I’ve been on the road for almost three years now and much of my gear is a bit worn down at this point. My laptop was limping along, my sandals disintegrating under the weight of their own stench and my massive 12-year-old main pack had finally convinced my back and shoulders that –perhaps– it might be time to downsize.
Being on a tight budget, I had to limit myself to items that were frugal in both price and weight. All in all, I think I did pretty good job of balancing both concerns. And my final setup is about 7-8 pounds lighter than before.
EXPENSIVE, HEAVY STUFF FOR THE DIGITAL NOMAD
While I didn’t manage to cut much weight from my digital kit, I did increase the speed and performance dramatically. But it cost. Oh, did it cost…
15″ Macbook Pro Retina with 16GB RAM — this is the laptop that a photo contest bought. If I hadn’t won TravelSupermarket.com’s photo contest, I’d have never been willing to drop $2,500 on a laptop. But now that I have, I’m thrilled… although my credit card audibly wept when I clicked “Purchase”.
My 13″ Macbook Pro was on it’s last legs, running off an external drive with the fans blowing full time as it strained to keep up. It served me well and was a true workhorse but after three years of abuse, the poor thing was just spent.
My new machine is at least 4-5x faster, has a larger (and incredibly high-resolution) screen while only adding a half pound to my pack. It’s by far the fastest computer I’ve ever used. And the screen is amazing. For protection, I grabbed a Thule Macbook sleeve that is semi-rigid, has water-resistant zippers and has enough room to carry my 2-year-old iPad as well.
This Macbook doesn’t include a DVD drive (which is a big part of why it is so slim and light) and though I use it only rarely, I decided to carry an external drive for one more season if only to allow me to buy those bootleg movies and software DVDs that you find in Asia. And while it does weigh 3/4 of a pound, I can leave it in my main pack 99% of the time so I don’t really mind.
The iPad 2 has been a great travel tool — it served as a backup blogging platform when my laptop power supply died (though the v.2 camera is horrible), and has been very handy for email, surfing, reading ebooks (10 hour battery life is great for long bus rides), watching movies, calling home via Skype, checking my site stats and answering comments, Twitter, Facebook, gaming, language translation, videoconferencing, maps, Instant Messaging, writing posts and taking notes while offline and more.
If you’re not a blogger/digital nomad and are traveling for any period of time, I highly recommend ditching the laptop or netbook and getting an iPad. Mine is wifi-only and can be bought for as little as $350. If the touch screen typing weirds you out, get a bluetooth keyboard for $50.
I know I’ll sound like a Apple fanboi (and I am, to be honest), but I also broke down and invested in a iPhone 5. My old iPhone 3 had finally died — the battery lasted about an hour on standby, the screen was cracked and fading and the home button was getting wonky. It was almost five years old, so I can’t complain too much. I also desperately needed a good point and shoot camera that was easily accessible so it was a bit easier to rationalize the purchase. I could have saved $150 by buying the older 4S model but the processor in the 5 is such an upgrade that I think I’ll get a longer useful life out of it. Look for more photos and video on the site in the future.
Portable hard drives have continued to evolve, so I picked up a 2TB portable hard drive to hold my photos and such. My old 1TB drive is being converted to a backup drive, with a small partition that houses a full working clone of my system and the rest of the drive holding my weekly backups. Both are stored in a small, lightweight dry sack for protection from rain and I’ll be leaving my old 500GB drive behind with a full copy of all of my photos to date for insurance.
GEAR FOR PURTY PICTURES
For camera gear, I’m sticking with my Canon Rebel T2i with a 18-135mm lens — it has served me well and is as high-quality as I can afford right now. Next year’s goal: a full-frame camera with pro glass.
I decided to update my ultra-cheapie tripod (bought via craigslist.org for $25) with a slightly-less cheap Opteka carbon fiber tripod — it’s only a half pound heavier and –hopefully– steadier than the old one. I own a solid Gitzo tripod/ballhead but at seven pounds, I just can’t justify lugging the thing around the world.
I have a small bag stuffed with cords, a USB-powered AA battery charger, thumb drives, a Belkin mini surge protector, camera charger and batteries, wifi booster, USB hub, a backup power supply (Mac support is rare in parts of the world), a $5 punch to cut SIMS down to the new iPhone nano-SIM format, zip ties, a wireless mouse and a mummified frog. I’m not sure how the frog got in there but I’m not going to touch it.
AND THAT ALL FITS WHERE?
The bulk of this travels in my daypack, never far from my sight. The DVD drive, backup HDs, backup power adapter and tripod ride in my main backpack while I lug the rest of it around in my new Outdoor Products Power Pack daypack. I looked at dozens of daypacks and this one was as close to ideal as I’ve found. It was cheaper than 90% of them as well.
It holds my laptop in a separate, sealed compartment (which is nice when a bottle of water/sunscreen explodes), while my camera rides in the main zippered section. A fold-out section has literally dozens of pockets and two zippered compartments so all of my goodies are organized and handy. If only I could remember where I put everything…
I have a rain cover stashed in one side pocket, power cord in the other and some cash and photocopies of my passport in a hidden pouch (spy stuff!). If this thing can hold up to the abuse of a year on the road, it may well be my ideal daypack (though I do wish they had a more water-resistant version).
In some parts of the world, carrying your gear with you is not such a good idea so I’m trying out a PacSafe camera bag protector. I’d tried using one that covered my entire pack when I first started traveling but it was too heavy and awkward for everyday use. I’m trying this smaller unit, which will allow me to lock down just my daypack with my laptop and camera and only weighs about a pound and a half. If someone steals my main pack and clothing it will suck but it won’t be as bad as losing the hard-to-replace tech gear.