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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Travel Tips: Travelling with a Palmtop

Remember the adverts in the early 1980s for the portable Osborne computer? The one that managed to pack a computer, screen, power supply and floppy drive into a suitcase-sized package? All I can remember is that the woman who held the computer in the adverts not only had the slightly strained look of someone smiling through a particularly boring cocktail party story, but she had the whitest knuckles I've ever seen. She's probably suing for stress-induced arthritis as we speak.

Being a Digital Nomad in the Nineties

Mark's old Psion-based travel kit
My old Psion-based travel kit

For my 1995-1998 trip, I wanted a portable computer that I could use for writing, faxing and sending messages to the tiny handful of people I knew with email addresses. Unbelievably, I managed to cobble together a system that managed all of this and more, all running off a handful of AA batteries.

Just for the record, I typed around half a million words on that tiny keyboard over three years; that's about the same as four or five reasonably sized novels. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but having tried both computers, I'd much rather use a proper keyboard than a Psion one. My thumbs are still aching...

Being a Digital Nomad in the Noughties

A Palm m125 and a fold-out keyboard
My trusty Palm m125 plugged into the amazing fold-out Palm keyboard

By the time I came to my trip through West Africa in 2002-2003, my trusty Acorn Pocket Book simply wasn't up to the job any more (though I've been using it as my alarm clock ever since – they really built them to last). I needed a more modern solution, and decided to go for a slightly different tack.

With this set-up, I could easily write anywhere and copy my stuff to PCs in internet cafés. Sure, I needed to install software and plug cables into strange computers, but I do this kind of stuff for a living, so I rather enjoyed it. I even ended up ftp-ing my writing directly to my website, so friends and family could read it at their leisure, but that's a whole other story...

Don't Get Addicted!

Technology on the road is fantastic, when it works. My first machine died in the middle of Sulawesi, however, where Acorn stockists weren't exactly common (hey, they weren't exactly common anywhere.) This is what I wrote in my travelogue at the time:

It was then that my computer died from the same disease that had struck it down in New Zealand: a cracked screen cable. If I had known how long I'd have to wait for a replacement, despite the best efforts of Acorn, it would have sent me into a wave of panic; I've become so used to travelling with the convenience of dynamic budgeting, the ability to keep my travelogue going without having to worry about the constraints of pen and paper, and the ease of having all my information available in one place, that life without my little machine is considerably more difficult.

So I kept my travelogue as a series of memory-jogging notes in a pad, ready to sit down and type away as soon as I got to Yogyakarta, the place I thought I'd resurrect the poor, wee beastie. Sadly, it wasn't until Singapore that I became electronically sound again, so for this section of the travelogue I'm working from memories that are up to a month old. Hopefully it won't be too obvious, but I just know I'll have forgotten so many little details that would normally be rushed down into electronic form as soon as they occur to me. Technology is a great enabler, but take it away and the user is worse off than they would have been before; I simply can't write on paper any more, unless it's a short letter. The thought of ink and processed tree, of not being able to cut and paste, to change words millions of times, to check the spelling, to back up what I write, to email the result home... it scares the hell out of me!

The replacement almost died in Diu, but luckily I was able to fix it. The moral of the story is, don't get too dependent on your machine – always carry a pen and paper, just in case.