Hitting the road with the traveling gear bag

Hitting the road with the traveling gear bag

Summary: I'll soon be taking a business trip to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. It won't be long before I start getting asked what mobile gear I'll be taking, so here's the scoop.


When a business trip to San Francisco comes along I get excited, as it is one of my favorite places to visit. That's where I'll be heading soon for a five-day trip, and I'm planning on keeping my gear bag as light as possible.

The bags

Traveling with mobile gear starts with the bag, and I will be using two this time. I will use a backpack for the flights, and in addition to the gear I'm bringing I'll need a little room for incidentals. The Staad backpack will handle that just fine. It easily fits everything I need to keep close to me while remaining low profile on those narrow aisles on the plane.

Total kit
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Once I'm on the streets of San Francisco I want to have the smallest bag possible, so I will use the Built bag just as I do at home. Since it's so thin and light I'll pack it in my carry-on luggage for the flights and pull it out in the hotel.

The main work system

The primary work system I'm taking is the iPad Air in the ZAGGkeys Folio keyboard case. This duo is much smaller than any laptop, yet can do everything I'm likely to need to do. I will pop the iPad out of the case when I need just the tablet. The battery will easily last all day so I can leave the power adapter back at the hotel. There is no system this small as full-featured as the iPad Air. The integrated 4G LTE will ensure I can work no matter where I go in the city.

Update: Further reflection on which iPad keyboard to carry has me considering bringing the ZAGGkeys Cover keyboard instead of the Folio. This is primarily to keep the iPad Air and keyboard as thin as possible in the gear bag. Both the Cover and the Folio have the same good keyboard so it's simply a matter of keeping the bag as thin as possible.

See related: Traveling with mobile gear: Tips from a veteran

The Galaxy Note 2 phone will be with me all the time. These days I only use it for phone calls and text messaging as the tablet handles all other communication functions. In the unlikely event I have trouble getting a data signal for the iPad, the Note 2 will serve as a backup connection since it is on a different network.

Twelve South PlugBug (Image: Twelve South)

As I have on many trips in the past, the Etymotic earphones will be in the bag. They will serve triple duty: phone headset, audio headphones, and Skype headset. They fit in the little Built bag and are invaluable to me on trips. I use them on the Note 2 for calls, and on the iPad Air for all other functions. The iPad Air and Etymotics make for a great Skype video call system, something I do quite a lot.

The backup system

While the iPad Air will handle everything I will need to do on the trip, I am also bringing the 11-inch MacBook Air. I don't anticipate needing it but I want to be covered no matter what happens. It's for redundancy as much as anything.


Since I'm carrying so little equipment this trip, I only have to bring three power adapters. That's pretty good but any time I can lighten the load, I do. That's why I bought a Twelve South PlugBug. It works with the MacBook power adapter to form a dual adapter to also charge the iPad Air using one power plug. It can be used alone to charge the iPad without charging the MacBook Air.

As I do on all trips, the Monster portable power strip will be in the cable stash. It provides four outlets in a small package which is more than enough.

Slim yet powerful

Gear bag loaded (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

As you can see in the photo to the right, my gear bag is small and thin, yet packs a MacBook Air, iPad Air with keyboard, and the Note 2 smartphone inside. The Etymotics earbuds round out the mobile office. This kit is powerful, and everything inside the bag lasts all day away from a power outlet.

In addition to handling everything that might come up, this collection gives me redundancy in all the key areas. While I should have wi-fi for connectivity most of the time, the LTE in the iPad Air allows me to get online when wi-fi is not an option. It can also serve as a mobile hotspot for the MacBook. If there is no wi-fi and for some reason the Verizon LTE network is down, Sprint LTE can step in with the Note 2 as a hotspot.

I take my responsibilities seriously so the redundancy is important. I have the MacBook Air should the iPad have a problem, and connectivity everywhere. All in a bag that weighs just a few pounds.

Reviews of gear covered:

iPad Air: Best tablet ever made

New MacBook Air: Haswell ups the game (review)

Galaxy Note 2: Changing the way I use mobile tech

Staad slim Backpack (hands on): Taking the gear bag to a whole new level

ZAGGkeys Folio: Perfect keyboard companion for the iPad Air (hands on)

MacBook Air: Still the best laptop in its class

New MacBook Air vs. iPad Air: Closer than you think

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPad, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • ZaggKeys Folio or Cover

    Just curious about your choice of iPad Air keyboards. The Air seems to keep falling out of the folio cover of the units I tried, so Really liked the sturdiness of the Cover version. What are your thoughts? Also, could you expand on the software your will be using?
    • Have both

      I have both the Folio and Cover keyboards for the iPad Air. I like the Folio for travel as it's much easier to remove the tablet to use without the keyboard. I have not experienced the problem with the Folio you mention, and I've used it extensively for months.
  • Don't I wish....

    I am Windows based. My employer understandably frowns on both having personal stuff on my company equipment and having company stuff on my personal equipment. I am also a serious amateur photographer. On a business trip, that adds up to 3 different systems that MUST be transported as carry-on and therefore all fit under a seat - because all too often overhead space has already been claimed and the excess carry-on items put in the plane's belly. The alternative is to sit in my hotel room after I burn out on work and stare at a television broadcasting nothing of interest.

    Now a couple more oddities....

    Due to nerve issues, I need an ergonomic designed keyboard to do more than anecdotal typing. I've never seen this on a notebook keyboard. The Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile Keyboard 6000 is my friend --- by the way Microsoft and Logitech, you are making a MAJOR mistake in my opinion in discontinuing BT support in favor of proprietary USB dongles. But this is one more item to be transported.

    Europe forced standardized charger connections - but unless you want to SLOWLY recharge at a minuscule 500ma, you almost always still have to bring along the poorly designed for travel OEM chargers for mobile devices.

    I have yet to find either a bag that transports dSLR gear and give more than lip service to computing gear (or vice versa) or a photographic gear bag that easily collapses for empty transport in a roller-bag carry-on and protects gear when filled at the final destination.

    And let us not forget the accessories like locks for expensive gear you leave in your hotel, cube taps because most hotel rooms give you poor options for plugging things in. The 10 foot HDMI cable so you can turn the otherwise little used hotel flatscreen TV into a larger monitor, the tools you still need for handling paper. The extra lithium batteries that by regulation HAVE to be in your already stuffed under-seat carry-on.
    Jim Johnson
  • One more thing

    I'd recommend adding a cheap, drugstore extension cord for those times when the available outlets are not placed conveniently. I wrap it up with a velcro cable tie which occasionally finds a repurposed use.

    Have a good trip.
  • kindle fire HDX????

    Why not the kindle fire HDX? After all your praises why wouldn't you bring that instead of the iPad?