Traveling with mobile gear: Tips from a veteran

Traveling with mobile gear: Tips from a veteran

Summary: Whether traveling on business trips or on a tropical vacation, these simple tips will keep your gadgets, and you, happy.


Business travelers and vacationers carry more mobile gear than ever. Bringing the smartphone is a must for both groups, and odds are there is at least a tablet coming along. The more gear you bring, the more you have to plan to make sure it all works as intended. These simple tips will make sure the gadgets keep working the entire trip.

At the beach

I developed a system for carrying my gear after years of traveling for both work and play. There are few things more frustrating on a trip as discovering a power adapter was left back home. The tips below will help avoid that and other disasters.

What to carry and how to carry it

To keep all gadgets running for days it's important to carry the power adapter and cable to charge each one. That's pretty easy to do, especially for devices that have a microUSB charging port.

JK Cable stash
Cable stash (Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Use a simple cable stash, a small zippered pouch designed for carrying cables, adapters, and similar gear. They are cheap and can be purchased in lots of places. I use a stash that is about five inches long, four inches wide, and an inch thick. The top is mesh which allows thicker gear to fit without issue. 

Given the situation with checking bags on flights, I always use carry-on luggage. The packed cable stash goes in the carry-on, placed on top of the clothing. TSA personnel pay particular attention to electronic stuff, and I've discovered that putting the cable stash on top with its see-through cover keeps them from rummaging through my belongings.

In the stash I make sure to pack the adapter for every gadget I'm bringing on the trip. This includes the cables, too. If more than one device uses a microUSB cable for charging, you can bring a single cable to share if space and weight is at a premium. I always bring multiple cables anyway, in case something happens to one of them.

In addition to the power adapters and cables, I always bring a 6-foot ethernet cable if I have a laptop with an RJ-45 jack. Hotels often have wired ethernet, and while they usually have a cable available I've been stuck without one more than once. I leave the ethernet cable in the stash between trips so I don't forget it.

Monster Outlets to Go
Monster Outlets to Go (Image: Monster)

Hotels have gotten better at providing several power outlets than in the past, but I bring a Monster Outlets to Go power strip in the cable stash. This has saved my bacon many times. It is a small power strip with three outlets and a USB charging port. This makes it convenient to charge all my gadgets at once with just one wall outlet. Having the USB jack will let you leave one of the adapters at home if you wish. I usually only plug a phone in this jack. This is currently less than $10 from Amazon and other major retailers.

To avoid leaving the all-important adapters at home, I always buy a second one for each gadget I own. This extra one stays in the cable stash between trips, so all I have to do is grab it when packing.

My smartphone, tablet, and laptop (if I bring one) all go in a backpack I wear for the trip. Tablets and smartphones don't have to come out at the TSA security check, but laptops do. Note that Windows hybrids with full laptop docks likely have to come out of the bag for the security check.

How I use it in the hotel

The first thing I do when I arrive at the hotel is grab the cable stash. It's conveniently on the top of the packed carry-on. I plug the Monster power strip into a room outlet conveniently located near the desk, and then plug in each gadget to charge.

Every gadget I use can run all day on a charge so I don't carry any power adapters with me during the day. Leaving all of the adapters plugged into the power strip, I unplug the gadgets from the charging cables and leave the adapters plugged into the power strip. 

I don't like to leave the adapters and cables lying around the room while I'm out, so I pick up the power strip with everything still plugged in and I put them in the room safe. If there's no safe I hide it in a drawer under my clothes. Out of sight, out of strangers' minds.

This method makes it easy to take the power strip with everything plugged in and use it at the end of the day.

Some frequent travelers carry a mobile wireless router on trips to share the hotel wired connection, and while I did that years ago, I no longer find it necessary. Most laptops can share a wired connection over wi-fi. 

See related: Hotel operators: Free wi-fi is no longer an option | Six must-have travel gadgets

While I always book hotels with free wi-fi, sometimes I'm not in control over where I stay. Some hotels still charge an exorbitant daily fee for wi-fi connectivity, and it's not always a very good connection. I try to get integrated LTE in my tablets, so when confronted with expensive or poor wi-fi connectivity I use a tablet as a mobile hotspot. I don't stream movies in the hotel room so it doesn't severely impact my monthly data cap.

Travel light, travel smart

This system has served me well for years of travel, both domestic and international. I've done so without issues for many trips, and I recommend it highly. If you have a tip that makes your travels with gadgets better, please share it in the comments below.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets

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  • Good tips

    Quite like the power bar idea. I just use plastic freezer bags to store and sort adapters/cables. I've found some hotels with poor wi-fi may still have ethernet ports in rooms or a computer room for serious high-speed. Worth checking in advance.

    I use the room safe or check larger equipment (camera as well as laptop) with the hotel desk safe when leaving, and have a mailing label on the bottom of equipment in case I leave it behind, and hotel staff find or have it turned in to them.
    • Lost and found

      By "mailing label"....I trust you mean your name, cell number and email address.
      The chances of someone actually "mailing" your lost item to you without contacting you first, electronically, are slim to none!
      • More on lost and found.....

        I also like to add the phrase "Reward if found". (Doubles the chance of a "found" item being returned in a timely manner.)
  • I've used phones for my hot spot

    I prefer not to pay for the LTE on my tablet and haven't needed to as I use my phone for my hotspot. It works great and when my LTE signal is good, I find it is actually better than many hotel wifis. I have loved that little travel power bar. It is small, lightweight and necessary in most of the hotel rooms where I stay. I also purchased one of those 4 station usb chargers so I don't have to have multiple things plugged in.
    • Used to but not anymore

      I used my phone as a hotspot but now prefer a tablet. Don't like to tie up my phone and run down the battery (although not an issue in the hotel). The iPad Air can serve as a hotspot for 24+ hours, BTW.
      • With a RT or Full Windows tablet

        You can just power the phone off the tablet while using it as a hot spot. I have this short micro USB cable I use for this purpose. I also have a small battery charger. You can also use Bluetooth tethering if you have the ability as this uses far less power on the phone.

        Have not see USB tethering since my old BlackBerry and the BDM application.
        Rann Xeroxx
  • single adapter

    "To avoid leaving the all-important adapters at home, I always buy a second one for each gadget I own"

    Instead of buying an extra power adapter for each of your devices, why not use one of these?

    It's only $18, supports 100-240V and runs cool.
  • Monster Outlets to Go

    I have one too, find it invaluable. And truly find it to be incredibly useful in airports where there are two plugs per 30 passengers. Easy to share, and makes you really popular with travelers who are locked out of being able to charge their devices.
  • Nice reminder article

    I always appreciate these when they come out. Always on the lookout for something new or improved.
    When asked by my peers, I always tell them to buy a second cord/power supply/adapter/etc.... when the intent of the device is for travel. That has save me so many times. A little spent vs. Being stuck.
    One caution is to always look at what you are bringing device wise. There is always a tendency to bring too much.
    Love that statement on carry-on vs. checked. If possible I have learned to carry-on the hard way. If I have to or am going to be in a location for an extended period - UPS. It works.
  • Nix on the Ethernet cable!

    You should add one more SAVVY tip to your list: Never stay in a hotel that DOESN'T have Wi-Fi......thereby reducing your load by at least one more item. Any hotel that doesn't have wi-fi these days probably has bedbugs anyway!
    Oh and as far as the micro USB charger goes...that's another reason I eschew Apple products: they had to go and "re-invent" micro USB with their bloody ridiculous Lightning connector, flying in the face of the other nine biggest cell-phone, tablet and e-reader manufacturers in the world.....who seem to make the "standard" plug work just fine!