Research travel: choose your tools

I will be spending the first week in June in the UK, conducting (preliminary) research. I plan to collect material related to my dissertation and also scope out the archives enough so that I can determine whether it’s worthwhile to return. This, and future trips (in state, thankfully), have me thinking about what tools I want to carry with me.

I was initially planning to only carry my iPad and its keyboard case to take notes and run a spreadsheet of photos taken which I could use when I got home. However, I will now also be Skyping in to class one night, and I’m a bit concerned about backing up my photos. I know that I can download the SD card onto my iPad and then upload them to Dropbox, but I have yet to figure out a good way of selecting 50-100 photos at a time on the iPad.

I could, of course, bring my laptop. My 15 inch, 6 lb, late 2008 MacBook pro which slows down running Chrome and TweetDeck at the same time. Now that I have a desktop (long story), I’d like to replace this with something lighter and more portable that I can use in archives or around town, but which doesn’t need to be able to run large-scale software programs. If I had a fairy godmother, or a winning Powerball ticket, I’d get a MacBook Air. It’s not that I’m wedded to Apple as a company or even as an OS, it’s just that I dislike Windows OS and have been using Apple products since the mid 1980s.

A much cheaper alternative would be a Chromebook (probably the Samsung model XE303C12). It’s got a small, solid-state hard drive, only 16GB, but it also has two USB ports, which would allow me to transfer files from my SD card to cloud storage or even an external drive. In some ways, especially given the limitations of the Chrome-based OS, it might seem little different from the iPad. On the other hand, it does have USB ports and file selection using a mouse rather than a touchscreen.

I’m open to advice from computer geeks, fellow researchers and digital humanists. What do you take when you travel, and what would you take if someone gave you a winning powerball ticket?