Things to Pack When Travelling With a Laptop

by Maskil on May 22, 2009

This post originally took the form of an e-mail to my younger sister, who owns and operates an upmarket “bed and breakfast” (B&B) in the Beaulieu estate, north of Johannesburg. She was preparing for a short break at the coast, but needed to take along a laptop to keep a finger on the pulse of bookings and enquiries. (I’ve edited the message somewhat to remove personal references, also adding the headings in Bold and the later comments in Italics.)

The experience of having travelled to Israel with a laptop was still fresh in my mind when I wrote the message, so I’m hoping that the lessons I learned will prove useful to others.

Dear G,

Hope you and the kids have a super break at the coast!

I just thought I’d summarise my tips for what to carry with you when working away from home with a laptop:

Multimedia Travel Kit

That kit I was talking about the other night is a Multimedia Travel Kit, made by Yodata. You can get it from places like Hi-Fi Corporation , and you might find it bundled with a USB numeric keypad (also very useful if you’re used to working with a full keyboard). The kit comes in a little wallet and includes a mini-mouse, modem and network cables, and a whole range of USB cables and adapters.

[The Ethernet cable proved indispensable when staying at places such as the Mishkenot Ruth Daniel Guest House, which have Internet connectivity, but no wireless hotspot.]

USB Hub

N’s laptop only has 2 USB ports. Everything is USB these days (a good thing), but you probably need more ports. You can get tiny external/portable USB hubs with 4 or more ports. You plug this into one of your available ports, then plug all your devices into the hub. Very useful.

External Card Reader

Also takes up very little space; plugs into a USB port (yes, everything’s USB…) and can read (or write to) just about every memory card under the sun. You can then backup or transfer your pictures from your camera’s memory cards to the PC daily. Just have your camera software (or something like Google Picasa or Photo Gallery) on the laptop.

[I forgot to take the proprietary USB cable for my digital camera with, so the card reader would have been a lifesaver.]

[Although I’m a long-time Google Picasa user, I’ve quickly become a fan of Windows Live Photo Gallery, because it works with the Windows file system Folders natively, instead of trying to impose the clumsy, unintuitive Album metaphor. This requires you to get to grips with Albums, Collections, Folders and Libraries.]

[Unless you only ever intend owning one digital camera (or make/model of camera) I would suggest using something like Windows Live Photo Gallery instead of the (usually) proprietary camera software provided by the vendor. Although these utilities are mostly excellent and full-featured, this means you don’t need to learn a new piece of software each time you upgrade cameras, or if you use more than one.]

Wireless Network Card

Lastly (optional), a wireless network card. The advantage is that if you have a wireless hotspot, you don’t need to use up your more expensive Vodacom bandwidth. Not too pricey these days. Go for the (surprise!) USB type, so you can use it in any desktop or laptop.

[This assumes that your laptop doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi capability.]

Memory Stick

Don’t forget your memory stick or other external storage for your valuable data!

[If you don’t already have one, consider one that supports the U3 smart drive specification (or its planned successor, StartKey).]

All the above will easily fit into the side pocket of your laptop case or backpack.

Love to all,

R

3G/EDGE/GPRS/HSDPA Modem

[The original note assumed that you have your 3G/EDGE/GPRS/HSDPA modem stowed away in your travel kit, so it’s not given a mention above. Stick with the USB type, avoiding those that require the PC Card interface or the even scarcer ExpressCard interface.]

If you don’t already own the laptop you’ll be travelling with, invest in the smallest, lightest machine possible. I travelled with my IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad T60, which is by no means a boat anchor. Still (unless you’ll be using it all day, every day for serious number-crunching), I would want to travel with something even lighter, e.g. a netbook or ultra-portable class machine.

One of the unanticipated outcomes of writing the original letter is that I began making notes for an extended piece regarding USB as a “transformative technology”. I’m not suggesting that USB has transformed our lives (although it may have in some small ways), but rather that dramatically changed the devices on our desks, those we carry with us and how we connect them, in ways that those who compiled the specification probably never foresaw.

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