Is Taking A Laptop On Vacation Stupid?

from the well,-that-depends... dept

More than five years ago, we first discussed whether or not it made sense to take a laptop with you on vacation. Many people do so, and say that it’s actually quite useful, because it allows them to stay caught up with work with just a little bit of effort. The end result is that when they get back to work, they’re not overwhelmed with everything they missed. Now, however, a psychologist in the UK insists that taking a laptop on vacation is “stupid” and can break up your family. Seems a bit extreme. Having done vacations both with and without my laptop, I’d say that it actually depends quite a bit on the person, the job and the vacation (well, and the other family members). Mike Elgan, over at Computerworld does an excellent job shredding the psychologist’s faulty logic:

Clearly he’s not talking about attention itself, but diverting attention using a computer. Cooper’s clear assumption is that work is “bad” and that leisure is “good,” that technology (a laptop) is “bad” and non-technology (a book) is “good.”

Cooper also makes a host of other assumptions. For starters, he assumes that you’re disconnected from your own family all year, and need to “commune again with your family, connect with your children.” So that’s his advice? Become alienated from your own family, then “commune” with them for only two weeks a year? Why does he assume alienation in the first place?

Cooper assumes that you’re some nine-to-fiver who doesn’t do creative work. As an opinion columnist, good ideas can strike me anytime, anywhere. That’s true for a lot of different kinds of people. For many, a laptop is merely a writing tool, and a source of information and inspiration.

An increasing number of digital nomads are traveling without taking time off. The laptop *enables* travel and time away with family rather than creating a problem while traveling.

It appears to me that Cooper is making a lot of assumptions, and using his credentials to give credibility to his anti-technology bias.

Indeed. There are both good things and bad things about taking laptops on vacation, but it’s a choice that each person should make for themselves — and if it makes sense for them, it’s hardly “stupid.”

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Comments on “Is Taking A Laptop On Vacation Stupid?”

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Tabs says:

I love my little Geeekbook

I have never taken a full size lappy on holiday/travels due to the size/weight issue.

My work calls for me to log in for a couple of hours at the weekends and as such i have found myself tethered to my house whenever this had to happen.

At xmas i bought myself a little eee (701), a 3g modem and haven’t looked back. this little beastie has been a godsend, i can now visit friends/family and log in over the airwaves without any worry.

While on holidays i will log in early mornings and check emails etc so i can relax for the rest of the day. only once has anything gone seriously wrong but i was able to catch it and rectify before even the boss was awake.

Its a thouroughly worthwile and priceless bit of kit (to me)

C.G. (profile) says:

Laptops are tools for anything

The shortsightedness of the psychologist is almost hard to believe. Laptops, like cell phones, compasses, maps, swimming/ski/hiking gear, are just tools to use on vacation to enjoy it… to get more out of it.

I can recall using my laptop in London to navigate the streets and get directions. I also used my laptop to search for laundromats in Moab, UT when I went whitewater rafting. Ditto for finding a hiking trail in Hawaii.

What you get out of your vacation is up to the individual (mostly) and using or carrying a laptop is not going to make or break a vacation. It’s how you use it.

If you use it to connect to work and check emails, one could argue you aren’t really able to enjoy your vacation. But to simply not use a laptop – or any electronic device of similar capability – just for sake of getting “more” out of a vacation is silly.

I think he needs to have his head checked. 😉

Todd says:

it's how you use the laptop

Judging by the fact that if you are reading my comment, I’m going to assume that you use a computer for more than just work related reasons. Therefore taking a laptop on vacation does not inherently mean that you are doing work on vacation.

Laptops can be very useful when on vacation when you don’t have everything planned out ahead of time because then you can look up maps, things to do, weather, etc. Certainly limit the time that you are using the computer, because why travel to use a computer when you can use a computer at home. So make sure to take advantage of where ever you may be.

On my last trip I just my laptop to upload pictures and send out postcards from Snapfish.

As far as work, assuming you have a job that you go to, and are actually taking vacation time, then don’t work while on vacation. So what if you would actually be more productive if you spent 30 minuets a day doing work. You are not getting the psychological break from work then. Just take time when you get back to the office to get caught up. Any company who gives you time off and expects you to work while you are gone, isn’t truly giving you time off. Everyone understands that it takes a bit of time to get caught up when you return.

Dave says:

Laptop good!

I use my laptop extensively while on vacations. Finding restaurants, watching my choice of movie on the plane (with spare battery) and getting directions to the various things I want to see.

I do NOT connect to work during my vacations. That’s against the very concept of vacation. People who work all vacation need therapy, nobody is that needed that a week off will destroy things.

If you’re a workaholic, then leave your communications devices at home. If you know where your work life ends and your life begins, keep your tools handy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Its a mixed bag

I’ve done it both ways and I have to admit the time without the laptop I did feel more “untethered” and a bit more relaxed. I now rarely even take the laptop out of its bag as I can usualy just use my phone to “keep up” with whats happening. It is of course very unnerving to be “cut off” from the office for any significant length of time and for this reason I find the thought of not being connected, scary. On those rare occasions when I unintentionally am however, I do seem to relax more.

Accountant says:

Watch out for DHS

If you look shady or give them a reason they will confiscate your laptop and you may never see it again. Taking a work laptop with you, especially if the company does not know you are doing it, can cause problems if it is stolen or destroyed. Given what the airlines are doing with carry-ons and luggage it may be more trouble than it is worth as well.

That said, having something to find sites, get a map, restaurant reviews or check your reservations is nice. My daughter let me use a computer while in Germany and I used it a lot, but not a laptop. The small PC’s like the ASUS mentioned sounds like a great idea, as it could be hidden in your luggage or slip right into a small carry-on. Traditional, large laptops seem like too much bother.

Also, almost all tourist destinations have Internet cafes or the hotel has a place to sit down, check email or do other things. True, this may not be a way to backup or send pictures, but then all you need are a few more little memory sticks for that.

Yes, no, maybe?

GFS3 (user link) says:

The Issue Isn't a Laptop

Clearly, the “laptop” is a red herring. People can take a laptop on vacation in order to play World of Warcraft.

The point is whether the vacation is really a “vacation.” That means leaving work behind and getting some R&R to recharge the creative batteries. If you go on vacation and spend a couple of hours a day checking emails and monitoring work projects with your laptop then you aren’t really on vacation.

However, having a laptop on vacation to jot down ideas or an inspiration you have while lounging on a hammock seems like a fine practice.

Another point to remember is that vacations are also about establishing control with your company. Employees are allowed to have personal time — in fact, you should be diligent in setting up the boundaries that you and your family are comfortable with.

And as a point of order — work might not always be “bad,” but leisure is always “good.”

Laptop Man says:

Oh my gosh!

Leave my laptop!!! How am I going to put up the killer photos of my bad ass vacation on myspace?

You know I need to make my friends jealous of the great time I am having!!

If you use a laptop frequently at all, you know this phyco babbling shrink can probably, barely, with difficulties check his email.

I mean, if I get to room (if you are staying in one, maybe your in the great out doors) and you turn on the boob tube. are you going to be neglecting your family?

Didn’t they say the something about cell phones before? Or at least something similar? I am sure the good doctor would not leave his celly at on home on vacation.

I mean what if a patient called?

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow - most readers naive

I cant believe (well, maybe I can), how many of you are posting based on a crap article made by Mike, which itself is based on a UK article containing, what, 4 small paragraphs?

How many of you actually read the original article?

Well if you did, you would see that a lot of assumptions made by Mike and his colleages are just that – assumptions themselves since most of the garbage they write about isnt even discussed in the original article.

With that said, here is the run-down of the UK psychologist’s point:

Taking your laptop on vacation with you, in which it is used primarly work work, IS stupid. The point of a vacation is to get away from work, stress, etc. If you are working on your vacation, then you are not on vacation, and when you get back to work, you’re just going wonder when your next vacation is!

But yes, I do take my laptop with me when I go away. I tend not to do any buesiness related work with it, though, as many have pointed out, its nice to have for other reasons.

Whether its stupid or not depends on how you use the laptop – it may be stupid, but it may also not be stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wow - most readers naive


While the original article does not explicitly state “for work”. It is clear that is the point. And that’s not really news — doing work on vacation is bad. Whether or not this destroys a family is another argument and is largely ignored by responders to the article.

Mike, most posters here, and the blog to which Mike linked are blowing this way out of proportion.

Anonymous Coward says:

If you don’t take your laptop with you, how the hell are you going to get any work done?

Of course, that’s presuming you’re going to take a vacation. Who the fuck even does that? I’ve been in my current job for ten years and maxed out my vacation accrual at about 500 hours. . . and that was a few years ago. The last few years of vacation hours have just gone into /dev/null (since I’m already maxed-out).

Vacations are, largely, for pussies. Or non-pussies with families that are forcing them to. Which essentially makes them pussies anyway.

John Wilson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Vacations are, largely, for pussies. Or non-pussies with families that are forcing them to. Which essentially makes them pussies anyway.”

You sound pretty type “A” to me. Which is a wonderful way to shorten your life.

Three points:
1) People work to live
2) People with their heads screwed on right to not live to work.
3) No one ever died wishing they’d spent more time in the office. Or tethered to it, for that matter.

Time, I submit, to get a life to replace your work addiction.



Sean (profile) says:

Laptop on Vaca useful...

I always take my laptop,

We lookup direction and times for local events,
Local Food Menus for take out
Unload the digital camera so if we loose the cam on day 4 we don’t loose all the pics
The Kids play games in down time.

Lots of good uses. If having a laptop with you on Vaca breaks up the Fam… You had other issues before you decided to take the laptop on with you.


Blaise Alleyne (profile) says:

Laptops aren't just for work

I took my laptop on a month-long vacation to Australia, and though I did a little bit of work throughout the month, I used my laptop often as a tool for my vacation.

We booked a lot of our accommodations along the way, researching and booking online. We found out more about the places we wanted to visit online. We used Google Maps to plan our itinerary. We used Flickr and Facebook to share photos with family and friends, and I posted to my blog and to Twitter along the way. I subscribed to the Google News Australia feed for the month to get a bit of a sense for what was going on in the country (and Google Reader helped me keep up with what was going on at home). My laptop housed my music library, which we often took advantage of in hotels. We used WengoPhone to call home every now and then, and to make cheap calls within Australia to book reservations and find out information about tours.

There are lots of ways a laptop can be useful on vacation for the purposes of the vacation.

mike says:

it's in how you use it

I don’t bring a laptop on vacation just because I don’t want to lug it around. If I need to find a good restaurant, I ask around. Ya know, talk to people. (hahaha).

The bigger issue is if you bring it, don’t to work. Whether or not your “alienated” from your family and need to reconnect is, context sensitive. But, you get paid to work and vacation is part of that pay package. So take it. Working on vacation is just giving your time away. Look, your company won’t collapse if you are out of touch for a few days or weeks.

Mike says:

Freedom from the establishment

There is nothing wrong with bringing a laptop with you on vacation if it is used for the purpose of vacation. Downloading camera/vid camera, looking up sites and attractions, maps etc. You shouldn’t bring it so you can access your job. I am very clear to tell my boss and coworkers when I am on vacation I am unreachable, do not try. We Americans are a bit too absorbed with our jobs and the love of a corporation who can give a crap about you. At least enjoy a week of freedom from the establishment.

drtaxsacto (profile) says:

Taking your Laptop on Vacation

There are a lot of good reasons to take a laptop on vacation. (Even if you are tied to the Cloud with a service like MobileMe).
#1 – Does Cooper take a camera with him? If so how does he upload and edit pictures? Part of every vacation for me is photography – I like having my own laptop to help me do quick edits on the hundreds of shots. On one vacation to Europe my wife prevented me from taking a laptop and I lost one set of key pictures because I had not been able to back them up.
#2 – Does he ever want directions or other useful services? On a recent vacation to the East, we stopped and got some directions on the throughway in a rest area (New York supplies wireless!) and it was a great help.
#3 – For SKYPING – When we are out of the country, and we want to call home we use SKYPE – it is a lot cheaper than either trunk lines or cellular.
#4 – Electronic Newspapers – I don’t like carrying around all those silly printed newspapers with me. In the morning I download my favorite stories to read them later.
#5 – A great alarm clock – One of my favorite pieces of software is iRooster – their tagline was turn your $3000 laptop into a $6 alarm clock. But the software allows you to be woken to your choice of music – if find that nice.

I could go on but you get the point.

HDSS (user link) says:

Make it part of the vacation

I take mine so I can remotely check / process orders while I’m gone. I wouldn’t want to explain to someone who spent $$ for a RUSH order that I didn’t feel like doing it until I got back from vacation. Besides, it only take a few minutes and I can do it late at night if I must.

We make it a part of the vacation. We watch movies on it during the trip, or play games, etc. We use it to look up the weather while we’re there and find good restaurants around the area, or entertainment – whatever.

If you have a laptop and choose not to bring it, then that’s pretty stupid. Have fun shuffling through the Yellow Pages – I’ll take Google anyday.

trishica says:

latptop on vacation

I try to get info before I go anywhere. When I do vkay, I totally uplug. If need be, i go to an internet cafe to tell people I am still alive. Or I go to a payphone. I don’t even do cell phones. But this is totally personal preference and probably your job. I have found through my years, I need to unplug once and a while and just one weekend doesn’t cut it.

Wimpy says:

Laptop Vacation?

I have no problem taking my laptop for all the reasons above, searching local entertainment, dining, etc. I hate surfing the net on anything smaller than my hand and don’t prefer finding things on a blackberry, if it involves typing text using those tiny keys with my fat fingers. Even with the iphone, my brother has one and I still want a full size keyboard when I’m using it. I love technology, but I think I’ll wait for voice activated software to catch up before I use all these smaller devices. anyhow…
I would say there is no problem brining a laptop on vacation, but I will give this one piece of advice: Take it along for work / pleasure, but never let anyone at work know you take it along. Or you’ll be “that guy”, like the one at my work who goes on vacation but tells everyone he’s online using his laptop all the time. You will soon realize you never actually go on vacation, you just go somewhere else to work for a while. That is all.

bobbknight says:


To many assumptions are made.
It’s really hard to call popping off an email to a coworker whilst sitting on the beach in Ibiza sipping a beer work.
I agree if you spend more than an hour at it the old lady may get miffed.
In the Daily Express article I really don’t see an anti-tech bias.
I also have not seen the study itself so I would be very difficult to pass judgment on it.
All this comes down to a matter of degree.

Deborah says:

Work is the red herring

I disagree with the idea that laptops should never come on holiday but I also disagree that the psychologist meant they were bad only when used to work on holidays. Many families, mine included, have people who are a little too tied in to online gaming…World of Warcraft, online poker, packrat on facebook, etc. Holidays are when we can’t do that without making a serious effort, or making time to visit a gaming centre. If I had to ask my 12 year old son 30 times to ‘get off the computer’ sitting in a hotel room in Maui, for example, I think I might want to chuck the laptop in the sea! However I will be bringing mine on our next holiday to watch dvd’s in the airport lounge, upload photos and stay in touch. And maybe check my facebook…

Will G says:

Leave the laptop at home!

No work on vacation!! Use the laptop only for finding restaurants or finding that great surfing or fishing spot.

Even checking on work distracts you from relaxing, so don’t do it!

I read a great article called “Take that Vacation!!” found at It gives manager encouragement to see their folks get out of the office and relax.

AUS-IP SecurVault (user link) says:

There are many valid reasons for taking your laptop on holidays with you. There are also many good reasons to leave it home. If you do decide that you need your laptop while on holiday, you should have a data backup plan in place, as you may return without it, due to theft, damage or loss.

Here is a great artilce outlining ways to backup your laptop while travelling.

Holidaying with your laptop ? Use Cloud Data Backup Services

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