Technology and Travel

I live out of a suitcase. Over the past two months I’ve been in Shanghai multiple times, Xi’an, Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City each twice, along with short trips to Bangkok and Taipei. I travel almost non-stop. If I’m not on the road, then I’m doing my laundry and planning my next trip. It has been this way for more than thirteen years, and I love it.

There’s a lot that goes into sustaining my lifestyle, but today I’d like to talk about the technology that helps make it possible. Specifically; my laptop.

I’ve been dragging around an Apple MacBook Air since it was first introduced back in 2008. These laptops are tanks. They’re built to take a beating. They’re solid.

More than anything; my laptop just works. Today, I have the cheapest entry level 13 inch MacBook Air. It’s pushing a 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5, with 4 GB of Memory. If you compare the i5 and i7 processors, the i5 is the slower of the two. With that said, I’ve never had a problem in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, or even editing HD video. One major benefit of the i5 processor in a MacBook Air is it provides 12 hours of battery life.

There’s really only one thing that matters to me in a laptop; battery life. I need to be able to go an entire day on a single charge. I can’t be at 5% charge while sitting in a taxi on the way to a meeting in Hong Kong. This is because, more times than not, I’m preparing my presentation and notes in that taxi for the meeting I’m about to walk into. If I’m not done with the presentation by the time I arrive at the office building, then I’m sitting on the sidewalk with the laptop on the ground finishing it. Most of the time I’ve got my phone paired to it for the internet, getting last minute research on that company’s past CSR activities, or downloading photos of past library donations that our team in Xi’an just sent to me via email or WeChat. No presentation I make is ever the same, and most are finished within five minutes of me walking into an office reception.

Every morning I throw my laptop into a backpack and go. No sleeve, no case, no cover, and no padding. Books, pens, and keys all banging up against it. Over the past two months I’ve used my Air in taxis, metros, while walking down the road, on the back of motorbikes, in banks, conference rooms, offices, on boats, trains, planes and waiting areas, at cafés, restaurants, bars and balconies. I’ve dropped it more than once during that time and it has not slowed down once.

Apple computers all come with an incredible service warranty. For those in the business world, it’s similar to IBM’s ThinkPad service warranty, of course before Lenovo gutted IBM’s support. I can walk into any Apple Store with a broken laptop and get it fixed within a day. All I have to say is “I’m a business customer,” and they fall over themselves to help.

For all of the above reasons, we have fifteen MacBook Airs at The Library Project. We have a few MacBook Pros that have been slowly dying, and a couple Windows laptops that are nothing short of pieces of shit. Each MacBook Air costs around $1,000-$1,300 depending on the region of the world we purchase. The absolute worst place on the planet to buy any kind of International brand electronics is Mainland China; you’re paying a tidy premium to the government for the privilege. In Hong Kong there’s no sales tax, so if you’re buying direct from Apple, then it’s a great value. The USA has by far the best deals through online stores, but you have to have a local mailing address and a couple days time for delivery. In the States you can get these machines for as low as $800 a pop.

One huge benefit to using Apple products in Mainland China is that they actually work. As in, they physically work. That’s no small accomplishment by the good people at Apple. The iCloud sync services work flawlessly without a VPN (virtual private network), with the exception of books, movies and TV Shows via iTunes. I can’t stress how important this is for a small business working in Mainland China because the internet here is a disaster. Finding local technology that is relevant outside these boarders is very hard for small businesses.

In closing, without this laptop I could not do what I do, and our team could not do what they do, which is donate over 200 rural elementary school libraries throughout China and Vietnam in 2017; over 2,000 since our first library in 2006.

I believe it is critically important to find technology that matches your personal needs and the needs of your organization’s mission. For us, the MacBook Air has been an incredible asset.