A geek will drag his laptop everywhere: you're not one of them, are you?
Something should be very clear: if you are not a complete computer geek with
your own web site, if you are not a professionnal photographer working on the road, or if
you are not a dedicated writer reporting about your trip in magazines...
YOU DON'T NEED A LAPTOP
(but keep on reading: there is something for you)
How to do without a computer?
Most of you would love to have a web page to publish your journals and show
your pictures but you don't want the hassle of carrying a laptop and maintaining a web site.
Waiting for (hint hint) a soon-to-come blogging service dedicated to long-distance travelers,
there are already some perfectly acceptable solutions. The simplest way by far is to go
with Horizons Unlimited
. They take
all the hassle off of building the page, and they give a good exposure to other motorcycle
travelers (meaning fellow travelers are most likely to read your stories on Horizons Unlimited than on any
other site). Another solution, if you want photo galleries and a fancier presentation, is to
store your stories on services such as Blogger
pictures on Flickr
. All these solutions are free.
Often the pictures don't look that good straight out of the camera. You need to crop them a bit,
or adjust color and contrast etc... A solution is to take with you an image-editing program that
you can install on the machines at internet-cafes. Picasa
from Google is such a good simple program and it is completely free.
Real photo buffs will prefer
Adobe Photoshop CS2
Buying Photoshop can be quite expensive (from $100 to $600!) but the links I'm giving you point
to the free tryout
versions. They only work for 30 days but you don't care: since you are on the road, you
can give it a free 30-day tryout at every single internet-cafe for the next couple of years. Photoshop is a bit of
a drag to install (the CS2 version easily takes 20 minutes) so you might still want to take a small Picasa along.
Choose your programs, download them using a right-click (or control-click), save them on your machine, then
burn them onto a CD (and maybe store a copy on your iPod's digital wallet as described in the
page). Et voilà: you are ready to edit your photos
almost anywhere and upload them to your favorite blog or photo-gallery...
Before publishing, you need to write - and to write, you either need to remember everything that happened in
your busy traveler's life, or to take notes on the spot. The best way to take notes is to carry a small notepad
and the best notepads are from Moleskine. They have been considered the Rolls Royce of notepads by
generations of writers, and rightly so. You can go with a pocket-sized Daily Planner (one page per day) completed with
a couple of squared notebooks for when the stories of the day don't fit on a single page, or just a large
Daily Planner (which you might find a bit bulky, though). The 2006 Planners are gone already so
here are the links to preorder the 2007 versions, plus the regular squared notebooks (small and large):
But even if you take notes on paper, you might not enjoy the long sessions typing everything at a smoky internet-cafe
on virus-infected machines, trying to avoid system crashes and smutty pop-up windows. A good solution is to use
a PDA, and that's what we describe in the next chapter about Personal Digital Assistants
If you are taking a laptop to manage a web site, the features you want are probably a CD burner
(to upload your site at internet-cafes), a dialup and ethernet connection (to occasionally plug
into an the network at a cafe), maybe a WiFi card (same reason), FireWire or USB 2.0 (for backups),
and a DVD reader to watch movies once in a while. The good thing is: almost all modern laptops
have all of these now. So the main criteria to select your machine will be reliabily, size & weight, and
(of course) price.
I worked 15 years on both Mac and PC, with a strong preference for Mac, but when we left on our trip I was
open to any solution as long as it got the job done. Once all the features were added in,
the Apple iBook was far ahead in terms of size, price and reliability.
At that time, only the Sony Vaio was a tad smaller but it was also much more expensive and users were reporting
number of problems. Four years later, I'm still using the same iBook and the situation did not change a lot.
Macintosh laptops continue to arrive
first in reliability
they have the fewest repairs and the best tech-support. There is also the AppleCare 3-year maintenance contract that gets you free
repairs at any Apple outfit in the world. The best reason, though, to buy a Mac is the quality of the programs:
for sound and image editing, presentation programs and web editors - basically for everything you want to do on the road -
you will find the best choice
on the Mac. You can even install Windows if you want to check once in a while how your web site
displays under Explorer, but the rest of the time you will be happier with MacOS. The new 13.3" MacBook recently replaced the iBook at a slightly
higher cost and weight ($1200 with DVD Burner and around 5.2 lbs or 2.3kilos), but it packs much more punch and won raving reviews at its release.
On the PC front, according to PCWorld and Consumer Reports
the best choices in terms of reliability are IBM, Dell or Toshiba. Not surprisingly, the only laptops we saw
on the road in other people's suitcases were Apple, IBM and Toshiba.
A good machine from Dell is the Inspiron 710m.
It weighs a bit more than 4 lbs (slightly less than 2 kilos) and comes with a 12" screen that displays 1280x800. You might prefer the $1400 version (after $300 mail-in rebate)
with DVD burner and Microsoft Works. You have to
order it directly
The Toshiba Satellite M55 is good all-around machine: 14" hires screen, around 5 lbs (2.5 kilos) at less than $1000
(you probably won't need the more expensive versions).
From IBM, the 12.1" and 3.7 lbs (1.7 kilos) Thinkpad X40
is the best you can get but the version with a CD burner and enough memory is priced at... $1950. So you might want to settle for
a ThinkPad R52 at a around $1100 for a 15" screen and a weight of 6.7 lbs (3 kilos).