Once upon a time, I had a gear page on this blog.
On my gear page, I explained how a Macbook laptop, a scanner, and Evernote have drastically reduced my paper consumption and have consolidated my technical belongings.
I scrapped the gear page after it was the lowest performing page in my first several months of blogging, but the principles I espoused still remain true… that if you are going to be productive abroad, you need to have your tools.
So, in other words:
Yes, you should absolutely positively take your MacBook on your travels.
This is a really simple decision you can settle on today. I know I spent a long time on the question before I took my first trip abroad. In fact, way back in those days I wrote a post requesting the input of experienced travelers.
After spending 85% of my time in the last year traveling outside of my hometown, I can confidently say that you should absolutely take your Macbook wherever you go.
Now, this might not be the best advice for the pure ‘backpacker’ type– and by that I mean someone who only has a backpack for luggage, is traveling from one place to the next after only a few days, and may subject themselves to dirty or less-than-optimal conditions for weeks at a time.
But for anyone who is traveling relatively slowly, with an additional smaller backpack or satchel specifically designed to carry a laptop, and who is not spending their time in the mosquito-larvae regions of the Amazon, take your freakin’ laptop.
Here is the core issue: did you buy your MacBook to use it, or to store it?
Is your MacBook the kind of thing that you bought so that you can keep it displayed in your China cabinet? Or when you tell people you just bought a MacBook, do you say that you haven’t learned to use it yet because you’ve been afraid of opening up such an expensive item?
If so, you might need to break down your Mac-religion in favor of some Mac-pragmatism. Macs are great because you can do things with them. They give you enhanced abilities. They are not meant to be worshiped.
The reality is your MacBook is for use, and not for a display item like a glass menagerie. In fact, any computer really does you no good sitting in your closet.
Why take a laptop in the first place?
I am hoping that in some way, shape or form, you have decided to capture your trip in electronic form (with pictures, blog posts, etc.). Thus taking a laptop is all but necessary in order to accomplish this.
I am also hoping that you are thinking about keeping up at least a semi-location independent way of travel, in which you are going to be accessing all of your personal files while on the road. For this, you need a laptop.
Now, you could by an el cheapo laptop for the road. That is one option. But for me, that was another $500 I could use for other purposes, and my PCs have all had less-than-stellar stability with consistent use.
Besides, if you are going to be productive, you don’t want to do it on something cheap or shoe string. The ox needs to be healthy in order tread out a good amount of grain. You want to have a good laptop to do your work on.
And eventually, all of us must come to the light and realize Macs are better than PCs.
So, if you’ve already got a Macbook, then you’ll realize we’ve just covered the formula:
Need a laptop on the trip + Already bought the Macbook = Take the Macbook on your trip.
Allaying The Fears Of Laptop Catastrophes
There are a few worries about your Mac that you should address.
1. Have your backup system in place.
I use two tools for this. Mozy for backing up general personal files (like pictures, papers, & other). It really takes too long to backup everything if you’ve got a lot of files… I also use Time Machine (app that comes on a Mac) and an external 500GB harddrive to backup all my files about once per month.
2. Have your anti-theft system in place.
Have a look at software like Undercover, GadgetTrak, or the open source PreyProject (thanks Chris!). I honestly have not enrolled with these services because I am not too worried about my laptop getting stolen, but they do offer a very good system to recover your laptop if it is stolen. If a thief logs on to your computer, a photo of the user is secretly taken and sent to the security center along with the location data of the connection.
3. Have travel insurance in place.
Many travel insurance providers will cover your loss in the event of theft. If you decide to take a smart phone abroad along with your laptop, you may seriously want to consider it. Travel insurance doesn’t have to cost an arm or a leg either, and can be around $30 bucks per month.
4. Have practical precautions in place.
Don’t stuff your laptop in with your crusty old socks. Don’t leave it out like you do your freshly washed underwear. Be aware of your surroundings and take practical steps for minimizing your theft exposure while abroad.
For example, you need to have a secure bag with locks, and keep your laptop in the lockers in the hostels (or wherever) you stay at. Admittedly, the more valuable an item you bring on your travels, the more attention will be required to keep it secure. But in the vast majority of hostels I’ve stayed at, there have been lockers big enough for a laptop.
If you take these into account, you should have few problems with laptop security. You’ll have even fewer problems if you travel slowly and keep your belongings safely stored in your apartment.
All of which is to say, if you are going abroad…