A Traveling Computer for People on the Move

My stay-at-home laptop

Something I have been considering seriously for the travels that lay in the future is how I will execute my computing needs while I’m out and about. Email is a powerful tool which I use frequently, and I will certainly need some kind of word processing ability If I wish to keep my travel blog rolling while I travel. What good is a travel blog if the traveler is incapable of writing in an electric format, or incapable of internet access? No good.

There are a number of things to consider when choosing how you will manage your electronic life during your travels. Fortunately, if you have need of a portable device for travels, your choices are narrowed to:

  • Laptop: Heavy! Large! Powerful! Pricey! Secure!
  • Netbooks: Fairly light! Small! Sufficient for the layman! Decent price! Secure!
  • Tablets/smartphones: Light! Small! Versatile! Decent Price! Secure!
  • Publicly accessible computers: Not yours! Varying capability/accessibility! Super cheap! Not secure, necessarily!

Desktops and heavy-duty laptops, for obvious reasons, score low in the mobility ratings. I’ve done the dragging-a-desktop-through-security-and-customs-and-everything-else thing before, and I can tell you that sprinting through a concourse clutching a 17″ LCD monitor is absurd. Here are things to consider for your future featherweight electronic companion:

  • Portability: Size and weight of the device is important. Lager laptops require larger bags or cases to accommodate them, and they are of course heavier. Tablets like the IPad weigh about 1.5 pounds, and are fairly small. Netbooks are not much bigger and weigh around 3 pounds. Midsize laptops weigh around 4 pounds. Remember, also, that you will have to bring your power plugs and any other accessories and their associated cords. Any device heaver than 4 pounds becomes tiring to schlepp around and is quite impractical for traveling. Remember that public computers weigh nothing because you don’t bring them with you; this means also that you have to go and track one down if you need one.
  • Capability: What do you need to achieve with your device?
  1. Are you a serious business traveler, working with advanced programs, running multiple applications at once, and working with images and presentations? If so, a powerful machine may be necessary. A laptop with a bunch (4GB) of memory for running programs smoothly, a large (250GB) hard drive to store all your work, and a full size keyboard is a good idea. More powerful laptops will also work very well for your media like game playing, photo editing, or movie watching.
  2. Are you a student or writer who needs little more than good word processing, simple applications, and internet access? Perhaps a netbook with a decent (1 or 2GB) amount of memory , a reasonable (~200GB) hard drive, and a smaller screen and keyboard will fit the bill.
  3. Are you a backpacker who really needs little more than email and a few useful applications? Perhaps the tablet or smartphone is the way to go. Tablets are all about internet functionality, and you may be glad to have GPS apps or other things to help you find your way around and locate hotels or restaurants. Remember that it might be difficult to write complete emails or articles or posts without a real keyboard (but that doesn’t stop some people).
  4. Are you a vagabond? Are you even worried about email? Would you rather not bother with lugging an electronic brick all about simply to update your status in the social networking ether? Then don’t bother dragging something with you. Just find a public computer and check your email or pound out a blog post once in a while.
  • Cost: Full-on, quality laptops can run around$1000. Netbooks are between about $200 and $500. Tablets seem to be between $100 and $500. Public computers may be used for the price of something at the bar ($0.50-$5), at some time-based rate (maybe a few bucks an hour), or often for free at libraries or airports.
  • Security: Any personal device (laptop, netbook, tablet) is likely stuffed with security capabilities which can be enabled to keep what information housed therein safe, should your device be stolen or hacked or whatever, so use them! Your device is also very attractive to thieves just as any piece of jewelery or wallet is. If you want to use public computers, it is safe to assume that there is a very low level of information security, so try and avoid imputing sensitive info like your credit card number. Also, respectfully ignore and close any accounts or windows that a previous owner may have left open.
  • Durability: Is your device of choice gonna last during your travels? Can you drop it without major damage? Multiple times? Is there a warranty? Often product reviews on different brands will be full of helpful info on this.

For even more help deciding what kind of laptop or tablet fits your travel needs, newegg.com is fill of ideas, tips, reviews. It’s also a great site where I have bought most of my electronic things since forever.

I’ve considered the pros and cons of every mobile computer thing out there, and have at least some experience with them all. At first, I was leaning heavily towards a snappy little netbook so I could write things at my own leisure, make frequent email contact with new friends and potential hosts, and store my travel pics. Then a few days ago I decided that all of that was total nonsense, and that I could very easily satisfy all of my computing needs using public machines. I’ve done it before with great success, and it is only easier to find public computers as the information age drowns the world in stupid videos and addicting games and informative blogs. Plus, if you find yourself staying with a work host or a couchsurfer, these people are generally glad to let you use their personal computer.

Thus, I will bring nothing more than a notebook (the paper kind!) and pencil for writing drafts and a flashdrive for saving files. Using public computers is fun, and finding them is an adventure in itself; just another part of living life as a migrant.

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