Syd: Keeping tech safe on the road

As you may know I’m traveling with my family this month and will be on the road for a few more months. So I’m looking after 4 x Macbooks, 3 x DSLRs, 3 x pocket HD cams, 1 x iPad, 1 x Kindle. This blog post outlines my approach to physical security, and backup and recovery.

Physical security
This is minimising, as much as possible, the risk of having the stuff stolen or damaged while in transit. I decided to keep all the gear together as much as possible rather than having each person look after their own laptop. My daughters are at various camps where they won’t need their laptops so I had to figure out how to transport and secure the laptops anyway.

My answer is to use a Think Tank Urban Disguise 60 bag that I’ve configured to hold 3 x laptops and the iPad as well as all the 2 x DSLR and lenses. This bag is then put inside a Samsonite Cosmolite airplane cabin carryon size hard case. A big concern is how to secure the case when it’s in the car and in hotel rooms. When you’re traveling between towns you’ll want to stop off and have some lunch or a break. This is the high risk time for having stuff stolen. So keeping the case out of site in the boot/trunk is the first line of defence (and necessary as most travel insurance policies won’t cover items stolen from cars unless its locked in the boot/trunk or out of sight).

The second line of defence is to secure the case so that its not possible to remove from the car. I use a product called Python by MasterLock. This cable allows me to secure the case to the side or floor of the boot/trunk in the car, or against a post in a hotel room. The best feature of this lock is that there isn’t a bulky bit at the end of the cable like most cable bike locks. This allows it to be threaded through things like a baby seat anchor point in cars. In fact, I have two cables as some hotel rooms won’t have any fixed items and I will use the second cable to create a lockable fixing point like around a table. Having the case locked up and immovable is a great peace of mind when traveling. I’ll put other things like passports, car keys and other valuables in the case.

Backup and recovery
Now that we’ve got the equipment safe, what happens if a laptop has a disk crash or is stolen so either the disk or computer needs to be replaced? This scenario isn’t as uncommon as you might think. In five years of traveling it’s happened a computer in our traveling party three times. It’s already happened once this year.

I use an approach that uses Apple’s Filevault encryption and 3 backup disks. Filevault is a free feature on Macs that encrypts your home folder. This folder keeps all your email, documents and other files that is likely to contain sensitive information like bank accounts, passwords, credit card info etc. If your laptop is stolen or you need to swap hard disks Filevault makes is a bit harder for the thief to get to the contents of your disk. The tradeoff for using Filevault is disk speed. As a photographer you really don’t want the disk to be the slow point when doing edits. So I have a folder on my hard disk that is outside my home folder. All my images are therefore not encrypted. I’m not worried.

Here’s what I put on the 3 hard disks:
1. Disk 1 is a 1 Terabyte Iomega USB-powered disk and is where all photos and Lightroom catalogs are backed up for all four computers. Each computer has a folder and I use a simple backup program called Silverkeeper. After each day of photography, the images and the Lightroom catalog are backed up. This disk also has a partition that can be used to boot all four Macs. Having a boot partition can be extremely useful to recover and fix disk problems.

2. Disk 2 is a 1 TB Seagate USB-powered disk. It has a Time Machine backup of each computer. Time Machine is Apple’s free backup utility. This disk is used to backup the home directory of each computer and everything else except photos and Lightroom catalogs. Each laptop is backed up via Time Machine at least weekly. If a Mac has a disk problem and the disk is replaced the new Mac/disk can be restored using this disk. It also has a boot partition.

3. Disk 3 is a 2 TB Western Digital external disk that requires a AC adapter and has 3 uses. First, it has the original installation DVD images for all four Macs. Second, it has a disk image of every Mac using SuperDuper. This is a different type of backup to Time Machine because it doesn’t keep old versions of the files, just an image of the disk last time it was backed up. I’ve found Time Machine to be about 95% reliable and SuperDuper about 99%. Third, the disk is used to keep a second backup copy of photos and Lightroom catalogs.

I try to have the disks and the computers in different bags so if anything one bag gets lost it’s recoverable.

There you have it. My approach to keeping laptops and camera equipment safe on the road. Obviously if you download Office for Mac 2016, you’ll need to find alternate products that do the same things as the Mac equivalent, but the strategy could be implemented. And, this is an approach for an extended road trip. If I’m doing a 2-3 day event with one laptop this is clearly overkill. But going away with a few people for a month is when some of this approach becomes necessary.

In my next post I’ll cover how I get reliable Internet access while on the road in multiple countries.

Happy shooting,


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