Traveling with a Laptop or Tablet—8 Tips

Where in the world do people take their laptops and tablets these days? The answer is “just about everywhere.” But, even if they are portable, these devices are not indestructible. Here are 8 tips to assure that they don’t become casualties of travel.
Where in the world do people take their laptops and tablets these days? The answer is “just about everywhere.” But, even if they are portable, these devices are not indestructible. Here are 8 tips to assure that they don’t become casualties of travel.

When computers were bigger and bulkier, we never dreamed of taking them with us when we went on vacation. Now, it seems, we’d never dream of traveling without them—no matter where we’re headed in the world. As they’ve shrunk to the size of laptops and tablets, their value as travel tools has also grown immeasurably. We use them for everything from finding out local information to calling home from overseas for free, and, generally, we’re delighted to have them as traveling companions.

As laptops and tablets have become more ubiquitous, however, many travelers have had a tendency to take them for granted—to assume that, no matter what kind of travel experience we put them through, they’ll always be there for us when we need them. While this is understandable, it isn’t a wise travel practice. Laptops and tablets are commodities, yes. But, they’re also much more complex devices than, say, electric razors, and, when traveling with them, a certain level of care is strongly advised.

What are some good travel practices we’d recommend? Here are 8:

  1. Before your trip, purchase insurance to cover the loss of laptops, tablets, or other electronic devices you may be taking with you such as smart phones or cameras. This insurance covers your equipment for everything from theft to accidental damage, and it’s quite reasonable. For more information, check out this link.
  2. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER CHECK YOUR LAPTOPS OR TABLETS WITH YOUR OTHER BAGGAGE WHEN FLYING. First, it may easily be stolen or damaged. Second, you might want to use it as you fly. If you don’t like the in-flight movies, for example, they’re great places to watch movies stored on your hard drive. Needless to say, there are also many other uses for these devices while in the air.
  3. Watch them closely when flying. If you need to go to the lavatory when flying, don’t leave your laptop or tablet unwatched on your seat or in the back pocket of the seat in front of you. If you’re flying with someone, ask that person to keep a close eye on it. If you’re flying alone, put it in your briefcase and then put your briefcase underneath your seat. There’s far less chance someone will actually try to open your briefcase to steal your computer.
  4. Handle them with care. Although laptops and tablets are more rugged and dependable than older computers, they still have their limits and are by no means indestructible. Dropping them, for example, can still damage them. Also, exposing them to extreme temperatures (either hot or cold) for long periods of time isn’t good either. Heat can cause the battery to malfunction, leak toxins, and even result in cracking the chassis. Cold can cause the LCD screen to malfunction or crack, again leaking toxins. So, don’t leave them in a parked car on summer visit to the Southwest or that winter ski trip in Aspen.
  5. Pack them in protective bags or cases. Some technology advisors suggest putting your laptop or tablet in a neoprene sleeve and then putting the sleeve into a backpack or other bag. This further insulates the hardware from any dust, cookie crumbs, bits of pretzels, or other items that can accumulate when you travel. In any case, always keep your laptop or tablet covered. It’s amazing, for example, what a negative impact a few random raindrops can have on these devices.
  6. Find the right place to use your device. Even though we assume that the most natural place to put a laptop is on your lap, it’s actually not the best place for the device. When you’re on a plane, for example, your tray table is much better. One reason is that it provides a natural cooling surface that helps the device from becoming too hot. And heat—as we all know—is the enemy of every fast computer. Also, never put your laptop on the carpet of your hotel room when you use it. That’s usually a dirty, dusty place, and, even though most laptops have filters to protect the insides from dirt and dust, some can always get in.
  7. Keep your device clean. Speaking of dirty, dusty places, have you looked at the keyboard of your laptop or tablet lately? Very likely, it’s filled not only with dirt and dust but also with everything from layers of sweat to dead skin cells, to germs from the time you sneezed on it a month ago. Before heading off on a trip, it’s always good to give it a good cleaning. The best way to do this is to turn off the device, and gently cleaning the keys with a cloth, some warm water, and some rubbing alcohol. Then, keep the device off for a few hours to assure that the keyboard is absolutely dry when you turn it back on.
  8. Have a battery strategy. Before you travel, check to see how long lasting your device’s battery really is. If you want your device to serve you during a long plane ride, for example, plan according. If your computer can accommodate a spare battery, have one handy. Also, make sure your power bricks, cords, and (for certain countries) adapters are all in good condition. You never want to experience the kind of malfunction that can—and occasionally does—harm your internal circuit boards.

If you are thinking of taking either a laptop or a tablet on your next trip and haven’t decided which would be better, here’s an interesting article that gives the laptop versus tablet pros and cons for various experiences—including travel.

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