Staying Connected While Traveling Solo

by Gray Cargill on January 4, 2011

Toshiba netbook

Toshiba netbook

I have never traveled with my laptop until this past trip to Las Vegas. My primary day job is on a computer, and with all the blogging I do, I am on a computer from morning until night every day of the week as it is.  So I’ve always been very happy to unplug during my vacations. A vacation away from home has also always been a vacation away from technology.  I do have my cell phone with me in case my family needs to reach me and so I can tweet, and I’ve always felt that was enough.  My opinion on that, though, changed during my past two trips.

In Paris, I felt very disconnected from the world.  I didn’t speak enough French to make friends in the city while I was there, my cell phone tweets weren’t making it to the outside world, and the one time I tried to use a hotel’s loaner laptop was a huge failure, in terms of speed and connectivity, as well as the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to use the keyboard (which looks very different from US keyboards). If it weren’t for my ability to text my brother and an afternoon spent with @leganomads and @ParisBuff, I would’ve felt completely isolated.

After that trip, I decided I didn’t want a situation like that happening again.  Especially when you travel solo, it’s really important to be able to stay in touch with people back home while you’re gone. So I bought a Toshiba netbook off Amazon.com and loaded it with my favorite applications and bookmarks.  It has Skype and a webcam, though I haven’t used them yet. Was it useful during my trip to Vegas?  Hell yes!

  • First off, I was able to experiment with daily live blogging. This did take time away from doing other things, but I was glad for the alone time in my hotel room every day; as an introvert, there’s only so much I can stand being around other people.
  • I was able to upload photos from my camera memory cards every day, which gave me some peace of mind that if something were to happen to my cameras or the cards themselves, I would have a backup copy of my photos.
  • I was able to use the netbook to stay connected with people back home, as well as on social media.
  • When I needed some down time away from the crowds and wanted to do something that didn’t cost an arm and a leg (like drinking, gambling and shows do), I knew I could entertain myself on my netbook (although I had to pay a daily connection fee at my hotels, it was still cheaper than the aforementioned activities).
  • I was able to keep myself occupied during 2 long layovers at JFK by plugging into their free Internet.

But most importantly, when my flight home was canceled Tuesday night, having a netbook enabled me to see what my options were for flights home and available hotel rooms for the next few nights–during the busiest time of year for Las Vegas. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without it.

I had already checked online and seen there were hotel rooms available on the Strip.  As I was riding home from the airport (where I went to get a new ticket home), my cab driver tried telling me I wouldn’t be able to get a hotel room on the Strip, because they were completely booked up, and the best I could hope for was some off-Strip long-term-stay dive.  Because I’d already seen otherwise on my netbook, I knew he was full of shit. (And possibly high, but that’s another story…)

Having seen the usefulness firsthand of carrying my netbook with me, I don’t think I’ll ever travel without it again.  Yes, it requires a bit more time going through security at the airport (though, really, all I have to do is remove the netbook in its sleeve from my knapsack and place it in a bin; I don’t have to remove it from the sleeve, because I carry my cord in a separate ziploc bag in my knapsack).  But I’m pretty organized, so it’s not as much of a pain as I expected it to be.  In any case, the benefits far outweigh any negatives. I would also consider using an iPad if they weren’t so expensive, or a smartphone if I had one (unfortunately, I’m stuck in a Verizon contract for one more year before I can get an iPhone).  But in any case, I am now a bring-your-tech-with-you-when-you-travel convert.

What about you?  What do you bring with you when you travel solo to stay connected with the outside world?  Or do you?  Do you have any success stories of when your technology really proved its worth on the road?

Interested in long-term solo travel, but not sure where to start? The Art of Solo Travel: A Girl’s Guide by Stephanie Lee contains all the basic information you need to get started on your long-term solo journey. Read my review of the book here.

Anonymous February 18, 2011 at 6:17 pm

I am glad that you got to meed up with Jody and Michael and Marlys, such great people. Miss LegalNomads gets around, we are going to meet her tomorrow in Bangkok:) Welcome to the world of bringing along the laptop. We have ours with us all the time, but if we weren’t Bloggers, I wouldn’t bring it at all. But that said, I think it would be very different if I were solo traveling. I would have my computer with me for company, I think it is a great thing for people traveling solo to be able to stay connected to family and friends. Like you said, you can only socialize so much and then you just want to go back to your room to relax and maybe catch up with friends online.

Gray February 18, 2011 at 10:19 pm

Tell Jodi I said hi! Yes, they are all great people, but then I don’t think I’ve met many travel bloggers who weren’t. It’s a wonderful community. Yeah, bringing the laptop is a double-edged sword in some ways. Sometimes I miss the “good ol’ days” of being able to go on vacation “unplugged”, but then again, it’s handy to have when I need it.

GRRRL TRAVELER January 11, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I think my tech gadgets always prove useful on the road… even though they’re often a bitch to carry. Having to lug them around is the only thing I ever regret but they allow me to be pretty productive. Traveling out of Korea to neighboring countries, I haven’t tested taking a laptop yet; I’m a bit reluctant.. no scared. Packing a DSLR is one thing– I’ll always have it on me throughout the day, but a laptop is risky.

Just got a MacAirbook over the holidays so I could send my good Powerbook home… as it seems like I’m coming upon a move very soon, maybe to travel.

Glad your new computer has proven indispensable and your trip worked out!

Gray February 18, 2011 at 10:17 pm

Oh dear. I don’t know how I missed your post, Christine. Thanks for commenting. It’s really a tough call whether or not to bring an expensive piece of equipment traveling with you, as so many bad things could happen to it. But it’s hard to get work done or stay in touch with people without it.

Alicia January 11, 2011 at 6:19 am

I am a traveler and I really bought a super handy laptop for me to carry everywhere I go… I believe staying connected is very important and what is so impressive is that almost all my travel destinations are wifi connected giving me the chance to keep in touch with my family and friends any time I want.

club villamar January 11, 2011 at 9:35 am

Good post ………
I don’t carry any thing with me except my Phone and camera.I don’t like wired my self during my travel time.During my travel time i like to enjoy travel with full joy and relax, don’t want to wired and do any thing…..

SoloFriendly January 12, 2011 at 12:03 am

I used to be like that too. I think being a blogger has changed things for me.

club villamar January 12, 2011 at 4:32 am

That’s don’t matter it depends on individual that whats he like to do during travel.

Brooke vs. the World January 11, 2011 at 1:13 am

I carry my netbook with me most of the time, unless now it is a short trip in Oz. There’s almost no point taking it with me since the internet here sucks so bad.

SoloFriendly January 11, 2011 at 3:09 am

Really? Poor internet in Australia? That surprises me. Then again, there are certainly places in Vermont where the wifi is not very good, and people still have dial-up, if you can believe it. And we call ourselves civilization…LOL.

Aaron January 8, 2011 at 9:28 pm

I traveled with both an iPod Touch and a Netbook. Both were worth their weight in gold to me. Be it changing my travel plans midtrip or keeping up with blogging (which isn’t too easy on an iPod Touch, I’m glad I brought them, especially after a computer at an internet cafe put a virus on my flash drive!

SoloFriendly January 8, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Yikes! That’s the downside of using an Internet Cafe I guess. You’d think they’d monitor their computers very closely for viruses, since those computers are what’s making them money….

Kara January 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm

I bring my laptop on all trips – for similar reasons. I like to be able to live blog and research travel info as needed on the spot, and often I have “other” work to do (i.e. paying freelance work besides blogging for TheVacationGals.com).

My kids now have iPod Touches, and I don’t think they realize they’ll be downloading apps for mom on our next trip — to Florida in a couple weeks!

SoloFriendly January 6, 2011 at 3:42 am

At the risk of sounding completely ignorant about technology, what’s the difference between an iPod Touch and an iPhone? Is it just that you can’t make calls with the Touch and you can’t play music on the IPhone? Are they otherwise similar? Apple confuses me with all its products…

zablon mukuba January 5, 2011 at 6:55 am

i dont know what i would do without my laptop, i go with it everywhere. its more precious than my phone coz it would do for me so much more than my phone.

club villamar January 5, 2011 at 5:03 am

good post i like it.But during travel i don’t like to be a wired one so i don’t prefer to travel with lap.I only have my camera and i phone with me.Which is must for me during each travel.

Alouise January 4, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I took my ipod touch with me to New York for the first time last year. It came in handy, especially because I download an app for the subway map. I could sit on the train, and figure out where the hell I was, without pullout out a big awkward map, and looking like a lost tourist.

I’ve never traveled with my laptop. I don’t mind staying relatively unplugged. But I’m probably going to Mexico in May and will need to bring my computer with me. Not because I want to stay connected (I’m going down for my cousin’s wedding, so my family will be there), but because there’s a school course I have to take (online), and May is the only month I can take it. I’ll get to drink margaritas by the beach, and do homework… fun.

SoloFriendly January 4, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I have total app envy. I keep hearing about these really handy travel apps (that, if I had them, would eliminate my need for such detailed notes for my trips): Maps, updated info on attractions and restaurants, etc. I am for sure getting a smartphone later this year. Hey, drinking margaritas on a beach in Mexico while doing homework sounds much better than doing homework at home! 🙂

Becs January 4, 2011 at 6:43 pm

While it sounds like the laptop came in handy for you on this trip, I am all about unplugging when I travel. Being disconnected is part of the fun of traveling, especially in a foreign country!

Have some downtime or just want to step away from it all? Pick up a book! Need to write? Grab a pen and some paper. No need to worry about backups (unless you loose your notebook, but then, the only thing you can blame on that one is yourself, not some machine).

And iPhones aren’t the end all and be all of smartphones. All phone companies have their own versions now and Android phones are just as good as iPhones. Same apps and everything.

But then, I am all about unplugging and disconnecting, that is just my style. But interesting to hear about the converted!

SoloFriendly January 4, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Believe me, if I hadn’t had such a tough time of it in Paris, I wouldn’t have gotten the netbook, but in retrospect, I’m glad I did, because it did come in handy in Vegas.

Jack and Jill Travel The World January 4, 2011 at 4:05 pm

On our upcoming RTW trip this year we’ll be traveling not only with one, but two laptops! We’ve never done anything like that before and are curious to see how it’ll work out considering that we’ve always, up to this point, seriously underpacked for trips. But the necessity of balancing fun and making money on the road seems to require us to lug around an assortment of gadgets now…

SoloFriendly January 4, 2011 at 5:36 pm

I wonder if needing to make money on the road makes a difference…It seems the bloggers and location independent lifestyle folks tend to need their technology more than the average vacation traveler. Or does everyone bring laptops, even just for connectivity and entertainment? Would you bring them if you didn’t need to make money on the road?

Sabina January 4, 2011 at 1:00 pm

I’d have to really be on a serious vacation before I’d travel without my computer. Since I”m location independent now, I travel with two. It is really, really nice, though, to get totally away from it all for a few days. There are some times where I just like to be 100% unplugged no matter the consequences.

And that’s a very nice-looking computer your have!

SoloFriendly January 4, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Thanks, I like it. It’s hard to get used to the much smaller screen, though; I’m so nearsighted. You cannot possibly be backpacking with 2 laptops, right? Or are you superhumanly strong? 🙂

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