Pushing aside the logistics of securing power and Internet connectivity for your travelling circus of electronics, keeping them safe from accidents, evildoers and the forces of nature can also present a challenge. With water, gravity and greed all conspiring to take away the gadgets you love dearly, you’ll need to invest in the right equipment to keep them safe. Here are a few essentials:
Bags and Cases
Sure, you could toss your laptop and MP3 player into your gym bag between a spare pair of socks and your water bottle, but you really shouldn’t. Manufacturers make padded gadget notebook bags for a reason, and they’re a wise investment if you plan on travelling much. You can find notebook cases in any number of styles, but a particular few deserve special mention.
Notebook backpacks, which might call to mind the days of lugging books back and forth to class, aren’t the most executive-looking of choices, but they might be the most practical. Many companies, like JanSport and Targus, now make special backpacks that include a padded notebook pocket, which keeps your notebook stowed away from the other contents of the bag and also makes it easy to slip in and out.
Traditional messenger-style notebook bags certainly work as well, but they do have caveats. For one, they put all the pressure on one shoulder, so if you’re lugging around a 17-inch desktop replacement, you’re not going to be as comfortable as with two straps. And perhaps more importantly, they’re theft magnets. A stuffed leather notebook case left on a chair at the airport might as well be a bundle of $100 bills to thieves, whom can pretty much rest assured it’s packed with expensive goodies.
One new type of bag that has quickly gained popularity since being introduced last year is the TSA-approved notebook bag, which can be taken through airport security checkpoints without having to remove your computer and lay it on the belt. These can be unzipped in a certain way to give scanners a clear view of your computer on its own, and meet a few other TSA-specified criteria like having no metal snaps or zippers, and being able to lay flat on the scanner. Examples include models from Skooba Design, Belkin, and Targus. All make great options for frequent laptop-packing travelers.
Let’s be honest: If you carry your notebook with you every single day and use it for work, you’re not really worried about the cost of the thing when you return to your table at the airport café and it’s missing. You’re terrified of losing the data on there. From vital Excel spreadsheets and classified budget reports to those pictures you decided weren’t even kosher for Facebook, you need it all back, and you don’t want any of it falling into someone else’s hands.
Fortunately, many services can offer you the ability to track your laptop if it’s ever stolen, and even remotely delete data that you might not want others to see. Absolute Software’s Computrace technology, for instance, automatically phones home using the Internet to let you know where your laptop is if it disappears, and it can be embedded in a computer’s BIOS so that it’s literally impossible to delete. Other options include LoJack for Laptops, which also uses Computrace technology, and MyLaptopGPS. All require a monthly fee, but may very well be worth it for the peace of mind.
Much like your basic $20 bicycle lock, most notebook locks can be picked, smashed or ripped out in seconds. But that doesn’t make them useless. They’re what security experts call a visual deterrent: though not an impassable barrier, they give a would-be thief the slightest excuse he needs to move on to another, less secure laptop. Besides, in a crowded café or other public place, many of these brute force lock-breaking methods draw too much attention to be of any use. So while your basic Kensington lock may not be foolproof, it’s not much of an investment to make sure your laptop falls at the bottom of a potential thief’s list.
We’ve mostly discussed protection for notebooks, but what about MP3 players, cell phones, and other gadgets? You won’t have as many precautions to take as with laptops, but a simple skin or plastic case can extend the working lifetime of your device significantly during rough-and-tumble travel situations, and customize the look of it, too. A silicone shell can prevent scratches, a sturdier plastic shell can help minimize damage from a fall, a plastic overlay over screens can help prevent them from getting gouged and nicked up, and some sturdy cases like those available from OtterBox can even make your precious devices waterproof.
You could spend a fortune outfitting your mobile electronics for travel, but a few simple tips that cost nothing can make a big difference, too. For one, just label everything. It won’t protect against thieves, but if a well-meaning stranger returns your iPod to an airport-lost-and-found, it wouldn’t hurt to have your name etched on it, or even your cell phone number stored somewhere obvious inside. Likewise, backup your data before you leave home. It won’t help you delete the confidential stuff like laptop recovery services can, but it will save you from losing family photos, music, video and all those other precious documents that might, right now, only exist on an easily stolen portable hard drive.
And finally: Just be careful. All the padding, silicon grips and stainless-steel locks in the world won’t make up for a healthy measure of common sense.