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the digital nomad's electronics death toll


This has nothing to do with this post . . . except that I'd rather be here than dealing with this

Because we are digital nomads and self-employed, we are every single person in the typical company.  We are our own help desks, secretaries, accountants, and financial analysts.  On most days, these administrative duties take only a few minutes from our daily schedule but, some days, everything comes to a standstill because the difficulties of managing a business collide with the actual work we wish to do.

Yesterday was one of those days.  One hour into writing, my 10-month-new state-of-the-art Sony Vaio laptop whined and then screeched, reminiscent of the appalling sounds of the emus that roam Australia, stunning me out of my work.  The black screen appeared and I reverted to my catch-all technological fix, Control + Alt + Delete, and the computer soon started up.  Within minutes, the screen was black again.  For four hours, I pressed the Power button, watched the computer boot up and frantically saved my most recent work to our backup drive and server.  By the time the evening rolled around, the computer had, with somber finality, died. 

A crashed computer shouldn’t cause Boy Scout-worthy-knots in my shoulders but, yet, it did.  This computer is my livelihood and, in the time it will take me to ship it to the Sony warranty center, have them fix it, and send it back to me, I will lose several weeks of work.  I have a full line of blog posts scheduled, some technical writing lined up, and intended to finish the first draft of my novel by the end of this month.  I can appropriate Patrick’s computer in the evenings (as I am doing now), but he needs it during the day.  And, all our pictures, photo editing software, videos, and video editing software are on my computer, meaning that things might be a bit quieter on this website until my laptop is fixed.

There is a slew of logistical issues, as well.  We are currently in Savannah and leave at the end of next week for Charleston.  If the Sony center can’t fix it by the time we leave Savannah, do we have them ship it to Charleston or do we wait to have it fixed until we reach Asheville in April, at which time we will be in one place for a full month?

This isn’t the first technological worry we’ve had since we have begun traveling full-time.  In the past 18 months, we have suffered through the following death toll:

  • Sony Vaio laptop (not this one – my prior Sony laptop) due to extreme heat issues
  • Macbook Air laptop due to extreme heat issues
  • First-generation iPhone dropped and broken on concrete steps
  • An 18-200 Nikon VR lens dropped and broken while hiking
  • Canon point and shoot camera that died after being exposed to sand from the Namibian dunes

Granted, we work our electronics harder than the average person, taking them through extreme conditions, temperatures, and situations, and use them on a daily basis.  But, the Sony Vaio that just died is less than a year old and I’ve already sent it to the warranty center once because the hinges for the monitor fell apart.  I spent two hours on the phone this morning with the warranty center and they believe that my 32 GB solid-state hard drive (which I purchased for its supposed crash-proof-worthiness) is corrupt and needs to be entirely replaced.  Patrick keeps telling me I need to suck it up and start buying Macs but I then point out that his Macbook Air reached mind-boggling temperatures before he replaced it.  Plus, call me old-fashioned, but I prefer PCs.

We’re not the only digital nomads to suffer from a heavy electronics death toll and, given Christine’s death toll of five computers in three years, maybe we should consider ourselves lucky.  Is replacing electronics the inevitable consequence of this lifestyle?  Or, is it just, as the old folks used to say, that things aren’t made like they used to be?  Is there a laptop out there made for the digital nomad?  And, if not, why the heck not?

Either way, we have learned something from these disasters.  Last year, when we replaced my old Sony laptop with this one, we purchased the most exhaustive 3-year warranty Sony offered.  We purchase all our equipment using our American Express card, which automatically doubles the manufacturer’s warranty.  We keep all our equipment in heavily padded Manfrotto and Kata bags.  We back-up everything every single day to our Cloud storage (I’ll tell you about our awesome data storage plan later) and on a weekly basis to our external hard drive.  Even still, our equipment dies, we lose data, and I devolve into a very, very irritable person.

So, this week, I’m planning on buying an iPad 2 because we want a back-up option in case either of our laptops crash.  Heck, I should just say that we want a back-up option for when our laptops crash because, at this point, the laptop death toll seems to be an inevitability.  We hate spending the money on another piece of gear but we don’t see any other choice.  We don’t have a help desk that we can call to magically send up a computer when ours crash and we don’t have a financial analyst that can buffer our working expenses with a glut of extra equipment purchased at deep discounts.  We are all we have. 

Then again, maybe I’m jumping to conclusions.  What would you do?  Is buying the iPad 2 a complete mistake?  Should I suck it up and buy a Mac?  Is there a laptop that can actually withstand the conditions we put it through?  Any suggestions are gladly welcome because I am about ready to bang my head against a very hard wall to avoid dealing with these technological nightmares.

03/09/2011 01:52
That's definitely an aspect of permanent travel I had never thought of. Food for thought, thank you!
03/09/2011 15:56
Penny - Definitely consider taking it into account because the electronics death toll has sucked away more of our money than we expected it would.
03/09/2011 02:14
I have a Mac Book Pro that my husband and I have hauled all over the world. it is 4 years old and we have had no problems. in the same time period we have gone through nine PC's. They were Dell, Hp Toshiba and Sony. I have added a iPad this past year and am writing this on the iPad. Buy the Mac. Better product. Better support.
03/09/2011 15:54
Susan - Glad to hear that the iPad works well for reading blogs, etc. I'll be getting one on Friday so it should be interesting! I've heard a lot of other Mac users say that they would never go back but I just don't love them. My husband has one and I'm not as fast working on his computer . . . plus, I hate the Macbook's version of Word which is the program I use most frequently.
03/09/2011 08:52
I literally feel your pain. I have had so many beloved electronics die on me and they always seem to die at the worst time. Sending you an e-hug!
Andi of My Beautiful Adventures's recent blog post: Planning the Bahamas
03/09/2011 15:51
Thanks for the e-hug Andi! I need it. :)
03/09/2011 09:29
I have not, yet, had electronics die on me...knock on wood. But I fear it, especially when I read stories like these. It seems as though it's only a matter of time. Good job you are so good about backing up...I need to work on that for sure. Good luck!
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03/09/2011 15:45
We didn't use to be this careful about backing up, either, but after my first computer crashed, we realized that we needed to have a better option. Luckily, when my first computer crashed, the hard drive was fine and it was a corrupt graphics card so we were able to copy all the files over to the new laptop. But, now, that this hard drive has failed, I am super happy that we have become so obsessive about backing up!
03/09/2011 10:44
My son's Mac died a quick death after less than 2 years - not all Apple products are great.

My first DSLR was lost to a rogue wave while lying on a beach - fried all the electronics but managed to save the card of pictures. Not only do I hate the stress when your computer & electronics are dying,I hate the waste and the fact that so much of this stuff ends up in a landfill.
03/09/2011 15:49
Leigh - That is such a great point! We gave our broken DSLR lens to a camera repairmen who broke it down for parts and donated our old laptops to a charity in Georgia that refurbishes the laptops and sends them to schoolchildren in other countries. But, still, a lot of our stuff ends up in the landfill, leaking toxic waste into a ground that doesn't need it.
03/10/2011 14:35
Totally agree with this. It's aggravating to pay so much for something, only to have it die a couple of years later, and it's not very easy to recycle these things.
03/13/2011 14:03
Absolutely! I wish there was a better way to recycle old electronics because I feel like we are constantly upgrading or replacing and I hate seeing it go to waste. We always donate our cell phones to the battered womens shelters who reuse them but I wonder if they are actually making use of the phone.
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/15/2011 06:48
Look into e-waste recycling. We had facilities all over California. I did a quick Google search and found this for Savannah: (sorry, I know the link length is ridiculous) http://www.savannahga.gov/cityweb/savannahgagov.nsf/47b9dd27b9097a5485257296007391cc/bc9cbcd87b7f4e398525736e005de6c9?OpenDocument
03/18/2011 10:49
Kate - Thanks so much for the link. We'll look into it! It's a great idea.
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03/09/2011 23:47
Marta DeLeon
They do make ruggedized laptops for extreme weather conditions. But they are very pricey, very heavy, and my impression is that many are pretty basic computers under very expensive casings. But they are designed to withstand extreme heat and cold.
03/13/2011 14:05
It's not so much the extreme weather conditions as just the fact that the computers don't seem to hold up. And, truth be told, I don't want to carry a heavy laptop either so we keep buying slim laptops, hoping that they will take the wear and tear but, unfortunately, they don't. Maybe some day there wil be something that can withstand our usage!
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/10/2011 13:22
From laptops to smartphones I have seen them all find there end. And I keep looking for the next one to replace them with. I had to actually start buying warranties for some of these gadgets I love so dearly.
03/13/2011 14:06
We're buying warranties now for most of our expensive equipment because it's just too much of a worry if we don't have a warranty. I hate spending the extra money but if it saves us the cost and hassle of having to replace another piece of equipment, it's worth it.
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/10/2011 13:28
From laptops to smartphones I have seen them all find there end. And I keep looking for the next one to replace them with. I had to actually start buying warranties for some of these gadgets I love so dearly.
03/11/2011 06:50
I heard once that laptops have a lifespan of about 2 years. I have buried aToshiba and a Sony Viao laptop. And I got heaps of cameras stolen. Hopefully they broke when the theif was using them.
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03/13/2011 14:09
CanCan, argh if this is true. I am almost afraid that you're right even though I keep telling myself that my computers will last much longer. My first laptop lasted for 3 years, my second for 5 years, but then I had one which lasted for less than 2 years, and I'm worried that this one isn't going to make its third birthday either. It's so frustrating to have to keep replacing equipment and especially irritating if the computer manufacturers know that it's going to break down in such a short time.
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/13/2011 22:11
Having already traveled in Europe with an iPad, I can honestly say it's the one thing I don't think I'll go without when I travel next. It's powerful, it's portable, it's versatile, and if you don't mind carrying a couple accessories (wireless keyboard; camera port adapter), it does everything I'd need a laptop to do. Particularly since one of you will always have a laptop (to update, sync, and backup if needed), an iPad sounds perfect for you guys. Having already traveled in Europe with an iPad, I can honestly say it's the one thing I don't think I'll go without when I travel next. It's powerful, it's portable, it's versatile, and if you don't mind carrying a couple accessories (wireless keyboard; camera port adapter), it does everything I'd need a laptop to do. Particularly since one of you will always have a laptop (to update, sync, and backup if needed), an iPad sounds perfect for you guys.
03/14/2011 10:25
Ryan, We got the iPad 2 on Friday (after standing in line for 3 hours) and I'm using it right now to respond to this comment. I really like it. It's not a laptop replacement --- at least for me ---- because I can't use Lightroom or Photoshop on it, but it is a great tool for the times when I just need to use the internet and type documents. I'm really happy with the purchase and very much looking forward to using it as we travel.
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/14/2011 09:45
It sounds like we've been unusually lucky in our electronic adventures. We've lost only one Kindle along the way, and that seems to be common around warranty expiration. Our MacBook Pro survived wonderfully during the past year, and my prior MBP survived dust and power surges in Ghana and its subsequent US repatriation. We have an iPad that I've thoroughly enjoyed during our travels but it can't do everything I need a computer to do -- particularly Lightroom and Photoshop for photos. Also editing WP posts seems to only be possible in HTML which isn't nearly as fun. If I were to embark on another RTW segment, Brian and I would both carry laptops (probably MBPs or Airs). It's definitely easier for two road warriors than sharing one computer.
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03/14/2011 10:29
Wow Kate! I can't believe you went for the whole year and only had to replace one piece of equipment. That is by far the best death toll I have heard of. Congrats! And, I agree with you - having two laptops is essential for us because we're both working, too, so when we set aside the time to work, both of us work instead of waiting for the other person to finish using their computer.

I am a little worried about blogging on the iPad because I feel like I am going to be incredibly slow without a mouse but we'll see because this week I'll be trying to blog on it! I definitely wish there was the potential to use Lightroom on the iPad.
Akila's recent blog post: weekly photo: leafy gates
03/22/2011 15:59
I know your pain. I've lost many a good soldier on the road..it's heart breaking.
03/24/2011 10:26
It is heartbreaking, as well as annoying. Luckily, they were able to fix my laptop - there was something wrong with the VGA card - but it's irritating nonetheless.
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05/28/2012 15:36
A bit late reply, but I hope it helps.
I travel a lot, by car and by train for work. Also I like to work outside when the weather isn't to bad. But laptops just don't like this way of life.
After going trough a laptop every 9 months on average for the last 5 years and my Macbook Air stopped working in 5 months (they repaired it under warranty, but it took 2 weeks) I wanted something a bit sturdier.
But I don't want to go to large as I carry my laptop eveyrwhere. A Macbook Pro was an option, but I had one of those heating up to toaster temperatures and one that just stopped working.
I found a toughbook by panasonic was my thing, a CF-19 mk5 to be precise. This thing isn't expensive anymore, a Macbook pro 13" with everything on is expensvie. A CF-19 will set you back $4000 easily. But it is IP65 (basicly shower-proof) you can drop it from 6foot/1m80 and it should be okay. Mind you, I haven't tested it for these, but I now have it for 6 months and it is going really well. Some other advantages of this laptop is that you can read it outside (you can read it really well) and if you're carefull, you can get up to 8 hours battery-life.
It also has a 3G-modem build in, touch-screen with digitizer and it's a tablet pc. The last thing isn't really usefull for me. It also has things that are less likeable... like it weights 2,3kg/5lbs or it only has a 10.1 screen and the colors aren't that great or the keyboard is smaller than normal.
the weight is a pitty for me, the screen works most of the time quite well, I edit a lot of texts so colors are not my problem and it took about a week to get used to the smaller keyboard.

In the end it's working for me, take a look at them, perhaps it is usefull for other roadwarriers as well.
05/29/2012 13:50
Alec, thanks so much for this review. It's too bad that the Toughbook is heavy but I'm glad to hear that it's so sturdy. That might be our next purchase because after two years, my very expensive laptop is again starting to overheat. Argh.
05/29/2012 15:37
It's the same weight as a macbook pro 13", but it's not light indeed.
And I forgot, If you can do with a Core 2 Duo, you can get one for 1000-1200 dollar second hand.
Oh, and nice blog about Istanbul!
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11/03/2015 07:36
Your death toll seems so unnatural and it's a painful situation to handle. But you have made up with the most fascinating thing here using the best equipment in your traveling. I just gazed at those pictures which are awesome.
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11/28/2015 05:27
we have begun traveling full-time. In the past 18 months, we have suffered through the following death toll:cccam server

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