Backing Up Your Computer While Traveling

Backing Up Your Computer While Traveling

How to backup your computer on the road at home to make sure you never lose your photos and files.

This is a continuation post from Saving Your Digital Ass.

These days, it is surprising to meet backpackers who aren’t carrying a laptop.  From managing photos, to travel blogging, to facebook, everyone seems to “need” their own computer.  While there are the pluses and minuses of traveling with laptops, if you are carrying one you need to back it up to in case it gets lost or stolen. This same process should be applied at home as well as on the road.

The longer you travel with a laptop, the more likely it will fail.  While I love our MacBook Pro, I don’t expect it to make it home with us.  This is because the bumping along roads on buses and being pulled back and forth from our bag shakes and flexes it.  With each little impact and shake parts come a little loose and the hard drive is one turn closer to failing.  Ask any road warrior who travels for work, they have laid to rest many a laptops.

The key to backing up a computer is having an external hard drive.  For traveling this will be a 2.5″ portable hard drive that is USB-powered (no power cable needed!).  While at home you can use cheaper 3.5″ drives, I still prefer the 2.5″ ones because they require one, standard, cable and are substantially smaller.

We carry two of these Seagate drives that hold 640GB each. If you compare to the size of your keyboard, they are fairly small and have enormous capacity.

Remembering the lessons from the previous articles, buy more than one, because redundancy is the religion of backup, the only true path to (data) salvation.  Since you can easily buy drives that exceed that of your computer, you can also bring additional data that you don’t need on your computer.  We brought photos from previous trips on our extra space.

GEAR TIP:  Buy only the 2.5” USB powered portable hard drives with the same USB connection as your camera, this way you will not need to carry multiple cables.  This is the most common camera connector, but you will need to look hard to make sure a portable hard drive has that connector, which looks like this:

Most camera brands, Canon and Nikon included, use this mini-usb connector, so do Seagate hard drives, making them natural partners in travel.  I never have to search for a cable, they all are the same.  Sony cameras are to be avoided because many of their models use different connectors, which if you lose, you’re SOL until you find a Sony Store.

With these two external hard drives, backing up a computer is simple, plug it in and do this:

  • On a Mac: go to “System Preferences” and select “Time Machine”.  Choose your external hard drive and repeat with the second drive.  Ideally you have your “home” folder encrypted, and the backup will also be encrypted, but only if you log out.  This step is annoying, but worth it to have your data protected.
  • On a PC: go to “Control Panels” and choose “Backup and Restore Center” (may be different in older versions of Windows, but it’s there).  Click “Set up backup” and follow the prompts.

On both the PC and Mac, this automates your backup.  On the Mac, whenever you plug your drive into the computer it will automatically begin backing up.  I believe there is such an option on Windows 7, but have not used it.  There are great online and youTube guides explaining, in detail, how to do this.  The best part of doing it this way is that if your computer dies or is stolen, you can quickly be up and running on another computer.

The downside of this automated backup is that you can’t use it to easily access files and folders.  This method of backup is really for the whole computer, not to carry your files from computer to computer, or for storing things you don’t have on your computer itself, so let me explain how we do it.  One hard is the automatic backup device for the computer and we copy over our photo libraries.

The second drive we drag-and-drop our photo libraries and documents folder to.  This allows us to use the second drive to keep things we don’t need regular access to and allows us to access them on other computers. One key issue this resolves is the fact that backups update by what you have on the computer, when you delete it from the computer it is deleted from the backup as well.  There are some files you don’t want on your computer due to space constraints, therefore we keep them on the external drives as well.  This gives us two drives with all our files on them.  We are taking a risk by not having two complete computer backups, but the files are what I am most concerned about.

Now, the last, and equally step.  The two drives live in separate bags, separated from the laptop itself.  We do this to mitigate against the catastrophe risk: there is a chance any one bag may be stolen, dropped in a river, or run over.  There is a much lesser risk that all three bags would be destroyed, dropped in a river or run over, therefore, if and when something does happen, we have a much higher chance at recovering our files.  Redundancy at work again, but this time physical redundancy.

This is how, even on the road, you can easily backup your computer.  Whether you are traveling with a computer or just using one at home, these steps will save your digital ass.


This article is one in a series on protecting your digital ass(ets).  Here are the other articles:


Part 2: BACKING UP PHOTOS: You can replace your clothes, backpack or husband, but photos are irreplaceable

JUST READ: BACKING UP YOUR COMPUTER: At home or on the road, your photos will end up on a computer, backing that up becomes priority number one

Part 4: OH SHIT! When accidents happen to your electronics

After all the articles have been posted they will integrated into the Preparation Section.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Tags: , , ,


» Tim Morrison :
Feb 11, 2011

I would add something regarding online backups as part of the overall digital asset management strategy.

thinkCHUA Reply:

I wrote about this in the first article about storage devices and really don’t think its feasible while traveling. Currently I have the fastest internet I have had since leaving the US. It uploads at 381 K bits per second, converting to bytes, that is 0.045 MB/sec. This means that to upload 1 GB of data you need to maintain the maximum speed for over 6 hours. This isn’t going to happen. The reality is, that unless you are in Japan, Korea, or have private connection (not an Internet cafe), you won’t have the speed and patience to make this happen. Internet speeds are not there globally and one weekend without internet could leave you with a gigabyte of photos needing to be backed up. Stick with drives until the pipe gets wider in most countries.

» Mom A :
Feb 13, 2011

I’m learning a lot! If we have had only 2 opportunities to Skype in the time you have been gone, then there isn’t enough speed/”pipe width” for back ups most places in that part of the world. That’s as interesting as pigs in markets, although not as colorful, but still descriptive of the local life.

» bka :
Feb 14, 2011

oh my….way over my head, as i shared with erica i still have not figured out how to answer our new smart phones with dumb owners….did get my answer to the “woo doggies” question though… are very tech and travel savvy… bka

2 Trackback(s)

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.

About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


AyutthayaIndia HighlightsAmarapura and SagaingIstanbulGizaPreah KhanAmritsarNew DelhiTaupo





Get traveling today with lessons from our travels to 50+ countries on all 7 continents. Bump along in buses, hike the hills, and swim the seas with us to discover the world's best destinations.

Like LivingIF to start living your IF today!

Press ¨Esc¨ key to close this window.