Taking your laptop on your next trip? Don't forget the extras! We're not just talking about the power cord, especially if you're headed overseas — computer accessories you may need to pack include converters, adapters, wireless Internet cards, Ethernet cables, surge protectors and, of course, a sturdy carrying case.
This list may seem overwhelming, but most of these laptop accessories serve one of two purposes: to provide a power supply for your computer or to connect it to the Internet. Which of these accessories will you need? Read on to find out.
1. Electrical converters and adapters
If you're traveling overseas, you'll need to consider international differences in voltage, and then deal with the different sizes and shapes of the plugs. The United States and Canada use 110-volt electricity, while most of the rest of the world runs 220 - 240 volts. While this is an issue for many appliances such as hair driers or camera chargers, most modern laptops are capable of running on both 110- and 220-volt currents. Check the label and/or owner's manual on your computer to be sure. If your computer only runs on 110 volts, you'll need to purchase a converter to prevent damage to your machine.
Even if you don't need a converter, you will most likely need an adapter to enable your plug to fit into the local outlet. Almost every country has one or more adapters that may be unique or that it shares with a few close neighbors. Magellan's, a traveler supplier, has a handy Electrical Connection Wizardthat can help you find the right converters and adapters for the country you're visiting. For more information on converters and adapters, see our story on Electricity Conversion.
2. Connecting at your hotel: Wireless notebook cards to ethernet cables
Most hotels geared toward business travelers offer some form of Internet access, whether it's high-speed or wireless. Call ahead to determine what will be available so that you know what equipment you'll need to bring with you. Here's a rundown of the options:
Wireless Internet: Often called Wi-Fi, wireless Internet access is growing increasingly common around the world, especially in hotels that cater to business travelers. If you have a relatively new laptop, you may not need to bring any equipment at all — practically all modern machines have wireless network adapters already built in, so all you have to do is plug your computer in and it will search out the nearest wireless signal. (Most hotels will require a password to access their signal — ask at the front desk.)
If your laptop doesn't have an internal wireless network adapter, you can buy a wireless notebook card from any computer supplier, such as Best Buy or CompUSA.
High-Speed Internet: Some hotels require you to plug into their high-speed Internet connection using an Ethernet cable. We recommend bringing your own cable just in case, as the hotel may or may not able to supply one for you. To connect to a high-speed network, you'll need a network interface card (NIC), which most laptops have already installed. If yours doesn't, you can purchase one from your local computer supplier.
3. Connecting on the road: Mobile broadband card
If you're equipped for wireless Internet, you're in luck — you can find Wi-Fi hot spots in airports, coffee shops, libraries and many other facilities around the world. While you'll usually have to pay for this service, sometimes you'll luck out and find a free hot spot. For more information, read Tips for Better Wi-Fi on the Road.
If you're traveling within the U.S., you may be able to connect to the Internet through your cell phone provider's network — you just slide a mobile broadband card into your laptop and then you can surf the Web from anywhere your cell phone provider has service. There's usually a monthly charge, and you'll have to purchase the card from your cell phone provider. Plans are available from most major cell phone providers, including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.
4. Surge protection
You have a surge protection electrical strip on your desktop computer; you should have the same for your portable. In countries where electrical delivery is less reliable, this is all the more important. You'll need one for whichever voltage you'll be using; surge protectors for 110- and 220-volt currents are not interchangeable.
5. Carrying case
No matter how careful you are carrying your computer around, it's going to take a few hits while you scurry around airports, hop in and out of airport shuttle buses, pile stuff into overhead bins, or fall asleep slumped over your work on the plane. A sturdy padded carrying case can save you a lot of aggravation and even more money.
6. Optional extras
It's a good idea to bring along a device onto which you can back up your work, just in case your hard drive crashes while you're away. We like flash drives, which are smaller than a finger and plug directly into your USB port, but you can also back up your work onto CD's as long as your computer has a CD burner.
Many people like to pack a mouse and portable keyboard to make long-term work on a laptop more comfortable. It may also be worth packing an extra laptop battery just in case you find yourself away from a power source for a long period of time.
Where to get everything you'll need
Magellan's, mentioned above, is a respected, reputable source for a wide variety of travel accessories such as converters, adapters and computer carrying cases. However, you may need to go to a computer store such as Best Buy or CompUSA for more specialized equipment such as wireless notebook cards or Ethernet cables.