One of the first things I notice about most travelers’ gear they pull out of their bag is an array of charging cables for their mobile phone, laptop, MP3 player, GPS, etc.  Each one is usually a long unruly cord with some kind of wall-wart, USB, or cigarette lighter connection of some sort.  What a mess to deal with and lug around!

One of the keys to dealing with this mess is to be somewhat selective in your device purchases.  I usually won’t buy a new electronic device I carry with me unless it has a 1) Mini-USB, 2) Micro-USB, or 3) iPod connector.  For me this includes my GPS,  Bluetooth Headset, iPhone, Blackberry, spare batteries, etc.  The proliferation of Micro- and Mini-USB device connections is making this ever easier in the last several months.

The second key is to purchase retractable USB cables with the standard large male USB plug on one end, and Micro-USB, Mini-USB, and iPod Universal connectors on the other end.  Just three small retractable cables will take care of most of your charging needs.  Additionally, these cables can be used for data connections as well (e.g. syncing your iPod with iTunes, or connecting to an external USB hard drive).  Now you will need something to plug them into… and this is the beauty of the solution.

You can plug standard male USB connections in all over the place!  For example, your laptop surely has at least two ports, some new cars have them, many airport terminals offer USB connections in addition to standard outlets, and some newer airplane seats have USB connections. Standard USB female ports are proliferating in so many places.

What if you don’t have a laptop with you or a USB port available?  This is where we add two small additions to your cable kit… a car charger and 3 port folding plug.

So your kit only needs to include three retractable cables, a USB car adaptor, and a single wall-wart.  That’s it!  This is a very compact and extremely flexible charging and data solution for your proliferation of devices.  I usually keep a couple spare retractable cables in my suitcase just in case one fails or I lose a cable (I learned this challenging lesson the hard way without a way to charge my dead iPhone while traveling).

On other addition I’ve made is a retractable stereo cable which is great for plugging your phone or MP3 player into those nifty AUX ports in most newer rental cars.  Lastly, this kit is meant for traveling … any vehicle or workstation you use frequently should have its own dedicated cables (e.g. cell phone car charger).  This way you can keep your bag packed and ready to go!

I’m really curious what others have done to tame the cable mess we carry in our bags.  Please let me know your creative solutions as well!