Ah, computers. Where would we be without them? I am typing this on my Mac right now, and it is hard to envision a time when we had to not only write everything by hand, but then have it printed with hot leaded type, taking days or weeks to layout, proof and print. Now, it is simply a flick of the mouse to fire your words and images off to a home printer, or post to the internet for all to see. Amazing machines, computers, but they can be quite a challenge to travel with. Read on for some thoughts, ideas and tips on how to travel safely and sanely when toting your portable brain.

Security at the Airport

You carefully pack your expensive machine in a bag, pad it with more soft stuff and throw in your book or magazine to read on the plane. You’re all set, right? Well, sort of. At the security gate you will be required to remove the laptop, and place it is a bucket. You’ve all seen the guy, struggling with his tickets in one hand, his jacket draped over his shoulder as he tried to pull out his laptop and kick off his shoes simultaneously. It is a dance of nightmare proportions, and holds everyone up. How do you avoid being this guy? Be prepared: when you, the In the Know traveler saunter up to the gate you:

  • Have your laptop in hand
  • Drivers’ License in your pocket
  • Your jewelry, wallet/purse, belt, cellphone and watch in your carry-on
  • Wear slip-on shoes

Now, you simply toss your coat/small bag in a bucket,  shoes on the conveyor and place your laptop in a bucket. Breeze on through the security gate, no problems.

Securing your Data (and sanity)

This is without a doubt the most important lesson in traveling with a laptop. Do it. Find a way. It is crucial to not only back up your data, but to have backups for your backup in case of emergency.

Here is a scenario: you are traveling, and need to do a presentation. You’ve spent countless hours working up a killer PowerPoint slide show, complete with circles and graphs and numbers to blow them all away. You show up, pull out your laptop only to discover that something bizarre has happened, and it won’t boot up; you have your emergency boot disk, right? Oops. Alarm bells start ringing, and your heart rate has increased noticeably. You pull out your backup CD, the one you burned AFTER making edits last night in your hotel room, and scramble to beg or borrow a laptop to present with. Luckily, with a backup CD, you are prepared to use ANY machine, Mac or PC. (Another option is to use a PC Drive, those little sticks that plug in to any USB port and can contain 64MB all the way up to 4 GB of data).

My recommendation is to burn incremental backup CD’s as you go, and label them carefully. CD’s are cheap, lightweight and fairly durable. Memory sticks are great too, but are prone to getting lost or damaged. A great backup-to-your-backup-strategy: use both! This is an inexpensive way to protect your valuable data and ensure you can at least function, as long as you can “acquire” another computer to present from.

Traveling Tips

Traveling with technology can be fun, useful and is often necessary. It can also be stressful, worrisome, and physically taxing. To alleviate the stress, here are a few tips.

1). Carry your laptop in an ugly bag. I know this is may seem a bit counter-intuitive, but theft is a pervasive problem, especially amongst business travelers. Make yourself inconspicuous: use an old, beat-up day-pack for instance, with a nice, high-tech computer sleeve inside. This gives the impression that you have NOTHING worth stealing, when in fact you may be packing a $3,500 computer along with thousands of hard-earned dollars in software and priceless data. They even make rolling backpacks that are not too expensive, well padded and perfect for a laptop as they are fairly well structured.

2). Secure your machine, in the event it is stolen. to do this, you can use a services, such as LapCop or Undercover on the Mac, LoJack or PC Phone Home for Windows PC’s.  This is not a foolproof way to recover your machine, but hey, its better than NOT having it. How does it work? If the thief boots up and plugs your machine online, it will alert you, increasing the chances of recovery by law enforcement.

3). Use a password on your system. This is beyond the scope of this article, but be sure to activate any security protocols in your laptop. Windows and Mac OSX both have decent security out of the box, use it.

4). Never, ever leave your bag unattended. I personally know a man who placed his laptop bag between his feet while making a pay-phone call, and the laptop was stolen literally out from under him! This was a major loss, as he not only had his business presentation on the machine, but his entire Quicken info file, contacts, and essentially all of his personal and financial information, all unsecured! As you can imagine, this was a massive loss, and he was lucky that there was no identity theft as a result of this theft. How could this have been avoided? He could have placed the strap around his leg. So simple, yet it didn’t even occur to him that this could happen. Be warned: a pro thief can steal a watch off your wrist, so be careful, but not paranoid; an ounce of prevention, as they say…

5). Laptops are heavy, so take the load off. I have used sling-type bags and square, briefcase-type bags for a laptop—they stink. They hurt your shoulders, don’t hold much stuff and can be surprisingly poorly built. Go with a rolling bag, preferable one with backpack straps: this can free your hands, and distribute the weight over your shoulders rather than putting all the strain ion one arm/shoulder.

So there you have it, a solid 101 on how to safely—and sanely—travel with a laptop. Look for upcoming installments on traveling with photo equipment, other electronics and methods for using this stuff out of the country. Safe travels, and always be In the Know.

Written by Jesse Siglow

For more on Jesse Siglow at ITKT