Traveling with mobile gear: Tips from a veteran

Whether traveling on business trips or on a tropical vacation, these simple tips will keep your gadgets, and you, happy.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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.

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