Back during the Reagan era, I worked for GRiD, the first manufacturer of laptop computers in the now ubiquitous clamshell form. I’ve been carrying laptops ever since, as a consultant, employee and contracted project manager, trainer, and speaker. After nearly thirty years of dragging these things around the world, I’ve developed a few opinions on what to bring along and how to pack it. I’ll share my general principles with you and show you how I currently apply them, but if you look in my bag six months from now, the contents might have settled (or even changed) a bit.
A Few Principles
Business travel includes a mix of variables and constants. The duration of the trip, the destination, and the expectations of the people you’ll visit should drive some decisions, but not all. Here are the constants:
- Cable management is as important in the laptop bag as it is in the data center.
- The more multi-purpose items you carry, the lighter the load.
- Don’t carry spares. If you doubt the reliability of an item, replace it.
- Packaging matters, especially when you have to continually pack and unpack.
- One bag does not fit all occasions, unless you are making the same trip over and over.
- The most valuable thing in your bag is your work in progress.
A Few Solutions
The power supply I currently use has replaceable tips to power different laptops from different manufacturers, and a USB charging port. On my recent trip to Australia, it drove both my personal Dell Latitude and the elderly HP provided by the people who contracted for my services. It also has a 12 VDC cable that plugs in to an automobile accessory / cigarette lighter socket. I only pack along the parts I need, in that little black bag at the top of the picture.
The black cable plugged in to the charger is for my Samsung S5 Galaxy phone – long enough to use, but short enough to not be a burden. The other white cable is for my iPad; a 5-inch version will be delivered from Amazon tomorrow. Those little orange cable wraps are Nite Ize gear ties. I have a dozen or so in 3-inch and 6-inch varieties, and I just ordered some more. I use them on everything, and have yet to wear one out. The USB cable on the left has both a micro-USB port for my Bluetooth headset and a mini port to charge my New Trent external phone battery pack. Lately, I carry the smaller Anker shown in the picture, so I may swap out the two-headed cable for a shorter micro-USB version. All three cables, the thumb drive, and the Anker fit in that green plastic pencil case, which I picked up at the 99 Cent Store.
That tiny USB plus is actually a 16GB thumb drive. I leave it plugged in and run a RoboCopy script at least once a day, so I don’t lose work in progress. If I were always connected, it would be less of a concern, but I’m not. The larger USB is for SneakerNet file transfers – again, I’m not always attached to the “real” network. I still carry a notebook and one pen, but just the one. I’ll say it again: if you have any doubts about reliability, replace it before you leave. Spares are heavy.
I have three bags that I move between, as the trip demands. My “rich Corinthian leather” bag goes along when I need to wear a suit. The backpack goes along on one-night trips, when I can fit my change of clothes into a Fold-A-Board that goes in the thicker, second pocket. And the black one with the retracting strap and the Velcro loop that slips over the handle on my carry-on drag bag goes along on the three and four day trips. Being able to fit my tech accessories into two containers makes it less likely I’ll leave anything behind when I change bags, and when I leave a desk I might not return to.
The Road Runner Philosophy
If you’ve ever watched the gadget-obsessed Wile E. Coyote get frustrated by the smaller, lighter, faster, less complicated Road Runner, you already understand that less will usually win out over more. Whether you refer to yourself as a migrant computer worker, a consultant, or just a road hog, you need to be able to keep your computer, phone, and tablet charged, connected, and secure, without breaking your back or leaving a mess. Your solutions might be very different from mine – if so, leave a comment below.
Editor’s Note: You can check out many of the items discussed in this article at Dave’s friendly neighborhood Migrant Computer Work Bookstore!
For more brilliant insights, check out Dave’s blog: The Practicing IT Project Manager