Last year, I built a mobile audio lab so I could do audio testing, recording, and writing on the go, but it quickly evolved into the geek’s ultimate travel pack. My particular setup is still slanted towards audio, but you can always adapt it to your specific needs. This is all stuff that can be kept in a small backpack, ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The main things to look at are zipper quality and carrying style. I strongly recommend backpacks — you’ll be glad when you’re older and your spine isn’t crooked from messenger/shoulder bags. The Timbuk2 Datadump Day Pack is my current favorite–it’s even got a rubberized waterproof bottom in case you need to put your bag on wet ground for a second while you… err… adjust yourself.
Just make sure the pack you choose can accommodate your laptop’s width — I’ve got a 12-inch Apple iBook G4, so it fits pretty much everything.
You never know what two devices you’ll need to connect on the go. Bring along FireWire and USB 2.0 (one square plug for printers and scanners, and one miniplug for portable cameras and MP3 players). A Y-cable (2 female 3.5-mm to one male 3.5-mm) for using two sets of headphones from a single audio source always comes in handy, and one minijack-to-minijack audio cable will take care of most line-in or line-out needs. iPod users should include an extra iPod cable if possible, as they tend to disappear easily.
The right adapter can turn an impossible situation into no big deal, and they barely take up any room. Be sure to cover all bases with the following:
* USB card reader
* eighth-inch to quarter-inch headphone adapter
* quarter-inch to eighth-inch headphone adapter
* dual-mono plug for plugging in your headphones to airplane audio sources
* 2.5-mm to 3.5-mm audio (for tricky cell phone outputs)
Another lifesaver: an AC-to-USB (5V) wall plug — the iPod mini brick will do nicely. This will let you charge portable devices without having to plug them into your laptop’s USB ports.
Aside from your MP3 player of choice (I’m partial to my 80GB iPod), make sure you’ve got regular earbuds for when you want to hear what’s going on around you as well as a set of small noise isolators like the excellent Creative Zen Aurvana for noisier environs. A small set of speakers is great for hotel room gatherings; Creative’s TravelDock 900 is still one of my faves since it folds up to a sturdy sunglasses-case sized package.
If you really want some convergence, just take along a Samsung yepp YP-K5 — it’s an MP3 player with a slide-out speaker that’s pretty loud for its size.
As a journalist and musician, I don’t leave home without my Belkin TuneTalk Stereo, which lets me record audio directly to my iPod. Of course, many non-Apple MP3 players have built-in voice recorders, though you won’t get the surprisingly clean quality the TuneTalk/iPod combo gives you. Just make sure you keep some room free on your iPod, since voice recordings can take up anywhere from 80MB to 800MB per hour, depending on format and quality settings.
Other items that can be indispensable:
* portable USB hub (Belkin makes reliable inexpensive 4-port hubs)
* battery charger that works with AA and AAA batteries
* Brookstone universal voltage converter
* USB flash drive (512MB minimum)
I also carry around a HeadRoom Total BitHead headphone amplifier for my own audiophile needs. This is really only practical if you’ve got high-end headphones like the Etymotic ER4S on hand, though it can come in handy if you need to power a large set of speakers.
Other practical items
* High-output rechargeable batteries (2500mAh for AA and 850mAh for AAA)
* 2 blank CDs
* one blank DVD
* 2 pens and a pencil
* laptop power supply
* Cell charger
* Electrical tape (hey, you never know)
* Tiny flashlight
A Leatherman or Swiss Army knife can also be extremely useful, but you may want to leave this out if you’re traveling by plane or need to go through a metal detector. If you’re traveling far, please do us all a favor and bring some soap, a travel toothbrush, and toothpaste too.
A Must Have
A wireless access point like the Airport Express or the D-Link DWL-G730AP. This will save your life in many ways. As journalists, we often face crowded, smelly press rooms at conferences and events. As travelers, we also face short Ethernet cables hanging out behind a TV or heavy sofa in a well-meaning hotel’s “business room.” Adding a wireless adapter into the mix turns a one-to-one Internet experience into a one-to-many. Open that puppy up and start browsing but remember to encrypt everything you do.
This may seem unusually anal, but consider keeping everything in quart-size freezer bags with the big plastic sliding zippers. I keep all my cables in one bag and adapters/batteries in another, since it cuts down drastically on the time you spend rummaging through the pockets in your bag.
This article is part of our series on Travel for Geeks.