7 Benefits of Travelling With a Laptop

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Many first time travellers wonder whether they should bring a laptop or not. Some people advise against it because of the security risk, extra weight to carry, and the danger of shutting yourself off from local experiences by spending all your time on Facebook. We have travelled with and without a laptop and would say that if you are a photographer, writer, blogger or work from the road then it is definitely worth taking at least a small netbook.

When we first went travelling around the world at the end of 2007 we didn’t even consider taking a laptop with us – we were trying to travel light and as we weren’t working or even blogging on the road it just didn’t seem necessary. While we were away we caught a glimpse of the first tiny netbooks from Asus and after seven months Simon finally convinced me to buy one in Malaysia. He missed being able to write (pen and paper was slow) and as the first Eee PC was the size of a paperback novel I couldn’t really complain. It certainly made life easier and we were able to avoid the dreaded internet cafes.

This time round, as we are travelling forever and working on the road, a laptop is essential. We travel with a 13 inch Macbook Pro and a 10 inch Asus Eee PC (the latter picked up in Buenos Aires when we discovered sharing wasn’t working out). As well as the obvious advantages of being able to surf the net we have found a number of other benefits of travelling with a laptop.

1) Free Wifi

Internet cafes aren’t the nicest places to work: they are often noisy, hot and crowded and the computers slow. With your own laptop you can take advantage of the free wifi found in many hostels and cafes and work from much nicer places – like a balcony overlooking the sea. Even if your accommodation doesn’t have wifi you can write blog posts and emails offline and then publish them when you get internet access.

2) Skype

Being able to talk to your family for free from anywhere in the world is amazing, and seeing them with video chat makes all the difference when you are travelling for such a long time. In Rio we struggled to find a payphone that worked to call our bank before we realised that it would be much cheaper and easier to buy Skype credit and call them from our laptop. It’s free if the other person has Skype, but even calling landlines abroad is really good value. Six months later we have only spent £5 of our credit.

3) Storing Photos

On our last trip we used an iPod to store our photos, but it was slow and we couldn’t edit them. Now it’s great being able to upload our photos to our laptop, edit them as we go and have an extra backup on our tiny Western Digital Hard Drive.

4) iPhoto and iMovie

We are recent converts to the Mac and have discovered the joys of iPhoto which makes organising your photos so much easier. As well as sorting them into different groups you can do basic photo editing and can publish straight to Flickr and Facebook (although unfortunately only to your personal profile, not your fan page).

We haven’t created many videos yet but what we have done has been really easy using iMovie.

5) Language Resources

Using an online dictionary (I like Wordreference) makes travelling with a heavy foreign language dictionary unnecessary.

We also use Anki to organise our vocabulary learning. This free app uses spaced repetition to increase memorisation by repeating more often the words you don’t know and gradually decreasing those that you do. There are lots of other online language resources that I’ll be sharing in a future post.

6) Movies

Being able to watch films occasionally is really nice, especially when you are in very quiet places or you find yourself ill and incapable of doing anything else. It’s also useful to pass the time when the plane movie turns out to be dreadful.

7) Music

Having our entire music collection on the laptop and being able to easily add new music to our iPods is a big advantage.

As we sold all of our stuff before we left to travel our Macbook Pro has replaced our TV, DVD player, stereo, 500 CD collection, and desktop computer. We wouldn’t travel without it.

What are your benefits of travelling with a laptop? Or do you think it's best to leave it behind? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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42 thoughts on 7 Benefits of Travelling With a Laptop

  1. You are absolutely right Erin. I am always hooked up to Skype whenever I travel to get in touch with my friends and family members. Also, remotely accessing my office computer is what I love and hence use RHUB remote support appliances. Plus point: no need to worry about security as it works from behind my company’s firewall.

  2. Thanks for writing this post. I was seriously at a crossroads in trying to decide if to walk with my macbook pro or to leave it at home. I plan to travel light, but after reading this, I think I will simply pack less clothes and bring the lappy!

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  4. I know for sure I’m taking a laptop for the reasons above exactly! I can’t take my current one cus its really to big & bulky so my big debate is if I should buy a netbook or a mac book pro when the time comes. I really want a Mac BookPro but know its a lot more money than a netbook. I think in the end it will end up depending on how my savings came along!

    • I suppose it depends what you need it for. If you can get by with a netbook it is cheaper, lighter and you are less worried about it getting stolen. That said, we love the Macbook!

    • Backing up is SO important. My 1000s of photos from our Bolivian salt flats tour are currently stuck on my CF card and it’s so worrying!

  5. I always travel with my laptop for all the reasons you listed! Sometimes it can be a hassle and surely the extra weight can get to be too much but all in all, it’s definitely worth it!

  6. That’s a lot of “pros”, but how about a “con”? I actually enjoy to travel without my phone or even international roaming. I mean – you’re taking a week to relax and get off the usual routine. But yet here you are – checking e-mail and reading same stuff 🙂

    • I completely agree. We have just had over a week offline and it’s great to have a break sometimes. We don’t ever travel with a phone either.

  7. Couldn’t agree more. I can’t imagine going anywhere without my laptop. I was debating selling it and getting a smaller netbook, but I don’t think that would cut it with all I want to do.

    • It does depend what you need to do. We haven’t regretted bringing the Macbook Pro at all, as Simon needs something more powerful than the netbook for web design work.

  8. I agree. A little netbook weighs almost nothing and can make a huge difference in dealing with issues on while traveling – like using Skype to call banks and credit card companies if they deny a purchase because it looks suspicious. Using it to download photos can ensure they’re not lost if your camera or memory card goes missing Also, having a blog makes taking a computer a necessity, really.

    You have a very slick blog, by the way!

  9. My boyfriend and I work while we travel as well, and we’d never dream of leaving our laptops behind. I find they come in handy when we’re planning out our day and looking for things to do or places to eat. Instead of hauling a LP or other guide book around, our computers offer a wealth of free information, often more updated and accurate than a guidebook anyway.

    • I admit I am still addicted to physical guidebooks, although that may change when I get a Kindle. In places like Bolivia where many places don’t have internet, or it´s painfully slow, it´s much easier to flick through your guidebook. I do like using the internet to supplement the info though, especially for accommodation recommendations.

  10. A laptop is a must for me as well. I’ve been using my Acer Aspire 1810T for the past six months and it’s a gem. It’s larger than a Netbook (11.6″ screen / 1 kg) but has the specs of a powerful laptop. It barely takes up space in my backpack!

    Just being able to open the laptop whenever I get the urge to work or write a post is something I’m addicted to these days. But if I didn’t have any work to do while traveling, I’d probably opt to leave the laptop at home so that I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking/losing it…

    • The Acer sounds like a good option, although we are recent but firm converts to the Mac now! I agree that if you aren’t working it probably is more hassle than use.

  11. The thought of going away without my laptop is shuddering to the bone. I live my life through my laptop. Photos go straight from the camera to be stored on the laptop. Thoughts are jotted down straight away to word. Surfing google about the place I am in, is so routine i do it without knowing it. NEVER leave home without your laptop!!!

  12. It’s funny–in departing for my first LIP adventure to southern Africa last year, I was trying to decide if I could get by with a smartphone for my work. This year, I can’t imagine rolling with less than my MacBook. I couldn’t imagine LIP life without big lappy guns.

  13. I agree with all the benefits that you posted about traveling with your laptop especially about the music. It’s another good way to keep you entertained through your travels, you can listen to your songs and watch your movies/shows in your down time. You can even use your laptop to write your blogs and what you experience on the road.

  14. I could add a few benefits of travelling with a laptop:

    1. They don’t argue with you about where you want to go. They might even help you find some even more interesting places to go.

    2. They don’t spend all your money buying gifts for all the people back home. (Where do they put all that tacky stuff? The next charity bag?)

    3. They don’t need lots of clothes – just a bag, a couple of cables.

    Having said all that you would look rather silly in having a romantic dinner in a fareway restuarant with your laptop!

    Am I missing the point here?

  15. You guys are my heroes! I spent my early 20’s traveling SE Asia, New Zealand, and Central America and in an attempt to get back on the road I decided to go to school for web design. Now, just 3 months from graduation, I have found your blog and you are doing exactly what my wife and I are hoping to do.
    Thanks for the stories and inspiration! Keep up the good work.

  16. I love using garage band to record my guitar and stuff too.

    We have definitely reached a stage where the prevalence of wifi enables you to get pretty much everything you need out of a laptop (although I can only speak for south america). My favourite thing tho is that my journal is on the net in blog form so i’m not gonna lose it any time soon, and I can put videos and pictures etc.

    • I still use an old school journal, but Simon writes his on the laptop, which actually makes a lot of sense as we can’t keep our old journals now. Of course we have our blog writing too.

  17. As a recipient of the Skype calls, I am naturally very glad that you are travelling with a laptop. That bit of the digital world I can appreciate. However, just having lost 1.5 hours of my life on the HMRC website does leave me wondering if the digital age really is progress…. I fear my blood pressure may require a call to NHS Direct – oh no, here we go again!!

  18. I couldn’t agree more! While it can be a little bulky, I can’t stand traveling without my laptop. I always try to stay in places with free WiFi so I can use it to check in on things back home. It also is a great place to upload photos at the end of the day–I have several friends who lost their cameras and then were so upset because they didn’t have them stored anywhere else. And I agree with you about the writing part–you can still write and work on blog posts without having to be online.

    • We try to stay at places with free wifi too, although in Bolivia that’s getting difficult. Luckily we’ve found some cafes here in Sucre with a fast connection.

  19. I totally agree with all of your points (especially since I almost religiously take my laptop with me everywhere), however, for the sake of discussion I’ll just a few things to consider that may make a laptop less necessary:

    * Travelling with a 500GB+ hard disk. These are getting cheaper and definitely take up less space. You can store all music and photos here. Disadvantage is that you need to use other computer when it’s transfer time, but most Internet cafés let you do this.

    * iPod touch or iPhone/Android device. You can make Skype calls over wifi, take advantage of wifi to check e-mails etc. and even write blog posts if you use a bluetooth keyboard. Definitely not as comfy as a laptop, but Rolf Potts is doing a great job at proving that you can do everything you need from an iPod touch! You can also install dictionaries on these tiny devices, which are way more practical than on computers since you can look something up before requesting it when outside. If it’s a smartphone you have the advantage of searching on wordreference etc. and all of the other marvellous things online in an instant. And Anki of course works great on these devices.

    Downside is using it outside in poor areas makes you a target, although this is the case with a laptop too. You can watch movies on it, but it’s far from a pleasant experience as it would be on a bigger screen.

    At the end of the day I wouldn’t give up my laptop for anything, but having a smartphone gets me out of the house more, which is always good 😛

    • I agree with you Benny (and Audrey) that if you aren’t working or blogging then a smartphone could be a good alternative to a laptop. We haven’t tried them yet, but we’ll probably get an iPod touch when we reach the US next summer. I’d love to be able to use Anki on the go.

  20. Ha, I know that couch and white/red furniture! Dan and I are sometimes chastised for having not only one, but two, laptops with us. We joke that our marriage wouldn’t survive with just one – each of us has different responsibilities and sharing just wouldn’t work. Sounds like you discovered the same thing pretty quickly!

    But, for people who are just traveling without trying to work or blog at the same time, you can probably do a lot of what you need to do (check email, surf, skype, etc.) with a smartphone.

    • Yep, that apartment was a nice place to work! It really didn’t take us long to discover than one laptop wasn’t going to cut it. I really wanted it to work so we could travel light, but it just doesn’t make sense when you are working and blogging.

  21. We can only agree with all of your points! Can’t imagine blogging in a loud & sticky internet cafe! I think especially when you work as you’re going at least a little netbook is absolutely essential. We also have an ASUS Eee and are more than happy with our decision for this model. Being able to skype in privacy in an apartment or hostel room is great and watching movies (or just clips on youtube) is sometimes really nice too – thanks to whoever invented free wi-fi 😉 Going to look into the language resources you mentioned, we didn’t know them.

    • We have had three Eee PCs now and really love them, although we love the Mac too for more hardcore stuff. It seems than Mexico is good for free wifi, so we are looking forward to that. Bolivia, not so great…

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