The pile of accessories I pack for my notebook isn’t as big as it used to be. Unfortunately, it’s still easy for it to be as heavy and bulky as the notebook itself.
Specifically, my current travel notebook is a newish (purchased December 2011) Lenovo ThinkPad X120e, with an 11-inch display.
At three and a third pounds (with the 6-cell higher-capacity battery) and 0.6 to 1.14 inches thick (it’s wedge shaped), my X120e is admittedly not as svelte as an Apple Mac Air or sundry Windows-oriented “ultrabooks.” But it’s portable enough — and the sale price was “svelte,” letting me get a current machine when I needed a new one, while saving some cash for the ultrabook I really want.
To take advantage of this portability, you want to streamline the amount of additional gear you bring along with you. In theory, you can get by with just the AC power supply; in reality, you’re still going to want enough to be prepared for various situations.
Deciding What to Pack
What I take depends. If I’m just going to be out at around, say, planning to work at a library or a meeting, I only take the bare minimum. If I’m going on a several-day non-business trip, or a non-trade-show business trip, I’ll typically add a few more things. If I’m going to a trade show, there’s yet a few more items I’ll toss in.
Similarly, if I’m also packing a digital camera, there may be one or two more things I’ll take, over and above accessories for the camera.
There’s also sundry accessories for my iPhone and iPad, some of which are also useful with my notebook and/or camera, or vice versa.
Stuff I’m Happily No Longer Packing
I’ve been a tech-toting traveler for enough decades that a fair amount of accessories are no longer relevant. Things I no longer take (but still have) include:
- External floppy drive
- PCMCIA cards and adapters
- External phone modem, phone line tester/protector, and 10+ foot phone wire.
And if I really go back in time, things like “acoustic coupler” for modem (which I still have, although haven’t used in eons).
Accessories for Day Trips
For a short, during-the-day outing, the most important thing is to make sure that you can keep your devices powered.
According to the folks at Lenovo, the high-capacity battery should be good for up to 7.5 hours, but I’ve found that 3 to 5 hours is more realistic. If I’m not sure how much work I’ll be doing, I may grab the power supply. Lenovo’s power brick is modest in size, but the brick-to-wall-outlet wire is, of course, thick and bulky, about the same as the power brick.
When I’m organized enough, I instead pack my Targus Premium Charger, which has the AC prongs right in the power brick. The Targus also has a mini USB charging cable, which I find useful. Just make sure you bring along the correct power tip.
Depending on how much other stuff I’m packing, I’ll also throw in a power strip.
Since I’ve got an iPhone and iPad, I like keeping one of my spare iOS dock/USB data/charging cables in my notebook sleeve case — they don’t take up any extra space or weight, and I don’t usually carry one around with my phone. (Apple’s are $19.95 each, but you can easily find third-party ones for less than half that price.)
I also have an ergonomic wrist pad packed — one with each computer sleeve or carry bag. Using it keeps my hand from hurting when I type (which is most of what I do on the computer). If you need something like this, I recommend you have several — one at your desk, one with each tech travel kit.
Gear for Longer Trips
For longer trips, my list also includes:
- Power strip
- Standard USB cables (preferably 1 to 3 feet long).
- USB multi-jack or hydra connector with A and B standard, mini and micro connectors, plus any less-standard ones used by my digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, etc.
- USB hub: Look for a small four-port hub with a 2-6″ cable.
- Flash drives and media: a few flash drives, ~2-4GB, and an SD card or two, like 4 or 8 GB or even 16. With 16+ GB cards going for under a buck a gigabyte, it can’t hurt to have an empty one with you.
- USB card reader: My notebook has an SD card reader, but not everybody’s do; somebody may want to borrow one, or I may need it to move stuff, or use it with somebody else’s readerless system.
- Small rechargeable power pack: This is useful if I need to charge up a headset, camera, or my iPhone without having access to AC power. The small ones won’t power an notebook, but are great for when I need to walk-and-charge.
- Stuff I might bring, or am considering adding:
- USB mini-mouse.
- Automobile “cigarette lighter” USB charger
- Wifi Hotspot, for broadband sharing. I’m still looking into these (I recently did a big non-review article). I don’t travel enough to justify a regular contract, but it’s worth considering. There are also WiFi hotspot rental companies, around $15/day — a bargain for international trips!
- Video adapters (HDMI adapters from USB, VGA, mini-HDMI, etc.), if you’re planning to do a presentation, or even thinking of watching video from your computer on your hotel room’s TV.
- Ethernet cable, for when there’s no (or not good) WiFi available, but there are Ethernet ports. I’ll probably never need it — except the one time I don’t bring one.
- Power outlet tester.
Additional Accessories for Multi-Day Trade Shows
My ThinkPad doesn’t include a CD/DVD drive — but a lot of companies still put their press release and other show news on disks. Bringing one lets me read them if I’ve got an article to write, or lets me start consolidating the content before I get home. USB-powered external optical drives are small and highly affordable — and they’re handy for some software installs or burning backup disks on machines that don’t have an optical drive.
I also might consider bringing my CardScan business card scanner, although at about the bulk of a paperback book, it’s a hard call. (I need to look at card-scanning apps for my iPhone.)
Summary: The computer needs fewer accessories than ever. But it’s still not hard to have a pile of cables and accessories as big or bigger than the notebook. Good luck!