Archives for category: Traveling

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No matter what your method of travel, the balance between carrying everything you might need and just the essentials is sometimes a struggle.  I’ve been traveling quite a bit the last few years and I have figured just about the right balance … at least for me.  I get comments all the time about how light my bag is!  (For this post, I’m referring to my carry-on bag or briefcase).  I thought I would share what’s in my bag and why.

I am very picky about what I will add to my bag, and I get a little too much pleasure when I’m able to remove something from my bag permanently (e.g.  I was just able to dump my GPS now that I have a suitable replacement on my iPhone – check out waze).  The items you see are the same ones I carry with me whether I am running across town or across the country, and for short or long trips.  Having all the essentials in one place makes planning and packing ever so easy when you know everything is in your bag and ready to go.

These items are my essentials …  I would much rather lose my suitcase than my carry-on.  All right, let’s get to the list, mostly from left to right, but not really in order of importance:

  • Reading Material – so here I have Make: magazine which I commonly swap out with Wired.  I read cached RSS feeds from Google Reader on my iPhone quite often.
  • Clear Plastic Folder – I use this folder to quickly store necessary travel documents, boarding passes, and receipts.   It quickly secures with Velcro and it is easy to verify the contents at a glance.  I always empty this folder at the end of every trip.
  • Glasses, Case, and Lens Cloth – because, well, … it’s a bit easier to read for long periods of time.
  • Healthcare Stuff – Eye drops, Hand Sanitizer, Floss, Mints, Tube of Essential Medications, Carmex
  • Laptop and Charger – Necessary for email and presentations.  Nice for watching movies.
  • Lanyard – I dislike being given a promotional badge lanyard for every conference I attend.  I like to use my own sometimes.
  • Quarters – Sometimes you have no choice but to feed the parking meter.
  • Stack of $1 Bills – I find it easier to have a bunch of dollar bills accessible, rather than pulling out my wallet for tips.
  • MiO Water Enhancer – Nice when you’re tired of water, but know you shouldn’t have another Diet Coke.
  • Laser Pointer – It’s a must have for those “death by PowerPoint” presentations (I shy away from these as much as possible!)  This one also doubles as an LED flashlight.
  • USB Flash Drive – Too many times there is no VGA cable for the projector – just don’t leave it behind!
  • Binder Clips – There are endless uses for these … just read lifehacker!
  • Pen and Mechanical Pencil Instant geek cred when you have a mechanical pencil in your shirt pocket.
  • Bluetooth Headset – Single headset for both my phones.
  • Badge – I can’t show up to work without it.
  • Alternate Identification – I carry one of those credit card-sized US passports in my bag (complete with tin foil hat!) in case I lose my wallet.  Getting through TSA security to get back home would be a nightmare otherwise.
  • Luggage Tag – “I … uh …  forgot my bag on the plane.”
  • Business Cards – Complete with Google Voice phone number and Twitter feed.
  • Keys If you are parking and then flying, keep these in a safe place.  You won’t need them until you get back but you’ll be screwed if you’ve lost them.
  • Notebook You need something professional to doodle on, right?
  • iPhone – This is probably the most important item I carry with me.  It’s my phone (of course), hotspot, email, map, GPS, travel agent, notebook, white noise machine, etc.
  • Extra Mobile Phone – I don’t carry two phones on me, but having a backup phone on an alternate carrier in your bag is a good way to cover your bases.  See my post Prepping for Sticky Travel Situations.
  • Bluetooth Trackball/Mouse – Using the trackpad combined with limited elbow room on a plane is comfortable only for a short time.  Yeah, I know this is probably not kosher once the cabin door closes but I’ve never been cited.
  • Earplugs – “Really?  You have to tell the story of your second cousin’s hunting trip now?  On the five-hour red-eye flight back home?”
  • Noise Cancelling Earbuds w/ Mic – In addition to listening to your favorite tunes, these are handy when your bluetooth headset just won’t cut it for that important call with your boss.
  • Extra Laptop Battery –  This is a must-have for those all-day trips when you won’t have access to an outlet.
  • Retractable USB Cables – 2x Micro-USB, Mini-USB, iPhone, Stereo – These double as charging and data cables for every device that needs juice in my bag.  I use the stereo cable for rental cars that commonly have an AUX input.
  • 110V Power Splitter – This is nice when all the of the power plugs are being used at the gate.  Just ask nicely if you can split the power.  It’s like carrying your own outlet!  It’s also nice for those hotel rooms that never have enough power outlets.
  • Dual USB Car Charger – For charging all of my devices on the go.
  • Triple USB Charger – With folding 110V prongs!
  • Mophie Juice Pack – For those long days when I just don’t have time to charge my iPhone, I just swap out cases and I’m good to go.

I would love to know what you have in your travel bag – maybe I can consolidate mine even further!  Happy Travels …

I attended the HPC User Forum this week that was held in San Diego.  I slipped out just a couple hours early to catch my flight – turns out I didn’t miss much because the power in San Diego went out soon after I left!  I had just passed through airport security when everything went black.  Everyone was calm, but it became quickly apparent that no planes would be taking off anytime soon.

My normal preparations (aka the stuff in my carry-on bag) really paid off during this hiccup in my plans.  I thought I would share with you a few lessons that were reinforced while stuck in San Diego.  Some of these things I was going to share in future blogs, but the time seems appropriate to do so now.  I am very selective in the items I carry with me as I try to travel very light; although, a few seldom used items that I always carry with me came in very handy.

As I arrived at the airport, I quickly passed by the Delta counter and headed to security because I never check bags.  If I had checked a bag  I would have had to wait a very long time to retrieve it before exiting the airport, delaying my escape from San Diego.  Checking a bag will usually slow you down substantially if your plans change, your flight gets cancelled, or you are stuck overnight because of a missed connection while your bag made it safely to your destination without you.  If you travel a lot and are still checking bags, its time to downsize your stuff and even consider washing if you have an extended trip.  If I have a tight connection I also try not to gate check my bag if possible, as this can easily cost you an extra 20 minutes.  I recently downsized my suitcase to one that will fit under the seat on regional jets, and now I rarely need to gate check.  This saves me lots of time, and gives me much more flexibility when I have connecting flights.

What is the first thing you imagine everyone did after realizing that their travels plans were in jeopardy?  Get on their phone of course – to check the news, call loved ones, make alternate arrangements, etc.  This compounded with cell towers without power quickly caused calls to drop and data connections to stall.  I was fortunate enough to have two phones with me, each on different networks (T-mobile and AT&T).  Over the next several hours I had to alternate between phones but I was usually able to get through.

After a couple of hours, the most common worry I heard from others was that their phone battery was almost drained and they had no way to charge it.  I always keep an extra battery with me for both of my phones.  I typically only need them on long flights or times when I forget to charge my phone overnight.  In San Diego though, the extra batteries became a lifeline.  Purchase an extra battery or two and keep them charged; you never know when you will need them.  Additionally, I had my retractable charging cables in my bag so I was able to get some juice once I got to a rental car.

Speaking of rental cars, this was the key to getting my travel back on track.  While planes could not take off, it turns out that most of the rental car companies were still issuing cars to patrons.  So now I had power for my phones, air-conditioning, and a way to leave town.  I picked a rental car that had great MPG since I didn’t know when I would find another working gas pump.  Getting to a rental car was key, and I was able to drive to Los Angeles (which had power), get a good nights sleep, and catch a flight the next morning.

I have some colleagues that rely on the GPS on their smartphone, but I always carry a separate small Garmin GPS with me.  I like to have separate devices in case I get an important call while I’m driving.  In the power outage though, conserving battery power on my phone was nice, but more importantly the data connection on my phone was almost non-existent which made apps like Google Maps useless.  My Garmin has the maps built-in and it worked just like you would expect, regardless of the outage.  I would suggest a GPS that has a standard USB charging connection (so you can use retractable cables) and has spoken street names.  This way, I can just stuff my GPS in the console or my shirt pocket, and not have to carry the bulky window mount with me everywhere.

Credit cards were useless in San Diego during the power outage.  I always carry some extra cash with me, which I usually end up using on cab fare or parking.  In this case though, I needed cash so I could eat!  If you don’t have a stash of extra cash with you, at the very least put an extra twenty in your wallet that you only use in case of emergencies.

All in all, the San Diego blackout turned out to be not so bad thanks to preparation and a little luck.  I arrived home 18 hours late but I got a good nights rest, ate well, and was able to communicate with friends and family.

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!

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