tecosystems

What’s in My Bag: 2017

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As someone who travels a fair amount, I’m always curious to see how other people who travel – particularly those who travel more – do things. Which is why I’ve always enjoyed reading Matt Mullenweg’s “What’s in My Bag” posts. These are useful not just for the ideas you pick up, but also as a means of highlighting different approaches.

In my case, for example, with a few exceptions, all of my travel choices are geared towards minimzing weight. Earlier in my career, I was willing to lug around more powerful gear and more of it. These days, I travel with as little as possible. It’s interesting, in this light, that Matt’s traveling with less than he used to and aims to every year.

If only as a snapshot that I can look back on later, then, here’s what I’m carrying regularly in 2017. Before we dive in, note that like Matt I’ve tagged a lot of these with Amazon Affiliate links not because of the pennies I’d get on commission but because I’m curious as to what, if anything, people are actually interested in.

  1. It took years, but my quest for the perfect travel bag ended the day I picked up my Patagonia MLC. Explicitly designed to meet the maximum legal carry-on dimensions – hence the name – it’s by a wide margin the best piece of luggage I’ve ever owned. It’s light enough for an overnight, and big enough for a week or two if you’re not a clothes horse. I like this bag so much that there are at least a half a dozen to a dozen people in the industry who carry these because I badgered them into it. It’s that good, and the only thing I can remember really thinking the Wirecutter got wrong.

  2. I first tried an iPad Pro when my MacBook cooked itself just before a week long trip. I expected to hate it, because while I’ve enjoyed smaller tablets like a Nexus 7 as complementary devices, no prior attempt to replace a laptop with a tablet had lasted more than a couple of hours. A week with an iPad Pro and I was sold. The new 10.5 is even better than the 9.7, with the slightly larger keyboard a noticeable improvement. If I’m traveling for better than two or three days, or I know I’ll have to do a fair amount of writing on a trip, I’ll bring the MacBook and its physical keyboard and leave the iPad. For everything else, however, I travel with just the iPad. The battery life is excellent, and it’s half the weight of the already light MacBook. My only real complaint is that it’s Lightning rather than USB-C, which means extra cables. The data connection on this is a Project Fi data-only SIM, which is just ok.

  3. Both because I’ve always had a powerful desktop at the office (Dell workstation, more recently an iMac), my horsepower needs from a laptop are relatively modest. As a result, I’ve always gotten the lightest machine I could find. My current laptop is the original 2015 era 12″ MacBook. It’s light, it’s useful for browsing, writing and capable of handling most of the day to day work I do with numbers – Excel and RStudio run fine, in other words. The battery life isn’t great – even when it was new I never got anywhere near the nine hours promised – but at two pounds, I’ll deal with it. A lot of people complain about the single USB-C port, but it’s literally never been an issue for me, and as I’ll discuss later, I love USB-C.

  4. It took years of dealing with a rat’s nest of cables, but eventually I was fed up enough that I went out and got dedicated cable packs. In my case, I picked up a Skooba Cable two pack – one large and one small. Which one I take depends on how many devices I’m traveling with, whether I need HDMI/VGA adapters, etc. They add a bit of weight, but I’ll take that hit to be able to neatly store my cables, dongles, etc.

  5. For those times where an electronic alternative won’t do, I carry a small Moleskine pocket notebook. I’d never get through the Monktoberfest without one of these.

  6. Apart from a Patagonia One bag that I traveled with forever, I never loved the look or feel of the typical ballistic nylon messenger bags. I wanted something old school, and seven or eight years ago Kate got me a Belstaff 554, a leather and canvas classic. I’ve carried this virtually every day for the better part of a decade, and the bag is definitely the worse for wear, but it’s a simple design that has the added benefit of never being mistaken for someone else’s bag.

  7. Matt carries his passport around because he never knows when he may need to travel internationally. I carry mine in case I lose my license. Both are solid reasons, I guess.

  8. It’s much more likely to be on my head, but every so often I have to go formal and it’s in my bag. Either way, my Red Sox hat goes where I go.

  9. Due to an unfortunate tendency to go full Costanza with my wallet, my friend Alex King tried to convert me to a sailcloth wallet years ago but it didn’t take. When I saw the front pocket wallet from Rogue, however, I was sold. The fact that the company is based here in Maine and that one of the owners is a friend of mine doesn’t hurt, but I’d be buying these regardless. Best wallet I’ve had.

  10. An external battery pack that I got as swag. Small enough that it’s essentially for emergencies only.

  11. (and 12). I generally carry one of two chargers, a small two port USB-C 22.5W brick from Google and the 65W DART-C from FINsix. The former will charge the phone and the iPad, but the MacBook can only be trickle charged. Recently, however, I’m increasingly only carrying the DART-C, which is tiny, will charge everything I own, and has one USB-C port and one USB-A port so I can charge everything I carry. The DART-C is both expensive and on backorder at the moment, but if you carry a USB-C laptop and travel frequently I’d get it.

13. For the increasingly rare occasions in which I rent a car, I carry a basic Anker 3.5mm line-in cable because I’d rather not wirelessly connect my phone to random rentals.

14. For the iPad Pro, I’ve got the standard USB-A to Lightning cable, but I also have a USB-C to Lightning cable from Apple so I can power it off the various USB-C chargers I have.

15. (and 16) For my USB-C standardized MacBook and Pixel, I carry two USB-C cables, both from Google. One is USB-C on both ends, the other is USB-C and USB-A, AKA normal USB. Importantly, I know these cables are safe a) because they’re from Google and b) because they’ve been tested.

17. (and 18) For the MacBook, which is all I’ve used to give presentations so far (though I’m curious to see how the iPad does), I have two adapters: a USB-C/HDMI adapter and a USB-C/VGA. I think I’ve used the HDMI adapter a grand total of once; VGA is still everywhere.

19. My backup to my backup headphones. These are the ones that came with a phone at one point. Their best and only selling point is that sound comes out.

20. For working out on the road, or for working in the shop at home, I’ve got a pair of Bluetooth headphones from IsoTunes – their Pro model. They’re lightweight, have decent sound and a mic, and are not too expensive. They meet OSHA noise blocking standards as well, which is useful if you’re trying to listen to a podcast while cutting things up with a chop saw.

21. When my Fitbit Charge broke I got a Garmin Vivosmart+ to replace it, partially because it was waterproof and more liberal at exporting data but mostly because the Wirecutter told me to. It’s been a solid tracker, and the battery life has been even better than advertised for me. My only real complaint is that it doesn’t capture steps on my treadmill desk, which is a first world problem if ever there was one but has cost me tens of thousands of steps.

22. Never leave home without floss.

23. Another piece of swag that made it into my bag, this NovaTac flashlight is tiny but surprisingly bright. Has come in handy on many occasions.

24. I went into a lot more detail on my decision to jump from an iPhone 6S to the Pixel here here, but the tl;dr is that I didn’t want to deal with a Lightning dongle to plug my headphones in. The Pixel has been an excellent phone, and assuming I stay on Android I’ll undoubtedly upgrade to another. The service on this, incidentally, is Project Fi which I’ve been pleased with.

25. Years ago, I miraculously got tickets to a Red Sox playoff game for some friends and I, and then in an even more unlikely miracle John Burkett beat Tim Hudson. The guy sitting next to me with his daughter was from Bath, ME and worked at the shipyard there. He gave me this coin to celebrate the win, and I still have it.

26. I used to do two things wrong while traveling. In the beginning, I declined to invest in noise-cancelling headphones because they were pricey. This was dumb. I never realized just how loud planes were until I got a Bose over the ear noise-cancelling headset. Which was my second mistake. They worked well, but eventually they get hot and if you wear a hat they’re a pain in the ass. Then I found the Bose 20’s. I have the Android flavor flavor, but there’s an iPhone version as well. An in-ear headphone that blocks noise for all intents and purposes as well as the over the ear version, they are legitimately magic.

Connectivity

At one point, I carried active data connections for both AT&T and Verizon accounts, but for the most part this ended up being overkill. These days I’m down to one single connection with Fi, whose coverage via Sprint/T-Mobile/US Cellular is reasonable in the United States but shines abroad. It’s so nice to touch down in Dublin or Reykjavik or London or Vancouver and just not think about connectivity. The data-only SIM you can get for a tablet is a great idea conceptually, but so far I get far more limited speeds than on my phone. But in general, my move to Fi has been a good one.

Kindle

A lot of people I know who travel regularly, like Matt above, travel with Kindle devices. But while the overwhelming majority of what I read these days are Kindle titles, I’ve never felt the need for specialized hardware. I have no problem reading on a phone or tablet, so the tradeoff of the additional device to charge and carry hasn’t been worth it to date.

USB-C

In a perfect world, all of my devices – laptop, tablet, phone, external battery, headsets, etc. – would be USB-C. Alas, this is no perfect world, which is why I have to carry a mix of cables to support individual devices. That being said, we’re seeing progress, in that my laptop and phone are at least on that standard. It’s incredibly nice to be able to be at an all day event and swap the same charger back and forth between phone and laptop as necessary – I just wish I could do the same with my tablet, headphones, etc.

Baby steps.

The Net

My preference for an all-USB-C world notwithstanding, I’m actually fairly happy with my travel setup at the moment. It’s light enough that I can make a cross-airport sprint when necessary, but still lets me get my work done. I could always use more battery life or less weight, but when I’m generally carrying machines that weigh a pound or two I really can’t complain. That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t room for improvement. If you’ve got suggestions, then, I’m all ears. What works for you?

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