It's summertime! Kids and grandkids are on summer vacation, and fun trips are on the horizon. You've finished your packing, put the mail on hold, and found a plant sitter, but you may have forgotten about an important consideration. You'll have to think about what you're going to do with your computer, laptop, router, modem, and all the other electronic stuff you have lying around.
Are you taking the tablet with you? What about when you go to the beach (or the ski slope, for that matter)? Will you leave it in the car? The hotel safe? What about your laptop or computer? You could probably take the laptop along (and worry about where it is left when you're off having vacation fun), but you'll certainly leave the desktop at home. Should you leave it on? Plugged in?
Read on for three simple pieces of advice to protect your electronic equipment if you leave it at home or take it on vacation with you.
LifeHacker has a complete discussion of power considerations, home appliances, and more in their article "What to Unplug and Turn Off When You Leave for Summer Vacation"
The most important consideration for whether to leave a device at home or take it with you is its usefulness. If you think you'll need your laptop or tablet to check email or do some urgent work, by all means, take it with you. You don't want to be trying to relax and realize that you left some little thing undone at work.
On the other hand, if you're connected 24/7, you should try to disengage a little bit on your vacation. Let your friends, family, boss and/or clients know that you need a little break, and walk away from all of those electronic communications that tend to take over our lives. Generally, you should probably err on the side of the non-electronic vacation. We don't get as much of a chance to remember what life was like before we were permanently attached to these devices, and there are always other resources you can use for a quick email check, like libraries' and friends' computers.
You might be concerned about where your device will be safest, but I would suggest that this is not a reason to take it with you. I will talk about protection in both circumstances -- if you take your electronics with you or if you leave them behind -- in the sections below.
Lounging on the beach with your laptop...
There are two general areas of concern on this topic: keeping the electronics you leave at home from getting damaged, hacked, or stolen, and saving money on electricity use while you're gone.
I'm sure you've heard arguments on both sides of the debate about whether or not you should turn your computer off when it's not in use, but in this case, if you're going to be gone for more than a few days, you should always turn it off. Even with a surge protector, your equipment can be damaged by a summer electrical storm, so why risk it? Having it off will also prevent hacking and malware activity.
Routers, switches, cable modems, and the like can be unplugged too, if you don't need to check your security cameras, Nest thermostat or other connected devices. Some alarm systems run off a standard home router and/or cable modem, also, so don't unplug those if you have a monitored system. If you don't have a reason to leave the networking equipment plugged in, however, you can instantly protect your whole house from electronic intrusion by unplugging at least your cable/dsl/satellite modem.
If the equipment you're leaving behind is portable or easily moved, you might consider putting it away for safekeeping. There's quite a bit of value in those little packages, so putting them somewhere a thief would be less likely to look is smart. You could also consider packing them up and leaving them with a trusted relative or friend.
You should already have your sensitive electronics plugged into good surge protection, so the everyday fluctuations in power quality shouldn't be a concern while you're on vacation. But there's one other benefit from using surge protectors -- if you turn them off when you go out of town, your devices will stop drawing even phantom power (the tiny trickle of power that most devices use when they're off). Use two or three surge protectors to efficiently turn off kitchen appliances while you're out of town, too. Everything in the kitchen but the refrigerator can safely be unplugged, and surge protectors make it fast and easy to do this.
The LifeHacker article mentioned above lists many more ideas for saving money and protecting your home while you're gone. According to SFGate.com's HomeGuides site, "Water heating systems are the second biggest user of electricity in the home," and can account for over $60 per month in electricity costs on average. Taking a little time to turn off or unplug some devices can save you a lot of money while you enjoy your vacation. Don't forget to raise your thermostat a little bit, too -- A/C is the single highest energy consumer in the average home, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration's website.
Protect the valuable equipment you leave at home, and save money, too
You also have a couple of essential considerations if you've decided to bring your gear with you on vacation: how to keep it safe while traveling and what to do when you are at your destination.
If you're taking your car on your vacation, you have the least preparation to do. Since you probably already have a case for your laptop, tablet, music device, or other tech, you'll just use the case as usual. If you don't have one, or it's not big enough for the combined tech you want to bring with you, buy a good padded bag that will keep all of your stuff organized and protect it from light wear and tear. AmazonBasics has a good, inexpensive laptop bag to fit your computer or tablet, along with a travel organizer for the cables, batteries, and other supplemental equipment you need to bring. I usually buy one size larger than I need (15.6" for my 14" laptop), then double pad my machine by putting a laptop sleeve in the main compartment.
If you're flying, pack your laptop and/or tablet in a TSA-approved case or sleeve, and keep it near the top of your carry-on, so that you can remove it to be scanned. If it's TSA-approved, that means that the whole case can be placed on the belt to be scanned, and the equipment inside does not need to be removed. Although they are sometimes random, you should always expect similar scanning routines now when boarding trains, buses -- even cruise ships -- so a compliant bag would probably be worth the money for trips on any of these.
Amazon has a 15.6" laptop sleeve from Aerovation for about $25, and a more durable bag from Everki that fits up to 16" machines (and has a nice soft pocket for iPods, tablets, etc.) for around $90. Just make sure to include "TSA compliant" in your Amazon search phrase, and you'll find many bags and sleeves from cheap to very pricey.
So you got your expensive devices safely to your vacation destination, and now you're breathing a sigh of relief, right? Not so fast -- you also have to protect your devices once you get there. If you're in a hotel, you either need to keep your electronics with you (maybe you should search for a TSA-compliant backpack at Amazon!), or make use of the hotel safe. It really isn't a good idea to leave them unattended in the room, as there is a huge market for stolen computer-type gear.
Keeping all your gadgets with you isn't all that safe either, come to think of it. Hopefully, your vacation will entail swimming, golfing, dancing, eating out, and just generally having a good time. Leaving your electronics in a bag next to the restaurant table is not much better than leaving it with the ticket seller at the parasailing concession booth -- just one distraction, and bye-bye expensive belongings.
I wrote this article not to give you more to worry about, but to put a few of those worries to rest as you prepare for a well-deserved vacation. I know there was a lot of content in this one, so here's a short and sweet checklist for you:
Whatever you do, enjoy the family, friends, and fun that vacations bring (and try not to worry about your email)!
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Enjoy your vacation, with or without the gadgets!