Like any traveler heading out on a trip, your laptop needs to be packed with the essentials most likely to come in handy on the road. While it’s true good anti-virus software (I’m looking at you Windows users) and applying updates are essential whether you’re traveling or not – there are some applications that are the digital equivalent of a travel toothbrush.
Many of these programs can probably be downloaded at your destination, except by then it might be too late for them to actually be useful. Load up these applications so your laptop is ready against unscrupulous governments, worried mothers, and premature hard drive death.
Keeping Mom Happy: Skype
Family members, in general, like to hear what you’re up to from time to time, be reassured that you haven’t been eaten by an alligator, and see what your riad in Marrakesh is like. One of the most versatile, useful, and often taken-for-granted applications – Skype – can help you do all of that…and securely to boot.
- Video And Voice – While it’s probably old news to many of you, Skype’s main feature is unlimited video-conferencing with other members. Now that’s it’s integrated with Facebook (for Windows users) that basically means everyone. Skype also lets you send large files (like your pictures from Mumbai), automatically encrypting them in the process.
Those are Skype’s free features but for a few more bucks you can call landlines, do group video calls, and get access to thousands of wi-fi hotspots worldwide.
Buy eBooks, Beat The Censors, And Watch Hulu: Hotspot Shield
There are plenty of ways to get around local Internet censorship when traveling abroad yet the most straightforward method is to use Hotspot Shield (original post). Though it’s ad-heavy, featuring some annoying pop-ups with video that runs automatically, Hotspot Shield is the simplest free proxy available. Hotspot Shield makes your computer seem like it’s in the United States, letting you get access to sites that are blocked by region.
- Buy eBooks Anywhere – If you’ve got an Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, you’ll find buying ebooks when you’re traveling (outside the US) will either be impossible or just more expensive. Fire up Hotspot Shield to access both Amazon and B&N’s US ebook stores for guaranteed access and lower prices from around the globe.
Purchasing ebooks and getting around annoying censorship are worthy proxy-causes but let’s get down to entertainment. Sites like Hulu, Netflix, and others that stream your favorite TV shows are almost always restricted – good thing Hotspot Shield works for them too.
Maintaining Your Privacy From The TSA, China, And Thieves: Truecrypt
Encryption is an important step to digitally protecting the information on your laptop but in many countries around the world (United States included) you can legally be forced to give up your passwords. That fact negates even the strongest digital codes – your best bet is to hide the fact that you’re encrypting in the first place.
- Truecrypt Hidden Folders – Encrypt your files and folders without making it obvious you’ve done so. On top of that you’ll have a password to give (if forced to do so) that will decrypt files you set as non-sensitive.
Truecrypt works equally well against anyone who would be willing to search your digital property without just cause or a thief who wants to steal your identity. Of course not everyone agrees that this type of protection should be common knowledge; just remember that privacy isn’t about hiding a wrong.
Don’t Be Sad When Your Hard Drive Goes Bad: S.M.A.R.T. Monitoring
Hard drives are designed to last 3-5 years but bouncing their way around the world in your backpack can significantly shorten that lifespan. Hard drives built within the last 3 years likely have Smart Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) that can tell you if things aren’t looking good. Be warned of impeding hard drive failures with these programs and have a backup just in case (my personal favorite is Crashplan).
Your Bread And Butter
There is much, much more technology you can load up on your laptop to keep in touch with home, lock down your laptop, and backup your critical files. These programs are the foundation for your laptop to pack around so you can avoid digital equivalent of not packing enough socks. As these things go, you’ll only really miss them when you need them most.
[photos by: hensever (man working on laptop at airport), nrrjr (mom tattoo), evansent (shhh), maxcady808 (private sign), Axel Buhrmann (Brain the mouse)]
really loving the 3G version of the Kindle, i downloaded a book in UAE with no problems, really allows remote downloads and internet browsing. I’m currently testing out south east asia on a shoe string on it and the size is incredible, the battery is also very long lasting. really pleased with its performance for travelling.
Great to hear, eReaders have quickly become one of my favorite gadgets. Any price differences between the UK and UAE/SE Asia Kindle stores?
I wish I’d read this last week! We just got a Kindle and we registered it to a friend’s US address to take advantage of the cheaper, bigger store but because we are in Colombia we got blocked after buying/sampling about 10 books. I’ve emailed them to explain our permanent traveller/ lack of address situation but I’m not sure what will happen.
The annoying thing about having to use the Latin America Kindle store is that guidebooks for this area aren’t available!
Hi Erin, they block the store primarily due to publishing laws but would be interested to hear if they make an exception in your case (definitely let us know!) Otherwise proxy your way to the US store 😉
No, they didn’t make an exception! If I was a US citizen it would be OK though because they say I can send a copy of my passport or driving licence to prove I’m a citizen.
The proxy didn’t work -maybe because they already know I’m in Colombia? Maybe I should try changing my country, wait a while and then change it back to the US again with a proxy?
Strange – I’d recommend firing up Hotspot Shield, then opening another browser you don’t use (e.g. Internet Explorer if you usually use Firefox) and then give it a shot. Also, from time to time websites figure out Hotspot Shield and it’s a few hours later before the proxy makes the changes to be hidden again.
Let me know if that doesn’t work, there are still a few options 🙂
I tried it in Chrome but it still didn’t work. I am wondering whether I should change my Kindle registered address to Colombia and after a while try changing it back to the US again and use a proxy?
That could very well be it – worth a shot for sure. I wonder if that’s the issue; since you’re Amazon account/Kindle’s not registered in the US.
I have now registered my Kindle to my UK address and I have access to the US store again (for now anyway) with the option of migrating my Kindle to the UK store if I want to. It’s all a bit confusing!
Thanks for your help!
Glad to hear it working and thanks very much for keeping me updated!
Wow, HotSpot Shield sounds amazing! I always run into Hulu blocks, etc when I’m abroad–I’ll be DLing that this weekend. Thanks for sharing!
It’s definitely an effective program! Here are some alternatives too I realized I didn’t include above. Not quite as easy to use but less ads:
Great stuff there, will look into that HotSpot Shield one!
A proxy, never leave home without it!
@Anil, I always use the UK Store, the prices are very competitive. it allows me to get my daily newspaper in english in Finland every day, UK store can buy any were with Whispsync. Maybe just the US store has borders, thats a shame.
They both have the digital borders based on the publishers which can vary by ebook as well as country. I wonder if there’s an EU thing going on as well…
I once tried a free proxy software that allowed me to access content from other regions but it made my internet connection extremely slow. Does that happen with Hotspot Shield too?
It depends on how many people are using it at a given time but it will slow down your connection (since it’s being rerouted). How much varies and paid proxies are almost always faster than the free ones – but all are slower than direct connections to the Internet.
I also started using DropBox a few days ago and love it for sending files (like photos) that are too large to email. My mother always wants to print photos and a low res version won’t do.
I love the shared folder feature of Dropbox 🙂
Like a few of the other commenters, I’ll definitely be checking out HotSpot Shield. I’d never even heard of that before. Very useful!
Will definitely come in handy when you hit the road 🙂
Awesome and super helpful post!!!
Thanks very much Andi 🙂
Anil: Thanks to you, I averted what could have been a disaster. From a previous post of yours, I learned about S.M.A.R.T. monitoring. I downloaded and installed the program. Five MONTHS ago I bought a new Macbook Pro and promptly left for a few months in Asia. Four and a half months later I booted up one evening and the S.M.A.R.T. hard drive icon was red rather than the expected green and I got the dreaded message that my hard drive was in danger of imminent failure. Fortunately, I was able to back up everything before it crashed and was able to restore to a new drive overnight. The hard drive exhibited absolutely no symptoms of failure and without the S.M.A.R.T. prgram I would have been clueless. Thank you so much!
Hi Barbara, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me – not the crash – but that I could help you avoid the digital disaster. So glad you didn’t lose any data!
Many people assume hard drive crashes only happen to older drives but it can happen anytime – with the first year being a critical period 😉
I’m always on the lookout for ways to keep my computer information safe. We use dropbox for a lot of our stuff, but I’ll definitely be looking into Truecrypt and Crashplan. Thanks, Anil!
First of all, thank you, Anil, for making useful suggestions once again!
Now I would like to share what I noticed about Hotspot Shield. I see that many are quite happy about it, and I used it as I bought a Nook and try to use B&N while living outside of the US (as you, Anil, have many times noted – you basically need a program of that sort if you use a Kindle or a Nook in other countries than the US).
BUT, please pay attention to the fact that the “free” Hotspot Shield comes with “strings attached”(almost literally):
1. The program shares some of your information with the third parties and allows them to advertise directly to you. Indeed, my antivirus program ESET has regular conflict with it and classifies its actions as “spyware” (which is not a complete “false positive” as Hotspot truly allows advertisers or whomever else to track you).
2. It takes at least some control over your browser even if you are using it with Hotspot switched off. It started using ask.com for search and redirection although I never intended that to be so.
3. Anyone tried to uninstall it? 🙂 It doesn’t go away easy, bits and pieces of the adware were still left over on my PC after proprietary un-installation. There are many reports of this issue on the net. I think I finally managed to completely erase it from my computer with help of a specialized program called “Final Uninstaller”.
All in all, this program behaves like an ad-/spy-ware so I decided to look for alternatives. Apart from what already was mentioned by Anil, I am looking at the lists of similar programs at:
It might take some time to test and find a good alternative, but I am sure it’s doable and worth it.
You bring up some good issues; Hotspot Shield’s ease of use certainly comes with some annoyances in using it. That said, I would mention that any proxy, along with TOR and other similar applications, do not guarantee you privacy but rather anonymity. (Certainly only use any proxy only as needed.)
As for the browser redirects I hadn’t noticed that before, curious which browser and OS?
The nice thing is there are plenty of free alternatives – just not quite as easy to use. Please do share one you find and like, I’d be interested to check it out as well 🙂
I am using Win XP and Firefox and had the issue of the URL hi-jacking. To see if that is only me or other users had similar problems I googled a search “hotspot shield ask.com” just a minute ago and the first result is http://www.sciencetext.com/ditch-hotspot-shield.html
It seems more people noticed this issue, although it might be very dependent on your system configuration. Anyway, that is only one of the signs that Hotspot Shield is (able to be) acting nasty with your data and your PC. For what I understand, the minimum it does wrong, it opens up security gaps on your computer without you being aware of it.
I agree, that’s the tradeoff: ease-of-use vs. any reasonable security of your data and software. Still, i believe there should be a better suited simple program for our humble purpose of connecting to US B&N and Amazon from abroad. (Really hate those superficial bloody geographic limitations – especially with B&N not allowing to buy books from outside the US… Why B&N, why? Amazon seems to solve at least part of this problem).
Anyway, I intend to test a few alternatives when I have time in the near future, and will let everyone know unless someone can suggest an ultimate choice for this purpose.
Thanks MK, I look forward to it. Here are a few other options as well:
…as a fellow Nook user I agree that B&N is way behind on regional limits!
Very useful, thanks for sharing!
My pleasure 🙂
As usual Anil your tech advice is always valuable. I simply love Skype and needed a tool to keep my files private. Thanks again!
You’re welcome; Skype is probably the most useful free app for travelers.