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Should you bring a laptop with you on your holidays? Many people would argue against it, saying that technology has no place on a vacation, especially one where you’re spending time outdoors or where there are kids involved. I’m sorry, but the genie is out of the bottle in terms of technology intruding on trips and kids are smack in the middle of it all, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or handheld game console they’re clutching. My suggestion is to embrace technology and bring your laptop. With a few tweaks, it can become your mobile vacation entertainment hub, perfect for keeping your sanity during those inevitable downtimes.

Gather ‘Round the Laptop

I will be the first to agree that vacation is an excellent time to wean ourselves off of electronics. However, I am also a realist. There are time when people want to chill out, watch a movie, listen to some tunes or play a video game. Especially when we’ve been tromping around a city or theme park all day, we’re sitting in our hotel room and the kids are winding down.

Hotel rooms offer pay-on-demand movies and many also rent video games, but at $10 a pop and up, the cost for this casual entertainment quickly adds up. Everyone could watch a show on their iPad using Netflix or other video services, but what people often forget is that Netflix uses a lot of data. Hotel Wi-Fi can be spotty (prepare for an awful lot of spooling) and one HD movie stream would put a serious dent in my monthly cellular data cap.

Acer gaming PC.jpgWith a laptop pre-loaded with their favourite movies and TV shows (you could also bring along DVDs if your laptop has an optical drive) you have the ability to watch video without requiring any form of connectivity, being at the mercy of in-room broadcast TV or facing a pay-per-view bill at the end of your stay.

Add video games and music and that laptop is a mobile vacation entertainment hub.

It’s useful enough to have when staying at a hotel, but this laptop loaded for entertainment is invaluable when camping and there are no TVs to be found.

 

I don’t know how many times my laptop has saved the day when camping. During the day, it remains stowed away while everyone enjoys the outdoors. That’s the point of camping, after all. But at night when the parents want to chill out—perhaps enjoying a beverage and conversation while sitting around the campfire (after the younger set has roasted marshmallows, of course)—the laptop becomes ground zero for my kids and their friends. There’s something about being in a tent or trailer watching a movie at night that they can’t resist. It’s alsmost like going to a drive-in movie.

Note: don’t do this outside as a backlit display is an absolute bug magnet.

We also often sit around the laptop with the kids and watch a favourite TV episode or two during a rainstorm. It’s a nice option to have when that confined living space seems to start shrinking even more after an hour or two of miserable weather …

Add a Bluetooth Speaker to Bring the Sound to 11

Whether you’re playing DJ, blasting zombies or watching The Avengers, sound is a big part of the experience. While your laptop speakers are probably infinitely better than those on your smartphone or tablet, the reality is that most laptop speakers are not great, especially if you’re not sitting a foot away from the device.

The best way to remedy this shortcoming is with a Bluetooth speaker. You don’t have to spend a fortune—even an inexpensive portable speaker is probably going to be a significant improvement over what’s built-in.

Trust me, this small addition makes pretty much any laptop-based entertainment option (movie, video or gaming) a much better one without requiring a big expenditure or a bunch of extra gear to pack.

Going Camping? Don’t Forget the Power

Not all campgrounds have power hookup and the only thing more frustrating than lugging a laptop around on vacation is going to all the trouble of loading it with games and video (and lugging it) only to discover that after five hours of use, it’s dead … Try explaining to the kids that they can’t watch a movie while stuck in the tent during a rainstorm because the laptop has run out of power.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid—or at least delay—this scenario. The easy fix for many laptops is to charge up a spare battery and pack that too. Even if you can’t swap out your battery, you could bring an external battery pack. When I go camping off the grid, I outfit my trailer with a solar panel and inverter that tops up a pair of deep cycle batteries that in turn provide light, power for the fans, and juice to recharge my laptop.

Solar recharging kits like those offered by Goal Zero are an elegant all-in-one kind of solution that are lot less fussing than I have to do when setting up the trailer. Next time, I’ll be looking at one of these.

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Why a Laptop Instead of a Tablet or Smartphone? 

There are two big reasons why I always pack a laptop when on vacation with my family, despite the fact that iPads, iPods, and Nintendo DS handhelds are always well represented:

1. Display Size
2. Storage capacity

Have you ever had the pleasure of experiencing a group of kids clustered around a tablet watching a movie? Even with a decent adjustable stand, things can quickly degenerate as everyone tries to get a view of the small screen. A laptop lets you adjust the viewing perfectly, it’s more stable than most tablet stands and most importantly, it’s significantly bigger—a 15-inch laptop with a 16:9 aspect ratio display has more than 200 percent more viewing area than a 10.1-inch tablet.

A bigger display means less jockeying for a good view and less pushing of noses against glass in an effort to see detail. That means a more relaxing vacation for parents.

As you know if you’ve loaded up a few HD movies on your mobile device, video is just about the most storage-intensive application going. HD movies can easily hit 5GB in file size and even standard definition versions often top 1GB apiece. With a choice between crappy hotel Wi-Fi or expensive cellular data, I don’t want to be downloading video so that means having a wide selection available on hand to choose from. And that means the more storage space the better. With most laptops packing 500GB or more and mobile devices often offering 16GB or maybe 32GB, the choice is clear: bring the laptop!

So the next time you plan a vacation, save the space to bring along your laptop and take a few minutes to load it up with content. You might not need it. But considering its potential as a mobile vacation entertainment hub, I doubt you’ll regret bringing it.

Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.

2 COMMENTS

  1. +1 on the external speakers.

    • USB powered speakers is a great way of boosting the tiny laptop speakers
    • consider something that offers stereo for left and right channels.  Otherwise something that offers surround sound.
    • consider something with a subwoofer for those movies

     

  2. Definitely, bigger sound is better. I was going the minimalist approach —Bluetooth is small enough to clip on a backpack in many cases, does double-duty for playing tunes at the beach and doesn’t draw off the laptop’s power (other than the small hit for turning Bluetooth on)— but if you have the room and electrical access isn’t an issue, a more capable speaker system is really going to up the movie and gaming experience…

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