Road Warrior/Technogypsy Notes: The Right Stuff Helps

No, I don’t travel with quite that much stuff; close, though (Image courtesy of The Tech Journal)

So it used to be that I had to travel basically every week–my job was in California, but my home is in Austin, so I did an awful lot of flying around.  After a while, it got to the point where it was practically automatic, and I didn’t give much thought to the things I did to make traveling easier.

Recently, however, after a 5 month hiatus, I had to make a business trip, and I’m finding that some of the gear that I got to ease my way makes things much easier.  If you yourself are a road warrior, a technogypsy, a traveling nerd, then maybe some of these hints can help you out, too.

One of the most obvious things to do is choose the right airline.  I fly Southwest, and I have been sticking with them for over three years now.  It boils down to this:

  • They don’t charge for the first two checked bags
  • Their service people are almost uniformly polite and helpful
  • They only use 737s; the predictability allows you to find seats easily after a while
  • You can pay an extra $10 for “early check-in”, which puts you in the earlier boarding group, giving you a good chance of better seats
  • They have non-stops from Austin to San Jose/Oakland/San Francisco
  • They don’t charge a ticket-change fee–you just pay the difference in the ticket price (which means if the price has gone down, you get money back); this can be huge if you have a family and, say, you need to change your plans and fly back a day or two early
Look, I’m not going to lie:  I’m not a huge Southwest booster.  But I have found that, especially compared to American or Delta, they have by far the best combination of features.  Plus, their seats are all leather, which is nice.  In these days where ticket prices are all pretty similar because of the harsh competition, I go with the guys who don’t charge for bags and ticket changes, and who are polite and friendly.  With TSA dorks abusing their unConstitutional powers left and right, polite and friendly goes a long way for me.
(And a further note:  sit mid-plane if you can.  The engine noise in the back of the plane is horrific, while right above the wing it’s muffled by the wing itself.)

If you are making a long trip, you’re going to need luggage.  If you’re just flying for a few days?  Stick to as little luggage and stuff as possible.  You can pull a Dan, and try to shove everything into your ScotteVest jacket, but most of us will want one suitcase.  (And quite frankly, I advise you to avoid checking bags if you can.  If you have back or neck trouble, yes, you don’t want to be hefting your carry-on bag around, but if you can, it helps–no line to check it, no line to pick it up at the luggage carousel.  It’s worth the hassle.)

I have had a Swiss Gear bag, and I really love it.  It has a padded pocket for a laptop, if you want to put it there, but it is juuuuust small enough to fit in the overhead bins, it has an expansion option if you are hauling a bit more junk than usual, has a couple of good front pockets for easy access to those liquids the TSA is so paranoid about (“It’s just my toothpaste, man!”), and is of sturdy contraction, built to take bangs and bumps.

And speaking of pockets–I encourage you to ziplock things like your meds and toothpaste and so on, and put them right out there in one of the outside pockets for quick access.  The last thing you want to hear, believe me, is the dreaded cry of “Bag check”, and then have to wait while somebody rummages through your underwear and socks.

This is going to seem silly, but trust me on this:  wearing a shirt with a breast pocket is a huge help.  You can put your boarding pass in there, which makes it easier to get through security; you can put your cell phone in there for quick access, which makes it easier to put in a bin when going through security; it gives you a good place to put your glasses, should you wear them.  Trust me–having an easy-access pocket there really does help.

Still on the topic of pockets, as you might expect, in the winter, I recommend traveling with a ScotteVest jacket.  They’re warm, comfortable, make a good lumbar support pillow in those crappy airline seats, and provide you with plenty of pockets for your gear, should you need that.

This next hint came as a surprise to me, honestly:  get a Skooba cable stable (I use the mini, which Judie has reviewed).  I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of cables.  Two micro-USB, a mini-USB, my iPhone/iPad tether, my headphone charger cable–it was an awful lot of loose junk.  For a while I just put it all in a bag, but eventually I bit the bullet and got the Skooba cable stable mini, and it has made a huge difference.  Yeah, you have to be a bit diligent about coiling stuff, but it means that your cables don’t get tangled, you always know where they are, and you have quick access to them.  The cable stable has been a huge boon in the stress relief department, and I recommend it highly.

A solid laptop bag is also key.  I travel with a bucketload of cables (as you can see above), a MacBook Pro, an iPad, an iPhone, headphones, a bunch of drugs (did I mention I’m old?), and all the other gear you need.  I can’t recommend a particular laptop bag at the moment, but I’m testing a new bag by Normincie, which is quite pretty, but I’m still on the fence about.  Look for the review here Real Soon Now™.

With the ubiquity of cell phones now, as well as the incredible entertainment options available on smartphones, laptops, and iPads, having a good set of headphones is key.  Furthermore, I find that when I’m traveling, I end up doing a lot more business on the phone then I usually do, so having a set of Bluetooth headphones that play nicely with my iPhone is important.  Furthermore, since my headphones get such heavy use, I find having a backup pair is a good idea, particularly if you’re in a drive-intensive location like L.A. or Atlanta or Washington D.C. or the San Francisco Bay Area.  It’s incredibly annoying to get that “out of juice” battery warning when you’re tooling down the freeway, so think ahead and have a spare handy.  My primary pair of headphones are Motorola S305s, which go over the ears (and so don’t goof up your hair), have good audio and microphone quality, and decent battery life.  My backup pair is a set of Jaybird Sportsband SB1s, which do go over your head and mess up your hair, but are still a solid set of Bluetooth headphones.

For the airplane, you need noise-reduction headphones if you want to be able to watch your movies or listen to your music in peace.  I don’t have a recommendation for a particular pair, but if you do, please share it below!

Finally, a word about (ahem) personal care.  This is going to vary depending on where you stay, of course, but I have found that, since most motels provide soap, shampoo, conditioner, facial soap and such, it makes more sense to not lug that stuff with you.  First of all, it’s less stuff to lug–you don’t have to find travel-sized containers for your shampoo and whatnot, spend time decanting from one bottle to the other, put them all in zip locks so that the pressure changes don’t make them leak all over everything, and all the other hassle that comes with it.  But also, since the TSA wants to poke their busy little fingers into your stuff, the less stuff you have for them to look at, the more likely you’ll get through that kabuki theater with less stress and hassle.  And facial soap works fine for shaving, I find.  Stick to your toothpaste, comb, brush, toothbrush, and leave the motel to supply the rest.  It’ll lower your blood pressure.  Trust me.

Anyway, those are some of the things I’ve found make it much easier for me to deal with the stresses of travel.  How about you?  These hints helpful, or do you have other hints that I didn’t even address?  Tell us below.


1 Comment on "Road Warrior/Technogypsy Notes: The Right Stuff Helps"

  1. My favorite travel headphones are from Beats Audio.  I initially had the active noise-canceling Beats Audio headphones (the original headphones).  While they were a very nice pair of ‘phones, there were several annoyances about them: first, active noise cancelation irritates my ears when I listen to them for an extended period of time; second, you cannot listen to anything without having the headphones powered on, meaning that the active noise cancelation is aways on; third, by making power necessary, it is all too easy to leave them on, using up the battery power, and ultimately making the headphones useless.

    I then purchased the Beats Pro headphones, with which I currently travel.  They are a little more bulky than the Beats headphones, but still fold up into a reasonably small package.  They do not have active noise cancelation; they use noise isolation which is less effective but also less irritating to my ears.  They sound amazing and are comfortable to wear for long periods.  The major downside is cost: $399

    I also use the B&W P5 headphones which are a little more reasonably priced ($299, still expensive!) but are not as good at sound isolation, so I find them to be less useful on airplanes.

    All of these are wired headphones, obviously, but I have had such major issues with bluetooth headsets and sound quality that I have not bothered with wireless headphones.

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