A friend of mine on Twitter posted a question today asking if anyone had done any world travel, and if so, what they thought of taking a laptop with them. Since I just got back from four months of world travel, I thought I would write an entry detailing my experiences with backpacking with a laptop.
I spent the majority of my time in the city of Buenos Aires in Argentina. I brought along my 13″ Macbook Pro, which is valued at around $1,500 in Canada. There is actually a lot of petty theft in Buenos Aires, so I avoided taking my laptop out for the first six weeks or so. But eventually that became tiresome – what’s the point of bringing a laptop to a foreign country if you can’t use it?
I actually imagined what would happen if someone were to steal my laptop while traveling. The cost of that very same laptop in Buenos Aires would have easily been $3,000 – $4,000 due to import restrictions. At those prices it would have been far cheaper for me to simply get on a plane, fly to Houston (10 hours of flying in each direction), buy a new laptop, and fly back. That’s not a joke. There are also many parts of the world where replacing an expensive laptop is simply not an option.
With that in mind, I think everyone who plans to do day or weekend trips in a foreign part of the world should take along a cheap netbook. If you simply plan to email friends and family from time to time or upload the odd photo, then I would rely exclusively on the netbook and leave the expensive laptop back home.
If you have to take a nice laptop, then bring a netbook as well. When you’re somewhere safe or familiar you can bring the nicer laptop out. But in new areas or new countries, I would simply take something cheap along to minimize the cost and hassle if it were either stolen or lost.
I plan to do some traveling again in the fall, and the first thing I’m going to do is to go buy a new netbook. I’m not planning on anything fancy, just something that I can take with me to write the odd blog entry or to catch up on news in various coffee shops.
The general rule while traveling is to never bring anything out with you that you can’t afford to lose. I think that’s a good philosophy, and one that I tried to adhere to. I often left my iPhone 4 at home (since it was a hot item in Argentina) and I routinely traveled while leaving my Macbook Pro in the apartment I was renting.
But if you need to take along a laptop I would strongly suggest bringing a cheaper netbook along as well for the reasons mentioned above.