So, you decided to try the nomadic lifestyle and spend the next few months working in far-off locations while experiencing the many rewards that long-term travel provides. Well, I can definitely relate since we’re currently on our six-month travel/work experiment adventure. There are a lot of plans to make and things to consider as you prepare for your trip but one of the most important will likely be what tech gear you decide to take with you. If your livelihood depends on the work you do on your computer, the legwork you do up front will help dictate whether your trip will be smooth sailing or a virtual pit of despair. To ease the pain, I’ll walk you through the thought process that went into the key tech that Danielle and I brought on our trip, along with some potentially helpful tips that can help you save frustration and money.
*Warning* this is a VERY long post, jam-packed with all kinds of (hopefully) useful information. If you prefer to skip to a specific section, just click on one of the links below.
Around three months prior to our departure date I began to heavily research which laptops to take with us. Portability was the number one requirement. Since you are going to be lugging this thing with you for the long-haul you don’t want something that is going to break your back (I am talking about you 2013 Alienware laptop) or take up too much of your precious space.
After portability, the cost was the next primary consideration. Keep in mind that this laptop could be stolen or lost and likely will get dinged at some point. You shouldn’t break the bank buying the computer of your dreams for this trip. A modestly priced laptop should be able to sufficiently meet your needs whether you are a software developer, video editor, or marketer.
When I said modest before, it was meant within reason. If you are only planning on answering emails and browsing the web, then a Chromebook could certainly meet your needs. For those of us who need a bit more control over our computer’s configuration and need to run numerous apps at the same time, there is a minimum threshold that the laptop specifications should meet.
With the above considerations in mind, the laptops I was searching for would look something like the following:
Maximum screen size of 15”
Weigh less than 2 lbs
At least 8GB of RAM
At least 256 GB of onboard storage (ideally a solid state drive)
Intel Core i5 processor or better
I read lots of positive reviews about the HP Spectre and Dell XPS 13” but for our first laptop, we ultimately decided on a 13.3” Asus Zenbook UX330UA. The Asus has all the bells and whistles you would expect, doesn’t include much pre-installed bloatware, and at amazon.ca was a very nice $400 cheaper at the time than the two machines mentioned above. Not having used an Asus machine before I was a little leery at first but after having used it for a few months now I have to say I really like how portable and quiet it has proven to be.
The second computer we purchased was a 13” 2016 MacBook Pro. As someone who works on a Mac every day, it would have been difficult to choose anything but old reliable. The specs between the 2017 and 2016 models aren’t dramatically different (unless you want a touch bar that is) and so we figured we would save a few hundred dollars and buy last year’s model. If you are looking for a Mac I recommend you take a look at B&H Photo and Video. They have great prices and there is no sales tax for anyone who does not live in New York State (this includes Canadians). As for performance, you more or less know what you are getting with a MacBook Pro and as such, I haven’t had any noticeable issues with it other than adjusting to the updated keyboard.
This was one of our most difficult decisions to make. As non-professional photographers the subtleties between the various brands and models were lost on us. More than that, we wanted a setup that would be easy to pack, not super expensive, and that would take good photos without us needing to manually set the shutter speed, aperture, etc. for every picture we took.
After spinning our wheels for a while, I stumbled upon a company called Moment. Moment makes camera lenses and battery cases for iPhones and select Android models. They originally started as a Kickstarter project and after researching them a bit more, we found a lot of positive reviews about the build quality and customer support they offer with their products. Never having used or seen a Moment lens in the wild we decided to take a bit of a risk and buy the Battery Case and Wide Lens for Danielle’s iPhone 7.
Our thinking was that we were already going to take Danielle’s iPhone with us, so adding a battery case and a lens to it seemed like a good way to improve our photo setup without breaking the bank or adding another bulky item to our bags. The results so far have been really positive. When you pair the Wide Lens with the iPhone’s already more than capable camera, the quality of output is pretty solid. The only drawback so far (which is not really the lenses’ fault) is that we haven’t been happy with the amount of zoom that we have by default. This has proven a bit painful as some of the finer details of the moments we captured have been lost. So what did we do? Well we went back to Moment for the Tele Lens. We are having it shipped to a friends house in Australia next week and will post an update once we have had a chance to test it out.
For our underwater pictures, we brought along a GoPro Hero 3 but ultimately ended up buying a GoPro Hero 5 while in Hawaii. This is a good opportunity to remind you to check that your tech items can properly hold a charge before you take off on your trip.
We haven’t been overly impressed with the image quality of the GoPro Hero 5 so far. That isn’t to say the images have been bad but more that the underwater images have not properly captured the beauty of the environments we have been in. Some of that likely is due to operator error, so if anyone has any tips for how to properly capture underwater images with a GoPro, please let us know. We also still have software issues from time to time with the Hero 5 battery not recognizing the charge properly, so that’s been frustrating as well.
If you are looking for other underwater camera options, we met a couple who shot some really amazing images using an Olympus camera. I am not sure about the model of the camera but Olympus might be a brand worth looking into if you are in the market for an underwater camera.
As a relatively inexperienced videographer and a very inexperienced pilot, the drone was definitely a splurge purchase. Having said that, Danielle and I are the most excited about its potential while traveling. The drone’s ability to capture expansive vistas and see things from awe-inspiring angles was too tempting to pass up.
Never having flown a drone I really didn’t know where to begin when looking for what to buy. My search eventually took me to Reddit where it seemed that the majority of people agreed that DJI is the current leader in the market. So, I headed over to the DJI site to browse the various models. The Phantom is the most popular but is too bulky to carry around while traveling. The Spark looked like a solid option, but it lacked the image/video specs that I thought were necessary. So, I eventually determined that the Mavic Pro was the best option considering its compactness, signal range, and image/video quality.
If you are thinking about buying a drone keep these two points in mind. First, pay for the extended warranty. I usually never buy extended warranties but in this case, it’s worth it. You will crash your drone and you will want peace of mind when you do. The warranties DJI offers are pretty fair and having sent my drone in for repair once already (after having it for three days), I found the service very good.
The second point to remember is that drones are banned in many places. Make sure you do some research on where you can and where you can’t fly your drone. Many countries are trying to crack down on drone usage and some are even handing out fines of up to $25,000. We will report more on this as we continue our travels.
This may be the most important service you will absolutely want to set up before you go. If you need to share files between computers or have any important documents saved on your primary machine, getting cloud storage setup properly before you leave is mission critical.
Imagine a situation where your laptop is stolen or lost. If you don’t have cloud storage setup, you could lose all your access credentials or sensitive documents with little to no way to recover them. As much as you may avoid this, make sure you are prepared for the worst while you are traveling.
If you decide to set up a cloud storage account, there are endless options. Features, security, and pricing are the main differentiators. For our needs, we are using Google Drive to store receipts and shared documents. We use Google Photos to sync and store most of our photos and videos but not all. Note that Google Photos downgrades the quality of your photos and videos to save space so you will want to test this out to make sure it is something you can live with. Lastly, I use Box to store my business documents. The Free Plan from Box offers 10GB of storage and has all the features you would want and expect from a cloud storage provider.
External Hard Drive
Cloud Storage is great, but you can’t always count on having a decent Wi-Fi connection. For example, the Wi-Fi is notoriously slow in Australia which I found surprising. An external hard drive is really just your backup plan should all else fail. Having said that, if you take lots of videos, an external hard drive can also be handy to store unedited raw footage (as you will have a lot of it by the end of your trip).
There are many options for you to choose from when it comes to choosing an external hard drive. Amongst the most important considerations are size (both storage and physical), compatibility, and ruggedness. If you are planning on storing video files you will want to get at least a 1 TB hard drive.
Many other travelers recommended the Western Digital HD Passport, but we decided to get a CalDigit Tuff 2TB HDD. The CalDigit external hard drives are known for their toughness and use a USB Type C adapter which is necessary to connect to newer MacBook Pros.
Most people don’t actually believe that I brought an external monitor on our trip. Likely because when you think of external monitors you picture something that is not easily portable. The reason I can get away with this is that the monitor is actually very slim (as slim as the MacBook Pro) and the case doubles as the monitor stand.
But why bring an external monitor? Well, the short answer is that the more screen real estate I have the more efficient I can work. Greater efficiency leads to quicker turnaround for clients and more time to enjoy the trip.
When searching for an external monitor I had the following requirements:
Must be ultra-portable (i.e. thin and no bulky stand)
Able to connect to a USB-C port
Maximum screen size of 15”
Price doesn’t break the bank
There were, possibly unsurprisingly, few options that met my criteria. Eventually, I stumbled across the Asus MB169C+ which had a solid feature set and some good reviews. One particular selling point is that the monitor cover is also the stand. It doesn’t get much more portable than that. So far, I’m happy with the purchase, though I will say that the built-in power/control buttons are a bit painful to use (not a deal breaker).
Wi-Fi On the Go
Staying connected, whether for work or to touch base with your family/friends, can be difficult while traveling. Even though many countries have constantly improving telecom infrastructures, your ability to connect will often be dependent on factors that are out of your control. But what if you are in a pinch and you absolutely need a connection?
Danielle and I did a ton of research on this and found a few options but nothing that had overly positive reviews or that claimed to work in all the countries we are traveling to. Danielle eventually found SkyRoam, which looked very promising. After reaching numerous reviews from other travelers we decided to give SkyRoam a try.
One interesting feature about SkyRoam is that you can either rent or buy the unit from them. We elected to buy it, given the length of our trip, but the rental option is appealing under certain circumstances. SkyRoam has a single 24-hour plan that costs $8 and you only pay for the days you use the device. The plan is broken down into two performance tiers. The first 200 MB of data is transferred over 4G LTE and then all data thereafter is transferred over 2G. This means Netflix is out of the question, but most common web tasks are well within reach.
As we haven’t used the SkyRoam yet, I won’t offer any opinions (our accommodation Wi-Fi and sim cards have been sufficient so far). We do plan on updating this post once we have used it a few times to let you know what our initial impressions are. If you are interested in one of SkyRoam’s devices, you can use this link to get $20 off.
We brought quite a bit of tech with us, but the important part is that all of the items pass the “will we use it often” test. Post in the comments if you think we forgot any essential tech and please give us any feedback on your experiences using any of the items from our list.
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