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Summary:

Going on vacation used to be such a quaint exercise. You took your camera (plus batteries and rolls of film) and, if you wanted much more than that, you took a notebook to jot down your thoughts. If you had a bit more money, you might […]

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Going on vacation used to be such a quaint exercise. You took your camera (plus batteries and rolls of film) and, if you wanted much more than that, you took a notebook to jot down your thoughts. If you had a bit more money, you might have dragged a camcorder with you (do you remember how big those things used to be?) plus the spare tapes, batteries and back-brace for when you wanted to shoot without a tripod.

(If you don’t get the joke, and really, you won’t unless you’re over 30, you have to appreciate that those things used to weigh a lot.)

Today, going on vacation is much the same. There’s still a healthy checklist of media essentials, but they’ve changed in form and function quite considerably.

So, I went to Scotland last weekend, and, like any good geek, I spared little thought for appropriate clothes and footwear, but instead filled my case with only the most crucial gadgets. Here’s the rundown.

Hardware

  • Canon EOS 450D
  • Assorted lenses for the Canon
  • Tripod
  • Sony Handycam HDR-TG1
  • MacBook Pro
  • Airport Express
  • iPhone 3G

Storage

  • Memory Stick Pro Duo Mk II
  • SDHC

Miscellaneous

  • Card adaptors (x2)
  • USB cable
  • HDMI-USB cable
  • Ethernet cable
  • Battery packs (x3)
  • Chargers (x4)
  • Multi-adaptor

I could have traveled a bit lighter had I taken my MacBook Air instead of the Pro, but the Handycam records in 1080i HD, and the first-generation Air just can’t handle HD video without slowing to a terrible crawl.

Also, the Canon DSLR spits out gorgeous, RAW-format photos in glorious 10-megapixel resolution, and that demands the power of a machine at least as competent as the MacBook Pro. Choosing the MacBook Pro certainly added weight to the journey (significantly so, when compared with the Air’s feather-light 3 pounds) but you just can’t argue with the gain in graphics performance.

At the End of the Day…

Each day in Edinburgh yielded hundreds of photos and dozens of videos. In the evenings I dumped the data from the camera storage cards to the MacBook Pro hard drive — a convenient and fast “backup” solution which allowed me to keep the used-space on the cards as low as possible. In addition, I used iPhoto and iMovie to import the day’s captures, making them easily available to the entire iLife and iWork suites.

Sadly, the hotel offered a horrible pay-per-hour broadband service with a customer portal so convoluted it rendered my Airport Express utterly useless. I was looking forward to creating a small private wireless network the MacBook and iPhone could enjoy; instead, I was permanently tethered to the wall.

So, why couldn’t all this media management wait until I got home? I suppose it could have, but I wanted to enjoy the immediacy of getting back to the hotel room and, after a few minutes of importing-and-sorting, email my photos to friends and family. I also had an opportunity to test the ecosystem of iPhone, MacBook Pro plus cameras to see how well they worked together.

More than anything, it was an opportunity to test my Apple gear on the road, to see how well Leopard and iLife did in the field. It should come as no surprise then, when I say they performed admirably. What can I say that hasn’t been said already? iLife rocks. iPhoto and iMovie make media asset management simple and sexy. I didn’t just look forward to reviewing my photos at the end of each day — I looked forward to using iPhoto to do it!

Simply Heaven

There were some (small) drawbacks. The MacBook Pro sports only two USB ports, which is usually fine when I’m at my home office or in a Starbucks somewhere. In a hotel room, where I’m connecting cameras and iPhones (both for syncing and for charging) those two ports feel suddenly meager. Maybe that’s my own fault for not bringing a hub, but looking at the PC laptops out there, many of which feature four or more USB ports as standard, I found myself wishing Apple hadn’t been quite so minimal in their designs.

After being spoiled by the exceptional battery life of the Air, it’s a real shock to the system to get “only” two hours out of the MacBook Pro. Sure, disabling the discreet graphics card helps, as does turning off the Bluetooth radio. And let’s not forget that two hours is still an hour and a half more than most other laptops can hope to offer!

But the thing that was missing — most obviously missing — was the place of my iPhone in all of this. I took no photos on the iPhone because the built-in camera is a joke. I recorded no video because I don’t want to jailbreak my phone.

The combination of MacBook Pro, Mac OS X and iLife ’09 was symbiotic heaven. Everything worked perfectly together, and I never once had any issues with drivers, required updates, missing codecs or any of the myriad issues that so often plague other systems. I just really wanted my iPhone to be a part of that beautiful symphony. Instead, it just sort of sat there, desperately seeking a decent signal (usually missing in Edinburgh, it seemed to me).

The bottom line — and this is coming from someone who has been traveling far and wide for many years, usually with non-Apple solutions — is that the MacBook is a far better device for road-warriors than I imagined. IBM ThinkPads, Acer TravelMates and other traveler-friendly laptops are crammed full of software and gimmicks that make them apparently near-indispensable for those who find themselves traveling between hotels most of the time. PC manufacturers spend much time tweaking their laptops to be “ultimate” tools for road-warriors, but this usually means skimping on performance in favor of energy efficiency and battery life. (And in those cases, six, ten or fifty USB ports are worthless when the machine is so hopelessly underpowered it could barely cope with one attached device!)

Until now, I never had much confidence (or patience) in the other laptops I’ve owned to want to use them in the field…well, nothing beyond simple document creation or email correspondence. But I never once doubted that the MacBook would be a true workhorse — reliable and consistent.

As though the point needed hammering-home, a friend of mine also spent the weekend away, taking his Acer TravelMate with him. While he was away, connected to his hotel’s Wi-Fi, Windows Update pushed some patches to both his network adapter and his email client (in this case, Windows Live Mail). After a restart, his network adapter failed to initialize. One painfully slow driver-rollback later, he got back online, but his email client wouldn’t load — not until he had completely removed Windows Live Mail and installed a fresh copy of Windows Live Essentials (because “Essentials” is precisely the right word to communicate “Email and Photos” to everyone, right?)

This means he never got the photos I emailed him while I was in Scotland. He had to wait until he got home and could solve his software problem. And because MSN Mobile wouldn’t recognize his live.com email address, he couldn’t use his phone to stay in touch, either. Ouch.

I’m off on vacation again soon — a week in Turkey this time — and boy, am I glad I’m taking a MacBook with me. If you haven’t made your MacBook a standard part of your vacation packing-list, I heartily recommend it. You’ll wonder why you never did before.

  1. I truly enjoyed your article on traveling with a Mac. I travel quite a bit with my MB-pro and find it indispensable. I have used a lot of so called “road-warrior” pc’s and none have compared to my Mac.

    The web address below points to a specific blog on our website my partner wrote about his trip to Cancun and the experience he had using solely his iPhone and a few special applications was able to enrich his trip overall. I hope you are able to read it and hopefully include it on future posts.

    http://www.moliapps.com/?p=74

    Robert

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  2. This sounds awfully like me when I travel! A couple other considerations for you:

    – According to a post on macosxhints last week, you can use the USB port on the Airport Express to charge iPods/iPhones, essentially giving you another USB port to charge from.

    – If you could double your battery life with little additional weight and about $100, would you? I carry a second battery with me — when I’m at work conferences, I use a slim InCase bag, and a battery fits snugly in one of the handle pouches on the side, no need for carrying a power adapter or much of anything else!

    And finally, without an unlocked iPhone, it can be frustrating traveling overseas with an AT&T plan, since data and voice are both expensive. I’m looking forward to using Skype on iPhone when overseas and in a wifi area — it works great!

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  3. &#*@. If you’d said you were in Edinburgh I could’ve dropped by and bought you a pint.

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  4. incidentally, the big Apple icon you have up there is entirely England. No Scotland present at all

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  5. If you want to get the iPhone into the mix and use iPhoto 09 you could do what I have been doing, which is to take a couple a iPhone pics at each site just for the GPS info in the photo. You can then paste the location info to your decent photos.

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  6. Edinburgh has a ton of pubs and cafes offering free wi-fi, true it’s not as convenient as the hotel, but free is free. It’s a great town, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    I’m going on a trip to California next week and plan to take a similar array of gear with me – a MacBook, iPhone, DualScreen, 350D, 17-85mm lens, 50mm lens, gorillapod, TomTom. Chargers are the biggest hassle of all. At least Apple offers a consistent experience with it’s interchangeable regional adapters and USB power, but other chargers are fixed UK 3-prong (DS) and require dedicated convertors.

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  7. What?!? When was the last time you saw a Windows laptop, 1997? Please. Not only is 2h on the low end for laptops, but since most laptops could outperform the battery life of yours, they wouldn’t be as underpowered as you seem to think, not needing to scale back for battery life as much. Not to mention that all your friend needed to do was *not* have Windows Update set to automatic, something that anyone who knows what is good for their computer ought to do anyway (I admit the whole Windows Update thing is stupid, yes). Windows Live Mail is just Hotmail – available “in the cloud” – to begin with! No software or client was ever necessary!

    I’m not denying any media capabilities of the Apple products you have, as your setup seems to have worked admirably – but the comparisons you make to PCs, in an effort to disparage them, are out-of-this-world preposterous. Anyone who’s used a MODERN non-Apple laptop for a day could figure that out.

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  8. @ #7 My last windows laptop i purchased in 2006 it was an acer aspire 5100 series, i regularly got no-more than an hour of battery life from it, and in the first year the motherboard and the hard drive failed, not to mention the numerous amounts of software problems i had with windows, and devices not working with windows. Since i bought my MacBook last year, i regularly get at least 4 hours of battery life from it, and I’ve never had a problem with it, or any devices that I’ve plugged into it. And ive never found a free comparable suite to iLife in my whole 15 years experience of windows that works as good. if i travelled much i would definitely take my macbook with me, primarily for the reasons the blogger has shown in his post.

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  9. [...] Apple on the Road: A Traveler’s Tale.   Feed for this Entry Trackback Address [...]

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  10. Please update us with your trip to Turkey. I’m most interested in your thoughts and experiences on traveling with so much gadgetry that protecting it from theft becomes a major part of your decision making when traveling. ( such as not being parted from your luggage, hotels, transportation, and otherwise general access to the internet and wireless via iphone)

    I’m planning a RTW trip, and I’m a heavily considering the weight, and the additional stress and expense of having to protect my gadgets.

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