A Backup Strategy for Digital Nomads

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We have now updated this post. See our updated backup strategy

Backing up your data is important for everyone in the digital age, but for a digital nomad it’s essential. We travel with all our possessions and our mobile office in a carry-on backpack and there is always the chance that we could lose it all. We don’t live in constant fear of this happening but it’s best to be prepared for the worst, as our livelihood depends on it.

Many people have asked us about how we backup our data as we travel so here is our backup strategy.

Back Up 1: Western Digital My Passport Hard Drive and Time Machine

We travel with a Western Digital My Passport 500Gb hard drive which we use to backup everything on our Macbook Pro laptop, except for some films we have downloaded, because our data on the Macbook is now larger than our hard drive. Next time we would get a bigger than 500GB hard drive to backup with but it’s not essential right now.

We backup at least every few days and always before travel days. This is really easy to do on a Mac using the Time Machine programme that is included with the operating system. We just plug the hard drive in and it automatically backs everything up. Simon has changed the Macbook Pro internal hard drive a few times – once because he dropped the laptop down some stairs and was worried it was failing, and once to get extra storage space. Restoring everything was a breeze with Time Machine – it automatically restored everything to the way it was, no need to reinstall any software. SO much easier than on a Windows computer.

We would recommend the Western Digital My Passport as a travel hard drive. It’s very small and light but has been rugged enough to last for 21 months of constant travel. I wrap it in a little bubble wrap and store it in one of my clothing cubes, in a different backpack to where the laptop is.

Back Up 2: SugarSync

But what if both of our bags got stolen? Having just one backup isn’t enough for a nomad. Our second backup is storing our most important documents in the cloud using SugarSync. We don’t backup everything in the cloud as it would be too much data (costly and impractical for slow internet connections), just everything that we couldn’t live without.

SugarSync is really easy to use and in fact we don’t even need to remember to backup. When new files are added or changed it automatically syncs the changes to the cloud. When we have really slow internet connections this can be a slow process but most of the time it works just fine and we don’t even notice it is happening.

We have also tried Dropbox, a similar service, but we prefer SugarSync because you can choose to backup any folder on your computer rather than have to put the documents in a specific “Dropbox” folder.

One of the other things we love about SugarSync is that we can sync our files across our two laptops. This means we can both access the same files from our own computers. I use an Eee PC netbook and don’t need to worry about backing up with a hard drive – all my files are in Sugarsync, as well as being backed up on the Western Digital via the Mac, as the files are over there too.

You can also access your SugarSync documents from any device you choose – we can view them on our iPod Touch for example. If we ever did lose our laptop and hard drive we could log in to our SugarSync account on any computer and have access to all of our files.

SugarSync is free for up to 5GB of space and the prices for larger storage are very reasonable.

Back Up 3: Hard Drive With Family

As extra protection we also left an old hard drive containing all of our files with our family before we left the UK, and again when we visited after being away for 14 months. This isn’t an ideal solution but as we have the above backups it’s an extra option “just in case” so we wouldn’t lose absolutely everything. You could also consider posting DVDs or flash drives of data to a family member or friend – we did this on our first trip with our photos as we weren’t travelling with a laptop at the time.

Remember, with traditional hard drives it’s a case of not if they’re going to fail but when. Even the new solid state drives have a limited number of write cycles (known as write endurance) but at least their failure should be a little more predictable. Still, if your data is not in at least two places, it doesn’t exist.

Note: This backup strategy works for us because we don’t have a huge amount of data. I don’t shoot photos in RAW and I delete my duplicate and unwanted photos regularly. We also don’t take much video footage, but I know backing up is trickier for those who are into video, creating the need to carry around multiple hard drives but you should still try to back up as much as you can. Seriously. It makes Simon sad when you don’t.

I feel that digital “stuff” can creep up on you the same way physical stuff does and become just as much of a burden and cause for stress. I think it’s important to have frequent clear outs to avoid this.

Having been through the pain of data loss a few times, we can’t stress the importance of getting a solid, regular backup plan in place immediately. Don’t wait until it’s too late. How would you feel if you lost all of your work and irreplaceable photos? Go and backup now!

Want to know what else is in our backpack? See our digital nomad packing list.

Are you planning your next travel adventure? See our Travel Resources page for our favourite tools and gear to help you plan the perfect trip. 

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  1. I use Arq to back up my computer to the Amazon web services cloud – it’s a little technical to get working but Amazon offers far cheaper storage than back blaze. I probably spend around a dollar or two a month and have my entire laptop encrypted on the cloud. seems like the ease and affordability of cloud storage really make using a hard drive pretty obsolete (why pay 50 bucks for something that needs to be replaced periodically and can be stolen when you can get such cheap cloud storage.


  2. Are you still using sugar sync? I wonder how this compares to the iCloud? Apple at least says that the iCloud is easy to use.. We are just getting ready to become nomads ourselves and realized how important this is because a friend of ours just had her laptop stolen..




    • You could sign up for a bunch of free plans (Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, Copy) and decide later if you want to upgrade. If you have Apple products iCloud is already built in so def an easy way to go. Personally I like Dropbox because it offers a lot of customisation and LAN sync


    • We use our free iCloud allowance to back up the stuff on our phone, but it’s a bit expensive for all our data. We recently stopped using Sugarsync and started using Backblaze as it’s better value. You can back up your entire laptop (unlimited data) for $5 a month or $50 a year: http://www.backblaze.com/partner/af8937

      It takes a while to get the initial backup done so I recommend starting it before you leave. It’s super easy to set up.


  3. I almost bricked my MacBook Air on Thursday, thankfully I had a time machine backup ready to go (and a Dropbox/ Google Drive combo for added protection)


  4. In addition to a hard drive I also used high capacity SD cards to back up my photos, I’d then keep these in my wallet. You’d be really unlucky to get all bags and wallets stolen but a good cloud connection i suppose is the safest.


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