I’m an IT consultant and I travel all the time, did anyone really not expect this post?
I’ve refined what I carry with me over the years and have it down to only the things that are needed. Below is a picture of the technology I carry with me, minus my iPhone 5, which I used to take the picture. The plastic sandwich baggies are to organize devices inside my bag; I cannot recommend enough that you find some method to organize. Just keeping the correct charging cables with the correct miniature devices is sometimes a chore and the baggies keep everything together in one place. I’m going to be experimenting with empty toilet paper rolls as a method of keeping cables from tangling; if successful I will follow up with a blog post.
Note that for some reason I didn’t get my Kindle in the picture and there is a car power adapter and audio line out cable for my iPhone. I use the audio line out cable with rental cars that have Aux inputs, which is most of them lately.
I read a large quantity of books while traveling – and even when not traveling come to think of it – so it should be no surprise that my Kindle Touch 3G is first in my list of Travel Tech Essentials. I can’t recommend Kindles enough due to their ease of use and the large library available via Amazon, 3rd party publishers such as Baen and even our local library system, which supports borrowing e-books with your Kindle.
The 3G version is highly recommended; it’s a one time fee and allows global 3G access to Amazon’s store, which is much nicer than trying to hunt down open WiFi or turning on your MiFi. I also can’t say enough about Amazon’s customer service – they’ve replaced two Kindles already, with both of them broken by me. Even after telling them “I broke it” they still replaced them under warranty with a simple $40 charge. Unfortunately the Kindle Touch 3G that I love is not available anymore but the Paperwhite 3G is out, and it has the benefit of a backlit screen – negating the need for the $60 lighted cover I use on mine.
Here are a couple pictures of my Kindle, both with the power off and with the flip up light. You can see why I might prefer a backlight, but this will work just fine for me until it dies.
I carry two hot spots: a Verizon 4G MiFi and a Clear Spot Voyager.
Since the inevitable question is “Why two?” :
The not-so-simple answer is that Verizon 4G, while fast and ubiquitous, is expensive. I pay $80/mo for 10GB of data. I also get most of my TV shows in HD from iTunes, where they average 1.25GB each. I don’t mind paying for network access to perform billable work, and I want quality and consistency when I’m working, so I use my Verizon MiFi for that.
However, I’m sure as hell not going to pay the $10/GB overage to download iTunes movies, hotel internet access is generally sub-par and guest WiFi is fairly rare at customer sites, so I picked up the Clear Spot Voyager. It’s WiMax and doesn’t work everywhere – Clear’s coverage is fairly spotty – but when it does work it’s generally fairly quick at 2-3Mbps and it is completely unlimited.
At times, my engagements are ridiculously stressful and I quite simply don’t want to open my laptop when I get back to the hotel. Tablet to the rescue! I carry an Apple iPad mini with me and can’t say enough good things about it. I know that some people don’t appreciate the lack of a retina display but I’m coming from an iPad 2 – which ended up as the living room tablet at home after acquiring a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for it – so I really don’t notice any difference.
For other options, I’ve heard good things about the Kindle Fire HD with 4G LTE, which could possibly combine your Kindle with your tablet, thus reducing the number of devices you’re carrying. However, I’d be concerned about the battery life of the Kindle Fire vs Kindle Paperwhite as that is one of the big reasons I love my Kindle Touch; the battery life is phenomenal. I’ve also heard good things about the Google Nexus 7 as well, but I’ve never used one. The problem for me with both the Kindle Fire & Google Nexus is that I’ve pretty much locked myself into the iTunes ecosystem – willingly, mind you – and those are both Android devices. At this point I have no need to move to another platform even though I have DRM-free backup copies of everything I’ve purchased through iTunes.
Where’s Microsoft in all this? Well, I tried to love them and carried a Surface RT for a few weeks but can’t recommend it in the end.
The part that people frequently overlook is power for all this technology. While more and more airports are installing power stations in boarding areas, they are still rather rare and it’s not easy to find an open spot to sit and charge your devices. To that end I carry a Mophie Juice Pack, which is a very thick device that is essentially a large battery with three USB ports – two full size for plugging in your devices and one micro USB for charging the Mophie itself – that allows you to charge your devices wherever you may be. I’ve used other battery packs and been somewht disappointed with all of them. Not so with the Mophie – I’ve never drained the battery, even when charging my Kindle, my iPhone and my iPad in quick succession, and it also has a nice LED indicator of how much juice is left. The downside? It is really thick and quite heavy for how small it is. The photo below is side by side with a normal sized key fob for a 2012 Nissan Sentra. I still recommend it though.
The only other thing I can recommend as far as power accessories go is for when you do manage to find a spare outlet. Pickup a travel power strip and not only will you only be able to charge more than one device at a time, there is also a good chance you’ll make a new single-serving-friend when you can share the last remaining outlet.
Trust me, you don’t want to spend weeks on end with the touch pad on your laptop. To that end, an external mouse is a necessity as far as I’m concerned.
Currently, I’m a big fan of the Arc Touch, which has the coolest power button in the world. To turn it on, click the lower half into place to use as a mouse and to turn it off you just have to click the lower half flat. Simple, stylish and the battery life is crazy; I’ve only changed them once in six months with 8-10 hours/day of use.
Prior to the Arc Touch, I was sold on the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook mouse and I still in have two of them as a matter of fact. They’re rock solid, bluetooth (instead of the mini USB dongle the Arc Touch uses) and have the normal quality level of Microsoft keyboards and mice. That said, they went through batteries quicker than I would have liked, to the point I carried a four pack of AA batteries in my bag.
When I was using a MacBook Pro, I had an Apple Magic Mouse, which worked, well, magically. Had no issues with it besides the fact that it ate batteries just as quickly as the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook mouse.
Lions, Tigers & Cables
Sometimes I feel like Oprah when I open my bag. “You get a cable! You get a cable! Everyone gets a cable!”
Cables are the bane of my existence when traveling. I leave them all over the place – hotels, airports, rental cars, you name it. You will too. It’s like a sacrifice to the travel gods. At least it doesn’t involve blood; I’m pretty sure the hotel would charge extra to clean that up.
The only advice I can give you is to carry at least one of every cable you need – which is obvious – and if you want to win friends and influence people (as well as not be left short when you lose a cable), carry an extra of each. Buy generic when possible as they’re much cheaper to lose.
Personally I carry two micro USB, two mini USB and two lightning to USB cables for my iPhone and iPad. If you have an older iPhone or iPad, pick up generic sync & charge cables in bulk. They won’t last as long but you’re likely to lose it before it breaks anyways and you can buy a dozen or so before you get to the cost of an official Apple branded cable.
You’re going to want extra storage, for two reasons: First, you will inevitably have to share files with a customer or colleague and the easiest way to do that while traveling is with a USB key. Buy a quality one and try not to lose it. Corsair makes really nice ones for example and I would recommend a 64GB key.
Second, and what will save your bacon at least once in your life as a road warrior, is a backup drive. I carry a 1.5TB Seagate but I’d recommend at least a 1TB drive. If you’re using Windows, your backups will exceed the size of your internal hard drive due to versioning and system images. For an example, my backups currently clock in at 566GB while I only have a 512GB drive.
I own both the Bose QuietComfort 3 noise canceling headphones and Bose MIE2i earbuds/headset but only carry the MIE2i earbuds with me on a regular basis; they also function spectacularly as a headset for my iPhone and the softphone on my laptop.
The QC3 headphones work superbly but they are also quite bulky in my bag and I always forget to charge them so they hang out at home right now. Regardless of what headphones you choose to carry, for your own sake carry a pair with you. Blocking out screaming children and snoring passengers (I’m guilty of this myself) or simply being able to watch a movie on your tablet will make your travel experience immensely less stressful. You can also use them to listen to Travel Commons, which is one of my favorite podcasts.
Enjoy your travels.