Note: Please see the more recent version of this post for the most up-to-date tips for traveling with your computer!
Today, the internal hard drive on my MacBook Pro failed with less than 36 hours before my departure for Bangkok. As I sat in the SoHo apple store listening to the fate of my
trusty little companion my emotions ranged from confusion to anxiety to total devastation. When I asked how a $2,200 dollar (I went for all the upgrades) computer’s hard drive could crap out over a year, the very helpful Apple guy explained that with my traveling lifestyle, in which my computer is constantly being exposed to heat, dirt, bumps and shifts, it was pretty inevitable. So, those of you traveling with precious Macs take note: finish reading this post and then go implement these changes now… maybe someone can learn from my mistakes.
Here are the lessons I have learned from today’s disasters:
1. Above all else, I need to go back in a time machine and use Time Machine. I am an idiot. I vaguely knew that Time Machine was a backup system for Macs but never bothered to learn what it was or how to use it. Basically, it creates a clone of your computer- the files, the applications, the settings, everything- and saves it on an external drive. I actually have an external hardrive backup of the majority of my photos, videos, and documents. However, I lost all my applications and settings even those that can be redownloaded will require tons of work, for example all the photoshop plugins and actions I have downloaded or developed over the years will need to be redownloaded or redeveloped. Moving forward, I’m going to backup with Time Machine once a week or more.
2. My files need to be more organized. Part of the anxiety I am feeling right now as I try to cobble my computer back into its former state comes from having no idea what exactly I am missing. My computer (much like my life!) has been a disorganized mess for as long as I can remember. No more. I need to make a system and stick to it. It will make everything in life easier- most notably doing backups and recovering from nightmares like today.
3. I need to start saving for a solid state hard drive. The primary advantage of a solid state drive over standard hard drives is their lack of moving parts. Whereas a standard hard drive is a mechanical device with lots of tiny components subject to impact shock, motion wear, and magnetic failure, a solid state drive is an electronic device that isn’t damaged by being jostled around in a backpack for a year, for instance. A solid state drive is infinitely more friendly to the constant traveler. However, they are not friendly to the wallet. Not friendly at all. My initial research tells me this will cost anywhere from $1,000-2,000. I have about 20 months left on my Apple Care, at which time I hope to make this upgrade. So I need to put away $10-20 per month for the next two years and viola– I will be totally ready for my new drive!
4. It’s time to install Prey. Okay this doesn’t have to do with my drive crashing specifically but today put the fear in me over what I would do if I lost my computer in a different way… through theft! Hopefully I’d still have my recently Time-Machine-updated backup drive safe with me but I’d still want a shot at recovering my laptop. Prey is an amazing service that helps you locate your laptop using GPS, monitor mirroring, camera recording and all kinds of sneaky spy stuff. I’ve read amazing stories of recovery! Note: To avoid financial devastation in the case of loss or theft I also have my laptop insured as a rider on my parent’s homeowner’s insurance. I recommend this route if possible over travel insurance which is often near impossible to obtain for high value items and even harder to collect on.
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So there you have it. Some lessons that I really didn’t want to learn today, but I did nonetheless! Lucky for me I have still have apple care… Meaning this fiasco cost me nada in US currency. However. It will cost me days in time and several rounds in emotional beatings. At least next time, I will be more prepared.
And I would do it all again for the beauty of being able to travel with my computer and use it to connect with friends and family, earn an income from freelancing, and share my journey with all of you through this blog. Stick with me a little bit longer this time, little computer!
This is one of my biggest fears…my computer crapping out on me on the road. I think for my next laptop I’ll opt for one of the macbook airs that have the solidstate drives built in. Also, I know I should be using timeline…yet for some reason I’m still not. Consider this post extra motivation for me to actually get on that bandwagon this weekend.
Hey John, great tip about the MacBook Airs having build in SSDs… I had no idea! Still, I don’t think they can match the MacBook Pros in terms of memory capacity! Good luck setting up Time Machine this weekend!
SO unfortunate and frustrating!!!! I feel your pain — my senior year in college – literally my last night of classes my apartment was robbed and all the laptops stolen — I hadn’t backed it up in about a year so I lost all my assignments and photos from the entire year!
Oh Vicky… my heart hurts when I read that. I always try to pack and store my external drive separately from my laptop so that in case of theft I at least have my backup date. But I know even that isn’t failsafe… Jodi at Legal Nomads had her computer and all THREE backup drives stolen from an apartment she was staying in. Heartbreaking.
Thats a good thing to have your laptop and backup devices stored separately. I’m using an “online backup service” that makes my backups weekly so i dont forget 😉
That’s a great idea! I’ve been meaning to set something like that up for my blog. Unfortunately internet can be super sketchy here in Thailand, so online backup isn’t the best option here!
Oh, Alex! I think it is one of the disadvantages of being a “creative” … having a “disorganized” computer – for as long as I have been doing this, my computer probably mirrors yours as far as not knowing what I have where (and I am as guilty as you for knowing about, but not implementing Time Machine…) I do carry all of my “important” files on a removable LaCie drive (“Rugged”) and I have LoJack installed – don’t know if that works internationally… good luck with all of the work ahead to get back to where you were.
Hi Bonnie! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 I agree… I think creative people tend to be on the whole a bit more disorganized than our mathematically minded counterparts. Still, I’m going to challenge myself to use this as a new leaf. And I have a Samsung external hard drive but I have been looking into the LaCie Rugged ones for a while. It seems it might be up to the task of traveling with me!
Ouch. Organization is a major key to success. If you use your knowledge and intelligence and combine it with organization you’ll avoid the negative outcomes when those situations arise.
I had a boss once who said she thought that figuring out how to store, organize and protect the eons of digital data and info that we amass in this lifetime will be the challenge of our generation. I’m starting to think she’s right! Going to work on the organization part this time around…
You might want to consider traveling with a netbook. I like them because they’re more disposable than a $2,000 Mac. And they’re less attractive to thieves. Some have SSDs too.
It’s a good idea and I can see why so many travelers choose netbooks, but I’m a Mac girl for life. I make most of my income off this blog and my freelance design gigs, so I really rely on all the Mac’s best features. Plus I spent four years at art school figuring out how to most effectively work on this computer… not switching to a PC after that!
As I type this, I’m running Time Machine for the first time. 🙂
I’m so glad to hear it! It always makes our own mistakes a tad less painful if someone else can learn from them, right?
great content and great tips. Regardless my scientific background my hard-drive is as messy as the more artistic minded artist!! I will run time machine asap as I am embarking in a year of solo travelling. I hope to record mainly through photography so I know I will need hard-drive space and photoshop…hope my little Mac friend will stay with me. All the best for your “reorganizing” the new hard-drive!!!
Thanks Em, and good luck on your travels! Another idea I’ve heard for back-up when traveling is to periodically burn a disc of photos and mail it home. As long as the postal service pulls through, you’ll have a third copy safe at home.
Thank you for posting this Alex, after I saw this I bought an external hard drive, installed Prey and started using Time Machine- all things I definitely needed to do! One question though- with your homeowners insurance wouldn’t the computer have to be stolen from home? I’m trying to figure out the best way to get insurance for my laptop while I travel- I was thinking World Nomads travel insurance but am not sure if that covers electronics. Thanks!
Ashley, so glad this story inspired you to start doing those things… wish I had earlier! As for the homeowner’s insurance, you’d have to check your specific policy, but mine absolutely covers travel in any and every part of the world! It’s fantastic.
Hi Alex, I see this post is a few years old so I wanted to check in with you if you are still using the same laptop. I am on the market for a new laptop and am trying to decide between the 13″ Macbook Air (3 lbs) or the 13″ Macbook Pro with Retina (3.5 lbs). I like the price of the Air better but I’m concerned about running Photoshop on it (not heavily but for some photo editing and adding watermark). Is that why you went with the Pro? Does the 13″ screen seem small ever? What is the solid state hard drive? Can I buy a Macbook with that? Thanks for your advice!
Actually I have upgraded to the Retina Pro! The Air does not have enough storage space for me and I also worried about running video and photo editing programs on it. For me, the Pro is the best choice and I have loved the lighter size of the Retina compared to my previous model. Good luck choosing!
Thanks for the advice, Alex! I had thought that about the Air but wanted to make sure the sales guy at the mac store wasn’t just trying to up-sell me. 😉