Gadgets Around the World
February 1, 2005 10:59 AM   Subscribe

The family and I will emabark on a 8-9 month world trip in August. This trip will occur mostly in the developing world. Despite reading all kinds of advice about leaving behind the gadgets, we intend on taking a basic 12" laptop, a cell phone and a PDA. Should We take a leap into the unknown or should we stick to the safe and familiar"? [MI]

We have fairly basic needs. We want to have reference and education ware to help teach our kids (9 and 8 year old).
We will also use the laptop for entertainment(movies and games)and to store our journals and pictures. I'm keen on learning a new platform but I'm worried that I won't be knowledgeable enough to deal with the invevitable problems that come up. Also with being mostly unconnected, I won't have access to help.
posted by Hash to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
Go with Apple simply because there are Apple stores all over where you could walk in and have it fixed or upgraded if you need something done to it. Esp. over Avertec. If you wanted to spend a grand on a windows laptop, pick Acer or IBM or heck even Dell
posted by riffola at 11:07 AM on February 1, 2005

My friend is carrying a Sony Vaio all over the world right now. He's a writer though, so he gets a lot of keybanging out of it. I don't know how much entertainment stuff ($1 DVDs) he does, but I'm sure that will help when traveling with kids.

I love my gf's 12" iBook. It's small and very durable (moreso than the aluminium / titanium ones imo because of their plastic shells. It's a good size to carry around all day, too.

You'll probably need an extra battery before too long however (no matter which side of the mac/pc fence you settle on). Hers doesn't get the 3 hours per charge it did when new. And using the DVD drive and /or wifi will eat batteries.

I'd also suggest putting a big strip of ugly gaffers or duct tape on the back of the machine, in a very visible location. Nothing says "steal me" like a shiny new notebook. The more it looks like a piece of shit, the less likely it is to be stolen. That's not quite true; if you're actually robbed (in person I mean), then they'll take it anyway, tape or no. But it won't raise suspicions as much and make you quite as much of a target for train / house / checked bag theft.
posted by zpousman at 11:13 AM on February 1, 2005

My husband and I took our iBook to Africa and were glad to have it (photos, music, writing). Speaking as someone who started on Windows and switched to Apple only when I moved in with my fiance (now husband), I found the switch very easy and I would never go back. Don't worry too much about learning the nuances of a new system; even a little bit of playing and exploring will go a long way. Not meaning to hustle for Apple, but everything just works, somehow, was a very refreshing change from Windows. Again, not trying to be annoying--just trying to answer your question.

Our iBook (I'm not sure about other brands?) could convert the voltage internally, so we only needed an adaptor to run it. Keep in mind that the DVD region code varies across the world; if you're brining your own DVDs you're fine, but if you're planning to rent/buy them as you go you can only switch country codes five times before it locks for good (though there are some hacks to get around this).

Security is an issue, of course...we made a habit of never using the laptop in public or flashing it around. It's better for people you encounter not to know you have it. We brought a laptop security cable so we had the option of attaching it to a pipe or some other sturdy object.
posted by handful of rain at 11:32 AM on February 1, 2005

I don't have any personal experience with Averatec, but it doesn't seem terribly sturdy. I'd suggest the IBM T-series. If you search around, you can probably find last year's model for less than $1,000 with a DVD drive. I've dropped mine more than a few times, and it always comes back for more.

Then again, you might want to check out one of the REALLY small notebooks from Dynamism. They're a bit pricey, but would be easier to schlep around.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:38 AM on February 1, 2005

riffola's advice about Apple stores being everywhere could be key. You didn't mention which part of the developing world you're going to. Are there Apple stores or any other kind of computer stores there?

Dell's support overseas, for example, leaves a lot to be desired. They'll DHL you something, and send a return bill - but only in the continental states. So I have to have replacement parts sent to my parents, who forward it to me here in Italy, then I have to send the broken part back to them. All of that extra shipping between my folks and I is at my expense. (This is even more annoying because I have a U.S. government address; the only difference between mailing something to me via USPS in Italy vs mailing something to California is a customs form - both addresses end with 'USA'. Yet Dell refuses to mail to my address here. Maybe they don't like the USPS, or they don't like me. Either way getting international support has been frustrating and inconvenient.)

My advice - find out whether your chosen laptop manufacturer can do direct international support for you, or if you're going to have to jump through hoops like I did, and weigh that into your purchase decision.

Regarding voltage adapters, I haven't seen a laptop in ages that doesn't do 100-240V 50-60Hz, but it's something you should also check for, just in case.

If you want a notebook that is less likely to break, you could look at Panasonic's Toughbooks, but they're expensive, and I have no experience with their support.
posted by cactus at 11:47 AM on February 1, 2005

If your needs are really simple (nothing to intensive/graphics heavy) there's always a fair amount of older Panasonic Toughbooks available on eBay. They're cheaper than a new notebook, aren't as thief-pretty, and can take a beating.
posted by PantsOfSCIENCE at 12:04 PM on February 1, 2005

Personally, I'd recommend either an iBook or an IBM laptop in your favorite size.

Averatec makes pretty crap products.
posted by bshort at 12:10 PM on February 1, 2005

2nd the toughbooks, btw. They're made for this kind of travel. They have ruggedized, and semi-ruggedized. The semi-ruggedized models are probably perfect for you. Can take dings and small drops ok. Water resistant (which means sand / grit / dirt, too) and such. But you can't drive a hummer over them... They're not much bigger than regular notebooks, or weird looking.
posted by zpousman at 12:15 PM on February 1, 2005

I'm in the iBook camp. It'll do everything you need it to without weighing you down.

I would recommend getting one with a burner in it so you can make regular backups of your files in case there is a meltdown somewhere along the trail.

And extra batteries!
posted by fenriq at 12:24 PM on February 1, 2005

There are only four Apple stores outside of the US, and three of them are in Japan. So for this trip, they should not be much of a bonus.
posted by smackfu at 12:32 PM on February 1, 2005

iBooks are solid and take a lot of abuse. We still have 12 iBooks we bought in 2002, which we use in wet labs for data collection. The only part we've had to replace is the battery, which we'd have to replace on any laptop, Apple or otherwise.
posted by AlexReynolds at 1:27 PM on February 1, 2005

I'd go with the iBook, too. Coupla notes:

1. Follow the CD burner idea. Mail the backups back to the States. Don't delete files from the laptop at all unless you really really have to, no matter how many backups you do.

2. Have TWO international ISPs you can use on the road. I haven't done it in years outside of Europe, so I can't make a recommendation as to which anymore. Make sure to get as many dial-up numbers as possible before heading out on the road.

3. Don't use a laptop bag while on the road. Get a multipurpose backpack, put the laptop in a zippered padded bag, and put it inside the backpack.

4. You're going to have to take your own extension cord.

A final note, one that tends to piss people off: my utmost recommendation, which trumps all others, is to not take the laptop. Just don't. It becomes a crutch. It becomes the center of attention. It favors weakness: it favors you not going out but staying in to watch a DVD. It favors lingering on the Internet just a little too long when you should be out exploring. It favors futzing with photo-editing when your time might be better spent taking more photos. It becomes a cost, an extra weight, a tool of division when everyone wants that connection with things back home. It is a serial device: except for movies, it's not that good for more than one person at a time. You use it. The wife uses it. The kids use it. Suddenly it's three hours later and you haven't left the hotel. It is an inferior educational tool (except for teaching about computers or teaching how to type). A guidebook will be a better lesson plan. Hotel bills with teach mathematics, as will making change in foreign currencies. Reading will come from scraps of newspaper and old paperbacks found along the way. The kids will learn more away from it than on it.

The laptop will be unnecessary mediation between your family and your environment. Resist taking it if you can.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:51 PM on February 1, 2005

PS: you'll have to take the multi-pack of foreign outlet prongs and plugs, too.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:52 PM on February 1, 2005

you're much more likely to find a scruffy room with some old pcs charging a small fee for internet access than you are to find support for any laptop or wifi/ethernet (public or hotel). so even if you're absolutely convinced you need this, make sure that your email and diaries (either pubic blogs or private password protected sites) are usable via the web. that way, when it breaks or gets stolen (whichever happens first) you can continue to function.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:57 PM on February 1, 2005

I took my iBook round the world and it was very handy. I used a FireLite 80Gb drive for backup/extra music (2 partitions) which my travelling companion carried, these excellent Sony USB speakers and a few other bits & bobs. One thing that would have been handy was one of those USB phone chargers.

I came accross Apple Centres in Bangkok & Singapore.

The computer took a decent amount of punishment and I'm still typing away on it 8 months after my return home. I'd highly recommend one.
posted by i_cola at 2:24 PM on February 1, 2005

Another iBook experience: A friend spent months in rural Mexico, and said she'll never get anything else after it survived:
-daily operations in 110F weather
-outdoor use during dust storms
-chicken shit on the keyboard
posted by whatzit at 4:44 PM on February 1, 2005

iBook. Remember, you're not limited to "The Apple Store" if you need service: there are authorized Apple service providers everywhere. And as far as what Mo Nickels said... that's a complaint about the user, not the technology. It's merely a good reminder that the technology shouldn't own you - you should be the boss of it.
posted by stonerose at 5:39 PM on February 1, 2005

I gotta agree with the "don't bring it" camp. No-one needs to watch a DVD while travelling the world. Fussing with getting it hooked up, adequate power, adapters, carrying it...bah. And then when it breaks or is stolen, you're left with the gap where it used to be. Internet cafes are cheap and plentiful in most urban areas in the developing world.

Bring small notebooks instead -- one for each member of the family. Write everything down. Everything. Where and what you eat, what you see, what you took pictures of, questions that come up. Look stuff up when you get home. You and the kids will learn more by observation than they will by looking up "Nepal" on the Internet.
posted by desuetude at 7:22 AM on February 2, 2005

Definitely an Apple machine. I'm a PowerBook guy myself, and have taken it (and it's predecessor) all throughout Europe, The Middle East and Africa.

In fact I'm in Lagos, Nigeria at the moment. One thing nobody else mentioned is Apple's seamless connectivity to all sorts of upstream providers.

Wired or wireless, plug it in and go. Very seldom do I have to hassle or fuss. Most often it's due to LANs that lock down on MAC addresses. Some folks I'm here on biz with still haven't gotten their corporate machines onto the wireless LAN.

I also backup all my pics and stuff to my servers while on the road, just in case my PowerBook gets pinched.
posted by Mutant at 7:27 AM on February 2, 2005

I have no idea what costs are like in the 3rd world.

neither have i, but here in chile it's about 50cents for 30mins-hour.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:50 AM on February 4, 2005

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