For most travelers, a laptop is their most important tool. It is a Swiss knife of sorts, a tool for many purposes, such as keeping you connected, helping you organize your trip or just simply keeping you entertained during the few lulls you will have on your trip.
You laptop, however, won’t be as useful as you want it to be fresh out of the box. In order for your laptop to fulfill its potential you will have to equip it with the tools it needs to help you. Here is a list of essential programs and apps to install, grouped according to purpose. Keep in mind that this is just a basic list of minimum requirements, and there are dozens of different apps out there to help you with your travels. Let’s get started. First of all you will need:
A Good Connection
Since a lot of your apps, especially those for communication need an internet connection to function, you will need a program that sniffs out a decent Wi-Fi hotspot for you. One such program is NetStumblerfor Windows or iStumblerfor Mac. It is used for getting a detailed list of networks available in your immediate area and can also be used to verifying network configurations, detecting causes of wireless interference, or finding locations with poor coverage, letting you find the best spot for Wi-Fi.
A Decent Browser
The two best browsers to use nowadays are either Google Chrome or Firefox. Both offer the best in speed, security, and privacy, which is necessary when accessing public Wi-Fi hotspots. Both browsers are also very easy to use and very customizable.
A Means of Communication
You can use your laptop to send emails, sure. But it is often better to call your loved ones or friends, hear their voice, and possibly see their face. And nothing beats being able to do that for free, or at least cheaply. For that you will need VoIP. There are dozens of VoIP providers (learn more here) out there, with their respective strong and weak points. Some are more business oriented and the others are better for individual users. Do your research and pick the best one.
An Entertainment System
You are riding on a train, or waiting for the bus. There is no internet connection available, and nothing to do. You can use your laptop to listen to music, or watch the movies you have stored. The best player in my opinion is the VLC player since it plays files of almost any format is immune to codec errors. For a one size fits all media player, I suggest you go with VLC.
Picture Editing Capabilities
Have to edit those panorama shots before posting the on Facebook? Google Picasa lets you import, organize, edit and upload your pictures. It can downloaded and works both on and offline.
A Means for Storage
Using a cloud based storage program allows you to store and access files from anywhere which is great if your laptop is running out of space, or if you happen to lose your laptop, since all the important files can still be accessed. One of the more popular cloud based storage programs is DropBox, which can be downloaded from the internet for free.
Using a public Wi-Fi network is generally considered unsafe for your information and data, so be prepared. First keep everything password protected. To help you with that 1Passwordis a program that generates a random password, remembers it, and stores it on your browser. You can also use a VPN network like Hotspot Shield to keep your computer private and invisible to third parties. The last thing you will need is a good anti-virus to take care of all the malware, spyware, and Trojans you might encounter.