When it comes to packing sensibly for a trip, I don't have a lot of credibility among my friends. Some still shake their heads over the time I took a pinata to Mexico. And the guy who lugged an espresso machine from California to the British Virgin Islands? That would be me.
But those were the good old days in the 80s and 90s, when airlines didn't charge for most checked baggage and there wasn't as much competition for overhead bin space. In response to these and other developments, I'm striving to streamline wherever possible when it comes to packing for air travel. For example, I've reduced the amount of gadgets I take on most trips, as well as cutting down on clothes, shoes, toiletries, and reading materials. As far as electronics, I almost always travel with a laptop (MacBook Air) and a smart phone (iPhone 3G). Everything else gets a serious review before it makes into a bag.
Previously I mentioned two accessories I routinely pack in my carry-on: the Belkin Mini Surge Protector and the StarTech WiFi Detective. This week I've got two more essential items, plus a cool laptop bag and a gadget that's just for fun.
USB Cable and Adapter Kit
If you carry a portable GPS receiver or other USB-powered device, you'll need its USB cable for recharging. But disconnecting USB cables from your computer to pack them is yet one more thing you have to remember before a trip. For these reasons, I invested US$13 in a generic kit of USB adapters and a retractable USB cable, the 9-Piece USB Cable & Adapter Kit from DayDeal.com. Using this kit, you can connect your USB devices to your laptop for syncing and recharging, or you can connect them to one of the Belkin Mini Surge Protector's two USB powered ports for recharging.
The kit includes eight USB cable adapters, because not all USB connectors are identical. For example, the USB connector on your GPS device is probably different from your digital camera's connector. The adapters and cable come in a black zippered case. I don't pack the whole kit, however. Instead, I figure out which connectors I need and just pack them, along with the cable. One downside is that none of the USB connectors in this kit will fit an Apple iPod or iPhone.
Tom Bihn Snake Charmer
Speaking of cables, I pack all of them into a Tom Bihn Snake Charmer (US$25), a pouch with two zippered compartments designed to hold AC adapters and cables. You can easily see what's in either compartment through zippered mesh enclosures. In one compartment I pack the Belkin Mini Surge Protector, a retractable USB cable and adapters, and a compact MacBook Air AC adapter (a larger laptop adapter might not fit). Into the other compartment I group communications-related accessories including StarTech's WiFi Detective, an Ethernet cable, the Air's USB Ethernet adapter, and my iPhone's USB cable (for connecting the phone to the Belkin Mini Surge Protector for recharging).
Tom Bihn Zephyr
Speaking of bags, Tom Bihn's Zephyr (US$150) is a well-designed, messenger-style laptop bag I recommend highly. I love the pockets on the bag's buckled flap; the unzippered pocket is easy to slip my iPhone into. The bag's main compartment is roomy, zips open wide, and is nicely padded. And the bag's rear side has a "roll-aboard" strap that can be slipped over the telescoping handle of a wheeled bag. If only the bag had an exterior water bottle pocket.
In some hotels, you can connect your portable media player to your room's alarm clock or TV set and enjoy music without headphones. But you can't always count on having that option. Even when you do, the audio quality can be so-so.
The iMainGo 2 (US$40) is a compact, cleverly designed portable speaker set unlike any I've seen. You unzip its case, slip your iPod, iPhone or Zune into place, connect it, flip the iMainGo 2's switch, press Play on your portable media device, and you've got surprisingly good sound coming through iMainGo 2's speakers. A plastic window lets you control your player's buttons without having to remove it.
IMainGo 2 weighs 11.3 ounces and it's thick, so I won't be packing it on every trip. But it's tempting, given iMainGo 2's versatility. In addition to serving as speakers for your MP3 player, you can connect it to your laptop's audio-out port to get richer sound. IMainGo 2 also has an alarm setting, enabling you to use your iPod/iPhone as an alarm clock. The device uses four AAA batteries.