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Breaking your computer while traveling is always a huge hassle but exactly how big of a problem it is depends on where in the world you happen to be.
In larger towns and cities, you may be able to get it fixed or buy a new one at a reasonable cost, but in more remote places, you often won’t be able to do anything until you travel elsewhere.
There’s no simple fix for dealing with a broken computer. Every scenario is different depending on what’s broken, the computer model, and your location. That being said, we’ve outlined the steps to take should the worst happen, as well as a few measures to help prevent the problem in the first place.
What to Do If Your Computer Breaks While Traveling
Know the Make and Model
Knowing your computer’s exact make and model can make a world of difference when you’re troubleshooting. If you’re calling or messaging a computer repair shop, providing these details will help them determine if and how they can assist.
This information might be shown on a sticker on the bottom of your laptop, but saving it somewhere else is a good idea. You may find out too late that the sticker has worn off over time, or that the details were never there to begin with.
You can also use the make and model to Google relevant information about your specific laptop. Apple makes its laptops very difficult to fix outside an official repair center, but there are YouTube videos for other models that might help you fix a problem by yourself. Online forums often have reports from other people who have had similar issues.
Getting Your Laptop Repaired on the Road
Depending on where you are, there may be a repair shop that can help. Check online reviews thoroughly (if they exist) to ensure it’s a place you can trust. Especially in developing countries, the store may look different from what you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get the job done.
Always ask questions about costs and repair times upfront before handing over your laptop. How much will it cost if they can fix it? Will it cost anything if they’re unsuccessful? Will you lose any of your data in the process? How long will it take, especially if they need to order parts?
At the very least, they may be able to retrieve the hard drive from inside your laptop. If the drive isn’t encrypted, you can put it in a cheap USB enclosure and connect it to a different computer to grab your files. It’s much easier to carry around than a dead computer.
Sometimes magic can happen in places you least expect. Especially in areas where replacement parts are hard to come by, little computer stores will often offer repair services that wouldn’t be possible at home—and certainly not for the same price!
Buying a New Computer
Sadly, there’s no ideal option for buying a new computer while traveling. It’s often a confusing, expensive, and difficult process, and depending on where you are, it may not be an option at all. Many places in the world won’t have the tech you’re used to, usable warranties, or options that fit within a reasonable budget.
Let’s say your computer breaks in Brazil. You may find a new one at a reasonable price on the US Amazon store that can ship to your hotel, but you’re going to pay considerable import taxes on top.
Brazilian import tax can be anywhere from 10% to 35%. Always look into the taxes and fees that may apply before making a large tech purchase abroad, and how long it might take to clear customs.
Elsewhere, you may be able to find a great deal on a laptop, but it’ll often be configured specifically for the country you’re in. The keyboard could be different than what you’re used to, and warranties often don’t apply outside the country or region of purchase.
Getting a laptop shipped from home could be costly, too. If you have a community of travel friends, you may be able to ask someone you trust to bring you a new or spare laptop, but it’s not something you can rely on.
On shorter trips, it may be easier to put up with a broken laptop until you get home again. For long-term travelers, it may be time to take a trip back home to get a reliable laptop that suits your needs. You can catch a visit with family and friends while you’re at it.
If you’re on a tight deadline or can’t drop everything and head home immediately, look for a cheap laptop locally to tide you over. You can buy a Windows or Chromebook laptop for around $300-400 in most places to get you through the immediate crisis.
While you’ll probably hate every minute of using it, the replacement will be fine for general web browsing, writing, and simple tasks while you sort out a better solution. Unfortunately, this isn’t an option if you need a more specialized computer for jobs like graphic design or video editing.
In the meantime, read our article on how to work from the road without a laptop.
When it comes to laptops, the best offence is a good defence. Do everything you can to take care of your laptop when you’re abroad. Below we’ve outlined some advice that will help keep your laptop and your files safe and healthy wherever your journey takes you.
Back Everything Up, Always
Please, please, back up your files on a regular basis. If you haven’t already, set up an automatic backup in the cloud with one of the many low-cost services out there. For a few bucks a month, you can ensure all of your data is safe and sound in the cloud should anything happen to your computer.
There are many options for storing your data in the cloud. We tested and compared some of the top cloud services for travelers to help you choose the best option for your needs. Backblaze is our top pick for its mix of features, storage space, and price.
Backing up files in the cloud will make accessing your files much easier if your computer breaks while traveling. It’s a critical investment for any traveler.
Having more than one backup option is always good idea, especially if your internet connection is unreliable or your files are too large to upload. Use your operating system’s inbuilt tools like Time Machine (Mac) or File History (Windows) to back up to a portable drive or high capacity USB stick.
Know Your Warranty and Insurance
If your laptop is still covered by a factory or store warranty, it’s a good idea to check if that coverage spans across different countries. Your laptop may not be covered if it breaks outside of the country or region it was purchased.
Even if you are covered, there’s the added problem of how to get your computer repaired or replaced while you are in another country. You may have to wait until you’re back home for the warranty replacement, and for long-term trips, that may not be an option.
If you’re planning to rely on travel insurance, check the fine print carefully. Many policies have limits on the type and value of the equipment that’s covered by default, and you may need to cover the laptop separately.
When it’s time to make a claim, be sure to take photos and note as much information as possible about the breakage, because insurance companies will definitely want that before paying out. Many also require a copy of the original receipt, so have a scanned or emailed copy of that available as well.
Invest in a Good Laptop Case
Travel with a reliable and effective laptop case to prevent damage in transit. A thin silicone sleeve is better than nothing, but not by much. Instead, look for a case with plenty of padding on all sides, seams, and corners.
💡Tip: a case with a vertical zipper will help you pull your laptop in and out of a tightly packed backpack more easily when going through airport security.
Keep Liquids and Foods Away
We all do it. From drinking a cup of coffee (or a margarita) while you work to munching on crunchy snacks as you watch Netflix, your laptop is always in danger when food or drinks are nearby.
Be extra careful when you’re traveling and a long way from the nearest repair store. Crumbs can sneakily end up under computer keys, which can cause circuitry damage, invite small bugs, and stop keys from working. Liquid near laptops is always a bad thing, but if you can’t avoid it, at least be prepared.
Even a relatively small amount of weight on the top of a laptop can damage the screen or internals. Don’t put heavy items on your laptop, and when it’s packed away, try to ensure other bags and packages don’t end up on top of it.
Have you ever sat on your packed backpack while waiting for a bus or train? Don’t do that if your laptop or any other breakable tech is packed inside.
Avoid Extreme Temperature Changes
Digital nomads, this one’s especially for you. Your computer doesn’t like extreme temperature changes. Working in direct sunlight on the beach or at a poolside bar may look glamorous on Instagram, but it could damage your computer.
As well as overheating or getting sand in your keyboard, going from hot to cold or vice versa can cause components to expand and contract too quickly, and condensation (ie, liquid) to form inside the case. Even moving from a sunny patio to your heavily air-conditioned hotel room can be enough to cause damage.
If you’re planning to do this, turn your laptop off before moving it (always a good idea anyway,) and leave it like that for a few minutes before getting back to work.
What do you do to protect your computer while traveling? Do you have any broken laptop horror stories?
Main image via Avi Richards