Backpacking With A Laptop

Last modified on September 15th, 2013

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.

5 responses to “Backpacking With A Laptop”

  1. Tawcan says:

    I agree with you on the netbook totally. A friend of mine travelled around Europe for about 3 months twice and got by with a netbook.

    I’ve been on a few trips lately. Mind you they’re not as long as 4 months but I got by with just bringing lots memory cards and no laptop.

  2. Kevin Baggs says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Having travelled and lived in the Middle East I would never bring along an expensive laptop. A friend of mine was travelling in India. He had his Macbook and $10K worth of photo equipment stolen. He was bummed but then figured it would not be a big deal as he had insurance. He went to the cop station to file a report. They said to come back in 2 days. When he came back the report said he left his backpack on the beach. When he questioned this, he was told that the area was a tourist area and they didn’t want negative reports. So he either signed the report, or he would not get a police report, which he needed to replace his passport.

  3. Tyler says:

    My idea was to have something that could process photos with relative ease during downtime. There are times were we just hang out at the hotel or wherever to relax from the stuff we did during the day. Would a netbook be up for the task? The Atom processor (which most netbooks seem to have) is alright for email/websurfing, but being able to process 23MB files in Lightroom? The 13.3″ screen I don’t think will bother me, but I don’t think I would go smaller than that. Netbooks also max out at what, 2GB of memory? The laptop I want is the Asus U36Jc. At 19mm thick and with an Core i5 processor I wouldn’t go mental.

    But yes, I do understand that bringing a $1000 laptop over a $300-400 netbook is a bit silly since there is a possibility of being mugged/robbed/stolen. Insurance would help with that.. (peace of mind anyway). Then I am out a laptop till I get back home or something.

    External storage isn’t a problem. I have two 2.5-inch external drives (USB/eSATA) that I could bring on to dump photos into. I seem to only have one 16GB SDHC card since my previous camera used CF cards (I have 4 of those). If I went the route of using more memory cards, I would probably go out and snag a bunch of 4GB ones.

    The ideal bag for I think would be something like the ThinkTank Retrospective 10 but with the functionality of the ThinkTank Urban Disguise. The Retro’s are less camera looking (messenger, canvas bag look) whereas the Urban Disguise have places to slide a laptop into.

    What sort of bag(s) do/did you bring with you Duane on your trip south?

    As for camera equipment, since I’ve sold most of my stuff I would be bringing my XSi, 18-55 and 75-300. Would probably leave the battery grip at home. Makes it looks cheaper and smaller. Not like I am bringing along the 7D, 70-200 and 17-40 😉 I also wouldn’t be flashing the camera around etc.

    On our Costa Rica trip, each day I wrote a post about what we did. I processed photos and uploaded them to share with friends and family. I know family highly enjoyed reading about our adventures as well as seeing the photos. Granted depending on what we were doing, I didn’t always bring the XSi (left the 7D at home then). For when we went on our own into the jungle we opted for the waterproof Pentax. When you’re warned about people hide in the bush with machetes, you don’t tend to take a lot with you.

    The first part of our trip (1 month) was to (i think) fly into Melbourne, pop over to Adelaide then drive along the coast up past Melbourne, into Sydney and then continue on up the coast and end up in Cairns. The other 2 months would be spent in SE Asia. We would then fly out of Cairns to some SE Asia location and do a trip with Intrepid (like GAP) to help ease me into the culture (Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos). Then the last few weeks would be wandering around Thailand.

  4. Duane Storey says:

    “But yes, I do understand that bringing a $1000 laptop over a $300-400 netbook is a bit silly since there is a possibility of being mugged/robbed/stolen. Insurance would help with that.. (peace of mind anyway). Then I am out a laptop till I get back home or something. “

    Laptops are generally covered under house insurance, but unless you have a very low deductible or some kind of extra coverage, I would doubt it would be worth it to file a single claim over a laptop. So basically consider it uninsured.

    I had a 40L bag from MEC that still was the right size to bring on planes as carry-on. Your fun will be inversely proportional to how much stuff you have, so go as light as possible. You can always buy a few things in the other country – no need to bring everything that you own simply because you think you might need it.

  5. I’m a bit late to this post, but thought I’d chime in anyway :). I always travel with an expensive laptop… one I really can’t afford to have stolen. But since I work on the road it’s not an option for me. But I personally am fond at all of netbooks. I used one on my trip to Peru, and here and there, and I just find them way too hard to use due to the low resolution, small keyboard, and generally crapy mouse.

    If you can at all avoid taking any laptop, that would be ideal. For many trips just an iPod touch or smartphone would be good enough. If you bring a small foldable bluetooth keyboard you can use that if you plan on writing emails or blog posts commonly. Basic photo processing and uploading are also common needs, especially uploading, so maybe there’s a better solution for that. Not sure how you can copy photos from a digital camera to a iPhone/iPad with no computer.

    But ya, my personal feeling is that if you can avoid bringing a laptop then don’t bring it. If you HAVE TO have a laptop, then bring something you’re comfortable with so you don’t have the frustration of using an unfamiliar, uncomfortable device.

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