How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone

Aaron Couch 27-10-2012

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone Intro image 2 cropThis day and age it’s pretty uncommon to not see someone with a smartphone, tablet or laptop in a public place like a library. We’ve become quite reliant on them, wouldn’t you say? So reliant, we often say we “couldn’t live without them”. In my experience, I have never owned a smartphone or tablet. And there have been occasions where I’ve been without a laptop for weeks at a time, usually due to it being repaired. Some call me “deprived.” I call it “wise budgeting until I can afford a smartphone”.


Because of the unique situation I’m in where I love technology, but often don’t have a means of bringing it with me to the extent that most people do, I’ve found many workarounds to accomplish just as much, if not more, than the average smartphone and tablet user. Granted, most of the time I do have my laptop, but when I don’t, I’ve found the following strategies just as efficient as using my own personal computer.

Use A Portable Hard Drive, SD Card And/Or USB Flash Drive

Sync Your Files To Your Portable Device(s)

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone Portable HDD and Flash Drive

This would likely best be done with a portable hard drive in order to ensure you take all your files with you. However, SD cards and flash drives with larger capacities are becoming much more affordable and still might be able to store the bulk of your data. We’ve covered several programs that can back up and sync your files. The benefit that syncing has over backup is that if you make any changes to a file while away from your computer, that change will then be made to the file on your personal computer once the device is plugged in.

For an excellent extensive list, check out Justin’s article – Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Read More .

Install PortableApps On Your Portable Device(s)

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone portableapps


You may have heard of PortableApps before through the coverage of it on MakeUseOf. But you may not know that it can be run on literally any portable device – portable hard drives, SD cards, flash drives, even your iPod.

What I love so much about PortableApps is the diversity of applications and that you can even run web browsers from it. This is crucial to being truly portable as much of what you will need is access to the Internet.

Sync Your Browser Settings To The Cloud

We just talked about PortableApps and that you can run browsers from it. Now let’s look at some of the things that you can do with your web browser to allow you to access your information no matter where you are.

Set Up Browser Sync

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone chrome sync


In Firefox, Chrome and Opera you can sync your browser settings, including bookmarks, passwords and tabs. This is called “Firefox Sync”, “Chrome Sync”, and “Opera Link”. There’s a great article on MakeUseOf on setting this up in Firefox How To Keep Your Bookmarks Synced Across Computers With Firefox 4 After a year since the last major version was released, Mozilla has launched Firefox 4 with the promise of a lighter and speedier browsing experience. The latest version of the Fox offers many improvements and... Read More .

For more information on this, check out Tina’s article – 4 Great Ways To Sync Your Bookmarks & Favorites Across Computers & Phones 5 Xmarks Alternatives to Sync Bookmarks Across Devices and Browsers Wish you could sync your bookmarks across all devices and browsers? Here are the best Xmarks alternatives to use. Read More .

Extend Synchronization With Third-Party Add-Ons & Extensions

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone xmarks

Syncing some browser settings like tabs, extensions and themes is nice, but I prefer LastPass and Xmarks for password and bookmark synchronization. This is because there are online “vaults” where I can log in and access my bookmarks and passwords even without a portable device running a browser. There is an article on MakeUseOf featuring LastPass LastPass for Firefox: The Ideal Password Management System If you've not yet decided to use a password manager for your myriad logins online, it's time you took a look at one of the best options around: LastPass. Many people are cautious about using... Read More , which is focuses on Firefox, however LastPass works for Internet Explorer, Opera, Chrome and Safari as well. Xmarks is great for syncing your bookmarks across all browser platforms XMarks Syncs Bookmarks & Passwords Between All Major Browsers Read More , so no matter whether you use Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Chrome or Safari on another computer, you can access your bookmarks.


If you are interested in managing your tabs with an extension as well, I recommend taking a look at TabCloud for Firefox, Chrome and Android How to Restore Tabs in Chrome & Firefox Across Machines With TabCloud Read More or Session Buddy for Chrome.

Use Bookmarklets & Web Apps, When Local Apps Aren’t Available

Bookmarklets, in case you don’t know, are small scripts written in JavaScript and stored as a URL of a bookmark or as a hyperlink on a web page. These can easily be dragged from a web page into your browser’s bookmark bar for easy access. Bookmarklets do have their limitations and sometimes can’t replace an extension, but Erez highlights many of the reasons Stop Installing Browser Add-ons - For a Faster, Leaner Browser Use Bookmarklets Instead Read More why you want to use them instead of extensions.

Using web apps can also make you more portable since your browser is often already open. As there are more and more web applications available for various tasks, you might find yourself merging away from the standalone local application and more into the web. Obviously some programs can’t be replaced however, which is why you use bookmarklets and web apps in combination with PortableApps.

Access Files & Notes Anywhere With Cloud Storage & Web Docs

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone Cloud computing


Cloud storage can be your best friend when it comes to being portable. We discussed backing up your computer files to a portable device, but an additional method that I recommend is using a cloud synchronization and backup service to have the most recent file as many local backup programs won’t be running constantly nor will they detect a change and automatically make it to the stored file. Cloud sync applications do this. It is recommended that before you just choose an online backup service Read This Before Choosing An Online Backup Provider Backing up your files is a no-brainer - at least it should be. Hardware failure, security breaches, natural disasters, thieving scumbags and clumsiness can all lead to heart-in-mouth moments when you realise that your precious... Read More , you do some research. Personally, I recommend SugarSync SugarSync: The Most Well-Rounded Free File Backup & Syncing Service File backup is not a new conversation or topic by any means. If you search Google for “file backup” you will likely be overwhelmed by services and articles on the topic. It is a vast... Read More , but have found Dropbox Top 10 Uses For Dropbox You May Not Have Thought Of For many advanced computer users, Dropbox is the premiere cloud-based storage and sharing document service. It has replaced the Documents folder on my Mac, and is the primary way I sync files between my devices.... Read More very useful at times too.

Moving on to web docs, Google Docs and Evernote 5 Cool Features That Prove Evernote Is Still A Kick-Ass Service With all the hoopla surrounding Google Drive, and everyone going nuts over Dropbox, I think one other service is being sorely neglected - Evernote. Our Evernote coverage has been rather sketchy of late, and I... Read More are two excellent services. Evernote has a desktop application that you can use on your personal computer, then while you’re away you can access all of your notes via the Evernote website. Google Docs is a complete web-based app, but is connected with Google Drive, which you can install on your personal computer and access any files which you have in it.

Access Voice Mails & Texts, And Make Calls Without Your Phone

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone Voice mail from PC

This might sound too good to be true, but Google Voice can do this. Perhaps you haven’t heard of it yet. If not, check out Justin’s article 5 Awesome Things You Can Do With Google Voice 5 Awesome Things You Can Do With Google Voice Blog from your phone, call Canada for free or use your computer to make free phone calls. Google Voice isn't the easiest Google service to explain to non-techies, partially because it can be used for... Read More . Basically through set up, you can receive text transcripts of voice mails, make calls from within Gmail (if you have a microphone), and access your voice mails and texts any time in the Google Voice interface. There are a lot more features too.

Use Text Messaging To Communicate With Various Online Services

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone texting

Speaking of phones, many of the non-computer things you can do are simply through text messaging itself.


How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone facebook

Most of you know you can message someone from your phone via text if they message you and that you can receive text notifications regarding wall posts, likes, comments, etc. But you may not be familiar with some of the other popular services across the web that you can control with texts too.


Google has several neat uses for it. The most basic one is texting “Google” (466453) to get directions, weather information, phone numbers and addresses, movie times, the list goes on. There are a plethora of things you can receive via text. See! You don’t need a smartphone to search, just text Google. As I previously mentioned, Google Voice actually can send text transcripts of voice mails which is very helpful. You can also create events and receive notifications in Google Calendar via text.

How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone google calendar


How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone twitter

I use Twitter quite frequently, but much of the time I am not at my computer. So in order to stay on top of my notifications, I’ve set up my phone to receive text messages of mentions from only those I follow. This cuts down on the amount of notifications, while still informing me about the relevant ones. I can easily respond to these by sending a text back to Twitter (40404).

IFTTT (If This Then That)

Justin wrote an article on making your “dumbphone” smart with IFTTT Make Your Dumb Phone Smart With ifttt With If This Then That (ifttt) and SMS I can teach my dumb phone all kinds of smart tricks, from updating social networks to adding events to my calendar. What makes ifttt so good at... Read More and I highly recommend you check it out. There are an abundant amount of things that IFTTT can do and is a major part of being mobile without a smartphone.


How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone evernote

We previously discussed Evernote as a web doc solution, but have you ever had an idea that you wanted to right down, only you didn’t have a pen and paper. Most people have a smartphone, but you don’t. What do you do? Text Evernote of course! Whenever you sign up, you get a private email. Add this email as a contact in your phone and you can send ideas and save texts or pictures by forwarding them.


How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone mint

Have you heard of Hopefully so. It’s the greatest budgeting website around. I won’t go into detail, instead I’ll let Bakari’s article How To Use Mint To Manage Your Budget & Spendings Online Read More take care of that. But I will say that you can set up next notifications for different situations such as low balance, bill reminders and unusual spending. there are many other categories that you can be notified through SMS as well.


How To Be Completely Portable Without Your Own Computer Or Smartphone trapster

Trapster is a mobile app and service that notifies you about police sightings. I have been able to still use this service despite not having a smartphone since they have the ability to also send text messages.

Access Your Computer Remotely While Away

Accessing your computer remotely is another way of accessing your files while away from your computer. There are several great services available, many of which we’ve covered on MakeUseOf 12 Excellent, Free Screen Sharing & Remote Access Tools You Haven't Heard Of Yet Thanks to remote access, you can see and control screens from anywhere. This can save time and confusion when you are in a meeting or want to help someone. Keep these screen sharing tools close... Read More .

Use A Portable Operating System

This is a bit of a stretch, especially since some public computers won’t allow you to boot from a portable device. But if you’re the type that wants a completely custom operating system, you have a couple options. You can run Linux on a USB drive How To Create & Use A USB Ubuntu Linux Boot Jump Drive Read More or build your own custom and portable operating system with Slax Build Your Own Customized Portable & Fast Operating System With Slax Read More .


How portable are you without a smartphone? Have you tried any of these tips? Do you have any of your own that we missed? We’d love to hear your input on going portable without the convenience of a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Image Credits: Portable HDD and Flash Drive via Shutterstock, Cloud computing via Shutterstock, Voice mail from PC via Shutterstock, Businessman texting via Shutterstock, Computers via Shutterstock

Related topics: Bookmarklets, Cloud Computing, Google Docs, Google Voice, IFTTT, Portable App.

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  1. Onaje Asheber
    March 12, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Google has some good stuff, but I love using PortableApps, I have USB drive with it, and also partition my desktop hard-drive with PortableApps for any programs that not not be installed.

  2. Anonymous
    December 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    This looks VERY interesting. I'm going to have to work through this slowly and try a bunch of the suggestions.

  3. Terafall
    November 6, 2012 at 4:59 am

    Thanks for the tips

  4. Timothy Clark
    November 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Nice article... gonna have to give some of that a try for sure! Thanks guys!

  5. Aaron Couch
    November 3, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Good idea Anne! Thanks for reading. I hope this helps!

  6. Douglas Mutay
    November 2, 2012 at 11:27 am

    This article is one of the best ever! thank you! Thumb up!

  7. Mubeen Ahmed
    November 1, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    its a very good info.
    i would definitly try it

  8. Michael Jan Moratalla
    November 1, 2012 at 4:23 am

    good advice thanks

  9. David Yaroshevsky
    October 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    That sounds like a real plan, but I feel like it could be sort of a stretch. Personally, I'd bet I'd find myself missing the versatility and ease of use of my laptop. Still, I've taken a step towards this, as I sync all of my files between my school's computers and my personal devices (laptop, phone, tablet) using services like Google Drive and Dropbox. A wonderful app for this is CloudOn; they have a wonderful Microsoft Office-like doc editor, and it's completely cost- and ad-free!

    [Broken URL Removed]

  10. Jeremy Garnett
    October 31, 2012 at 5:23 am

    For syncing multiple versions of firefox, check out the addon Siphon

  11. Rolando Islas
    October 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm

    I always like to keep a portable Dropbox on my flash drive when i want access to my files. I find it more convenient than the web interface when manipulating files.

    It's also nice to have a Ubuntu live USB flash drive with file persistance on. This allows you to keep your settings and applications with you.

    • Dmitriy Tverdov
      November 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm

      Unfortunately, live-USB is something than you cannot always depend on - for ex. number of "not-really-personal" PC are not allowed to be booted up from external devices, or boot process of any useful OS is so slow (hi, USB1.1) than you better off with just portable apps.

      So for me it's mostly thumbdrive with lightweight apps - i started on this road before recent advancements in Chrome and FF so my default browser is Opera, which was first PC borowse to bring online sync (and pretty fast compared to other popular choices -esp. when PC you're using is old), i love Dropbox portable, use dedicated mail client and portable Word+Excel clones.

      Several tips -

      1)if choosing between webapp and webapp+portable app - choose latter, as you're not always have internet connection or internet connection fast enough to be comfortable. But make list of webapp alternatives to any non-internet app you've in need of.

      2) Choose your thumbstick/portable HDD carefully - as for portable apps you've need one with fast random access speed (ie good at handling transfer/modification of mall files, not simply writing/reading large files like movies), but be aware that number of speedy high-capacity sticks are picky when it comes to usb power - ie stable not-so-fast 8gb (or 2gb!) drive working anywhere is much more useful than fast 32gb one which won't start or often fails in older PCs (i have _several_ different brand sticks which failed and needed reformatiing after inserting them in PCs with cheap motherboards/powersources and EEE PC 4G, not to mention that pocket hdds also could not work if power output of USB port is not high enough, though usually this don't put your data on HDD in danger).
      Don't forget to backup your data regularly.

      3) Look twice at your phone - chance is that despite being "dumb" and primitive compared to newest Nexus or Iphone, it's not "dumb" but "feature" or "JAVA" phone. Which of course means that there's working apps for it like OperaMini (which supports bookmarks in cloud), GoogleMaps/YandexMaps and GMail (most essential three imo, with second being matter of where you live). Or some other apps that you possibly can find on MakeUseOf and google. My personal favourites for backup phone are Listonic grocery list (also web-app, WM, IOs and Android) and Expense Manager.
      Depend on your tariffs, but in my case price of data usage is much less than sending SMSes.
      In case of phone being Symbian-powered things are even better - you can run both JAVA apps and some native programs from OVI/other sites.

      Also currently even simpliest phones usually include built-in calendar, tasks and sometimes even notes apps - which are very useful things users of "just caller" phones tend to overlook - and also chance is you can sync your these apps to webservers via SyncML and/or backup them to pc via manufacturer's software (btw, nice work, Nokia PC Suite, if only you've supported Thunderbird not just Outlook...)

    October 30, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Great article. But I wonder, why you didn't consider OneNote along with Google Docs and Evernote. I found it very useful. We can add voice, video and almost everything. Web app of OneNote is also available

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      November 1, 2012 at 4:25 am

      OneNote is not portable nor cross platform. Evernote is a better solution for that.

  13. Homer Tolibert
    October 29, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Wow, I never knew that this was possible. I'm going to read more and get involved with this tool.

  14. Boni Oloff
    October 29, 2012 at 2:20 am

    I already do, most of this. But i never use mint, gonna try it..

    • Aaron Couch
      October 29, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      Very nice! Have any of your own techniques to add?

      Mint is great! And there are quite a few articles on MUO about it as well.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Boni Oloff
        October 30, 2012 at 12:53 am

        Mint looks great, but when i try to install it from App Store in my iPhone, i can't because the app is not available for my country. That's bad.

        • Aaron Couch
          October 30, 2012 at 11:33 am

          Oh that's a bummer Boni. I'm sorry about that. Mint is a great service that's too bad. I did some quick searching for some alternatives. Perhaps some of these might work. Although, I'll be honest, I haven't tried them myself.

          Hope this helps!

        • Boni Oloff
          October 30, 2012 at 11:43 am

          Thanks for the suggestion bro, will try them.

        • Samarth Hegde
          October 30, 2012 at 11:59 am

          hey!!! brick u r phone!! :) u might get some apps ! tey it out :)

        • Samarth Hegde
          October 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

          hey !!! Brick U r phone!! U might get access ! :) to some limited apps! :)

  15. Anonymous
    October 29, 2012 at 1:07 am

    like Frederick said I'm alarmed that some people can get paid $7813 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you read this web site DOMAIN.COM

  16. Michael Jan Moratalla
    October 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    nice article

  17. Grr
    October 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    I have a smartphone, but use it only for making/receiving calls.

    I agree with you that we could go portable, but there is always a risk. Given portable, SD Cards, and USB- there is always a risk of getting infected by virus/ trojan / malware from the system connected to.

  18. Igor Rizvi?
    October 28, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Just imagine,all your apps with one suit its all you actually need.Lets just see the big picture : fresh win7,all apps on portable usb or hdd,without registry keys,everything in one need to clean the system...just great...

  19. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    October 28, 2012 at 9:58 am

    External hardrive is what I always use.

  20. Harshal Warkhede
    October 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Thanks for the article. I will try these now.

  21. Nikhil Chandak
    October 28, 2012 at 8:38 am

    now i came to know how to be portable without PCs & mobiles

    • Aaron Couch
      October 29, 2012 at 6:30 pm

      Well it may sound like I'm being technical, but it wasn't about how to be portable without PCs and mobiles, but specifically without your own laptop (i.e. using someone else's or a public computer) and a smartphone (i.e. using a basic phone).

      To me, that is a big difference. Of course you need SOME sort of electronic device to be portable - I'm not saying that.

  22. Alex Perkins
    October 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    I use Google Drive for all my school work incase I forget my flash drive, and have an entire suite of portable apps to use as well.

  23. Efi Dreyshner
    October 27, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Thanks for sharing.
    I have learned a few thing ;)

  24. Anonymous
    October 27, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Thanks for the tips..%

  25. Yang Yang Li
    October 27, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    "I have never owned a smartphone or tablet." - Aaron Couch, MakeUseOf Author
    You have my respect!

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      October 28, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Yeah. A lot of people seems to be thinking that they can get stuff done if they possess the newest/shiniest/smartest gizmo. He proved that even an IT columnist can survive without those things.

  26. Terry
    October 27, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    I once setup a virtual machine running a VNC server and a web server with the Java VNC client configured to access the VM itself sitting inside the web directory. That way I only had to have port 80 inbound open and forwared through the firewall. Using any Java capable web browser gave me access to my own web hosted computer.

    I also had EyeOS installed in the webserver folder. For a third party solution I had an account with Ghost.

    Basically instead of web-based tools I had complete web-based systems with all of the programs/apps in one convenient place. running my own browser from within those systems gave me all my bookmarks and a little more privacy if I was using someone else's or a public computer.

    • Paul-G
      October 27, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      I see what you did there but can suggest a FAR simpler solution. Go to, create an FREE account and add that PC. Small client to install. Job done.

      Access from anywhere, sign in, access the PC.

      I mainly use it for remote support of friends & relatives but also use it for accessing my machines when away.

      • Terry
        October 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm

        I specifically chose not to do that at the time because I did not want my services to dependant on any unnecessary additional third party.

  27. Somaiya Ebrahim
    October 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    great article..very useful for me. thank you :)

  28. vineed gangadharan
    October 27, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    lots of things der but m happy with chrome sync and last pass,,,btw i got my last pass pro account from this site...u ppl rock

  29. Patrick Jackson
    October 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    A very nice article indeed! I am also one of your types as I don't own a smartphone yet, but I am thinking of buying a Raspberry Pi to suffice my portable computing needs!

  30. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    October 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Dropbox for document- in use, Box, ADrive and Skydrive for anything else. Then I have USB sticks with light and portable applications as well as Puppy Linux (one of them has Mint instead). I also install Slacko Puppy in my phone's SD card just in case.

    Recently I'm interested in virtual operating system like Ceedo, or its freeware counterpart, Prayaya ( figuring out if the installer is clean, though.

  31. Tom P
    October 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Wonderful post with great ideas! This is one I'm going to definitely put to use.

  32. Roman Vávra
    October 27, 2012 at 8:47 am

    External Hard Drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Sky Drive and Flash Disk with Portable apps... thats all i need! :)

  33. Garey Boone
    October 27, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Great article old, broken down laptop hard drives are great for this exact type of thing and a heck of a lot cheaper than picking up a new external hard drive.The enclosures are usually under $10.00 the performance and size difference is quite a bit more noticeable too than any thumb drive you could get for $10.00 or less.

    • Aaron Couch
      November 3, 2012 at 1:48 am

      Great point Garey! Thanks for sharing!

  34. Félix S. De Jesús
    October 27, 2012 at 4:00 am

    I love to use my External Hard drive, for everything, and to access my docs, even on another computer ;) Or Simple, Dropbox.

    • Aaron Couch
      November 3, 2012 at 1:48 am

      Very nice! Yep. That method combined with a cloud service like Dropbox is excellent!