I have to admit, I really dislike travelling with a laptop and always avoid it if at all possible. The things are heavy (even this little Air weighs a kilo), expensive, delicate and are altogether too much a reminder of the Real World, where I spend almost all of my waking hours on a computer. But as a freelancer it can be really difficult to just up and leave – no one else will be doing the work whilst I’m away! – so depending on the length of the trip it’s hard to get away from it entirely. Since we’ll be on the road for nearly four months, this is one of those times where I will have to spend a bit of time here and there doing small bits of work and support for my current clients, and that requires a laptop.
It will also come in handy for editing photos and blogging, although honestly if I wasn’t doing work I would probably just settle for using a tablet + keyboard for that!
Useful laptop tools for travel
Warning: this is going to get a little bit geeky.
I love Time Machine – I like that I can just set it up and leave it. We’re taking along a portable harddrive to plug in when we’re using the laptop so everything can be backed up. When we’re on the move The Boy is going to be carrying the laptop, and I’ll hold onto the harddrive, so if something happens to one of them then at least we’ll have a copy of the data on the other.
BackBlaze is an online backup service, so that in the unlikely event that something happens to both the laptop and the backup harddrive, there’s a remote backup with our data somewhere. It runs in the background whenever you have an internet connection, uploading any changes to your files. It does take a while to do the first full backup (for my computer and harddrive full of photo files it’s estimated 80+ days!), but once that’s done the incremental backups are much faster and less data-intensive. It’s maybe over the top for some, but for me that $4 per month feels worth it.
Dropbox is my go-to for getting files from clients, and now that I’m sort of transitioning from one laptop to another I’ve been using it to sync and store all my current projects in ‘the cloud’. I like that I’m able to work on the same file on different computers and not have to worry about synchronisation. It’s also another layer of cloud backup, for the files that I’d most likely need to get to first should something happen to my laptop. Some people also like to store a scan of their passport etc. in Dropbox so that it’s accessible from anywhere if their passport is stolen. I’m currently just using their free tier which only allows me a few gigabytes of storage, but it isn’t expensive to subscribe and use it as your main cloud storage.
I’ve only just started using Google Drive (although I’ve been a fan of Google Docs for a long time), and aside from what they’ve integrated from Docs it feels like a direct competitor for Dropbox. The collaboration tools make it my tool of choice for travel planning. I’m a bit paranoid about giving Google control of even more of my data, but that 5 free gigs plus my Dropbox free account does add up to a decent chunk of cloud storage.
iCloud is yup, yet another cloud storage system – this time it comes free with Mac OSX. I mainly just use it to store and sync my contacts and calendars with my iPhone. One different feature which is pretty useful when travelling is ‘Find my iPhone’, which can be accessed through a browser and used to locate and remotely trigger an iPhone, iPad or laptop. It’s actually pretty accurate (still displays on Google Maps rather than Apple Maps, haha), so if you simply left your phone or laptop in a cafe somewhere you can just go back and retrieve it. If it appears to have travelled into a thieves den of course, then maybe that isn’t such a good idea. You can also wipe all of your data remotely if you think it might have fallen into the wrong hands. For this reason it’s crucial that both the iCloud password and the security questions required to change it are very secure – see Honan’s article on Wired after his password was discovered through a bit of social engineering and most of his digital life deleted.
Probably something that’s useful to have whether you’re on the road or not, 1Password securely manages login details, account details, software keys… anything really. If you’ve been using the same password for every account you create, those accounts are not particularly secure. The point of 1Password is that you just have to remember one super password and it remembers the rest. Obviously you have to make sure that the super password is a good one (and not one that you’re repeating!). It also has some protection against phishing and keyloggers, and can be synced across multiple devices using Dropbox to store the (encrypted) password data file. Besides making sure that all my passwords are both unique and difficult, this means that if I lose my laptop I won’t be scrambling to figure out all my lost passwords and details that were stored in Keychain.
Okay, I admit – I’ve moved on to Lightroom since I’m forking out for the entire Adobe Creative Cloud (necessary for work), but until very recently I did most of my image management and some editing through Picasa. What Picasa does is shows all of your image files (you can choose what folders it searches through) in a much easier to use format than standard Finder/Windows Explorer. The image editing options are pretty damn good for free software, and it does a really good job of batch resizing images for printing or use on the web. It also takes up a teeny amount of disk space and resources compared to big guns Lightroom and Photoshop, and is infinitely less expensive (literally – it’s free!).
Of course all of these things are useful and important to have, even if you aren’t travelling. Data security and easy retrieval of data just become even more vital when there’s a potential for the laptop being lost, stolen or damaged, which is an unfortunate risk you take when travelling with one. Fingers crossed all these measures end up not being necessary!