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Laptop Travel Tips

A few days ago I wrote you about how my laptop was stolen while travelling abroad. Since then, I’ve received an outpouring of support, letters of thankfulness that no one was hurt, and empathy from people who’ve had similar experiences. Some of those letters have come with advice and suggestions about how to prevent such […]

A few days ago I wrote you about how my laptop was stolen while travelling abroad. Since then, I’ve received an outpouring of support, letters of thankfulness that no one was hurt, and empathy from people who’ve had similar experiences.

Some of those letters have come with advice and suggestions about how to prevent such problems in the future. And in hind-sight, I also will now do some things differently when I travel — with our without my laptop.

I wrote the next day about some general tips on how to protect your laptop computer — whether you travel or not.

Today, we’re going to focus on some specific advice for when you travel — whether on business or for pleasure — and bring your laptop along.

And just in case you think some of these suggestions are a bit over the top or unnecessary, please remember what I said last week — it’s always too much until it’s not enough.

Stay vigilant.

Here are my tips when travelling with technology — laptops, cameras, PDAs.

1) WIRELESS HOTSPOT DANGERS – Almost every hotel now has wireless internet, or wired internet in their rooms, and you can log into their service for $10 to $25 a day, depending on the rate at the hotel you are staying in.

But I’d advise against it if you can avoid it.

I spend a considerable amount of time outside of my office. My business is such that I can work from just about anywhere that I decide to sit down with my laptop. I used to subscribe to the Tmobile hotspot service so I could work at any local Starbucks or book store.

But the problem with Tmobile and your hotel room are the same — you’re logging into a public network that anyone can tap into, and that anyone can monitor. As a result, the data going over the wires — including your email passwords, your website logins — are easily snoop-able over the air.

And you’ll never be the wiser.

USA Today wrote an article about wireless security, and quoted a security expert who said “If you’re using Wi-Fi in a public place and you’re not getting hacked, it’s only because there’s nobody around bothering to do it.” Scarey, eh?

It happens all the time, and can be very scary…especially if it’s a site with financial information. That’s why I switched over to using a wireless datacard for my laptop. My Sprint service gives me 400kbps all the way up to T1 speeds (1.5mbps) — which is better than many home DSL solutions.

With my datacard, I can be online anywhere in the USA — whether in my hotel room or the local Starbucks — but my data is totally secure. I’ve got my own unhackable connection to the web.

2) HOTEL-ROOM SECURITY – Look, there are good people and there are bad people in the world. Some of them are hotel maids, and some are executives in big corporations. The message here is to be vigilant, wherever you are, and whatever you are doing. But in your hotel room, there are a few things you can do to swing the odds in your favor that you’ll be coming home with the computer you started with.

Slam your hotel door SHUT at night. This might be the problem in the room I was in. I suspect the latch failed to catch on a faulty door. Inspecting the door after my laptop was gone revealed that the door needed to be slammed in order to latch. Be aware at all times.

Also, if your hotel room has one of those swinging loop-type latches, use it. I often neglected to use it, but if you don’t have this extra level of security, even if your door latch works properly, someone with a keycard can enter your room while you’re asleep and take what they want.

Alas, the room I was in didn’t have one of these extra locks. If it had one, I’d still have my laptop today.

3) LOCK IT DOWN — Get a cable lock. This is something that I hadn’t really considered until a reader suggested it on my blog last week. I always thought these were for locking your laptop down to your office desk…but I was wrong. These are made specifically for travel as well.

Laptop cable locks are relatively light weight, easy to use, and will keep your laptop where you leave it (unless your thief comes at you James Bond style with a pocket laser beam to cut the cable).

Targus Products

As soon as my new laptop arrives, I’ll be picking one of these up and keeping it in my laptop backpack.

4) TRAVEL LIGHT – Consider leaving your laptop at home. Instead, subscribe to GoToMyPC and connect to your laptop or desktop computer from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

GoToMyPC allows you to operate your computer as though you were sitting in front of it. What you type on the keyboard in front of you shows up on your computer at home. And you can see the screen as well. As long as you have a reasonably fast internet connection, you’re good to go.

The GoToMyPC software runs on your “host” computer — the one you want to connect to. When you travel, just go down to your business center, log into the www.GoToMyPC.com and type in your username and password. Moments later, you’ll see your remote screen in front of you.

Yes, it means you’ve got to pay the business center fee. And yes, it’s sometimes not as convenient as it would be if you were sitting in your own room. But on the bright side, it really inspires you to get your work done quickly so you can get back to your room and rest.

I’ve been using GoToMyPC for years, and it’s terrific. Yes, there are free solutions that do similar things, but this service — at about a dollar a day — is owned by Citrix and is very secure. HIGHLY recommended.

Oh, and it’s a great tool to use even when you don’t travel. Load this on your office computer, and access your office computer from home — any time you want. It might even inspire you to work from home now and then.

5) BACKUP AGAIN – I talked about this the other day…Always back up your computer. But when you travel, it’s especially important to back up your computer right before you leave. There’s nothing worse than restoring your data, only to find out it’s weeks or months old. One final complete backup before you leave is invaluable for your peace of mind.

I recommend Acronis True Image Home backup software (http://www.MarkPrefers.com/acronis) , and there’s a link to a guide to using Acronis that one of my readers wrote on my blog.

6) ONLINE BACKUP – I talked last week about using an online backup service. But if you’re actually doing business on your trip, and creating valuable work product that you don’t want to lose, an online backup service can keep you current every day (or every hour or two) even while you’re away. I use Mozy Home Http://www.MarkPrefers.com/mozy and for $5 a month, my data can be backed up daily (or hourly).

Got any suggestions of your own for when you travel? Got any laptop travel horror stories of your own? Please offer them up so that other people can benefit from what you know, and so that we can all avoid these kinds of disasters whenever possible.

Post your comments at http://www.TrafficAndConversion.com

To Your Success,

–Mark

16 replies on “Laptop Travel Tips”

Thank you for your suggestion about a computer security cable. I hadn’t thought about that before, and didn’t even remember whether my laptop had a locking security slot (it does). But the Targus cable you linked to seemed a bit pricey at $34.99, so I just went on eBay and purchased a cable for $7.03 (including tax and shipping). It’s not a brand name, so there’s no guarantee about the quality, but it looks like it should do the job. Also, I bought one which had a 4-digit (changeable) combo lock rather than keys, so I don’t have to worry about losing the keys or adding another key to my already-heavy keyring.

An alternative to GoToMyPC (where you have to go to a business centre and pay a fee to use it) is LogMe In, which let’s you control your computer from anywhere. There is a free version called LogMeIn Free, which I used on one of my trips. If had to access my computer more frequently I would go for LogMe In rather than the free version. So far the LMIF has been fine for me. I use Carbonite for my online back-up system and also back up to a USB drive. So far, so good.

As a professional photographer, I often have a laptop and some expensive camera gear on my person. In some areas of Asia the cowboys are real grab and run. The chain from a biker’s wallet can come in handy. It hooks to your belt and the other end to a snap-ring on your camera or Laptop case. They always look surprised when they look back and see your camera hanging from your belt.

I’ll second the endorsement of LogMeIn. I routinely log into my home computer from other locations using the free version of LogMeIn, and it works great. (In fact I’m using it right now as I type this comment via my remotely-controlled home computer.)

Since I end up providing “technical support” to several of my relatives, I have it installed on their computers as well. It’s vastly easier to troubleshoot a problem by directly controlling the other person’s computer than by trying to have them describe the symptoms over the telephone and then attempting to give them verbal instructions.

My comment relates to #1 above. (Wifi vulnerability using a hotel or coffee shop Wifi hotspot)

Having your own wireless datacard is super convenient. You can use it outside, in the car, the airport, friends’ houses — wherever. The extra freedom is nice, and it’s really the best way to go — but the drawback is the fact that you normally have to signup for a 2 year contract.

There’s a company I found that rents wireless datacards by the week or month.

http://www.wifirents.com

This takes the whole 2-year contract downside out of the picture.

Order it to arrive a day before your trip, take it with you, and when you get back — drop it in the return mailer, and you’re done.

Easy.

Mark… I’m sorry to hear about your laptop being stolen. I really appreciate you sharing this incident and helping others avoid this from happening to them by writing about it. I plan on sharing this information with those that I work with. I would like to know how do I link these particular blogs to share with people in my blog?

Good job, Mark. I’ll Keep reading

Great advice in this thread. I reviewed the advised back up software, bought a Seagate 750 Gig 3 1/2 drive for $109.99 and a $24.00 external case which I now use as a USB back up of my laptop.

I did a complete disk mirror back up which includes programs, settings and data files (25 gig) and now daily do incremental back ups set by a schedule in the back up software.

I also use an air card from Cingular/ATT when traveling. My only error was using it while in Mexico and not paying attention to the charges. US usage is free, but international is not. I was doing a lot of web design and moving large files around and when I got home received an airtime bill in excess of $4,000. In Mexico, the air card connection was slow and not very reliable. In the future I’ll only use international air card connections to check and send e-mails.

I often leave my laptop in hotel/condo rooms when I am away. I never considered a maid or maintenance person could steal my laptop. I’ll look into the cable lock.

Twice in the last 3 years I have experienced a fatal disk occurence and was able to recover most data files, but after installing a new drive found I didn’t have source disks for some of my most used programs. The mirror disk back up options are great and resolves the programs issue for the future.

Thanks again for a great thread.

Rob Goodwin
Two Cool Inc
http://www.coldone.com

Rob,
One of the things that I do is to copy all of my software’s installation disks to my local hard drive, or an external USB drive.
That way, when I have to reinstall something, like I have to do now with my new laptop, it’s easy to find.
I’ve got a folder called \software on my D drive. Inside of that, I’ve got folders for each company’s software (apple, adobe, techsmith) and inside of that is a folder for the program (itunes, acrobat, dreamweaver, camtasia, etc).
In addition to the actual installation file, I also keep a text file with the program’s serial numbers and registration information so that I don’t have to go looking for the physical box, label or manual.
Makes it REAL easy to set up a new computer.
–Mark

Mark

Sorry to hear about your laptop loss and all the hassle that entails. Thanks for your great advice and tips. I’d like to add a couple of my own.

TIP 1: Use a hard case and alarm cable
I used to travel internationally a real lot mainly in Europe, US and Asia Pacific for over 3 years.

I kept all my technology and toys in a hard case Samsonite wheelie carry-on bag (always use hard cases they take huge punishment and still look good).

I would secure the wheelie bag to my hotel desk, or airport lounge chair, or even unsecured to anything, with a Targus Defcon Universal Security Cable with Alarm (around $60). The cable is long enough to loop through your large case etc as well 🙂

The targus gives a loud warning beep if you touch the luggage to let you know it means business. It shrieks like a banshee within seconds if you continue moving the luggage. You disarm it by inputting your combination and pushing a red release button – easy peasy.

It’s great when you are very tired and finding it hard to keep awake and watch your gear in an airport.

Nobody ever stole any of my luggage.

TIP 2: Backups using Goodsync
The real problem I have found with backup software (and I have used a few: Maxtor one-touch, retrospect and most recently Genie backup recently) is being certain they actually did the backup you thought they had :-).

It can be hard to tell if they have backed everything up properly (particularly with incremental backups) because some programmes create special backup files with odd names. It takes a bit of work to check.

Often, I thought it had run OK and then I would check and find it hadn’t. My conclusion: none of the ones I used were 100% reliable.

The best way to be sure is to use Goodsync. Click on a folder or entire drive in one window, the backup target in the other. Watch it analyse and synch or copy all the changed stuff (Or do a one way backup).

This great little programme is – without doubt – one of the most reliable, low cost and excellent utilities I have ever used. As opposed to the U3 Cruzer sync software which was always failing as I synched my daily changes between 2 laptops and and desktop between office and home – causing a number of lost work scenarios followed by a refund 🙂

So for backups you can see and be sure of: tada Goodsync.

That’s all for now folks

Best regards

Rick Allen

Rick,
That’s some excellent advice from someone who obviously travels a lot. Thanks for taking the time to write.
Along the lines of Goodsync, I have a program called SecondCopy, which does much the same thing.
Basically, all it does is copy all the data from my laptop’s data folders to an external USB drive. And you’re right — it’s nice to actually be able to SEE the backup files, rather than trusting they are within a backup archive.
I’ve had no trouble with Acronis, though. It’s been reliable and was there when I needed it.
I think that no matter what the backup software you use, you need to do ONE THING to make sure you’ve got a good backup, ready to restore on demand.
And that thing is…
PAY ATTENTION
I share an office with an insurance agency. The office assistant who recently left was training her replacement. And as part of her training, she said “Oh, when this WinApp error comes up, just close it. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Well, just this week, the system crashed and they needed the backup.
Guess what: No backup.
Not for a year!
So, my friends, whatever backup system you use, make sure it’s working. Do periodic test-restores to make sure your data is there when you need it.
–Mark

Heya Mark,

One thing that I haven’t seen addressed:

Keeping the content on your laptop out of a thief’s hands. We all need to do what we can to keep someone else having our client’s information should a theft occur.

Full Disk Encryption is a great comfort when used properly. We use CompuSec on all our systems. If a system is stolen it’ll provide about as much data as a turnip.

Joshua

Hi Mark:

My laptop was stolen 18 months ago — but from my home office, in broad daylight, with a deadbolt on the door! The thief kicked in the back door while I was doing errands and took easily fenceable items. Luckily, I back up regularly, both remotely and to another internal computer, so no data was lost. But it was still a pain to buy and new computer and get everything set up again.

I travel a lot as a professional speaker — 3 times to Asia already this year. I’ve found my laptop fits easily in many in-room safes. Additionally, i use the cable lock for the times it doesn’t.

And don’t forget to lock your computer, even if you’re in a meeting room. A friend’s was stolen from the San Francisco Airport Marriott when his meeting of a handful of people took a break. There was no one in the room, so the thief must have been watching for break time. His computer was in his computer bag, BTW, not out on the table!

All your tips make sense. I just wanted to add a few more.

— Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC
Workplace Effectiveness Expert, Speaker, Bestselling Author

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