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5 tips to travel smart with mobile gear

Frequent business travelers know that smart planning can make the difference between a good trip and travel nightmares. Following these tips will help make that vacation or business trip provide smooth sailing.
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1 of 5 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Bring a cable stash

Whether traveling for business or a vacation, forgetting one of the chargers/cables for your mobile gear can get you started on the wrong foot. I learned long ago that the best way to prepare for a trip is to get a cheap cable stash for keeping all the gadget chargers and cables in one place.

Since I always travel with a laptop and a tablet, I tend to buy an extra power adapter for each gadget. These spare adapters stay in the cable stash, and at packing time I just toss it in one of the pockets of my carryon luggage.

In addition to a power adapter for the laptop, tablet, and phone, I always have a long ethernet cable in the stash. Some hotels still only provide wired ethernet connectivity so having an ethernet cable comes in handy. 

Many gadgets now have some sort of USB charging solution with a microUSB connector on the device. For this reason I always have an extra USB-to-microUSB cable in the stash just in case.

Cable stashes can be found almost anywhere, and you don't need anything fancy. Make sure you pick up one that is big enough to handle all the adapters and cables you plan to bring. 

I've used the cable stash shown above for years and I don't remember where I bought it. You'll notice the mesh top of the stash which makes it possible to see at a glance what is inside. I find the security people at the airport like this visibility, and it is less likely they search the luggage when they can see inside.

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2 of 5 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Mobile power strip

Frequent travelers have no doubt dealt with a lack of convenient power outlets in hotel rooms. There are often not enough outlets to charge the laptop, tablet, and phone. Mobile power strips are a simple way to deal with the outlets in any hotel room.

I have used the Monster power strip shown above for over 5 years and it has been a wonderful solution. The 4 outlets are easy to access and I never worry about the power situation.

There are a number of brands of mobile power strips and most of them should work just fine. The important thing is to get one and put it in the cable stash so you don't forget it.

Many mobile power strips, including the current one from Monster like the one above, now include USB charging ports. This makes it possible to leave the charger for the phone (or other low power gadgets) behind and just bring the USB charging cable.

The mobile power strip makes it possible to unplug all devices and then hide the power strip with all adapters attached in a hotel room drawer when heading out for the day. I prefer to do that rather than leave my gear exposed where it can possibly disappear.

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3 of 5 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Prepare for connectivity issues

Traveling often presents various difficulties getting online and it is wise to prepare for that possibility. It is hard to believe but some hotels still offer no connectivity at all, while others charge an arm and a leg to get you online. Frequent travelers have no doubt seen that hotels may promote in-room internet connectivity, wired and/or wireless, but it can often be a mixed bag. Either the connectivity doesn't seem to work or is horribly slow.

The best way to prepare for this is to bring your own mobile broadband if at all possible. Many smartphones now have the ability to serve as mobile hotposts to tether laptops or tablets to them to get online. It may require activating the hotspot capability on the phone before tethering is allowed, so make sure that is done and tested before the trip. Note that serving as a hotpost for hours can eat into the data plan on the phone.

Those who own iPads or iPad minis with LTE have a better option for dealing with bad hotel connectivity. These can serve as mobile hotposts for laptops and other gear for extended periods. I always travel with my iPad mini which can serve as a fast mobile hotspot for over 20 hours on a single charge. The same concerns about watching the data usage on a phone hotspot apply to the iPad solution.

Having redundant mobile connectivity won't do any good if your carrier has no data coverage so be sure and check the carrier's online coverage map before your trip. These are accurate and provide a visual clue about what to expect with mobile broadband where you are going.

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4 of 5 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Pack smart

This sounds like common sense but packing smart can make the difference between a happy trip and one you'd rather forget when it's over. 

Packing smart starts with a good piece of luggage, and these days that means a carryon bag. For years I preferred to check my main luggage so I didn't have to deal with it at the airport but savvy business travelers convinced me that carrying all bags on the flight is the way to go. I've taken that advice the last few trips and I quickly realized that carryon is definitely the way to go with fewer hassles. It also avoids the exorbitant fees to check your baggage.

Carrying bags on the flight means having a good carryon bag, and there are lots to choose from that you can find online. I settled on the Travelpro Crew 8 bag pictured above and it has been wonderful.

Whatever bag you choose should have lots of pockets for packing tightly. I can easily pack clothes and items for a four-day trip in this bag, as you should be able in any quality carryon bag.

One particularly useful feature of the Travelpro bag is a special zipper that runs all around the bag. This can be unzipped, extending the main compartment by two inches. This lets me pack extra stuff for extended trips. Once packed, the bag can be closed normally with this extra space. Then, by simply pushing down on the top of the bag, the special zipper can be zipped close. This brings the bag back to the proper size for fitting in the overhead bins on the plane. This has saved my bacon a number of times, eliminating the need to check the bag due to its overstuffed state.

The cable stash covered in an earlier slide goes in a pocket on this bag so I don't have to carry it in my shoulder bag. My laptop goes in a special compartment on the bigger carrryon bag which is shown in the next slide.

I also carry a small shoulder bag while traveling for my tablet and other stuff I may need on the plane. 

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5 of 5 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Laptop in the carryon bag

As mentioned in the previous slide, a handy feature of my Travelpro carryon luggage is a nice zippered pocket on the front of the bag (when it's vertical). This compartment is designed to be a mini-briefcase with easy access on the front of the bag.

I put whatever laptop I am bringing on the trip in the compartment designed for that purpose, along with typical gear like pens, folders, etc. I can get to the laptop easily should I need it at the airport, while keeping my shoulder bag as small (and light) as possible.

This has worked marvelously on my last two trips and I have come to love having this laptop compartment on the carryon luggage. I always use another shoulder bag for stuff I use during the travel portion of the trip, and I make sure the laptop will fit inside for carrying during the day at the destination.

Be aware that if flights are overcrowded flight crews may make you check your carryon bag. You probably don't want to do that with your laptop inside so it's a good idea to make sure your shoulder bag has just enough room to squeeze your laptop inside.

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