I remember agonising for weeks about what to electronic device to take backpacking with me. I didn’t want to take my phone as it was new, and I was initially only going to be travelling for 6 months to a year (as it turned out, by the time I returned my “brand new” phone was an ancient brick hahaha!). I didn’t want to take my laptop as it was heavy, but I also wanted to be able to back up my photos easily and run my new blog.
At the time I thought that there must be a one-size-fits all policy, but after more than 2 years of travelling, and having had the experience of both living somewhere and backpacking, I have a much better understanding.
Answer the following questions and read my solutions, and you will be able to determine what’s right for you.
Where are you going/how long/what kind of trip?
Backpacking vs. living/working – when you’re backpacking, you want to minimize the weight of your bag, and part of the adventure is temporarily going without technology. However, when you live and work abroad, you will need the same technological conveniences as home – you don’t want to be relying on internet cafes and communal computers.
Backpacking vs. luxury travel – you’re more likely to have your belongings lost/stolen/broken when living out of a backpack in communal dorms than when enjoying a luxurious holiday with your own private room.
Safer destinations vs. riskier destinations – travelling New Zealand is much safer than backpacking through Bolivia. There’s also a higher chance that in safe/Western destinations like New Zealand and Australia, you’re going to want to use a phone with a local SIM card and replace paper maps with Google Maps.
Short-term travel vs. long-term travel – leaving technological conveniences for a month is easier than a year.
How valuable is it?
The more backpacker-esque your trip is, the cheaper you want your belongings to be.
What camera are you using?
Many people use their phones as their cameras, but you may want to consider buying a separate camera as compact cameras are less likely to be stolen.
How are you backing up your photos?
Remember that it isn’t always possible to back your photos up to the cloud as wifi can be incredibly slow and limited (Australia and New Zealand, I’m looking at you!), and public computers care not always to be trusted.
Do you have a blog?
How necessary a laptop is largely depends on how much coding and actual website development you do, and how much is you simply updating pages and posting new content.
- When you are backpacking for only a few months or so, don’t run a blog, have no interest in movies, and your phone is your camera
Leave the laptop at home, especially if you are only travelling for a few months. Laptops are big, bulky and expensive, and they usually contain an awful lot of personal information and private data. The repercussions of it being lost, stolen or broken are simply too big.
For a basic backpacking trip I would take an old smartphone. They don’t take up any space or weight in your bag, you can take pictures on them, and you have access to the internet. They’re also ideal for places like New Zealand, Australia and America where you feel safe and less like a tourist, and want to use your phone as a map.
Treat your phone the same way that you would a camera. Cameras are usually stored in protective cases and locked away in hostel lockers. Phones, however, are chucked around and stored under pillows for the morning alarm, and we don’t always take care to back up our photos because we take them so flippantly. Consequently, I’ve met more people who have lost their phones than their compact cameras. One incident was in a hostel in Peru where someone walked in and stole at least three iPhones from under different girls’ pillows when they were sleeping.
Unless you will be due an upgrade by the time you return, don’t take your new phone with you. If you do, make sure that it’s insured.
- When you want to back your photos up without wifi, have a digital camera, and/or are backpacking for 8 months to a year, OR if you have a blog
A tablet is the way to go. I bought a second hand 32gb Nexus Tablet from Gumtree for around 100GBP, and it was perfect: I backed my photos on it, I used it to watch movies when stuck on long bus journeys across South America, I easily managed my blog via the WordPress app, and it was super easy to stay in touch with my family. I also liked that I wasn’t glued to it when I went out and about.
Moreover, when someone stood on my bag in the middle of LA and broke it, it was cheaper to replace than most phones, and I didn’t have my whole life on it so I wasn’t as gutted.
The only drawbacks of a tablet are: you will need a minimum of 16gb storage or a separate micro SD card; some devices require you to have a brand-specific SD card reader for transferring photos; and they’re also not as useful when backpacking round New Zealand and Australia because you’re more likely to want to use a smartphone for making calls and using Google Maps.
If you’re a blogger, a tablet is a must. I found it easier to draft quality posts from a tablet than from a phone. I also use a separate camera for my images and needed a quick/easy way to transfer them from my SD card without relying on public computers. However, if you’re into website development and coding, you will need to look at getting a notebook.
- If you’re planning on moving and living in another country for a year and you don’t plan on backpacking in the traditional sense.
A laptop is definitely worth taking as long as it’s not too big and bulky. So much of modern life in online nowadays, and it can quickly become frustrating having to sort everything out from an android or tablet. I ended up buying a small, lightweight and affordable Toshiba Satellite laptop in Australia – it packed away very nicely when I backpacked through Indonesia for a month.
Definitely take your phone, though if it’s locked you may want to get it unlocked so that you can buy a foreign SIM card.
If you have both a phone and a laptop, don’t bother with a tablet. However, if you don’t want to take a laptop, a tablet is obviously going to be a pretty good compromise for the reasons mentioned above.