If you’ve ignored all my advice to go on low‐tech adventures and are packing a laptop and mobile net connection alongside your merino‐wool boxer shorts and solar panels, you might find these bits of software make your precious time at the battery‐powered screen a bit easier, safer and more productive. (And 7 out of the 8 are free.)
1. Google Earth
Bear with me. This 3D, scaleable, rotatable, satellite‐image globe and map of roads, borders, waterways and pretty much every point of interest in existence on the planet just keeps getting better, and is great for planning journeys on. Draw routes on the map, see elevation profiles, add waypoints and then export the whole plan to your GPS unit.
You can even hook up a GPS for real‐time location plotting. If it’s good enough for Ed Stafford, it’s good enough for you.
Stuff gets stolen occasionally, whether or not you’re travelling. Prey is a free piece of stealth‐software which hides on your laptop (or Android smartphone) and makes it easier to find if the worst happens.
All you have to do, while filling in the police report and wringing your hands in despair, is log on to the project’s website and mark your device as missing. The hidden app will begin reporting its location, activity — even screenshots of the thief’s Facebook page if he or she decides to do a bit of ill‐advised web browsing with your shiny toy.
Time to round up a posse!
It’s useful to have your important documents — scans of your passport and visas, birth certificate, insurance policy, medical records, and your trip research — on your laptop’s hard drive, as well as the hard copies you’ve obviously packed. But what if you lose or damage your laptop?
Dropbox sits in the system tray and uses whatever internet connection is available to make sure your documents stay the same on all of your devices. Update or add something from the field, and it’ll show up everywhere else as soon as you connect to the web, without you having to press a button, as well as making a master copy securely available online. You get 2GB for starters.
There are lots of clever programs for organising ideas, making notes, taking clippings of web pages or documents, and the like. But Evernote gets my vote because, like Dropbox, the whole shebang is auto‐synchronised over the web. If you lose your data, it’s all there to be retrieved from the Evernote website or from any other sync’ed device.
Adobe Lightroom is the only program in this list that you have to pay for. There are free basic alternatives like Picasa. But if you’re serious about photography, no other program gives you such a balance of power and uncluttered simplicity when organising and editing your shots.
Importantly, it leaves the original files entirely untouched in case you later decide that your edits were a bit over‐the‐top, or you want to make multiple ‘virtual copies’ of a single image. The included Flickr plugin, which sends pictures off to Flickr with a single button‐click, is the icing on the cake.
Google’s free web browser is ultra fast, allows you to synchronise your settings online (a running theme in this article), and makes maximum use of the probably‐limited screen space you’ll have with your netbook or compact laptop.
Using Skype over a mobile web connection can work out cheaper than using the mobile phone itself. You get video into the bargain as well, if you so choose. It’s easier on bandwidth than you might expect and degrades cleverly if your connection speed is on the slow side.
8. SyncToy (Windows only)
You might have an external backup hard drive alongside your laptop, merino‐wool boxer shorts and solar panels. There are tons of automated backup programs, but I like the simplicity (and price tag) of Windows’ SyncToy. Just choose the laptop folders you want to echo, and a destination folder on the backup drive.
Now, every time you plug in your backup drive and click ‘Run’, all changes get copied automagically. Quick and easy, saving time and battery life.
Well, that’s my round‐up — what programs and apps do you recommend?