Anthony Noack wrote of the problems of being without his computer when traveling in "Jet-setting with no safety net" (Sydney Morning Herald, December 29, 2011). It is curious to see someone discussing how to travel without a computer and Internet access. In 1994 I wrote about the novelty of travelling around Europe with a pocket computer and the Internet.
Anthony's Sony Ericsson netbook disk drive crashed and he found it was an uncommon model. One solution to this is to buy a low cost laptop which uses commonly available parts, rather than a high end model. When the disk in my Kogan Agora crashed (after I dropped it on a stone floor) I just had to remove one screw from the back, slide out the disk drive and slide in a new one (I chose a solid state unit for reliability).
With a new disk Anthony points out you will have no software. So he suggests carrying a USB flash drive with a boot-able Linux distribution, in your computer bag. But it is a good idea not to carry your backup in your computer bag, as if the bag is lost or stolen, you will have lost your backup as well as your computer. Put keep the backup in a bag separate form the computer. Also it is a good idea not to carry a computer bag when traveling, as it is a sign to thieves you have something worth stealing. Instead put the laptop in a padded sleeve and put that in your normal bag.
Instead of using Linux as a backup, it is easier to use it all the time. I gave up using Microsoft Windows several years ago and have found that the Linux open source alternative works well. For some functions, such as accounting, I now use web cloud based applications. As a result when my computer disk failed, I used the cloud versions of applications until I could get a new disk. Then I installed a new copy of Linux on the disk and copied the data back from the cloud (but I also keep a copy of my data on a removable device, just in case the on-line version and the laptop is lost).
Anthony's camera then failed, due to water. He pointed out that travelers might have their whole trip's photos stored on the camera. But the photos would normally be stored on a flash drive and you can have several of these and so loss of the camera should not result in loss of all your photos. Also you can upload the photos to an on-line site from a cyber cafe.
Anthony contemplated doing without gadgets so he would not need to carry power cords and battery chargers. But I find things are much simpler now as many gadgets now use USB for charging. So I can carry just one power supply for my laptop and use its three USB sockets as a plug-board for recharging the phone and other gadgets.
Anthony points out that Internet access makes travel easier for bookings on route. One solution would be a smart phone, rather than a laptop, which could also be used for taking photos (I used my old 2G phone for photos).
As Anthony points out, hard copies of critical documents are important. I put my passport, ID and credit cards down on a photocopier before I travel and make a couple of copies to take with me. It also helps to use an on-line travel planner, which has your itinerary and booking details (then print a copy to take with you). A neat printed itinerary can also help with suspicious immigration officials: if the see you have worked out where you are going and have booked, they are more likely to let you into their country.