Categories: Advice and TipsPlanning

A Little Question… Should You Travel With a Laptop?

Working with a wifi dongle on my laptop from the middle of the Jordan desert!

This is one of those ever-present questions for new travelers — do you bring a laptop on your round the world trip? And you may be wondering if you should start your own travel blog? If you opt for full-scale travel blog then it’s a no-brainer, you need a laptop with you. Likewise if you are a freelancer working from the road. But if you’re somewhere in between, this post will help you consider the pros and cons. It can be incredibly liberating to free yourself from technology, and a RTW trip is the perfect opportunity.

I brought my computer with me RTW and I cannot imagine traveling without it (my heart stutters at the thought). But I did not take a traditional RTW trip. I have worked as a freelancer as I travel for years now (8+ at least count as I update this post in 2016). If you’re prepping for a traditional trip around the world, or if traveling abroad for a few months, consider these pros and cons of bringing a laptop.

Disadvantages to Traveling with a Laptop

  • Safety is a big concern. And I don’t mean personal safety – when you’re packing gadgets galore you have to come up with ways to keep your electronics safe. For me that meant a bringing a PacSafe on the trip and locking up my backpack when I left my laptop behind at the hostels and guesthouses.
  • You spend more time on the computer. If you have a computer, you’re likely spend more time using it than the alternative, computers at internet cafes. That means possibly getting sucked into technology when you could be out meeting new people and exploring.
  • You’ll worry. This ties into the safety concerns, but you have a much more heightened sense of worry. Even with the PacSafe, I was a Nervous Nellie in some situations if I felt my laptop wasn’t truly safe. (Disclaimer: Most of my worry stems from my laptop’s role as my key source of income on the road; as a freelancer I cannot afford to lose my laptop in the middle of a project).
  • It’ll weigh you down. In the backpacking and traveling world it’s all about packing light. Less is more. There are even “pissing” contests between backpackers, those “my pack’s smaller than yours” type of debates. No matter what the rationale behind packing light, a laptop means more weight in your pack and on your back as you hike to hostels, chase down chicken buses and make a mad sprint for your train.
  • It’s hard to stay ergonomic. I developed serious RSI and carpal tunnel from my time on the road. Because of that, I still travel with a laptop, but I have a few other ergonomic travel products that make it easier to work as I travel. This setup includes a Roost Stand, nice mouse, and portable keyboard, among other things.

A 55L Pacsafe on my backpack and attached to the bedpost so I could go hiking with a bit of an easier mind about my laptop that was inside my backpack.

Benefits of Bringing Your Laptop While Traveling

  • Efficiency. A laptop allows you to pre-write posts, upload and sort photos, and draft emails all from a hostel or train. It takes a lot of time to run a travel blog and long train rides (a few trains/buses even have power outlets!) provide the perfect opportunity to catch up on work and get information ready for the next time you find internet.
  • More connectivity. Internet access is pervasive. That means that you can sip a hot tea from a small café and tap into wireless on your laptop. Wireless cafes were available from Laos to India and throughout Australia and Eastern Europe, not everywhere, but they’re there. Where there wasn’t good WiFi, I could usually buy a local SIM card and hotspot myself from my phone.
  • A nice computer. I like my computer, it’s familiar and was fairly modern (until it broke on the road). That’s not the case for a lot of foreign internet cafes. Fortunately, the vast majority of cafes allowed me to hook the internet cable into my own computer — and familiarity meant less time transferring files to a computer built in 1989.  :-)
  • Storage. It’s nice to have one spot to upload your photos. Though this can be easily accomplished with an external hard drive, your own computer is invaluable for storing and sorting mass amounts of media.

My poor broken laptop after about eight months on the road on my RTW trip

Laptop Alternatives for Travel

If you’re still torn about the laptop issue, you have a couple other options:

  • Tablets. This is a fantastic option if you are running a casual travel blog to keep people updated, but perhaps not working abroad. For blogging, if you can get photos onto your tablet (you will need an extra doohickey to read from a memory card for iPads), then the WordPress app will see you nicely through your entire trip. Skype is also a great app, Kindle app is wonderful, photo-editing apps for the iPad are fantastic, and social media is a cinch. If you are not working on client projects and in need of a powerhouse laptop, then a tablet is a pretty fantastic solution! To work effectively from one, you will need a wireless keyboard and some cloud storage too.
  • Smartphones and the iPhone. If emails and social media are your priority then a small smartphone might do the trick. This is barely adequate for travel bloggers, but just might meet your need for connectivity — it’s small and portable and less conspicuous than a laptop. Perfect if you aren’t blogging but want to take advantage of free wifi for Skyping home, Instagram, Facebook, etc.
  • Netbooks. A step up from the iPhone, but a step down from a full laptop. I’ve seen them in action and they perform incredibly well for traveling. They’re smaller and lighter than a full-sized laptop and have a longer battery-life. They seem ideal if your main internet business on the road is blogging. The main problem is storage space, so you will need to back up to the cloud if you plan on taking a lot of photos!

If you’ve already started your travel blog and you’re looking for great resources to get your blog off the ground, I share companies I use and love for developing this very travel blog. And if you’re planning to start a travel blog, I have a how-to primer here. 

Suggested Reading for Working While Traveling

  • Ergonomic Travel System: This is the fully portable system I use to travel and work from the road. It includes detailed information on how to prevent injury when you are working online from cafes around the world.
  • The End of Jobs: An essential book for anyone who wants to work as an expat or digital nomad; speaking to why MBAs and JDs can’t get jobs, research on integrated living, and more.
  • Four Hour Work Week: No doubt you’ve seen it for years, but if you haven’t read it yet, you should. Some of Tim Ferris’ viewpoints are very counter to how I live my life, but I will give him this: his book changed my perception about what is possible in building an online business. It’s still a primer read for a reason, it’s worth having that knowledge and perspective in your head as you move forward.
  • The 80/20 Principle: A good companion to the Four Hour Work Week, this book talks about how 20% of your efforts will generate 80% of your results. As an expat or digital nomad working smarter, not harder, is key and this book provides a good base.
  • Content Machine: Use Content Marketing to Build a 7-figure Business with Zero Advertising: While this business model is not going to work for everyone, Dan makes some excellent points about content creation and marketing.

This post was last modified on December 10, 2016, 12:14 pm