That a recent study found that 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen each week at airports speaks to the fact that business travelers are losing a lot of work, not to mention productivity and trade secrets. Only a third get back to their owners.

Losing a laptop is the quickest way to ruin a business trip. Of course, since most business travelers' laptops carry sensitive information, the impact of a lost laptop isn't limited to just one business trip.

Ironically, the majority of business travelers don't take steps to safeguard that information, such as by using a secret code to log on.

I invariably tote my trusty laptop, painfully aware of the exposure presented by traveling with something that's loaded with company data. I don't like lugging the extra weight, but, as far as the PDA has come, it still cannot fully replace the communications capability of a notebook.

Yes, I realize that I can tap into my office computer remotely over the Web. So why bring it at all? For me the answer is the convenience of being able to work on all of my computer applications wherever I am.

But my prediliction need not be yours. And so the following tips.

(1) DON'T BRING IT. So my first tip for hanging onto your laptop is just that simple: Leave it at the office, where you know it won't get lost.

(2) EAGLE-EYE IT. Incredibly, many laptops disappear during the airport security screening process. This is mind-boggling on the face of it, since you'd think a place with so many security personnel would be the safest place for a laptop. Far from it.

The reality is the security folks' jobs are to match up property with the owner — it's merely to make sure the stuff doesn't pose any threats.

Statistics don't lie. Be forewarned that laptops are getting picked up on the other end of the scanner by people other than their owners.

So my advice is to keep an eagle eye on your laptop as it gets screened. In fact, you might want to put your laptop into the scanner last, so you can be on the other side when it passes through.

Then it's simple — don't let your laptop out of your sight, ever.

(3) LOCK IT. Portable combination-lock cables (such as the ones made by Kensington) are a lightweight way to keep your laptop anchored to your luggage when you're lolling around the terminal.

In fact, the best place to keep the laptop is right in your lap. The one place I never put it is on the floor — not only is it easier for a thief to slide it his way, but you really don't want your electronics down on the carpet with all of that static electricity, dust, and what-have-you.

You also don't want to get it stepped on.

(4) CASE IT. Which brings us to the observation that your laptop belongs in a case when it's not in use. Your best bet is a hardshell case, and even better is a hardshell case that offers protection when dropped from, say, a chair (Matias Laptop Armor is a good choice). Best of all is a hardshell case that's waterproof as well.

You might consider storing your laptop in a case that doesn't look like a laptop case, like a knapsack. But I give laptop thieves more credit than that. I think that hardshelling it is more important than camouflaging it.

(5) PASSWORD-PROTECT IT. The last line of defense is the log-in password. When you take a laptop — especially a laptop loaded with loads of company data — into an environment as hostile as an airport, it's almost criminal not to have taken advantage of the password protection option that virtually every laptop offers today.

Bottom line: You need to assume that one day your laptop will disappear or be damaged in an airport. So take preventative steps beforehand, including backing up your data.

Sometimes I carry a small external drive with me that I use to back up data on the go. Sure, you can go so far as to do a clone copy of your laptop's drive on your external drive. But then you have the problem of securing the external drive. So be judicious about what you put on that drive. Remember, sometimes you can get by with carying just a USB drive for backing up data on the road.

Me? Some day soon hopefully all I'll need backing me upon the road is my trusty BlackBerry.

What about you? Do you still travel with your laptop; and why?