Tips for Backpacking with a Laptop

Do I need to take my laptop with me?

The first thing to ask yourself is: do I really need my laptop on the road?

If, like me, you work online and you’re a travel blogger, then there’s no question that you’ll need your laptop with you. I cannot rely on using someone else’s computer.

But even if you don’t work online, it can be nice to have a laptop with you to Skype home, check your Facebook and emails, or watch movies whenever you want. Most hostels have Wi-Fi these days- sometimes it’s free and sometimes you have to pay. You can find Wi-Fi everywhere in restaurants, cafes, stations and even on buses. There’s an increasing number of backpackers travelling with laptops, so it’s a pretty standard thing to carry with you these days.

However, if you feel you don’t really need it that much, then simple- don’t take it. Hostels usually have computers, and there are always internet cafes around. If you have a phone with wireless capabilities, then you could just get by with that.

I suppose the main question to ask yourself is: does the benefit from taking your laptop with you outweigh the risks of loss or damage? If so then by all means, take it on the road.

What type of laptop to take

Think about what you need to do on it first and foremost. If a little netbook will suffice, then I recommend taking one of those. I have an HP Mini 10.1 inch Netbook  for short getaways. You could alternatively take an Apple iPad 2 with you if you want something really portable. I don’t have one, but I’ve seen lots of backpackers who do.

I use my netbook when I’m going on shorter trips and weekends away because it’s small, portable and has a long battery life. It’s perfect for watching movies on long bus journeys, checking the internet, replying to emails and typing blog posts. It’s surprising how much it will do and I don’t find the size of the keyboard to be a problem. I can put it in my handbag and pop to a coffee shop. The downside to backpacking with a netbook is that I can’t use the full version of Adobe Photoshop, or do much in terms of video editing. I couldn’t do any big projects on such a small screen, and now I’m used to the fast speed of my Mac, switching back to Windows just isn’t the same.

That’s why when I’m backpacking round the world, I always take with me my 15″ Macbook Pro. Mac are expensive, but having switched from Windows computers, I won’t be switching back. I’m a complete convert. Some people think the 15″ is a little too big to carry around, but I don’t find it to be an issue. I like the screen size, and it is better for video editing than the 13″.

If you want something ultra-portable, then you could buy a Macbook Air or the 13″ Macbook Pro.

However, travelling with something with such a high price tag can be worrying. Having shelled out all that money, you don’t want it damaged or lost. This is the main gamble you take when travelling with a Mac.

Think about where you’re going, what types of places you’ll be staying in, how long you’ll be away for and what you’ll be doing on it before making your decision.

What about Insurance?

I spent hours scouring the internet looking at travel insurance- none of which covered individual items over a certain value (around £400). So basically if you’re travelling with 1.5k worth of laptop in your bag, you’re not covered for its value. I might be wrong, but I haven’t found travel insurance that covers an individual item to this amount.

You can buy separate laptop insurance with certain companies that will cover you worldwide, but there are often limitations. For instance, with Protect Your Bubble, you can only buy insurance for a laptop under 12 months old. If you read the terms and conditions on some of these policies, you will find that there are various limitations- for example you are not covered if it is stolen from a motor vehicle, or if it stolen from a building without evidence of forced entry. Read the terms and conditions VERY carefully.

As a matter of precaution, ALWAYS take photos of your laptop before you go away. Note down all Serial Numbers, and keep a copy of your receipt. This is vital as they will request them as proof of ownership when you make your claim. Store a copy of the information at home, and have a backup copy saved online.

If you have home insurance, or your parents have home insurance and you’re registered at their address, then call up the insurance company and check whether you’re covered. I recently called my parents’ home insurance provider and it turns out my laptop is covered for trips up to a certain duration.  I’m glad I checked, because it saved me money.

Carrying it around

In my opinion, for your laptop you’re going to need two things- a neoprene sleeve for padding, and some sort of laptop backpack or bag.

To protect my laptop  I have a Built 13-16 inch Laptop Portfolio Case . I’ve personally found this the best laptop case on the market because it has a detachable strap plus a carry handle, it’s not bulky, and it protects my laptop with its stretchy fabric. It also has a pocket so I can put my laptop charger in there and my external hard drive. Neoprene cases are great but they usually don’t have any pockets or any strap to carry them around- not very good if you want to pop to a local cafe with it.

Then to carry my laptop when I’m backpacking around I have a Swissgear backpack which I talked about in my latest review. I’ve completely fallen in love with it. It is made of durable fabric, has a separate laptop pocket, and a spacious main pocket for my DSLR camera.

Preventing Theft

The most obvious thing to do is make sure you lock your doors, and if there’s a safe in your hostel/hotel, put it in there. If you can’t lock it away, try not to leave it out where people can see it. Put it to the bottom of your bag and put the bag under your bed. You can also buy a laptop lock, although I personally haven’t tried one of these out. Set your laptop so that it requires a password when you open the lid, or when the computer has been inactive for a while.

I haven’t (touch wood) had anything stolen from a hostel and I am quite trusting of other travellers. Sadly though, I have heard of Macbooks being stolen. One girl was working in a hostel but lived in a separate apartment. She fell asleep with her new Macbook on her bed and when she woke up it was gone. Friends of mine lost their Macbooks when a taxi driver drove off with their bags in Peru.

If your laptop does get stolen, file a police report immediately so a) you have a chance of tracing it b) you can contact your insurance company and make a claim. Let people know about the theft through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Make sure you download and install Prey Project before you travel too. This piece of software is free to download and is a brilliant tool for keeping track of your laptop. If your laptop is stolen, you can activate Prey from a remote location and it can give you the location of your laptop using GPS or Wi-Fi . You can lock down your computer so that no-one can use it without a specific password, grab a screenshot of an active session, and even get the webcam to take a picture of the thief!

Finally, remember to copy all your most important files to an external hard drive, as well as an online storage system like Dropbox. That way, if anything happens to your laptop, you haven’t lost all your photos and documents.

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5 Responses to Tips for Backpacking with a Laptop

  1. Caitlin October 24, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    As of last night I had pretty much decided to rely on the iPad 2 for my travels, and now I’m completely calling that into question! Thanks for the tips/advice!!

  2. Beverley | Pack Your Passport October 24, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    Amazing security advice! I only carry a little Acer netbook around with me because it’s small and quite light but I still get a bit worried about security. Definitely going to look into Prey Project, sounds good :-)

  3. David August 21, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Have you tried insurance with Photoguard or Glover & Howe? I’m looking into it myself and looks like a cheaper way to ensure combined items up to a value of £XXXX, than trying to find some bespoke gadget insurance. They also appear to cover for unlimited world travel.

  4. MikeE November 19, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    I swear by a Pacsafe 12L portable safe, attaches to anything solid and holds my laptop, passport + DJ gear while I’m out and about, and can attach anything else to a cable. You’ll need wirecutters to get into it without the key. And it fits in my carry on.

    • Victoria November 20, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      Hi Mike, thanks for the tip I will check that one out. Trying to find the best ways to prevent things from being stolen.

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