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After a few days or weeks of traveling it can be relaxing to take a day off and pop open your laptop lid – except when you find it’s sluggish, screaming incomprehensible warnings, and in a general state of crankiness. Traveling can be rough on a laptop, especially since we tend to neglect their needs until our bouncing backpacks finally come to a halt.

smashed laptop

You can avoid a bad case of travel laptop by getting your computing companion prepared for the road and giving it a bit of tender care along the way.

windows updateUpdate Before You Leave Home

Most people, whether traveling or not, tend to put off software updates as long as they can; a big cause of computer sluggishness. You can get away with it for a while, that is, until all of your programs are begging for their latest versions in unison, leaving you with a frustratingly slow machine.

  • Focus On The Operating System – Make sure to install the most critical updates at a minimum. Both Windows and Mac OS X are good about differentiating between important and optional updates.
  • Update Domino – Often when there is an update to an operating system like Windows, other software developers issue updates to keep up. (You may have noticed with updates, when it rains it pours.) It’s best to keep everything on the same page for optimal performance.
  • A Few Days Before Departure – There is a perception that updates are more trouble than their worth, which isn’t true most of the time. Just to be on the safe side however, install your operating system updates (here’s how on Windows and Mac) a few days before leaving home.

The first thing you should do with your laptop when returning from a trip is to run major software updates. I know you’re excited to email, Twitter, and Facebook your friends about your trip to Germany but the longer you hold off on software updates, the further they’ll accumulate to make your laptop feel like its from 1998.

man holding laptop caseGet A Second Laptop Case

Even a good padded day-pack isn’t sufficient insulation for your laptop. Between the bouncing around in your backpack and the touch of the floor each time you set it down, a traveling hard drive takes a soft but sustained beating. A laptop case that fits around your portable device inside of your backpack will prolong its life and the little bits of data in the hard drive as well.

  • Look For Specifics – Cases built for a particular laptop model tend to be more snug making them easier to pull out and put back into your travel bag.

Also, don’t forget that you’re carrying around a sensitive, albeit portable, piece of technology. Be gentle when stuffing your laptop back in your bag after a long security line, and when running through the airport to catch a flight.

Be Weary Of The Weather

Extreme heat can not only shorten battery life, it can also reduce your laptop’s longevity by causing internal parts to expand, potentially damaging them.

  • woman enduring heatDon’t Keep Your Laptop On Your Lap – Ironic I know, but your thighs don’t allow for the best airflow and transfer heat.
  • Monitor The Temperature – Try iStat for Mac or Real Temp for Windows; both free downloads.
  • Cold Can Actually Be Worse – Low temperatures make moving parts (like those inside your hard drive) much more rigid and breakable.
  • Stay Within The Recommended Range – Temperatures between 10-35 Celsius (50-95 Fahrenheit) are acceptable for most laptops.
  • Dust, Sand, And Smoke – The tiny particles of these elements can easily make it into the crevices of your laptop, accumulating over time. Dirt tends to get stuck around the vents (reducing airflow) and optical drives causing them to die well before their time. Avoid using your laptop outside in dusty environments, on beaches, or in smoky rooms.
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Ideally you want to wait to use your laptop until you’re somewhere near room temperature and you’ve given it a chance to adjust before turning it on. Don’t use your laptop in extreme temperature conditions or when the relative humidity is above 75%.

cat sleeping on laptopShutting Down And Other Travel Protections

Most newer laptops have sleep modes that let you power up your laptop quickly after opening the lid. They work by keeping memory (RAM) chips running at low power which increases heat and may require your hard drive to be accessed from time to time.

Your data is most vulnerable when your hard drive is spinning so when transporting it, shut it down or use hibernate mode (built into Windows and can be enabled on Mac).

  • Never Carry Your Laptop When It’s On – Before jumping around to a better table in a coffee shop, close your laptop lid and make sure it’s either shut down, in sleep mode, or hibernating. Remember, your data is most vulnerable to knocks and bumps when in use.
  • Turn Off Offline When OnlineGoogle Gears lets you use Web tools services like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs when you don’t have an Internet connection. It’s a great tool, except when you’re back online – Google Gears often gets confused and sync-crazy – to calm it down turn offline mode off, then back on.
  • When In Doubt Reboot – A clean slate clears up many wonky-laptop issues, even on Mac.

Perhaps the best precaution is having a good backup of your data offline somewhere physically separate from yourself. One of two free online backup options is Crashplan, a personal favorite. (Here’s how to create a free offline backup system with Crashplan.) Those of you who might need to recover quickly from a dead laptop or are working from the road should consider cloning your system. Finally, take special care to protect you digital photos and physically lock down your laptop to keep it secure while traveling.

[photos by: ismh_ (smashed laptop), lunchtimemama (Windows update), welshkaren (man holding laptop case), SashaW (woman enduring heat), notemily (cat sleeping on laptop)]

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