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Tips for Traveling with Your Notebook PC

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Mike Miller provides road warriors and new travelers alike definite do's and don'ts for taking your notebook on the road.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

One of the main reasons people of all types buy a notebook PC is because they can take it with them when they travel. Whether you're a frequent business traveler or just want to check your email while you're on your family vacation, it's great to have your notebook with you.

However, this assumes that taking your notebook with you doesn't become a supreme hassle—which it can, if you don't do everything just right.

There are definite do's and don'ts when it comes to taking your notebook on the road. Read on to learn what you need to do—and not do—to make traveling with your notebook a little easier.

Accessorizing for Travel

One of the things you can do to make traveling with your notebook a more pleasant experience is to take along the right accessories. After all, a notebook by itself is only so functional when you're away from home.


We'll start with that most essential accessory for anyone traveling with a notebook PC, a notebook case. Although you can stuff some smaller notebooks into a traditional briefcase or shoulder bag, you're better off with a case designed specifically for notebook use. You can go with an over-the-shoulder model or a backpack case; just make sure you get a case big enough to hold your particular notebook. (Not all cases are big enough to hold 17" or larger widescreen models.) Also make sure that the case is adequately padded, so that your notebook is protected if you ever drop the case.

To limit the possibility of theft, some professionals recommend a case that doesn't immediately look like a notebook case. The thinking is that a generic black case will be less attractive to thieves than one that screams "Expensive notebook inside!" I'm not sure this is a necessary protection, given that almost every traveling businessperson is carrying a computer these days; it's a good guess that the accompanying case contains a notebook.


There's nothing worse than being in the middle of an important document and having your laptop battery go dead. (Unless, perhaps, it's being in the middle of a DVD movie during a long flight when the same thing happens.) For that reason, every serious road warrior needs to carry a spare notebook battery.

Some notebooks make this easy by accepting a second battery in a modular internal bay; when one battery runs down, your PC automatically shifts to the backup battery. With other notebooks, you have to shut down the machine and manually swap batteries to and from the single bay. In any case, you should definitely carry that second battery with you on important trips—and make sure it's fully charged in advance!

Power Cables and Adapters

Your laptop probably came with a single AC cable/adapter. Because you'll need to take an AC adapter with you on the road, you might want to purchase a second adapter, so you can leave one hooked up at home and carry the second one with you in your briefcase. You can purchase the original equipment adapter direct from your PC's manufacturer, or you can get a compatible unit from Targus (www.targus.com).

If you plan on connecting your PC to the cigarette lighter/DC adapter in a car, you'll also need to purchase a DC auto/air power adapter. Your best bet is to order a unit specific to your notebook from your PC's manufacturer, although third-party suppliers also offer compatible adapters. (Different notebooks use different shaped and sized connectors.) In any case, make sure it's the right model for your notebook.

To use your notebook on a plane, you want to be able to plug into the airplane's power ports. Some airlines use a standard DC jack, whereas others require proprietary adapters. That means you might have to purchase a special power cable, or at least a connector to fit between your normal DC adapter and the airline's power port. (For example, Continental uses the Hypertronics connector, whereas Delta and United use the PowerExtender connector from EmPower.) Contact your airline to see if special adapters or connectors are necessary.

There's another option, particularly useful if you have multiple portable devices and don't want to buy multiple DC adapters. You can purchase a unit called a power inverter, which plugs into a DC power port but then provides a normal AC jack, into which you can plug any AC-powered device, including your notebook. For example, the Targus Auto/Air Power Inverter, shown in Figure 15.1, features dual outlets and runs $79.99.

Figure 15.1

Figure 15.1 The Targus Auto/Air Power Inverter (www.targus.com).

Removable Storage

Transferring data from your desktop PC to your notebook can be accomplished in any number of ways. If both PCs are connected to the same network, it's easy enough to copy a file from one machine to another. If both machines are connected to the Internet, you can email the files from one PC to another. Or you can copy your files to a removable storage device and physically move the data in that fashion.

The most common removable storage device today is the so-called USB drive. This isn't a hard drive, per se, but rather a form of random access memory called flash memory that functions like a removable disk. As you can see in Figure 15.2, these devices are small enough to be carried in your pocket or hung on your keychain, and they plug directly into an open USB port on your computer. When connected, one of these devices is instantly recognized as a new disk drive by your computer; no special installation is necessary.

Figure 15.2

Figure 15.2 A USB flash memory drive from SanDisk (www.sandisk.com).

Of course, you can also burn your data to a recordable CD or DVD, using your computer's built-in CD/DVD drive. And if that isn't enough storage, consider attaching an external hard drive to your PC. These portable hard drives can be purchased with over 200GB of storage capacity, at prices under $100. Buy one that connects via USB for the easiest hookup; I particularly like the WD Passport portable hard drives from Western Digital, such as the one shown in Figure 15.3, which are small enough to fit in any notebook bag—or your shirt pocket.

Figure 15.3

Figure 15.3 Western Digital's WD Passport portable hard drive (www.westerndigital.com).

Essential Software

Before you head out on the road, you need to make sure that your notebook is loaded with all the applications you plan to use while you're gone. For most users, this means installing the same software on their notebook that they use on their desktop PC—in particular, the key Microsoft Office programs (Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint). You should also make sure you have Internet Explorer or some similar web browser installed, as well as any propriety applications used by your company. In addition, if you plan on managing your personal finances from your hotel room, make sure you have a copy of Quicken or Microsoft Money installed.

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