Syncing iPod to a laptop when travelling

Q: I frequently travel with my iPod classic. I keep my music on a removable drive which I don’t take on the road. If I sync the podcasts without the external drive plugged in, iTunes removes all my music. I’ve found that Winamp will manage the music just fine, but its interface with podcasts is a bit clunky.

With no particular loyalty to iTunes or Winamp, what’s the best way out of this dilemma? I can’t be the first person to want to sync a podcast on the road.

– Chris

A: If you are using the same iTunes library database and simply disconnecting your external hard drive, there should not be any problem with your music being removed if you sync your iPod while the hard drive is disconnected. iTunes will not remove content from your iPod as long as it remains listed in your iTunes library database, regardless of whether the actual files can be found or not.

To make this work properly, you should leave your iTunes library database in its default location on your laptop’s hard drive (ie, your C: drive), and simply point your iTunes Music folder to the external hard drive under your iTunes Advanced preferences.

When your external hard drive is disconnected, iTunes will show exclamation marks beside any tracks that are on the external hard drive, but syncing your iPod will not result in these tracks being removed from your iPod, since they are still listed in your iTunes library.

In fact, when your external hard drive is not available, iTunes will simply revert to the default iTunes Music folder location on your C: drive, so you can download podcasts, and even purchased tracks and import CDs while you’re travelling. When you return to your desk, simply connect the external hard drive and restart iTunes. The Music folder will revert back to the external hard drive location, and you can transfer any content that you downloaded or imported while on the road back to the external hard drive by using the Advanced, Consolidate Library option.