Should You Travel With Your Laptop?

Whenever I get my packing list ready for my next trip, I always take my laptop with me.  To be honest it’s the last thing I back because I feel like I’m always on it. When I’m not on my desktop at the office, I’m usually on my laptop trying to get things done for the blog, editing photos, or just checking out other random things (basically being unproductive).  But whenever I travel, I consider this a lifeline that is an essential necessity for me. And without fail, it’s the last thing that goes in my backpack along with the charging cable. I even obsess about whether or not I’ll have an opportunity to charge it at the airport or on the plane because I hate wasting time while on a flight and try to get as much work done as I can without any distractions.  I’m sure I feel the same way about my laptop as many do about their phones. If their phone dies, it would be the end of their world. If my laptop dies, it would be the end of my world.  

So, should you travel with a laptop when you travel?  If you’re the type of person who needs a laptop to get any sort of work done, it’s an absolute no brainer.  However, if you travel for leisure and you think you might use a laptop to send out quick emails to your friends and family back home, you should leave the laptop at home.  

The Pros:

Get work done

This might be the biggest thing for anyone who is debating on whether they should take a laptop with them on their next trip.  If you’re the type of person who mainly uses the internet to read, shop, and otherwise do things that you can easily use your phone for, there is no reason to take a laptop.  However, if you’re the type of person who wants to get work done either by writing, logging in to the office back home, editing photos and/or videos, etc. then you’re absolutely going to need a laptop.  

If you’re like me, a laptop isn’t used primarily for play.  It’s used for work. And the way I view it, I can be way more effective and use time more efficiently while sitting on a fifteen hour flight with few distractions vs. just sitting there and watch some movies.  I need it to work and I like being able to whip it out and get something productive done while I have a moment.  

For me, I usually get anything I need to get done while I have internet access at the airport.  That means checking my work email and doing any necessary research before I may or may not have internet access on the plane.  Once on my flight, I’ll try to get as much done as I can without being connected to the internet. Depending on what I need to do, I may not even think about accessing the internet for the entire flight.  Sometimes, it just isn’t possible since the aircraft isn’t equipped with internet service and other times by the time I finish, the flight is almost over. I try not to log in to the internet for the most part because 1) I find it to be a distraction and too easy to take a “quick break” which turns into a wasted couple of hours and 2) internet on flights is usually unbearably slow and it just drives me bonkers (especially when I think about how much airlines charge for connectivity).  

So, what am I working on that doesn’t take internet connection?  A lot of times it’s just writing blog posts and editing photos. Writing takes a bit of time and work and unfortunately I have a habit of getting pathetically distracted so being in an environment where there are little to no distractions is really great for me.  

Store photos

If you’re like me and take a lot of photos (especially in RAW), you know how quickly space becomes an issue on your memory cards and the need for storage.  In this case, you’ll definitely need to have a place to store all your photos if for no other reason than to back up your files. I think every photographer has extra memory cards in their bag but for me, I love being able to look at the photos and then back them up to an external drive just to be extra careful to not lose data.  

Once the photos are backed up, I can edit photos on my laptop that would otherwise be impossible or a complete time drain back home and take hours.  This way, I can send out a few quick shots to my friends and family back home.

Also, if you’re any type of filmmaker or videographer, you’re probably going to want a way to edit  your videos so you can post them on social media or just send them out. If you fit either of these categories, a laptop of some sort is going to be an absolute necessity.  With all the photos and videos you take, it would take days to sift through all that when you got home if you weren’t on top of it to some extent while you were on the road.  

Those are really the only two reasons I could ever see myself traveling with a laptop.  Remember that a laptop is a mobile office. It doesn’t replace your office but it allows you to do things that you might otherwise do at the office.  I’m sure there are other professions where someone would need to have a laptop with them while they travel, I would make sure you understand that you absolutely need to have a laptop before you take one with you. 

The Cons:

Extra weight

As a solo traveler, I feel like I’m in a constant struggle with weight and what items to take and leave at home.  The one thing I hate more than anything is to feel I brought way too much on my trip. Having a laptop isn’t just about bringing a keyboard connected to a small monitor.  You also need to have the adapter, extension cords, and any attachments or accessories you use (ie mouse, privacy protector, etc). This is to say that all this extra stuff adds to the weight of your overall carryon.  

I think any solo traveler will tell you they had overpacking for anything and a laptop, no matter how new and “light” will add significant weight to your backpack.  I know I try to make sure everything I carry has a purpose and I don’t want any unnecessary weight that can be avoided. If you’re backpacking or constantly on the move, you’ll soon realize that the laptop which started off as a fun idea has quickly turned into an annoying paperweight that you’re forced to lug around until the end.  

Useless if you can’t charge it

Make sure that wherever you’re going, you’ll be in a position to charge it.  Look, we’ve all been to the airport where every outlet is taken with people recharging their phones, tablets, laptops, etc and you’ll have to either go to another terminal or just suffer a dead device.  It doesn’t matter where you are because inevitably, when you’ll need to charge it, you may not be able to.  

This doesn’t just apply to a lack of power outlets.  Sometimes, you’ll be in a place where the power just isn’t powerful enough or consistent enough to power your laptop.  When I was on Easter Island, I had everything I needed to charge my laptop but for some reason only one of the outlets would charge it and it would not only charge slowly, but also wasn’t consistent.  I couldn’t figure it out. Had I known before I left, I probably would have left my laptop at home since I really couldn’t do much of anything with it. I could only send out quick emails and had to wait until I got on the plane to recharge.  It was pretty annoying.  

More liability

Look, there’s a good chance the laptop is going to be your most expensive item you take with you on your trip.  If something happens to it, how would you feel? Theft happens all the time. If your laptop got stolen, are you going to wish you hadn’t brought it?  What if you accidentally drop it or it gets wet in a rainstorm? My point is having a big ticket item like a laptop in your bag is a major concern for anyone.  Is this a risk you’re willing to take?  

Remember that for most people, a smartphone is going to do as much as a laptop and is much easier to carry around.  So is there anything that you can’t do on a smartphone that requires a laptop? With all the apps available now, I’d be surprised if there isn’t an app that does everything you need already out there.  

Speaking of liabilities, the topic doesn’t just end at damaging or losing your laptop.  You’ll also have to worry about using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or at the very least give it some serious thought if you’re going to be using public internet all the time.  You’ll need to make sure you have nothing personal saved on your laptop like passwords and login info because if it were stolen, you could lose more than your laptop.  

Special backpack and other gear

Another thing you need to have is a backpack that’s laptop safe.   Now I used to travel with a laptop messenger bag and would fold my regular backpack into my carryon luggage because the backpack is easier to carry when out on walking around.  However, the messenger bag was easier to access things while traveling through the airport and on the plane. Also, since it was the only padded bag I had, it was kind of needed to avoid damage.  

Now, I just have a backpack that has a slot for laptops (you can see it HERE along with other resources).  However, these backpacks aren’t the best for everyday travel.  Obviously I leave my laptop in the hotel when I’m just out and about for the day because there’s no reason to lug it around all day.  I’ve tried a few of these backpacks (although my main concern was the anti-theft aspect and not the laptop aspect) but it seems like they’re mostly not a good use of space.  Of course when your laptop is in your backpack, it’s fine. But if you’re not carrying your laptop, the space becomes useless since you can’t put anything in it and you can’t remove it.  So the effective usefulness of the backpack becomes much smaller. It’s just one of the things I’ve noticed over the years, especially when I compare it to the simple Jansport backpack I used for years.  

This isn’t just the backpack but also any accessories that you might use like a mouse, privacy screen, to an extra laptop battery.  Whatever the accessory, it’s going to be something you wouldn’t need to have if you didn’t have your laptop which means these items become useless as well if your laptop becomes unusable.  All these things add to the weight of your carry on luggage and you’ll have to determine for yourself if it’s really worth the effort to take a laptop with you.  

Alternatives to laptops

Nowadays, a laptop isn’t the only option out there and there are actually some really great and inexpensive alternatives to a laptop if you’re willing to give up some of the functionality.  

Tablets

Tablets are fantastic for anyone who wants to travel with some electronics but doesn’t want to deal with the weight.  I actually think they’re perfect for the casual traveler because most people will want to use the laptop to browse the internet.  You can do that perfectly fine on a tablet and it’s pretty much built for surfing the web and doing things that don’t really require a keyboard or mouse.  It’s also a great device to use for playing games, reading, or just reading the morning news at breakfast.  

For most travelers, I’d really recommend getting a tablet of some sort if you can because it’ll meet all your needs.  I don’t consider it a useful tool for work but it’s perfectly fine for casual use and I think that’s what most people are looking for when they first start debating if they want to take a laptop with them when they travel.  

Chromebook

The next best thing to tablets is a chromebook.  I think this is a happy medium between a tablet and a laptop.  A chromebook looks and performs like a laptop but it uses the Google platform and nothing is really saved on the device itself.  You store all our info on the cloud so even if you lose your chromebook, you won’t really have to worry because nothing is stored locally. Because of this design, chromebooks are typically light and cheap.  They have limited memory space and because of this, they’re relatively cheap to buy.  

Chromebooks are also great because you can do work offline.  It allows you access some applications offline and once internet connection is restored, the info is saved on the cloud.  Now, this doesn’t mean all your apps are available because at its core, the Chromebook is meant to rely on connectivity to the internet.  However, this doesn’t mean it can’t be used to play games. Now remember that most of the games are apps that are meant to be played on a phone but that doesn’t mean you can’t play.  Also, there might be limited games available but there’ll certainly be more as time passes.  

If you’re not interested in a Chromebook, you can also look into a Windows notebook or netbook as well.  It’s basically the same thing except it runs on the Windows platform. If you like having the ability to do work with the added positive of having a keyboard, you may want to look into a Chromebook or some other type of notebook.  It may be exactly what you’re looking for. 

Internet cafes/business cafes

If you really need internet connectivity, you should also know that you can always go to an internet cafe or even the business center.  Internet cafes are certainly dying out in many industrialized countries but are still very common and popular in developing countries where internet access might be a little more difficult to come by.  Also, although I’ve never been to one, I see no reason why you couldn’t go into a gaming cafe and use a computer there as well. My only guess is you probably don’t want to be there if there is some major gaming event going on since I imagine there’ll be people anxious to play but my guess is you can just ask and pay for use of a computer there.  Since you probably won’t need to use the fancy gaming computer, they may even offer a discount.  

Most hotels have some sort of business center available to guests.  They may charge you for it but they may not. It’ll depend on your hotel and if you have any sort of status with that hotel chain.  But it’s certainly worth an ask. A lot of hotels will also have some bank of computers that you can use to check in for your flight.  So there’s certainly nothing preventing you from using those to send a quick email back home or check on something if you need to.  

Final thoughts

I admitted that I take my laptop everywhere.  It’s a MacBook Pro that I got 7 years ago. It’s heavy, bulky, and a pain to carry.  But it also has everything I need to get work done when I’m outside the office and regardless of internet access, it’s something I need to have.  

However, for most people, I would strongly advise anyone who’s thinking about taking a laptop on their travels to really think about how they’re going to use it.  If you’re the type of person who really likes to work and a laptop is necessary to you regardless of internet connectivity, then you should probably take it with you.  However, if a laptop is of little to no use to you without internet access, you probably shouldn’t take it. It’s less to carry, there are fewer worries, and there are many other devices that will allow you to do the same thing.  If you need to have something more than your smartphone, you might want to consider a tablet or Chromebook because it’s lighter and easier to carry. But overall, I’d say just enjoy your trip and have an extra martini on the flight. 

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