Taking a computer on holiday, or not

Some people have said to me that when you go on holiday you should disconnect from everything and just relax. Whilst those two things seem at odds for me, I thought it worth some pondering...

Totally disconnect

Many years ago, when I worked a 9 to 5 job (well, flexitime), I would get home at the end of the day and not have to think about work until the next day, or after weekend, or after a holiday even. I could go on holiday and leave work behind.

Back in those days though, we did not even have mobile phones. It really was disconnecting!

Taking a phone

Later, I had a mobile phone. Indeed, I had mobile phones before many people I knew as I worked for a mobile phone manufacturer.

It was, however, still a normal job, and I could leave work and go on holiday. As holiday would typically mean taking the kids to a caravan park in Cornwall, the mobile was no use most of the time anyway. Coverage was not good back then!

These days, a phone is pretty invaluable, even if just for emergencies, or just calling a taxi.

Phones are smart now

What has changed a lot since those good old days is not just what work is but what a phone is, and the very idea of social media. Up until we had social media, disconnecting would mean leaving work behind when on holiday, and for a lot of people that is a key part of a holiday.

But social media, on smart phones, is about social, not work. And holidays are about social. So leaving social media behind sort of makes no sense. You want to tweet and facebook and so on about what you are doing on holiday, and stay connected.

So I am not sure it makes sense leaving a phone behind, but of course the phone also has the email and everything else on it.

Running a business

This is where things get difficult. My phone has my work email on it, and work chat accounts, and so on. I know some people manage a separate work and home mobile, but I just use the one.

In my case the team we have at A&A are more than capable of running things without me while I am on holiday, but it is very much not the case for a small businesses. My friends are both trying to take a holiday too, and have people covering for them. But it is hard. We all want to keep up with things just in case, and watch out for anything that is urgent or important. For my friends here there is the fact that the office is one man down, and that costs money. Some small businesses, like being a lawyer, you literally sell your time by the hour! A chance to keep up on work stuff, even if doing work a little during each day, is useful, keeps the money coming in, and so can reduce the worry of what you face when you get back.

Taking a laptop

It makes a lot of sense for people to take a laptop if they do feel they need to keep on top of work. But a computer can be useful for social things too. With cameras and memory cards these days I could take thousands of shots a day on holiday and not fill the card. But if I take a few videos, I will soon fill it. Having a computer, and even extra disk, means I can edit videos and store them off the memory card during the holiday. This can be nothing to do with work at all and just part of a photography / videography hobby. If you are doing some work, a laptop is invaluable though.

Simon with monitor, keyboard, and track pad
Laptops are fiddly...

Of course, laptops are not the same as a good desktop computer - in terms of nice keyboard, nice screen, big screen, nice mouse, and processing power (for things like video editing). They are a compromise. Laptops are great for taking to a conference, or a meeting, or some such, obviously.

If you only take a tablet, they are even more fiddly. Thankfully a hotel room will usually have a usable desk, so actually taking more is possible. But it is a bit crazy perhaps.

However, it seems I am not alone in the crazy - Simon brought a laptop but also a monitor, keyboard, and large track pad so that he could use a computer as and when he wants with some comfort. I am inclined to agree, perhaps with the caveat of where you are staying being suitable (e.g. staying in a room with a large desk).

What do you do?

Do you take a phone, tablet, laptop, or more?

P.S. I am sort of stuck in the cabin for now, or at least until I get some better pain killers, as I managed to fall badly last night and no way I can walk around Flåm. So actually having a nice computer here is quite good...

P.P.S. Taking the snom/VoIP phone as well has been excellent, albeit mostly used by Simon and getting some random wrong number calls :-)


  1. What do I do?

    Phone (for tethering) + 10" Chromebook. Just enough that I can SSH into work from something with a proper keyboard, but without taking up too much space.

  2. Yes, I'll take a computer, even if just for a weekend away, but a laptop is fine — sure, a 15" screen and a linked iPad is not the same as my usual monitor set-up, but it's more than adequate for a holiday for me :)

  3. I usually take my phone and sometimes my laptop and will answer a query if it won't wait. But for the most part I pay a lot of money for my holidays and expect them to be holidays. If I am away from my phone e.g. out of range or by the pool, then I won't be immediately contactable.

    If I got hit by a bus tomorrow someone else would have to carry on with my projects. A software company really should not be totally reliant on any single person.


    1. How much generally would you spend on a holiday please. I can barely justify the petrol cost for a trip to the seaside these days, but maybe I'm just a bit thrifty.

    2. Indeed, if I was hit by a bus, I am pleased to say (well, not pleased with ideal of being hit by a bus) that we have the staff that can run the company.

    3. I am not sure who the cost of holiday was directed at - I have been quite lucky that I do now have friends who also run companies and between us we have been able to get some nice holidays - though it did involve scripting the site to catch when they lower the prices for a cabin that has not yet sold :-)

  4. I'll be off for a month early in July and I'm taking two laptops with me. A personal laptop so I can keep my journal and work on sorting many thousands of digital photographs which I've got behind on. A work laptop (which I hope not to switch on) just in case.

  5. Tweeting or posting on Facebook about your holiday is asking to be burgled. This has happened to some celebrities. In your case we happen to know you are not with your family so they may be at home. But in general it is a bad idea to say anything about a holiday online until you are back home after it.

    1. I'll bet Mr K's home is wired up like something from The Matrix! Woe betide any burglar who tries to pinch anything, they'll probably be broadcast live on CNN before they've even got past the front gate.

    2. It is good general advice from Owen, obviously, though in this case my family were here. Indeed, the house is almost never empty which is a shame given the alarm system and CCTV and so on.

  6. “reduce the worry of what you face when you get back.” damn, that is a shame, not good or healthy at all to be made to feel like that by your circumstances. Life is definitely too short. best to all I Norge and hope you are doing better after your fall.

  7. Actually, laptops are not so bad performance wise now because there are really good low power low voltage CPUs and having a Flash SSD instead of a medhanical magnetic hard disk is so much better in respect of performance and battery, whereas I have always found that laptop hard disks can either be a bit sad in performance terms or thirsty in battery consumption and some had reduced rotational speed to reduce the risks of failure or damage presumably and then they are fairly painful to use. I always took out hard disks shipped with new machines and put in the best model I could get hold of in any PC be it laptop or desktop. But for me SSDs make laptops much more viable as a desktop substitute, there just remains the awful cramped keyboards, small screens and sometimes no mouse and your man has sensibly got that covered.

    A random thought, off topic. If you are ever up for a project, would you consider putting anti-bufferbloat technology into the Firebrick with active queue management according to the new algorithms people are using for this nowadays. It would make web browsing nice if there is a flat-out download going on. My round-trip time to ping bottomless goes up from ~40 ms to ~230 ms when a flat out TCP download is going on. Getting queuing delay right down would be really nice, make things more usable.

    Just occurred to me at a random moment. Apologies for being so irrelevant and downright cheeky. Very best.

  8. What is the internet connection on the shi0,like this time round?

  9. Where I work, we use laptops every day instead of PC's - they are every bit as capable these days!

    Anyway, I took my laptop with me to the states and again to France, but barely used it in either location. It did come in handy tho. Admittedly I am not self employed anymore, and can switch off, but like to keep in touch with what's going on in the business when I'm away.

    1. I hate my work Windows laptop. It sits there taking up precious desk space with it's 14" screen and cramped useless keyboard, while I use a real monitor, keyboard and mouse to drive it. It's quick enough, the performance isn't the issue. It's the desk space, and the unreliability of USB through the dock (and insufficient USB ports without the dock), and the 50% chance of a BSOD if I undock it. In the 2.5 years I've had it I think I've actually used it somewhere other than my desk about 3 times.

      My work Linux tower machine on the other hand just sits there doing compiles, I ssh in from Windows with putty. No monitor or keyboard, and it only gets power cycled when there is a power cut. It only runs a gui because it's a standard install from IT. I never use the gui.

      And I never take any work gear home never mind on holiday. But then I'm just a salaried programmer. My boss has my private email address and mobile number if anything is ever that desperate, which it hasn't been so far.

      And we just accept that it takes a day per week you've been away to get through all the email and other stuff waiting for you when you get back. We report our time spent on that.

  10. I used to take just a cell phone and laptop on vacation with me. Then I started taking various peripherals such as webcams and external keyboards. More recently I have developed an attachment to a 44RU form factor Cisco ASR 9922 Series Aggregation Router which I devoutly take with me wherever I go. Where will it all end!

  11. Also, please note that I *always* take my MGE Galaxy PW 200KVA UPS on vacation with me - no matter what the circumstances. You can never be too prepared when it comes to matters of IT continuity.

  12. It's a good point - I've often seen less technical people ask things like "why a desktop when a laptop can do the same thing?" and "why wired networking when you could use wifi?" - no grasp of the performance difference. Good luck getting gigabit Ethernet performance out of wifi, or packing a 180W Threadripper or a pair of Xeons into a laptop the way you can with a desktop... Not to mention "let's just put the whole office on wifi"!

    Sorry to hear about the fall, I hope you recover (or at least get better painkillers!) soon and enjoy the rest of the holiday.

    1. Heh heh, "Threadripper" ;) Sounds just the tool for sending emails and Snapchat pics back home.

      Threadripper... brilliant! :))

  13. I have a gaming laptop with I take everywhere with me, In it's bag it weighs in at 15Kg.

  14. How has the internet been in relation to latency/jitter? I always assumed the cruise ship internet would perform poorly in these areas?

    1. When I sailed with Norwegian it was surprisingly good. Only failed when cruising up a glacial valley with steep cliffs either side, I think the ship lost LOS with the satellites.

  15. Cecil: proper traffic management became one of my bugbears when a gigabyte download for a satnav update totally killed my daughter's video streaming. I spent quite a lot of effort getting a good solution going on my Linux router using the facilities the OS has had for a while now. The Cake guys are doing useful stuff here but the main problem I see is that for it to work well the traffic needs to be DSCP-marked and no ISPs will do that except perhaps internally. I use 6 traffic classes and mark packets using iptables rules based on various criteria. It seems few router manufacturers are at all interested in this stuff.


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