To Laptop or Not?

Yes, I did it. I took my laptop on this journey. I risked the safety of my darling little NEC LaVie LN500/9. But it survived the journey, as did my traveling companion's Apple powerbook. One reason why this travelogue is so detailed is because I could write while on the trip and arrange my thoughts while there without having to worry about taking notes and reading my handwriting months later. It was a wise choice, but here are some afterthoughts on laptop travel.

I didn't realize until after I returned, but in an interview for C-Span's Booknotes in 1996, Robert D. Kaplan actually recommended laptop travel to Southeast Asia.

I did not travel around with a laptop computer. When I got to Southeast Asia, I was sorry that I did not, because I would have had no problem anywhere with electricity current, recharging batteries, and I could have been much more efficient with one. But I'm glad I didn't take one along in many of the other places because either the electricity didn't work or it was undependable, there were power surges.

Power surges? I'll get to that later.

Those were Kaplan's thoughts a decade ago regarding travel in the mid-1990s, long before the internet was accessible in the developing world. Today, the convenience of laptops means you can hop on to unsecured wireless networks or head to net cafes. We visited or saw cafes offering free wireless in Hanoi, Chengdu, and Shanghai, and we weren't even looking. Many other larger cities may have had similar establishments if we looked harder or asked around.

Then there are photos. It depends on how many pictures you take, but I like to snap away without having to worry about how many pictures I can take. I have a 1gb SD card that holds about 600 photos, but that only lasts me for a week. On the one month on the road I took about 3,000 photos. I did this thanks to my laptop.

My NEC Laptop and I-River mp3 player on which I recorded the mp3 clips for the audio version.

Of course, you'd better have reliable backup. The night before we left I copied all my current and personal files to an external hard drive. During the trip I frequently copied pictures to a 2gb USB pen drive that I wore around my neck (it's miniscule -- 9x3x1.5 centimeters and only weighs two ounces).

Also, there is now travel insurance available through I cannot comment on how easy it is to file a claim if you lose or break your laptop while traveling, but I have heard good recommendations.

Curzon recommends laptop travel

Laptop travel has its risks. In Dali, my traveling companion blew out the power supply for his Apple Powerbook. Fortunately he was able to purchase a new one in Chengdu, but poor electricity supplies can fry your electronics. And we almost had our laptops confiscated at the Vietnam-China border by a Vietnamese commie border guard who arbitrarily decided that because we had not declared our electronics on arrival, she was entitled to fine us, or even confiscate our equipment. We got away with a warning, but in a country with an unsecured rule of law and authoritarian rule, it was a real scare. (It was also a joke after the incident: 'Does Safeware's insurance cover confiscation by Commie border guards?')

Would I do it again? It depends on where I go, but I'd generally say the pros outway the cons. Is it risky? Sure. You've got the threat of theft, police, bad electricity, water damage, and much more. But the purpose of a laptop is to give yourself mobility. Get some insurance and your laptop and bring it to the frontiers.

On to the final entry...

c. 2006