What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip

Posted on July 16, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, iOS, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Paul, Windows Phones with 0 Comments

What I Use: Must-Have Gadgets for Any Trip

I travel a lot for work and pleasure, and if I’m going to be spending at least one night away from home, I make sure to pack my laptop bag and a luggage-based gadget bag appropriately.

As you might expect, I’ve honed this approach over 20 years of business travel and feel like I’m getting pretty good at it. There are two components of this set up: My laptop bag, which most airlines would refer to as a carry-on, and my luggage, which I always carry on the plane as well. For the latter, I pack a small, sealable gadget bag whose content varies according to the trip.

Here’s what I bring. (Note that some, but not all, links are affiliate links.)

Laptop bag

I’ve gone back and forth on the laptop bag a bit—OK, I kind of obsess over this—and while I ran into a rough patch with a recent version of the bag I’ve been using for a while—the Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag—the company since changed suppliers and swapped mine out for a better-constructed version for free, which was appreciated.

The Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag

The Rick Steves Velocé Shoulder Bag

The contents of the laptop bag don’t change much, whether I’m going to New York for the day or a three-week home swap:

Laptop. Whatever the current Windows laptop I’m using or reviewing. On my current set of trips, I’ve been bringing Microsoft’s Surface Book, which is a great combination of size—I prefer bigger screens—performance and capability.

iPad mini. Earlier this year, I purchased a refurbished previous-generation iPad mini with a lot of storage. I use this for reading, primarily—The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Google Play Newsstand apps for news, plus the Kindle app, of course—and for watching videos. Non-humorously, I guess I left this iPad on my last flight (Toronto to Philadelphia) after several hours of delays, so in my defense I was delirious. (Since I have three more weeks of travel ahead of me, I’ll pack my old iPad mini for now and figure out what’s next later.) Not a proud moment.

Phones. This one is peculiar to my job, but I always carry three phones with me. This year the iPhone 6S Plus has been my primary handset, but I bring the Google Nexus 6P and Microsoft Lumia 950 as well.

Noise-canceling headset. This is a must for anyone who spends times on planes, trains or other public transportation. For at least the past two years I’ve been using the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones, which I strongly recommend over bigger over-the-air noise-canceling headsets. They’re small and pack small, work well, and the battery last a long time. And you just need a standard micro-USB cable to charge them. Expensive at $300 but totally worth it. Do not skimp on this.

Bose headphones (in travel bag) fresh off the plane from Toronto.

Bose headphones (in travel bag) fresh off the plane from Toronto.

Mouse. When I can spread out—at my destination or if I get table space on a train—I’ll always use the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse instead of whatever trackpad comes with the laptop I’m using: It’s precise, works great, and its baseball-like shape offers the ergonomic protection I need. Highly recommended. (I keep it in the water bottle pocket in that Velocé Shoulder Bag.)

Mouse in a house.

Mouse in a house.

Cables and chargers. I always carry the power supply for the laptop in the main compartment of the laptop bag. I carry three miniature (3-inch) USB cables—one Universal cable for Apple devices, one USB-C, and and one-micro-USB—so I can always connect any device to the laptop and/or charge when needed. And I bring a Jackery Bar Premium 6000 mAh external battery charger along for on-the-go charging because you never know. It’s the best $14 you’ll ever spend.

My Windows phone and various cables. And pens.

My Windows phone and various cables. And pens.

That’s about it for gadgets. But I always carry a blue JetBlue blanket(just $6), which I can fold and use as a comfortable arm rest on those skinny plan dividers, extra contacts, pens—always carry pens, especially when you fly internationally and need to fill out forms—sunglasses in a case, and whatnot, of course.


My current luggage is the Rick Steves Ravenna Rolling Case ($190). It’s light and expandable, can be carried on virtually any plane in the U.S. or Europe, and has worked out well over the course of 2016, with no manufacturing defects at all. (A relief after the issues I had with the Velocé Shoulder Bag.) It can easily hold 4 days of clothing, plus my toiletry bag and gadget bag, and it’s what I have been, and will be, using across all of this summer’s travel.

Gadget bag

The way I organize things is I have a bin in my office closet that contains everything I might put in the gadget bag, and then I fill that bag according to the needs of the trip. But there are some items that are always in the gadget bag.

The bin from whence all gadgets for the gadget bag come.

The bin from whence all gadgets for the gadget bag come.

These are:

Mini travel charger strip with surge protection. The Belkin 3-Outlet SurgePlus Mini Travel Swivel Charger Surge Protector with Dual USB Ports is inexpensive and amazing: It has three power ports, two USB ports, and a unique design that swivels so it can work anywhere. Sometimes I get luck and find myself in a business-class hotel with enough power ports. But most of the time—hotels, basically anywhere in Europe—there isn’t enough power. And this solves that problem. (And in Europe, I just need one adapter, for the charger strip.)

Full-length cables and power supplies. I carry a couple of extra cables—USB-C, Universal—plus some wall warts just in case. Plus a charger for the Microsoft Band, FitBit or whatever wearable I’m using at the moment.

Extra in-ear headphones. Years ago, I received a nice pair of (non-noise-canceling) Monster in-ear headphones, which I bring along just in case. They’re small and come in their own little bag.

Ethernet/USB adapter. Mary Jo recommended this Diamond Multimedia USB303HE USB 3.0 Ethernet LAN Adapter ($34) to me a few years back and I’ve been using it ever since. It adds Ethernet, obviously, but also three additional USB 3.0 ports, which can be crucial for those using a Surface device. I also bring a coiled Ethernet cable, just in case.

Non-gadgets. I bring several non-gadget items I wouldn’t travel without. Eye mask and ear plugs, becaue all it takes is one loud night or overly-bright hotel room to ruin a trip, and I don’t let that happen. A small package of Starbucks Via Instant coffee, because hotel coffee is terrible or sometimes non-existent. And some extra batteries for the mouse. Again, just in case.

My core set of gadgets and other items for the gadget bag.

My core set of gadgets and other items for the gadget bag.

What I add to the bag beyond this varies. For example, on the recently-concluded week-long trip to Toronto (WPC) and Pennsylvania (family wedding), I added some podcasting hardware, including a recently purchased Jabra UC VOICE 550 Duo Corded Headset (about $50) and the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. We ended up not needing either, but I don’t want to be the reason things go south.

For the next trip—two weeks in France, an abbreviated home swap because we’re bringing my son to college right after that—I’ll leave the podcasting stuff at home, since I’ll be taking that time off from the shows. But I’ll add international power adapters, which I keep in little bags. Some will go in carry-on, some in the gadget bag. I’ll also bring a first-generation Microsoft Wireless Display Adapter (Miracast) and an HDMI cable because we like to catch up on shows at night while away.

And I think that’s most of it.

Next up, we’re heading to France. I’m going to write a bit about travel tech while we’re away, and about my experiences getting online as well.

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