Tonight I’m fighting with my computer, so first off sorry if there are more typos than usual. (Dark forces have possessed my keyboard, on which now only a handful of command keys work, random letters are flying in and out all over the place and for some reason I can no longer capitalize the letter p. Oh, also no close parenthesis.
So that’s fun. Or, as it came out the first time, frun.
But it got me to thinking about the devices that make this job possible.
True, travel writing isn’t about technology. This business has been going round and around for centuries, long before the first blogger made food porn hip, and as long as there’s a road ahead there’ll be someone to write about it. </sappy> Today we do it from a laptop and news travels at a meaningful fraction of light speed. Robert Louis Stevenson sent his dispatches from the South pacific when that meant stuffing handwritten pages into an envelope or telegraph. Go back further and you have the explorers who would travel months in each direction just to deliver news of the world in person.
It helps put airport security into perspective.
Blogging has opened up remarkable possibilities for our industry, but still… adding technical difficulties to travel just seems masochistic. I mean, congratulations! Enjoy your food poisoning, motion sickness, scams, sexual frustration and vicious insects. Now that you’ve leveled up to the 21st Century it’s all been enhanced with error screens and wifi that seems to just know when a story is due. Woo!
I’ve noticed something funny about being on the road though. Struggling with tech problems is a whole lot less frustrating. That same computer issue that would have me tearing my hair out back home, for some reason it’s just not that big a deal. That’s less true when I’m on deadline, sure. Then you’ll find me alternating between threats and open tears, but otherwise? I generally ride out tech issues by closing my laptop and opening up a book. It’s much healthier than my approach at home, which is to look for heavy objects with which to beat the computer to a well deserved death.
Back to travel.
I’ve gotten better at traveling light. On my first backpacking trip I brought, in addition to the basics, such necessities as: four Spiderman comic books, waterproof matches, a tarp, 30 feet of nylon rope and two pairs of shoes. This for a trip to see the cities of Britain.
Today I keep things pretty trim except where books are concerned (they make up about half my pack’s weight, but there’s a few gadgets I still depend on. If I want to work, and I’m pretty much always working, here’s what I bring:
Lenovo Yoga: The cheap laptop
I own two laptops, a good one and an expendable one. Right now a Lenovo Yoga is my sacrifice of choice. It gives me a lot of problems, and I absolutely hated Windows 8, but I love the way it can flip into a tablet when I’m on planes. More importantly, it’s a good way to manage risk. Whatever may happen to my stuff, I won’t shed any tears if a $600 lightweight laptop gets smashed/soaked/stolen/etc. Can’t say that about the MacBook Air.
External hard drives AND a USB
I have a terabyte’s worth of external storage, split into two 512 gig lightweight drives. Even if I have to pack my laptop somewhere else, these always stay in my personal bag. This way I’ve got a form of triple redundancy. Something would have to happen to three different devices for me to lose everything.
Also, a USB key for anything critical. Contracts, billing docs, copies of my passport, tax records etc., stuff like this goes both to Google Docs and a flash drive that I just keep in my pocket.
Risk management is like an onion: it’s all about layers, and the more of them get peeled away the closer you get to tears.
Journalism means doing lots and lots of interviews. Google Voice and Viber are the easiest, cheapest ways I’ve found to do interviews on the road by telephone, which is simply not optional in this job. Meanwhile, as someone who has a foot in each world, GChat is my best way of keeping in touch with people, such as an endlessly patient wife, back home.
I keep my smartphone on airplane mode while away from home, partly because of the cost and partly because one of the great joys of travel is the opportunity to unplug. Still, apps are a great resource. For work I’m a huge fan of Evernote, Google Analytics, WordPress’ app and Spotify offline. I also recommend the New York Times Crossword app for those long bus rides.
Ravpower External Battery
Holy crap, this thing is awesome! Capable of charging two devices simultaneously, this thing can go for days. Literally. I can get multiple full charges for my iPhone off of this, not to mention my USB flashlight and Kindle. It takes hours to charge, but for something you can just leave plugged in at the guesthouse it’s incredibly valuable.
Btw, get a USB flashlight.
Nikon point-and-shoot camera
My Nikon takes great pictures and, like my laptop, it’s small. What’s more, these days camera aren’t optional for travel writers. The auto-focus is a problem. With no option for attachable lenses and manual focus I’ll be upgrading soon, but as a device that can fit in my pocket and whose battery can last for an entire day this small point-and-shoot takes a great photo.