All year around millions of Americans are hitting the roads and skies (and maybe rails) for vacations, spiritual pilgrimages, or mandatory trips to family gatherings.
Along with their usual stuff like toothbrushes, a big chunk of those road warriors will pack a laptop in their minivans or approved carry-on luggage. Whether it's to stay current on work, pound out the next great American novel, or just watch movies and play some games, computers are a focal point of any packing list these days.
Here are some tips to help you travel smart with your laptop.
Less is Mo' Better
This one should be painfully obvious, but we can see a surprising number of folks traveling with 17-inch laptops.
Let's imagine a guy on the airplane. His computer barely fits on the tray table, so he's typing with his elbows out like undercooked chicken wings. His battery icon shrink by more than half since he pulled it out of his obnoxiously large carrying case just an hour ago. Perhaps it is not the best computer for flying.
So if you've yet to buy your road machine, go with a thin-and-light model somewhere in the 11 to 14 inch range. The Acer Aspire S7 Series or Dell XPS13 have a bunch of affordable options, most with battery lives north of 8 hours. The Apple MacBook Air is the sleekest machine. Consider a tablet too, especially if you're more consumer than producer.
Up in the Clouds
Optical drives are going the way of the fax machine: There will always be a use for them, but only at the office. Media is moving to the cloud, so some new laptops don't even come with DVD drives. They're inefficient anyhow. And DVDs are just one more thing to carry around only to leave behind.
Download your new movies (or use the digital copies included with your DVD/Blu-ray purchases) and rip your old ones using Handbrake. When you're around a WiFi signal, stream them from Netflix, iCloud, or your service of choice.
Hot Spot to Trot
Learn where to look for free WiFi hotspots. Airports have them. Most hotels do too, at least in the lobby and lounge. Some nationwide restaurant chains like Starbucks and McDonalds have free access, too. Local Cafes and coffeeshops are a strong bet as well. Treat WiFi access like the bathroom -- locked, and for paying customers only. But don't be shy, or rude. Buy a pastry or coffee, and ask for access.
Many trains and buses offer WiFi connections, as do some airlines (though most charge a few bucks). It's usually sluggish, though, and in my experience, service isn't guaranteed even if it's advertised. Most flight attendants, conductors, or bus drivers will at least try to restore access if you ask, but some jerks will refuse, and sometimes the router is just busted -- there's not much they can do to fix it in transit.
Hotels obviously have outlets, and most eateries won't have a problem with paying customers plugging in for a few minutes, as long as the cords are out of the way. Airports usually have complimentary charging stations, though occasionally you'll have to fork over a few cents for the privilege.
Many train and bus lines provide outlets, too. Road-trippers should invest in car chargers. In any case, staying charged is one of the easier parts of traveling these days.
Use the Lost & Found as a Pick & Pull
If you forgot your power supply at home or left it at a previous stop on your itinerary, you're not alone. Hotels have a surplus of abandoned chargers of all shapes, sizes, and milliamperes. Their owners aren't coming back for them, and the hotels have no use for them. So if you ask nicely at the front desk, the clerk will usually let you dig through the box o' chargers. You'll probably just find a whole load of Blackberry chargers, but you might get lucky.
~ The Laptop Advisor
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