Thursday, July 2, 2015

Should I Travel India With a Laptop, a Tablet or a Smartphone?

Should I travel with a laptop, tablet or a smartphone?

Should I bring to India a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone? Which gadget should I bring? Is it safe to travel with my gadgets? These are some of the questions that I get often from my readers. After all, I've been traveling with my gadgets for years. I couldn't imagine my travels without them. So let me share my thoughts and some safety tips with you.

Which Device Should You Travel With

Very briefly I would say:

  • If you can choose only one device then I would suggest a smartphone.
  • If you can choose only two devices then either a smartphone and a tablet, or a smartphone and a laptop.
  • If you can choose all three devices then I would suggest you pick only two. Why bother carrying three devices? Lol.  The more things you carry, the more things you have to worry about.

Of course some people might need all three and some others might need none, but if you are reading this I guess you don't belong to that last group.

Now, let me explain a bit further.

Why Should You Travel With a Smartphone

You can use a smartphone to: take pictures and videos, listen to music, update your FB, reply/write emails, do Skype or FaceTime video calls, book tickets, read books, send WhatsApp messages, do voice recordings...

Should I continue? And it fits in your pocket!

You can also use it as a torch or currency converter.  Oh, and sometimes you can use it to make phone calls.

You can also use your smartphone as a personal hotspot. This means that you can share the internet of your smartphone (if you have a data plan) with a laptop, a tablet or with another smartphone.  Even in 2019 I still use this option all the time

This can be very handy and you don't need to get an extra USB modem for your laptop. I once asked an Indian dude in a train to share with me his internet so I could book a room. It was a great help, I didn't had time to do it before getting in the train.

You can find more details about getting a data plan on your smartphone in India in: "How to stay connected with mobile internet while traveling in India."

So a smartphone is no doubt incredible handy for traveling, you should definitely bring yours, but you'd need an unlocked smartphone to be able to use a local sim card anywhere around the world.

That means that you'd need to buy a factory unlocked smartphone or you would need to talk with your operator to unlock the phone, if it is under contract.

You can also jailbreak your device but that have too many complications. I wouldn't advice you to do so unless you are a power user.

Why Should You Travel With a Tablet

With a tablet you can do all the same things as with a smartphone, except for phone calls and WhatsApp messages, but on a more comfortable screen size.  This is specially good for reading (I explain more in detail below) and for productivity apps like MS Office or iWork.

So if you prefer a comfortable screen size for reading and you don't mind not having the phone functionality then a tablet is pretty much everything you need.

If you get a tablet with Wifi + Cellular connectivity (which you should if you'll be traveling) then you can buy a local sim card with 3G to get internet access 24 hours a day. You can also buy an external bluetooth keyboard to type more comfortably. They work pretty well.

You can also use a tablet to take pictures or shoot videos but their cameras are usually not as good as the cameras of smartphones and they are not as handy. You can't put a tablet in your pocket. I've seen many people using their tablets to take photos but it just doesn't look right.

If you want the best of both worlds, a large screen device that is also handy for pictures and phone calls, then you might need to get a phablet like the iPhone 6 plus.

Why Should You Travel With a Laptop

If you make lots of pictures and videos with your smartphone (or with a DSLR camera), eventually you'll need to free up some space from your device. The easiest way to do that is to save your files to a laptop or to an external HD, using a laptop. Using the Cloud to upload your files while traveling in India or other Asian countries can be a real challenge.

You might like to collect large files from other travelers, like music, audiobooks, documentaries, movies and TV shows. In this case you'll probably need to have an external hard drive to save all your files. The easiest way to manage your files on an external HD is with a laptop.

If you write a lot and work online (another blogger perhaps?) then you'll probably like to use a laptop. There are still many technical things that are far easier to do on a laptop than on a touch screen device. For instance you can book tickets on a touch screen device but most of the time it is easier to do so on a laptop. Not all websites are touchscreen friendly.  Even in 2019 this is still the case.

If you need to use productivity apps like Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point (or Pages, Numbers and Keynote for Mac) then a laptop is the easiest device to work on. They can also be used on a tablet but a laptop is way more comfortable, specially for Excel.

If you have an iPhone or iPad and you need to upload to your device your own audio and video files, not purchased via iTunes, then the easiest way to do so is to sync the files using your own laptop.

Reading on a Smartphone vs a Tablet vs a Laptop

Reading on a Smartphone

I've read lots of books on my iPhone using Kindle and iBooks and I've had no problem at all. I also read magazines using Zinio but it's not the best, and reading PDF files is quite frustrating.

This is where a tablet beats a smartphone. If you are planning to read lots of magazines and PDF files (perhaps as part of a study program in an ashram in India?) then I would suggest you get a tablet.

Reading on Kindle for iPhone

There are some workarounds to read PDF files on an iPhone. You could use an iPhone app called GoodReader. It's really good for managing PDF files and it has an option called "Text Reflow" which convert the text in PDF files into an easy to read format that fits the screen size of your smartphone.

Unfortunately this feature doesn't always work on PDF's with special characters like Devanagari which is used for Sanskrit or Hindi. In this case the text reflow feature will show some unreadable characters. On Android the text reflow feature is available on the Acrobat app for free. Somehow the Acrobat app for iOS doesn't have this feature.  This feature is already available since a couple of years ago

Another option is to convert the PDF's to an ePub format using a third party software (you'll need a laptop for that) and then save the new file to your smartphone. This is an option that works for many people but it's cumbersome. The best choice for reading PDF files is without a doubt a tablet.

Reading on a Laptop

You can also read PDF's, magazines and books on a laptop. You can read Kindle books on a Mac or PC, but iBooks only on a Mac. Personally I rarely read books on my MacBook Air, it's easier to use my iPhone, but I use it a lot to read PDF files with Preview. Preview works great with PDF's, specially because of the amazing trackpad of the MacBook Air. Very easy to scroll and switch from multiple documents on full screen and to highlight and add annotations.

Reading PDF files on MacBook Air with Preview

Reading on a Tablet

A tablet is probably the best device for reading. I think the Preview app in a Mac works better than any app to read PDF's on tablets, but the advantage of a tablet is that you can easily hold it in your hand so you can read in a train, in a bus, in your bed or even in a hammock. Perfect travel companion! To read on a laptop, on the other side, you'll need to use your lap or a desk.

Now, if you want to read a lot of books without straining your eyes and without getting distracted by your email notifications then the best option is Amazon's All-New Kindle Paperwhite. It's amazing how the screen looks, almost as real as paper. You don't need to worry about sunlight and the battery last for ages, however that's pretty much everything you can do with it. You can also use it to read PDF's but I think a good tablet is far better to read PDF files, plus you can also use it for magazines and for a zillion things more.

What Devices I Travel With

I travel with a MacBook Air 11 inches and an iPhone 5S and I couldn't be more satisfied. Sometimes I wish I had a tablet to read my Yoga Journal magazines and all my PDF files but I don't want to travel with three devices.

If I ever change my mind I would choose the iPad mini 4, or whichever newest model is available. The iPad is still the best or one of the best tablets in the market, and since the apps are designed specifically for the screen size of the iPad the user experience is much better than on Android.

Why I Travel With a MacBook Air

To write this blog I need a comfortable keyboard and a device that can do more than a touchscreen. That's why I decided to get a laptop/netbook. First I had an Asus eeepc. I liked it, it had a nice design and it did the job. At that time it was the best netbook on the market but after three years I had to change the keyboard and the battery. It died on the fourth year and by then it was so slow I had enough time prepare my breakfast while it was initializing.

When Windows 8 arrived I decided that I would never again use a Windows PC, don't even tell me about that Surface thing. So I got a new MacBook Air 11 inches. It's a gem. It was almost three times more expensive than the Asus eeepc but hundred times better. No way to compare them. As soon as you open the lid it's ready to start working and it takes just a few seconds to switch it on/off, even after two years of use! And it's so gorgeous it inspires me to keep on writing.

The trackpad is fantastic, the keyboard super comfortable and the entire machine is just a piece of art. What I've noticed is that people who travel with any Windows pc/netbook either don't care much about them or they feel frustrated, and those who travel with a MacBook adore it. A friend of mine once told me "I bought a netbook and it was so horrible with that Windows 8 that I went back, returned it and bought a MacBook Air."

I use my MacBook Air to update my blog, to write my personal journal, to surf the web (I usually have Safari, Chrome and Mozilla opened at the same time with multiple tabs) and to read multiple PDF files. I also use it to sync my iPhone, to do Skype or FaceTime calls and to watch movies, documentaries and TV shows. It works great.

There is a newer MacBook 12 inches. Looks like another piece of art but I think it's still too ahead of its time. Maybe in a year or two it will become my next laptop.

Why I Travel With an iPhone

Right after I quit my job in 2010 to start this journey I knew that I needed a device to easily stay connected with my family and friends, so I invested on the new iPhone 4. At that time it was no doubt the best smartphone in the market. I felt in love with it right away, best investment ever. Since then I've used the iPhone 4, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S, and yeah, I do want the newest iPhone 6S.

Nowadays it's not so easy to tell which is the best smartphone, it's mainly personal preference, but for me the iPhone is still the best and since I also have a MacBook Air an iPhone is a natural choice. They work absolutely great together. No other smartphone/laptop can beat that.

I use my iPhone to take lots of pictures and videos that I later use on my blog. I love to shoot videos and edit them right on my iPhone with iMovie, like the videos you can see in "What do Barbie Girl, Coconuts and a Palace Have in Common?" I edit the pictures with a ton of different applications to apply filters, to add text, to crop and reduce size and more.

Actually the shapes of the laptop, tablet and smartphone that you see in the heading picture of this post I made them myself using Keynote directly on my iPhone. I then added the text with Phonto and the filter with Snapseed.

Well, I use my iPhone for so many other things like reading books with Kindle, reading magazines with Zinio, converting currency with Currency, booking my tickets with Cleartrip, listening to lectures/music with Music, journaling with DayOne, and a lot more. I even use it to tune my guitar with GuitarToolkit!

iPhone Apps

How to Travel Safely in India or Asia With a Smartphone, Tablet or Laptop

In my experience India is way safer than my own country, Ecuador. In Ecuador a robber can get into a bus with a gun, or a machete, and rob everyone. I don't see that happening in India at all, but thieves or pickpockets are not uncommon. I've been traveling in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Sri Lanka for about five years and so far I've only had one incident.
Unfortunately, after completing the draft of this article, my backpack with all my valuables including my MacBook Air, external HD, passport and credit card was stolen on a night bus in Sri Lanka. I'll share with you the whole story in my next update so don't forget to subscribe by mail to make sure you won't miss it.

One night in 2013 I was taking photos with my iPhone 5 during a festival in Mysore. At some point I had to cross a road and it was so crowded that we were all walking shoulder to shoulder. When we reached the other side of the road I realized that I'd been distracted and didn't take care of my iPhone which was in my pocket. It was too late, it was already gone.

Thieves or pickpockets strike when we are distracted (same thing happened with my backpack) so the best advice I can give you is to be aware of your valuables wherever you go. These are a few tips that I can think of now:

  • Get a daypack that doesn't obviously says "I'm carrying a nice laptop inside."
  • Be very aware of your things wherever you go. If you walk with a purse/bag you should be holding it tight with your hands and always keep it at your sight.
  • Whenever there is a festival and the streets are crowded avoid bringing your valuables with you. If you do bring a gadget keep your hand inside the pocket where your gadget is or keep it in a secure pocket.
  • Don't unnecessarily show off your gadgets.
  • Get a cable lock for your laptop for whenever you need to work on cafes. Eventually you'll need to go to the toilet.
  • Get a cable lock for your daypack and backpack to secure your bags whenever you need to travel by bus or train.
  • When traveling by bus keep your daypack with all your valuables between your legs.  If you need to put it in the luggage racks don't put it above your head but a few seats ahead of you and even better on the opposite side.  It will be easier to keep an eye on it. Keep your money, credit cards and passport in a safe travel money belt with you.
  • Don't forget to get a travel insurance.

Related blog posts

So there you have it. I hope this will help you to decide which gadget to take with you on your next trip to India, or anywhere in Asia. I use a MacBook Air and an iPhone and as you can see I love them, that's why I talk so much about them, but that doesn't mean you need to get an Apple product. Get whatever suits your needs, even if it is a Surface. Yuck! Lol.


  1. this is very long article but nice

  2. great source of handy information to differentiate with uses of 3 essential gadgets. Thanks for your wonderful narrative information.

  3. This is article has been very helpful. Thank you!