Where science and tech meet creativity.

All packed up

All packed up

Okay, so this is a bit off topic, but … There are a series of questions I keep getting, “How do you stay connected while you travel?” “What is your recording set up?” “What books do you…?” “How do you…?” So, I’m going to (in a desperate attempt to force myself to blog better) work on launching “Monday Must Haves” posts centered on answering these questions.

I travel a lot. In 2009 it was over 100,000 miles (sadly not all on one airline), and in 2008 it was about 50,000 miles (also, not all on the the same airline). With my time split between short 2-day dashes somewhere random in America, and longer trips to more distant destinations, I’ve developed a survival schema that keeps me sane (or at least functional) when my brain is no longer sure where I am.


I have gone through 4 sets of luggage in as many years. Most bags only made it a few trips before a wheel broke or worse. With many bad bags behind me, I now swear by SwissGear luggage (found at Target or on Amazon) When it comes to rock solid construction and ability to stand up in the face of cobblestone sidewalks, these bags take a licking and don’t spill your underwear on the sidewalk.

That said, their are trips when tiny matters. For those trips I turn to Travelon.

I own 2 bags from each of these companies, and here is how I use them.

The Quick Trip: For a trip of 4 days or less (if you pack like I do), a Travelon underseat bag can be your best friend. Pros: These little bags actually do fit under the seat! I was flying to Atlanta on a tiny American Eagle flight – I think I was on an ERJ-145 or similar – and all the standard wheelie bags were taken away from their owners and put under the aircraft while I got to keep my bag!  It did fit nicely under my seat! Cons: They don’t always fit in the overhead! Fully packed, they are a bit too potbellied. Here are the two I have and why I love each:

  • Travelon Ladies Wheeled Carry-On: This bag is really easy to pack, is very stylish (in my nerd opinion), is curved and quilted in a way that makes it a great pillow when you spend the night in O’Hare, and it has a really comfortable handle for carrying it up and down stairs when public transit fails to have escalators and ramps. At the emotional level, its polka dots cloth lining just makes me happy. The only thing I hate about this bag is that it is more fragile than I’d like. An evil Italian on an air Iberia flight was able to tear off one side of one of the handles while forcing (with great force) his bag into the overhead bin beside mine.
  • Boeing-branded under seat Carry-On: This is not a girly bag. It is not pretty. It is not stylish. It just behaves well in airports (unless you need it to be a pillow). It is designed with a built in cooler for food, with a pull out cup holder for a travel mug or water bottle, and the bag has an expandable pocket in the back perfect for shoving a wrap from Au bon Pain or that book you can’t be bothered to put away. One issue: The bag doesn’t open all the way up, so getting things in and out can be a pain.

A long(er) Trip: For anything requiring a more substantial bag I reach for my SwissGear. I have two bags again, this time picked for their sizes and nothing else. Both bags are part of the SwissGear Zurich series. The smaller of the two is a Carry-On, Rolling, 20″ laptop friendly bag. The second is a Carry-On, Rolling, 20″ laptop friendly bag The smaller bag is just (barely) big enough for a 1 week trip with an extra pair of shoes and formal and play attire. The smaller bag can fit inside the larger bag (for those times you are coming or going with more (or less) than you started with). While the 20″ has a laptop compartment as its bonus feature, the larger bag offers an area for suits on hangers on the inside flap. While I would never use hangers, this section keeps my suits perfectly protected and flat. As near as I can tell, you can do these bags no harm. I’ve overpacked them. I’ve let them get rained and snowed on. They have experienced cobblestone, and they have experienced Denver and Heathrow 5 luggage handling. They are still perfect.

Luggage Accessories for all trips
Let’s face it, there are some things that just make travel easier.

  • Toiletry Containment:Once upon a time I thought it was sufficient to use the little bag for toiletries that comes comes with every bag I’ve ever bought, and once upon a time I simply purchased travel size this, that and the other thing. Then I started traveling so much that I was rotating between bags and never really unpacking. At a certain point, you just want to grab your toiletries and go, and at a certain point travel sized shampoos are no longer an option. To combat the little bottle blues, I bought a set of Humangear GoToob Silicon Travel Bottles. They come with rotating rings that can be used to high-light what is in the container, and they are easy to squeeze. No more shaking the bottle to get the shampoo out! I filled these bottles with my shampoo, conditioner, soap, and lotion, and tossed them in clear zipper bag from Walgreens. These bottles, a baby toothpaste, fancy face cream (that only comes tiny), toothbrush, and deodorant fit perfectly in this TSA sized bag.
  • Makeup Containment: You’re on your own. I have fantasies of an all in one kit, like this one from Lancome, but in reality I throw 4 random small mismatched cosmetic containers into random places in my bag.
  • Luggage Tags No One Else Has: All bags look alike. Really. No matter how unique you think your bag is, someone else has it too. So… I bought bright pink and red poppy luggage tags that I found on a bottom shelf of an eclectic little store that I won’t tell you where is. I recommend finding your own little place to purchase from. Then do something to your luggage. The next step for me was wrapping my luggage handle in a 2dollar polyester scarf of the bright (but pleasant) pink variety. Now, while I’m not exactly a pink kind of girl, I’ve never struggled to spot my luggage.
  • Travelon Bag Bungee Black If you’re like me, you stack your carryon / computer bag on your roller bag while rolling from A to B. Sometimes you may try to add a jacket to this pile. Or shopping bags. Or maybe even the kitchen sink. After having a bad moment with an escaping winter jacket, I invested in a Travelon bag bungee, and life is much safer for me, my belongings, and anyone following too close on the jetway.

Computer friendly Carry-On Bags and Toys

Never one to only travel one way, I again have two options: netbook trips and notebook trips. In either case, I always carry my handy-dandy Verizon dongle for instant online access from (almost) anywhere.

Fossil didn't know they made a laptop bag

Fossil probably didn't know they made a laptop bag

Traveling Tiny: There are times when the only thing I have to do on a trip is live blog and work on email. My back loves these trips. For these glorious moments I take my handy dandy ASUS Eee PC 1000HE, throw it in my Fossil Sutter Flap bag, and I’m ready to go. This tiny bag can hold my Eee PC, its power cord, a tiny camera, my iPhone, a thin book, my deflated travel pillow and mask, my passport, credit cards, and a few random things like chapstick and a pen. The best part is, it doesn’t look like I’m carrying a laptop! As someone more likely to be in a social situation with a computer than a, well, anything normal, its kind of nice to not always look as nerdy as I am. Pro: It is all so nice and tiny! Con: My international power adaptor doesn’t fit, nor does my travel power strip. (more on those below)

Traveling with my WHOLE office: I work with people all over the world, and when I settle in to work hard I don’t want to be without the comforts of home, so I’ve been known to take it all with me. Making this possible is my Timbuk2 medium-sized custom laptop bag. This is the second of these bags I’ve had, and the first one is still in perfect condition after being used almost daily for 4 years. I simply got sick of the bright colors (red, orange, and yellow – why did I do that?!?) and bought a second one that was a bit more mellow (see pcit above). Into this bag I toss my 15″ MacBook Pro along with:

  • Belkin Mini Surge Protector Dual USB Charger: Charge everything at once, cords or USB, and let’s me be ready for the hotel room with only 1 outlet.
  • Kensington All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter: This is an anything to anything adaptor that works anywhere in the world. Loan it to visiting foreign friends or keep yourself powered abroad.
  • Random Bits: An 8MB USB stick, an 8MB SD card, an SD to USB adaptor, a tiny USB hub, and an iPhone cable
  • Neoprene Cable Pouch: Filled with all the above! It fits, although the zipper hates me.
  • A camera & charger (you’re on your own here). I have both a Casio Exilm and a Panasonic Lumix (two because I realized I left my camera at home while traveling in Europe). I’d like to get a Canon PowerShot SX20IS, but that camera is a bit bigger and a large bit more expensive than I can justify (when “want” meets “logic”, cool cameras stay in someone else’s camera bag.
  • Goldtouch ergonomic keyboard and a Logitech Marble Mouse: I told you I sometimes take my whole office with me! I’m fighting RSI, and this is how I fight it. (Well, this and MacSpeech)
  • Plantronics Folding Headset: These aren’t as nice as the Sennheiser HeadsetI live in at home, but they work with Skype and Dragon Naturally Speaking / MacSpeech.
  • A small wristlet (because I’m a girl) that can fit a flip wallet and my passport along with some cash, my iPhone, and a pen. I admit it, I like Coach products. I can be a girlie girl. The wristlet is nice because it is easy to pull in and out of the bag, and when the bag does get locked in an office or a hotel room, I’m left with something small, and hard for a pick pocket to reach into because, well, it’s attached to my wrist.

Apps for Airports, Trains, & Travel

Apps for Airports, Trains, & Travel

Travel (and other needed) Software

I am an iPhone user, and my iPhone makes my travel a little more sane. Here are the apps that keeping me going from gate to gate:

  • Xpense Tracker: An easy way to log how much you actually spent while away. (In my case, it allows me to answer the age old question of how much did my Illinois State per diem not pay for). Best Feature: You can take photo’s of receipts. Photos won’t work for all accounting departments, but…
  • Trip Deck: This travel software helps you find gates, baggage carrousels, check on delayed flights, and it even helps you find alternate flights so that when you look sadly at the gate keeper you can ask “Can you please rebook me on flight X” rather then simply asking “Can you get me there today?.” This software can be tied to a TripIt account (be my friend?) and allows you to input all your travel plans just by emailing your flight plans from your airline or online service to TripIt (works with flights, hotels, and rental cars). This software has saved me from digging through emails for confirmation numbers while standing in line, and that alone makes it worth it. (Don’t want to pay for TripDeck? Check out FlightTrack)
  • Best Camera: Take pictures with your phone? Want to tweak them before you Twitter them? Best Camera does what you need. It links directly to social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
  • Stanza: I love real books, but sometimes they are impractical. (Like those trips when I’m already carrying my whole office with me and have lots of walking to do). For times when digital is my only option, I click on Stanza. Get both new titles for a cost, and thousands of older (or independent) books for free. (They have the Guttenburg Project books all online to download for free!) I also use the free Classics app, but it has limited titles.
  • WordPress: Sometimes you just gotta blog while standing on a crowded train.
  • Twitterific (for simple needs) and TweetDeck (for lists and tracking too many things at once): May the twitter be with you. There are many options. These are ones I use.

So this is how I live: All packaged up in products from Amazon (this is what happens when you travel too much to go to the mall. I’ve included links to all the products I live by, and if you decide to live by them too, can you use the links here? They are tied to an Amazon Associates account and all proceeds will help pay for this blogs webhosting and the occasional latte in an airport.

Safe Travels

Standard Disclaimer: I bought all of these purchasers after doing my own research. I’ve used them and no one has asked me for this review. I’m simply trying to save you the problem solving I’ve faced. The links above are Amazon links, and all proceeds for anything you buy will be used to offset the cost of airport food.