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Traveling Sans Laptop in the Third World

By Schofield in Internet
Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 01:38:03 PM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

I'm planning a year-long (at least) trip through Russia, China, and Southeast Asia, and I'm trying to figure out if I can leave my laptop at home. I'll be backpacking around the world (riding buses, crowded trains, and hitching), so the less weight I have to carry and protect, the better. The third world has numerous cyber-cafes that give Internet access, so I should be able to find an IBM-compatible PC with some version of the Windows 9X operating system just about anywhere. What's the most I can do without my own actual computer?

Some things are simple - e-mail shouldn't be a problem no matter where I am. My hosting provider gives me a web-based interface to my mailbox, and there's always Hotmail or Yahoo.

I'd like to edit my travel website as well. I know I can use blogger to keep a blog, and even to edit specific HTML pages - but I don't think it's designed to edit pages across an entire site. Are there any online products that are? I prefer to hand-code my HTML, but am willing to use a WYSIWIG tool if necessary. (I don't have shell access on my web host or that would make this whole thing easier.)

I'll have a digital camera with me, and there's a floppy-disk-based method for reading the camera's memory cards (you put the memory card in a fake 3.5" floppy, and insert it in the drive. Once it's on the local computer, it would be easy to e-mail it somewhere. Are there better ways you can think of to transfer digital photos to any PC with no additional hardware or software requirements other than what I can carry with me?

I'd also like to be able to crop and resize photographs. (Fancy photoshopping not required.) Once they're cropped and sized, I'd like to be able to FTP them into my website.

In terms of finding a place to store files and data, there are a number of storage solutions out there, from Xdrive to others. This shouldn't be a problem.

I'm thinking of getting a palm or handspring with a folding keyboard, and then using that for typing e-mails and stories on the road. I'm not sure how I'd get the stories from the handheld onto the computer - any ideas? Also not sure how I would back things up, except to e-mail stories out. Could I back up address book data, for instance? What would you take?

The advantage of doing all this digitally (other than the obvious fact that I'm a geek) is to save records of my trip (I've had rolls of film lost being mailed back home, and notebooks ruined by water damage.) and to keep me in touch with my friends and family while I'm away.

So, is this possible? Or will I have to cary a heavy, expensive, and theft-prone computer 2/3 of the way around the world?


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Traveling Sans Laptop in the Third World | 23 comments (19 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
I think you overstimate availability of cybercafes (3.75 / 4) (#2)
by Tezcatlipoca on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 05:43:54 AM EST

Although you are going to find cybercafes in big towns in Southeast Asia, you will find none in small towns. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, no problem. 10 km out of town centre, good luck.

You also have to keep into account that you will find localized versions of software when you are lucky in small towns. Since this places are for local people, you could have problems using the software. It will be a real pain in the ass to use software in Chinese, Russian, Thai or Vietnamese. I tried Thai and Vietnamse and although the keyboard had both alphabets it was still a real pain, damn, I even tried French (Vietnam) and it still was difficult.

I understand your concern about travelling light and atracting thieves, but you can get a 2nd hand laptop (ie cheap) that would be painful, but not fsckng painful, to loose, in which eventuality you can get another one in Southeast Asia (2nd hand) without any problem (big towns again).

No idea about China and Russia though, but I would tend to believe the situation is similar there.

"They only think of me as a Mexican,
an Indian or a Mafia don"
Mexican born actor Anthony Quinn on
Disagree (3.66 / 3) (#4)
by Scrymarch on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 06:16:31 AM EST

I found internet cafe access easier to get in SE Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and Laos) than Germany. It helps if it's a city or tourist centre but it doesn't have to be. Saw counterstrike posters up around the place in Thailand too - eg in Khorat, not exactly tourist central.

You'll often see locals in Internet cafes, as it can be cheaper for them to email than telephone home. Sat next to a couple of novice monks in Luang Prabang; makes me wonder about the liberating effect of technology in a one-party state (Lao PDR).

[ Parent ]

Travelling Sans Lapton (none / 0) (#22)
by willettm on Tue Aug 14, 2001 at 08:16:42 AM EST

I have a friend who's travelling round the world updating his web page as he goes. (I think you can contact him on the web site www.yearaway.com) You can ask him how's he doing at finding internet cafes.

[ Parent ]
leave it all (4.66 / 6) (#3)
by mmcc on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 05:54:59 AM EST

i don't think you're really going to miss much by leaving your laptop behind. You'll appreciate every bit lighter your bags are when you're wandering around some far remote village trying to find a place to sleep at 4am in the morning. Besides, laptops aren' t too much more resistant to water than (paper?) notebooks.

You can sometimes find internet cafes that will scan photos for you, but the price may be steep. If you're going to send photos via email, you may have to make them pretty small. Some internet cafes in parts of China only use a single 56k modem for several users at once.

Why don't you leave all the toys behind, and just hit the road with a diary, a cheap camera and your passport? it's a good way to clear your mind of modern life for a while and have a real holiday.

Zope (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by moshez on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 07:33:46 AM EST

Allows you to easily put up a site and have all your content editable through-the-web. You will need to find some Zope provider, though.

[T]he k5 troll HOWTO has been updated ... This update is dedicated to moshez, and other bitter anti-trolls.
Leave it! (4.00 / 4) (#7)
by TheophileEscargot on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 07:43:26 AM EST

Keeping a laptop with you could easily wreck the whole trip! It's often very hard to keep valuable stuff secure in a cheap hotel or guesthouse... remember this could be worth a decades income to some of the workers. Would you leave a $200 000 item in the care of a hostel in the US?

My advice is to keep your total valubles small enough that you can keep them on you at all times. The stress of having to look after a laptop will be a BIG nuisance. Not to mention that with the heat, the humidity and the bone-shaking transport, its going to be a problem keeping the thing working.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death
Get a really small laptop (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by delmoi on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 09:09:40 AM EST

You might want to look into getting something like a Vaio picturebook, or even one of the really old Toshiba Librettos. They only weigh a pound or so, and don't take up much space
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
Go "old school" (4.66 / 3) (#9)
by sneakcjj on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 09:24:21 AM EST

I would just bring or buy a paper notebook and a regular film camera. Film is easy to come by in most areas (at least more available than a cyber cafe).

When I was in Europe (different from Russia and China, but closer comparison than the US), I tried to use a few cyber cafes. While it was easy to use since they all ran Windows, the keyboards were a real PAIN IN THE ASS. You might call me "uncultured" but I'm not fluent in any language other than english and even that is debateable :p. The keyboard configuration was different and took awhile to understand. I'd imagine Russia and China will be MUCH more different.

There is always the risk of taking a bad picture, but that is why you can take two or three of something you REALLY want to remember. And if you lose it no big deal. Certainly cheaper and much easier to replace than a digital camera while you are there.

OT: chinese keyboard layout (4.00 / 1) (#18)
by mmcc on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 03:23:35 AM EST

Actually, it is standard qwerty... you type in the pronounciation of the Chinese character you want, then choose the correct one. There's another key to toggle between English and Chinese mode.

Dunno about the Russian layout though...

[ Parent ]

FlashPath? (4.00 / 3) (#10)
by hoops on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 10:08:17 AM EST

I'll have a digital camera with me, and there's a floppy-disk-based method for reading the camera's memory cards (you put the memory card in a fake 3.5" floppy, and insert it in the drive

If this is a FlashPath device be aware that it does require a driver on the PC in order to work. Someplaces may not like the idea of you installing software on their machines. You could be some kind of "evil hacker!" If the device you are describing is not a FlashPath, then I am talking out of my nether regions again, and you can quite happily ignore me.

If I were a koala bear, the first thing I would do is urinate all over you and bite you in the scrotum. - bri4n

SSH and Puppy Dogs (2.66 / 3) (#12)
by MicroBerto on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 01:01:59 PM EST

Sounds like you got it all together, keep that paperweight at home and enjoy the trip!

As far as your web page goes, are you able to SSH into your server and just pico the html?


- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip

You are Blessed - Unplug! (5.00 / 3) (#13)
by jabber on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 01:50:20 PM EST

Yes, it will take you completely out of your regular routine, but sometimes that is exactly the best thing to do. You are in a very fortunate situation, to be able to travel for a year, and see a large portion of the world.

Unplug completely. Don't just leave the laptop and digicam, leave it all. Go ferral, and enjoy your travel. Do not get tied down with the technological leashes. You can check your email on the road, but do so rarely. You will get much more out of the experience if you do not have with you technologies compelling you to record and journal the trip.

Enjoy it. Let it wash over you. Absorb it all, and store it inside. Then, after you get back, tell us all about it.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Stick PuTTY ssh on a website somewhere (3.50 / 2) (#14)
by hupp on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 01:52:32 PM EST

The windows ssh client PuTTY is great for securely acessing your machine from wherever you go. Just stick it on a website somewhere, and then run it straight from the url. It's tiny and nice to use.



Echoing other sentiments.... (5.00 / 3) (#16)
by Elkor on Thu Aug 09, 2001 at 05:01:53 PM EST

I agree with a lot of other people here.

Leave it all behind.

I would say the camera is optional as well.

If you bring this stuff along, you will: o) Spend most of your time thinking "Wow! Let me get a picture of this!" instead of admiring it.

o) spend most of your evenings in the hostel uploading and editing the pictures instead of enjoying the night life and socializing with the people you meet.

o) be looking for a cyber cafe instead of admiring the architecture and history you pass by.

o) Take your life with you, not leave it behind. A vacation should be an escape, not an extension.

When it is all said and done, you won't look at the pictures. I've been to "lots" of places in europe and have hundred of pictures. A few pictures are good, to "prove" you were there, and show your friends when you get back. Then you will have the time to tell them about the picture. I can't tell you the last time I looked at them, or even where they are now.

But, I remember being in London, Rome, the Swiss Alps and the Black Forest. I remember the people I met, the things I did.

I also remember the things I missed because I was busy planning my next step or worried about making the next exhibit in time. The time spent trying to find the "perfect shot" to capture the essence of a place that can't be captured on film.

I'll let you guess which way I would do it over again, and how I do it from now on.


"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
Not quite as rosy as it may sound... (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Riktov on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 05:41:01 AM EST

My initial reaction is along the same lines as yours -- go minimal, and all that... but on the other hand...

>>If you bring this stuff along, you will:
>>o) Take your life with you, not leave it
>>behind. A vacation should be an escape, not an

Backpacking for a year is not a vacation or escape. For a year, it will be his full-time job to travel (and we suspect, write about it for future publication). If he uses his laptop to write and his digital camera to take photos regularly in his non-traveling life, why should he chuck it, if he can handle the extra weight?

>> o) be looking for a cyber cafe instead of
>> admiring the architecture and history you
>> pass by.
Well, if I were ever again stuck for 2-3 days in some sh_thole town like Vinh (Vietnam) or Manaus (Brazil), waiting for the next bus/boat out, I'd gladly waste my whole day websurfing! It ain't all cathedrals and canals out there.

[ Parent ]
Ture, but..... (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by Elkor on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 08:50:02 AM EST

>Well, if I were ever again stuck for 2-3 days in

> some sh_thole town like Vinh (Vietnam) or
> Manaus (Brazil), waiting for the next bus/boat
> out, I'd gladly waste my whole day websurfing!
> It ain't all cathedrals and canals out there.

Even utter, unreleived boredom has a purpose.
Read a book. Go stare at a puddle of water for hours. Talk to locals. Watch some farmers.

I'm not trying to say that being bored is fun, mind you, but it contrasts with the interesting things to make them more interesting.

But them, I could just be wired wierd. :)


"I won't tell you how to love God if you don't tell me how to love myself."
-Margo Eve
[ Parent ]
Third world? (4.00 / 1) (#17)
by fluffy grue on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 01:06:56 AM EST

Since when are Russia, China or Southeast Asia (as a whole) third-world? Sure, they're certainly not first-world, but third? Yeesh. If it were truly third-world, you wouldn't even be able to consider plugging in your own computer, much less going to a net cafe. :)

I don't know about mainland China, but Hong Kong has free Internet access pretty much everywhere (even fast food restaurants usually have a row of Internet terminals), though most of those places actually have admins who are competent enough to not allow you to randomly run stuff on them. As far as mainland China and Southeast Asia goes, it depends heavily on which cities you go to... Beijing, Bangkok, etc. will typically have Internet cafes within access, but in Tibet or Outer Mongolia you'll have a much harder time. :)

Same deal with Russia... I can't speak from direct experience, but I'm sure that Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major, modern cities will have some form of Internet cafe within reach.

Really, it's the same as in the "civilized" first world. Dense cities are likely to have many Internet cafes, less dense aren't.

FWIW, I would bring a Palm Pilot, a portable keyboard, a sync cable, and plenty of batteries. That way you can type in entries when you're in the middle of uncivilized bliss. (And if you bring a cellular modem, you'll still be able to edit things live in some of those anyway; Lamma and Lantau, rural islands near Hong Kong, still have pervasive cellphone service even in the remote middle-of-nowhere parts. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Second-world (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by J'raxis on Fri Aug 10, 2001 at 08:26:04 AM EST

The correct term would be second-world, or former second-world, for most of these countries.

-World designations are Cold War terminology. "First-world" were the capitalist nations, "second" were the Communist nations, and "third" were the undeveloped nations. It should also be obvious which group came up with these designations.

-- The Raxis

[ J’raxis·Com | Liberty in your lifetime ]
[ Parent ]

Most of what you bring, you will get rid of.. (none / 0) (#23)
by drala on Sat Aug 18, 2001 at 12:28:50 AM EST

Believe me. I lived in SE Asia for six years (1994-2000) and never (except on long airplane rides) did I really wish I had a computer. Really, most of the current notebook computers (other then the Panasonic Toughbooks) can't take the torture anyway. High humidity, sand, dust, inconsistent power are not the allies of a portable computer. IMHO, you will be happier with less to carry around. The less I carried the more interesting the destination I allowed myself to find. Good luck and tell us how much fun your having in some bizarre internet cafe in an unlikely location. --joe

Traveling Sans Laptop in the Third World | 23 comments (19 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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