringing a netbook like the Asus Eee PC. These are smaller, lighter, and cheaper, with less storage and processing power, but if all you’re doing is a bit of blogging and web surfing, they might be the best thing for you. (Also, if your netbook gets stolen, you’re not out as much money!)
Personally, I love my Mac for the big storage capacity, and because I can use iPhoto to sort and edit and store photos.
Finally, if your needs are minimal and you’re just using the web occasionally, you might find that something like an iPhone or other smartphone does everything you need. Personally, I don’t have one, and I hate the idea of the huge service charges you can rack up on them, but if that’s your thing, it’s a lot lighter than a laptop.
If you aren’t blogging, don’t like to write and the majority of your accommodations are in 20-bed dorm hostels – don’t bring your laptop. But if you want to keep a travel blog, take a stab at that novel you’ve always dreamt about writing or can make money online – having a laptop along is a necessity.