on July 31, 2012
In my post on what to pack, I briefly mentioned the value of a computer while traveling. Let's take a look at a few things that you should consider when deciding to bring along a computer or not.
Computers are incredibly versatile tools that can help you in many ways while traveling. Here are just a few:
Planning & Booking
Perhaps the most important way a computer will help you is by granting super-human ability to navigate the issues of transportation and accommodation via the internet. Online you can find timetables for all kinds of public transport, book beds in hostels in upcoming destinations, search for couchsurfing hosts, and more! While many places have internet cafes, and many hostels provide internet access, having your own device to hook up to the wi-fi has proven to be very useful on many occasions.
Another useful feature that comes along with that internet connection is the ability to make relatively cheap phone calls all over the planet. This is useful for contacting home, but is also immensely useful for making calls in whatever country you’re visiting without the need to get a cell phone or local SIM card.
For those that keep a journal, which I recommend doing while your travel, you have the option of leaving the pen & paper behind. Of course a notebook affords more personal touches with your handwriting and the ability to sketch, but it also has other drawbacks including limited writing space, extra packing space, and lack of backup.
Storage & Backup
The computer comes with a hard drive where you can backup all of your photos, and once again, the occasional internet connection provides even more security with the ability to backup your info in the cloud.
It's sometimes really nice to be able to play some tunes, or throw on headphones to tear through a few movies on a 24-hour bus ride through the desert. Be careful not to let this entertainment eat up all the self-reflection time, which is one of the big boons of long-term travel.
There are a few legitimate reasons NOT to bring a computer along in your travels. However, in my opinion the benefits of having one easily outweigh potential downsides. Granted, I’m a computer nerd, so I might place a higher value on this luxury than others.
I think the most common objection to having a computer while traveling is that it can serve as a major distraction from the experiences you are having as a traveler. Maintaining near-constant contact with home makes it a little harder to be fully present in the location you are visiting. Additionally, every minute you spend in front of the screen is a minute you could spend taking in your surroundings on the road. Keeping computer use judicious goes a long way to allay this concern (and also helps with battery life!).
I dedicated a whole post to the promise of packing light, so clearly the weight of a computer can be a big issue. Even the tiniest laptops, at only a few pounds, are still one of the heaviest individual items in your pack!
While they aren’t all terribly expensive, computers are a hot target for thieves. It’s easier to avoid being robbed when you have fewer things worth stealing!
Will you bring one?
Obviously this is a personal choice, and the benefits afforded by traveling with a computer vary a lot from person to person, as well as from country to country (they are more useful in Germany than in Papua New Guinea, for instance).
For me the answer is a resounding “yes” - what’s the answer for you?
Check out my follow-up post where I discuss choosing a computer for the road.