When deciding between a Mac or a PC laptop to take traveling there is no competition: PCs are by far the most versatile, internationally serviceable, and cheapest option.
If I have a problem with my $200 Compaq PC netbook I go outside of wherever I’m staying, walk two or three blocks to the local computer repair shop, and saunter on in. The guy behind the counter will then pop my laptop open, run a diagnostics check, and do repairs or replace parts for a nominal fee. If I want to buy software for my PC I walk into the nearest internet cafe and pay a dollar for a knock off version. If I need a general part — like a cord or new keys — I go into any computer shop and buy it over the counter. Life is simple and cheap traveling with a PC in the digital age.
But if I had a Macbook life would not be so easy.
First of all, I would have had to pay drastically more money just to get a Mac laptop. Secondly, I would only be able to get the computer serviced at an “officially licensed Apple repair shop” that will charge me USA prices for even looking at thing. Hmm, where’s the nearest Apple store from Ulaanbaatar? How about from Chiapas, Mexico? Namibia? Forget about it. If something goes wrong with your Mac on the road you’re more than likely looking at a journey in and of itself just to get it fixed.
Wes of Johnny Vagabond just faced the Macbook repair hurdle in Mexico.
List of global Apple service centers. Yes, most of the countries in the world are missing from this list.
In the name of transparency, I have to admit that I have a chauvinism against the Apple corporation. They are perhaps the only tech company in the world that can make Microsoft look good. I can’t say how many times I’ve stared at people in disbelief as they’ve told me that Apple shut down their device because they didn’t install the latest version of some program. What, they can do that? I don’t know how many times I’ve laughed in a Mac user’s face when they tell me that they have to go to a special and expensive, officially licensed store to get their machine serviced. Really? Are you kidding me? You can’t just go over to Juan Paco’s tienda and get it looked at?
I’m not going to pay to be controlled by a corporation, no matter how cool and trendy they’re marketed to be. I’m pragmatic when it comes to travel gear, I want the most versatile equipment at the best price. My computer gear costs very little to buy, almost nothing to get serviced, and I can purchase software and parts for it on every corner of the globe. I have no idea why anybody would choose to travel with something that they pay more money for that is often very difficult or even impossible to get serviced in most places in the world.
So I often ask Mac users why they prefer their machines over PCs? I’m curious here, I think I may be missing something. But what many tell me is the stale old line about how Macs are good for making multimedia productions and graphic design. Ok, cool, so I understand why film makers, musicians, and graphic artists use them, but 99 out of 100 Mac users I’ve met are not using their machines for these purposes: they are running their Macs the same as any PC using hick.
I don’t get it.
Traveling with a Mac and Apple products is like driving a car around the world that nobody can fix and you must order parts for from afar. Your fancy “Ithis” or “Ithat” may look slick and suave in the coffee houses of Seattle, but out here on the road many Apple users find themselves broken down and stranded in the middle of a proverbial desert without a service station for hundreds and hundreds of miles. This is not a situation I advise anyone to wantonly put themselves in.
When choosing complex travel gear it is always best to get the same brand and type that people use locally where you’re traveling. You want to be using stuff that can be fixed and re-provisioned with parts in as many places in the world as possible. When looking for a computer, I recommend Acer PCs for the simple reason that they are sold just about everywhere in the world. So if you ever have a problem with it you can rest assured that the local computer tech has probably seen your machine many times before and knows what to do. Asus and Compaq are two other low price PC brands that are also internationally versatile.
These PC laptops are great for travel. They’re cheap: if one of these computers last for a year, you got more than your money’s worth. They’re repairable: if you have to get one of these computers serviced, you can do so at any tech repair shop. They’re versatile: if you need to replace a power supply cord or want to buy software, you can do so nearly anywhere. They’re not overtly valuable: if someone holds you up and gun point and demands you to hand it over, you can do so without reservation. They’re replaceable: if you spill your beer on the keyboard and fry the motherboard, well, you can just walk over to the nearest computer shop and replace it without it wiping out your travel budget.
I can’t say this for Macs.
So unless you are doing some heavy lifting in the graphic design, music, or film making departments leave the Macbook in Seattle, when traveling internationally pick up a PC netbook and enjoy the fruits of versatility, choice, serviceability, and a very low price.
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About the Author: VBJ
I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. VBJ has written 3679 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii
August 17, 2012, 1:16 am
THANK you! As someone who helped Wes search for a power cord (in Merida, the closest apple shop and a 14+ hour bus ride from Chiapas), when I was able to just walk into Radio Shack to replace mine, I am behind you 100%. When Wes and other apple fanboys talk about getting the new mac produce I generally reply with “I could buy 4 EEEpc netbooks for the same price”. I just don’t get it, the whole mac thing. Let’s pay a lot more for something no one can fix! Yeah! Sounds like a great idea! Personally, I just bought a N7 tablet and that’s what’s coming with me on my next trip. My goal is to transition away from laptops completely.
August 17, 2012, 1:49 am
Will do. I’m bringing the new Google Nexus 7 on my next trip with me which will be 4 months in Europe and the Middle East. I’m looking forward to not carrying my laptop. My only concern is photo editing, but there are apps for that. It only has a 16 GB memory, but I am planning to root it so I can use USB OTG to connect pretty much any device via USB cable. I can pile everything onto $20 32GB MicroSD cards and use USB stick to read them. East peasy and 1/2 the weigh/bulk.
August 17, 2012, 2:41 am
Your right again Wade.Travelling to other countries especially less developed, you encounter problems that are much harder and more expensive to fix than when in your home country.For those that push the macs are more secure line, I suggest that people look at Linux.This will do 99% of what most people need.
Could you also do an article about your experiences of using Mobile phones while Travelling and any particular models that you have had success with.
Thanks for all the practical information which is missing on so many travel websites sites.
August 17, 2012, 4:13 am
When I started using computers in around ’96 to do art and graphic design, it was then true that Apple OS was a bit better then Windows back then.
But this all changed. Windows now runs graphic apps as good as any Mac does, if not better, as Apple and Adobe had some kind of a fight years ago, and there’s now no difference whatsoever between Mac and PC versions. Add to this that many 3D softwares won’t run at all on a Mac. Most games wont run on Mac too.
The only reason some still say that MAC are better is mostly ignorance or software preferences, as Apple got Final Cut Pro for video editing, and it won’t run on a PC, well at least natively. It can be emulated though. I’m not that familiar with the music aspect of it, but I gather that it’s the same thing.
Other than that Apple is trendy. They do make cool looking stuff. And people like that.
I like my 250$ EeePc, good travel thing.
August 17, 2012, 5:26 am
I just bought myself a Macbook for my vagabond life starting next year. It’s my first Mac computer after 25+ years of PC. Why a Mac? It was more a resignation choice than a preference. There is ONE thing that you can’t do with a PC that you can do with a Mac… upload to the Apple Store and some other stuff related to the iOS development.
I’ll begin my vagabond life in the US… so if something comes up, I’ll be in the position to replace gear and even consider switching back to PC notebook.
Yes, I thought about the repair issues, but since there’s no solution at the moment because of Apple’s protectionism. I’ll carry around a second power cord however and I’ll have a second device (phone and/or Google tablet) as back-up for blog entries.
No, I’m not happy with carrying a Mac, but as a programmer, iOS development will be part of my ongoing revenue streams… and hopefully the financial gains will outweigh the disadvantages.
August 17, 2012, 5:51 am
Thank Wade, I love when a breath of fresh air is written.
I enjoy studying Mac users, and I have owned a few Mac Products, my first computer was a Macintosh, then a Newton hand computer. I was amazed when I went to the Wikipedia conference in Frankfurt ,Germany, at least 95 percent of the Wikipedia people at the conference had Apple computers.
I had an epiphany in marketing about four months ago, for 56 years, or all my life, I thought, people buy good deals, I believed for 56 years, that if I made a product, that was intelligent, introspective, and a great price, it would sell like hot cakes. I was wrong, what is correct is you can sell to the mob, especially when you make an enemy of another group. Steven Jobs sold trendy stuff, he had a cult of personality like Hitler. It was sad he died, but it was the best thing that could ever happen to the world of computers. Now we can have smarter computers, and I think China is going to start selling even cheaper, better, computers smart phonesones now.
If you are managing lots of files, you know you need to have a great filing system in explorer, or in Windows 7, you need to control your libraries well. I have been having fun for the last two years, by asking people with Apple computers,
“Do you put your files on the Desktop?”
They say, “Yes, how did you know?”
I think to myself,
“Because you do not know how to use a computer, it is just a high priced toy for you to use to look at photos, and talk about yourself on Facebmanagingam manageing now over 100 web sites, and you are 100 percent right about the Mac products.
The Apple company sells fashion, not a good value for the money, I am not saying you cannot use a Mac, I am saying it is horrible value, and not possible to use for a perpetual traveler, but the Dell is worst… hehehe
August 17, 2012, 8:20 am
Well, there are computer-illiterate people in both PC and Mac worlds, just as there are programmers in both camps.
For some people using a computer is just a simple tool like a technology version of pen and paper, and those people don’t need to understand all the inner workings. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t use a computer. Just as you don’t have to understand all the IP protocol and the packets relay to use the Internet.
I could bring the same argument about blogs… Over 99% of the bloggers in the world don’t know a thing about HTML or Web programming (PHP, ASP, Perl, databases, etc)… and they rely on tools created by others to publish their writings. Should we also say that everyone using platforms like WordPress or hiring a Web programmer are people who don’t know how to use the Web and shouldn’t be online? I don’t think so.
In the computer world perhaps more than in any other sphere of human life because it’s so widely spread and visible, we are all dummies compared to some people and we are all geniuses compared to others.
If you want to debate about file organization, Mac OS is superior to Windows on that aspect by grouping all files related to a program into a single tree structure, as opposed to Windows where files are all over the place.
Apple didn’t invent the touch interface for the iPhone… it was widely commercialized by Palm almost 15 years ago. But what Apple did was to re-invent the experience to make it more dummy-friendly. It added an attractive design, to join the masses (while Palm couldn’t go beyond techies) expanding the market for smartphones like no one else could. Yes, there are iPhone users who just bought the design and barely use the device for anything but phone calls, but in that aspect it’s not much worst that people wearing Tommy Hilfiger or Polo clothes, using their body as advertisement panels (and paying for it!).
I prefer the PC world by far, for it’s open architecture, but I can recognize the good contribution of Apple… even if it would just be as a key player to save us from a Microsoft total domination.
Every time a product comes to maturity in terms of marketing, the design comes into play. Apple entered the parade… while PC world just watched. If you look a PC laptop today and one from 15 years ago, you can’t tell them apart, no matter that their brand is. Do the same operation with any other technology item like a simple microwave. When they were introduced they all looked the same, because the functionality was the main seller argument… but over the time design became more important and now you see them in various colours, in stainless steel, etc. When Jobs returned to Apple he decided to take the design train noticing the market was ready for that, especially his then targeted customers (artists). He then expanded the brand… but at the same time revolutionizing the computer world.
That being said, I agree that Mac isn’t a good value for your money… even if the design and functionality are great. That doesn’t mean they’re not good tools or that people using them are idiots.
- August 17, 2012, 8:20 am
August 17, 2012, 12:46 pm
Sadly, I can’t do what I do on a PC and have to lug around my MacBook Pro wherever I go. I even get insurance on it when I travel just in case it gets stolen or ‘dropped’ by those lovely folks at the TSA. It’s $200/year, but well worth the piece of mind for the only thing in my life that MAKES me money. I WISH I could manage on a PC. Damn things are cheap. AND (up until recently) if you really didn’t want to deal with microsoft, you could always replace the OS with some flavor of linux that works perfectly fine for the average user.
Sorry to hear Wes had a blowout. I know he relied on that thing A LOT.
August 18, 2012, 4:52 am
I’d like to get info on the insurance you’re referring to. That’s definitely something I’d like to look into.
- August 18, 2012, 4:52 am
August 22, 2012, 12:55 pm
It’s an interesting debate.
I’ve been a heavy laptop user for years. And I’ve had a lot.
I only use a Mac now. I find the hardware and operating system far superior. I am a website developer, and rely on the reliability of the machine and quality of the screen to get my work done.
I used to be a Windows programmer, and find Windows horrible to use today. Mac OSX and Linux are years ahead of Windows now. Any much cheaper.
I travelled with a old black Macbook for 5 years, through some heavy backpacking country. I bought it used for £450, used it 8 hours a day for years, and sold it for £300. They hold their value very well. And are reliable.
I was surprised to hear about Wes’ magsafe problem. My 6 year old MagSafe connector is still strong. It’s a shame he couldn’t find a cheap copy, as there are lots around.
It’s all about personal choice, budget, and whats necessary.
I can’t do my work on a netbook, the small screen and tiny trackpad are too much for me.
I also don’t like Windows anymore.
I wish Apple equipment was cheaper, but am happy to pay more up front, have it never fail, and be able to sell it for a decent price afterwards.
If you are happy with a netbook then that’s great. Tablets seems to be an even better solution for traveling now, if it does everything you need.
August 23, 2012, 9:44 am
FLASH!!! My IPhone 3Gs battery died and even though I am in Eastern Europe I’m having a hard time getting it replaced. No Apple center near and if I were to send it to one I have to use a courier because of the non removable battery. I will be buying a Nokia with wifi removable battery usb on the go and removable micro sd card plus pentaband 3G.Around the same cost of replacing the battery on the iPhone.
August 24, 2012, 4:11 am
Thanks, Wade. Just read about a trend that is starting to emerge that I think travelers might be interested about.Buying a tablet,ie,a Google Nexus7 or similar and a basic mobile phone.This works out cheaper and more flexible for a lot of people.Even though I have the minimum data plan for my mobile, the carrier will not allow me to use it as a hotshot unless I pay more to use my own data.A lot of carriers do this.The cost of the Google tablet is $250 and my new mobile is about €120.Both charge off micro usb so I only carry one charger.The phone takes standard sim cards and has all 3G bands for worldwide use.It also has usb on the go so I can transfer items from a standard thumb drive.This can also be done with the Google tablet with a small hack.All round a very versatile and reasonably priced set up for travel.
August 25, 2012, 1:00 am
Nick, I think that is the trend. Here is what I am doing right now when I am out. I’ve got a 7 inch Android tablet and a Samsung Android phone. I’ve got a sim with a China mobile data plan on it so I just activate the mobile hotspot feature of my phone and connect with the tablet. The tablet comes with a case that is simple external keyboard but I could connect any USB keyboard or mouse to it. I’m about $200 into this setup.
And Wade, your Alphasmart will connect right to it.
- August 25, 2012, 1:00 am
August 30, 2012, 4:57 am
Wade, ur right…. ok so i know nothing about Macs and other high tech stuff… jeez.. i dt even know what RSS feeds are….. but i hate getting products that’break’ down…and then costs a fortune to get repaired… life time garentee stuff rarely lasts me 1 year….. Katadyn water filter…. swiss product, i would expect something more from them , but mine cracked after 3 months… Platypus flat pack water bottle…. 3 of them the seam cracks……. products are crap……travelling is hard on stuff but it should last more than a few months.. eh!!!!
August 31, 2012, 1:00 am
I used to work at a place that serviced laptop screens for manufactorer refurbishment. By far and large the cheapest and most frequent screens were those 13.3″ MAC specialty made things. Macs are junk. I mean they have to be laughing their assess off getting people to pay 5X for 1/3 the quality. Lets not even mention they get their stuff made at suicided slave labor factories and still sell it for $2k+. The power of propaganda and marketing.
September 4, 2012, 1:31 pm
I first replied as a new Mac owner, despite my PC burning love 🙂
I forgot to mention a story that happened to me 5 years ago with a broken laptop.
I didn’t have a laptop at that moment, but as I was planning a few weeks trip in Australia, I decided I’d have to get a good laptop, with a good brand name, etc…
I arrived in Sydney and plugged in my laptop… and the power supply fried. I told myself “no problem, I’ll contact Toshiba and see how they can help me.” I first contacted Toshiba Canada and they couldn’t help me since I was in Australia. I then contacted Toshiba Australia… and they couldn’t help me since my laptop was a Canadian model. I did also waste time visiting 3 or 4 electronics stores downtown Sydney… trying to get a generic power supply… but none match the electric requirements of my laptop.
A few days later, I was flying to New Caledonia… so I tried there too… no luck. I had to visit Internet cafes to upload pictures and read emails. So, I ended up carrying a 5-lbs Toshiba paper weight for 3 weeks until I came back home. Once I got home, I paid $40 for a new power supply and got rid of the Toshiba device. That’s one brand I will never buy again.
There was a good and funny side of that however. As I was in Alice Springs , I went to the Internet Cafe. As I was uploading some photo, a guy comes sitting to the next station… being bored, I was a bit nosy and wondered what he was doing. I notice he was reading French Web sites. So, I began a quick chat… and he was from about 100 miles from my home… and there our paths were crossing over 10 000 miles further. Had I had my working laptop, I wouldn’t have visited that cafe and wouldn’t have met that guy and not have a funny travel story. (I wouldn’t have forgotten a baseball cap there either, but that’s ok)
October 27, 2012, 8:57 am
I hate rising to flamebait, but I just can’t resist.
First, your comment about service centers is way off. You said “most of the countries in the world are missing from this list.” I counted 129 or so on that list, undoubtedly the most populous and/or developed. 129 out of 193 isn’t bad actually, IMHO…
Today the wife and I are going to travel where Wes should have gone to get his replacement power supply, Tuxtla-Gutierrez. It’s about an hours drive (by shuttle van) from San Cristobal de las Casas and will cost us about $13 US (for one person, $19 for two) to get there and back. We will be going to the Plaza Cristal mall, as fancy and modern as any I’ve ever seen in the United States (including the ridiculous Gallerias). We will walk to the GNC and pick up something for a friend, then across the hall to the iStore, which appears to be the Mexico version of an Apple Store. It even looks like an Apple Store. I was there a few days ago with friends, one of whom bought a new MacBook Air 13″. I specifically checked out the supplies. It’s all there. All models of all iDevices, all covers and cases, all power supplies. Good selection on printers, ink, external drives, etc. And a service desk. That is where we are headed today as the wife’s MacBook Air 11″ appears to be suffering from an SSD failure.
Now it’s definitely not Wes’ fault that he had to have someone who was flying in from the states bring him a power adapter. He asked around and could not find a local source or store. Google searches in English don’t reveal anything either. But what *does* work is — asking a local! Fortunately my new best friend Esteban wanted a new Mac. First, this led us to a little store just a couple of blocks off the main Zocalo here in San Cristobal. They had iPhones and iPads and even a MacBook Air 11″ but that was about it. So he looked up places that sell Apple devices in Tuxtla and there were several! But the site he used to find them was all in Spanish. Even today I am unable to find it myself, using multiple Google attempts. So we went there and it was almost exactly like going to an Apple Store in a mall in the U.S.
Having said all that, yes — cheap PC parts are ubiquitous, even in Latin America. Repairs and parts replacement will be easier and cheaper on the road. If that is your primary concern, well – you probably never thought about buying a Mac in the first place! But in-between the repair issues you have to be happy with the daily use of the hardware and software. I have many years of experience with both software and hardware repair and maintenance on PC’s, mainly Dell. My personal computers were all Dell or HP, desktop and laptop. But six years ago I upgraded from an iRiver MP3 player to an iPod. The hardware and UI experience was so shockingly better it gateway-ed me right in to a MacBook, purchased in early 2007.
Since then I’ve owned two more Mac laptops (the current Airs) and two iPads and a Mac Mini and countless iDevices. Only the Airs and our iPod touches came on the road with us. I have also owned a Dell Mini, and I keep my eye on PC products, mainly due to that lower cost. But every time I get on one (usually to help someone with a problem) or run XP in virtual mode I am reminded of all the reasons I left that world behind. I won’t go into the details as much of it is preference vs. statistical analysis, but I don’t *hate* Microsoft or Dell or HP. I’ve already had a fun flame war between Wes, me and Mandy on Wes’ FB page over the iPad Mini vs Nexus 7 and while those are fun I have no desire to repeat that here. But I did want to chime in. We have been in Mexico eight months now and this will be our first Apple repair experience. I’ll report back, if you wish.
October 29, 2012, 6:20 am
Let me tell you about my Apple experience in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands(a US territory). I bought my wife an Ipod Touch online from the mainland and they shipped it over. After a couple of months it stopped working. Called up Apple and once they got my location, they told me I had to call Australia. They wouldn’t even help me. Australia is an international call and from the CNMI, it’s a regular call to the mainland(included in my cellphone plan minutes). Called Australia and they couldn’t help because I was in the US. Went back and forth for a couple of weeks. They said I had two choices: 1) Send it to a friend in the mainland and have them go to an Apple Store and when it’s fixed have that friend send it back to me. 2) With my own money send it internationally to Australia and included a paid UPS Air slip for them to send it back to me. Hmmm…..Both of those options would end up costing me close to $100, just to fix something under warranty.
I did something more soothing to the soul. I pulled out my hammer and smashed the Ipod many many many times. It felt good, really good. Next, I went and bought my wife a Sony Ericcson Android phone that she is still using with no issues.
May 30, 2014, 9:55 am
And here I am, 2 years later, replying to my own comment which I had completely forgotten about!
The trip to Tuxtla didn’t go as planned. The iShop in the mall didn’t have a working service desk yet. But we were directed to one a few blocks away. We dropped the Air off, and a week later were given the diagnosis – the logic board, which would cost us only $850 to repair. *ZOIKS!* Plus the repair would probably be done elsewhere, involving long shipping delays.
For that price we could damned near buy a new one back in the states! So we put it on ice and waited until we went back to Texas for a family visit. The Genius Bar gave us a similar diagnosis, and we had somehow managed to forget to extend the warranty. But unlike Mexico, in the States you can ship it for repair and they’ll repair anything for $250 total. So we did that, and they replaced the logic board. They also screwed up when reassembling it and permanently damaged a key. The local shop didn’t have those parts so it went back to the repair center. When it returned, pretty much every part had been replaced. It was like a new laptop! But the best part was that they waived all shipping/repair fees.
So in Mexico it would have cost us $850, in the States it cost us $0.
At this point we faced a few realities. One, Macs suffer from part supplier failures just like any PC manufacturer. (Two Airs, two logic boards) Two, Macs are much more difficult and expensive to repair overseas, and there is no cheap repair center shipment option. Three, our Airs would never be as valuable for resale as they were at that moment. So we sold our Macs and iPhones on eBay and switched to Google Nexus Android phones and Acer Chromebooks!
Of course I loaded Linux on to the Chromebooks for usability, but it felt a lot better traveling with $350 of electronics each as opposed to $1600 each. And even though Chromebooks aren’t sold in Mexico yet, the parts are generally standard PC-compliant hardware. We’ve used them daily in Mexico and Central America for almost a year now.
Recently a web development client required me to get Photoshop, which doesn’t run on Linux. So I grabbed the cheapest PC in town, which happened to be a Dell desktop w/ Windows 7. Five months later I’ve decided that this year when we return to the States we’ll do a compromise. We’ll pick up some basic PC laptops w/ biggish screens. More expensive than Chromebooks, but easier to operate, easier on the eyes, and definitely cheaper than Macs to maintain, *IF* something goes wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I still have Mac envy now and then, mainly due to software availability. So many cool tools that are Apple-exclusive. But I’m comfortable now being in the middle ground. Maybe by the time our pensions kick in we can cut things down to one laptop and a couple of Android tablets and smartphones. Until then, I’m rather looking forward to my big-ass laptop. 🙂
May 30, 2014, 10:14 am
Wow, thanks for coming back and sharing that!
- May 30, 2014, 10:14 am
- October 29, 2012, 6:20 am
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