Travel Gear for the Globe Trotting Geeks

65,000 km a month is my current travel routine with my international engineering firm, Spec Ops Technology. In my past there was formidable travel, but it always was within the continental US which removed some of the complexities in life. With the crossing of borders the type of equipment you need changes dramatically. Below are some of my favorite items to carry that have saved me numerous times. In a later post I will cover the software and mobile applications that I use on all this stuff.

Laptop

I live on my laptop while on travel. My requirements were:

  1. It always work when I open the lid
  2. No moving parts to have break
  3. Run UNIX
  4. Fit on a Coach class seat tray
  5. Be less than 3 pounds
  6. Bring back my lovely memories of the Powerbook 12″
  7. 1366×768 resolution
11" MacBook Air Max

The MacBook Air was the best fit for me. There are cheaper laptops for sure, but I wanted quality engineering and a well built machine that could standup against my schedule. The screen is beautiful and the machine is small enough to be tossed in the bag while sitting down on a plane for landing. I am truly in love with this machine and over the past year put some wear and tear on it.


11" MacBook Air Speck Case

I have a customer who says that Apple Laptop owners protect their laptops more carefully than others. We have keyboard protectors,arm rest pads, and cases. He might be right, but I think the cases go a long way in protecting the investment. Its easier to replace a Speck Case and Moshi armpad than it is to buy a new laptop.

I swear by the Speck Cases which work very well on the MacBook Air. It isn’t as solid as one would hope, but it does help with protecting it against the various scratches and dents I would inevitably have.

 

 Tablet

The iPad is one of those devices I never realized I needed till I had one. The battery life is amazing and the ability to view emails, documents, tech manuals, etc. has saved me countless hours. It is small enough that sitting in a taxi I can pull it out for a quick thought or edit.

Apple iPad2

I chose to purchase a iPad2 16GiB Wifi only instead of the more expensive models. The reasons were that felt the the 3G was not needed in Europe and hotels with the prevalence of Wifi and the 16GiB at the time seemed like a good idea as I store a ton in the cloud. Looking back I would jump for more storage as the cloud is not accessible when you are in the clouds…

In a later post I will cover the Apps I swear by for travel, but needless to say I run my business off this thing. In addition I enjoy the ability in iOS 5 to do encrypted/signed emails, encrypted storage, and remote wipe.

MacAlly Dualstand2

Like the MacBook Air, I put a case on my iPad. I’d say partially for protection, more for daily use. I use the fantastic Air Display App to use my iPad as a second monitor on my travels, but without some stand it was near useless. The HTC Evo back home made me accustom to having a kickstand to prop up my devices. The MacAlly Dualstand 2 case was a great addition as it protects the back, has 2 heights for propping up, and is yellow. The color at first was a little discomforting, but the brightness allows me to find it in low light condition which has been nice in dark airplanes and hotels.

Boxwave Stylus

I didn’t like the thought of taking down customer information in something that was so easily read. The Boxwave Stylus and any of the various note taking applications has allowed me to replace my unsecure Moleskins with a note taking machine.

 

 Security

When you are traveling across multiple international borders it is important to secure your data. In addition to your personal information you are carrying your customers’ and should treat it with a heightened level of control. The laptops in our company are configured to comply as closely as possible to the DISA STIG guidelines for the applicable OS. We disallow unencrypted storage on both internal and external storage also.

I use LastPass to generate one-time passwords for all my websites and documents. This way one leak or break-in does not compromise the rest of my net. If you search my blog you will see more lengthy posts on the usage, but the short end is that LastPass is cross-platform, works within a browser, and despite some questionable security issues in the past does a decent job.

Yubikey

 

I at one point was a very big user of Dropbox, but their recent actions have forced me onto another service. Having to encrypt prior to transmission negated the things that made Dropbox great. Luckily there are other services that have stepped up that provide a similar level of syncing without the security fail of Dropbox. I settled on Spideroak for keeping the laptop synced with my desktop and fileserver back home. It isn’t as seamless, but it is more secure and works in all the OS I care about.

IronKey USB Drive

When the cloud isn’t there and I need to backup something I use my Ironkey. It is Military Grade built meaning water, stress, heat, etc.are no issues. In addition the encryption software works without Admin rights on Mac, Windows, and Linux machines. I use it to store my important documents that if I lost my everything it would be in my pocket ready to get me out of some country. Skip the Sandisk software encryption and go with hardware if you can. They are expensive, but I value my data in this form factor.

For traversing foreigh networks I use a mixture of colocated servers and Amazon EC2 in various countries to ensure that no matter what “Great Firewall” might be in use I can tunnel my way out. My home server has a hosted DNS server allowing me control of my A-Records so that I can use DNS tunneling in addition to SSL/SSH. Last ditch effort is ICMP tunneling, but I have found very few places SSH or OpenVPN wasn’t sufficient. The first thing I do on any connection is VPN home before exchanging information. You can’t take big risks on foreign wifi access points.

Iomega eGo

Lastly you should always follow a 3-2-1 backup strategy even when on the road. My data is stored locally on the laptop, in the cloud, and on an Yubikey authenticated encrypted external hard drive. I picked the external drive most able to sustain abuse much like the IronKey. After doing some research (specifically watch this Popular Mechanics video – best quote: Survived a 15 ft. drop on concrete and the crushing weight of a Chevy Tahoe.) I ended up with an Iomega eGo 1TiB drive. While the laptop is unable to take advantage of its USB 3.0 speed, it is able to power it with one USB port. It serves as my TimeMachine backup drive and for some very large programs that just make very little sense to store on the storage limited SSD in the laptop.

When I am traveling the laptop and hard drive never travel together. One is in my carry-on and one is checked so that if either disappears my data is still in 2 other locations. A month ago I suffered a failure on the laptop (not really though, I was being dumb) and was able to take my external hard drive and, using the Apple Time Machine utilities during install, restore my “laptop” to a spare mac mini. The peace of mind of being able to run to an Apple store, buy any laptop, and be back online within an hour or two makes it worth the pains of this backup strategy.

Power on the Go

The only thing worse than being in an airport or hotel room, is being there watching your batteries slowly drain as you desperately try to get that one last email out.

Kensington Travel Inverter

Some of the newer planes and cars have standard wall sockets in the seats or consoles. This, next to airborne wifi, is the greatest thing ever. Every so often though I run into some means of transportation with the traditional connectors or in some car I wish to charge both the iPad and phones. The Kensington Inverter is the best device I have used thus far. Small and built like a brick it is able to charge the laptop and a few devices at once while staying relatively cool.

Tripshell International Adapter

When you finally get to your hotel room you will need some converter for whatever country you are in. In the past I carried multiple adapters for each country which meant I often lost them or they broke. With the Tripshell World Adapter I am covered for 90% of the countries I visit. In addition to being a converted two ways (European plugs into American sockets as an example) it also has a fuse for protecting those valuable electronics.

 

Quirky PowerCurl

The MacBook Air power adapter is very compact as is. The corporate guys are always amazed to see how tiny it is compared to their Dell/HP/etc. laptops. In addition the switchable adapters for long length or short is useful when trying to keep the wires managed. The legs that allow you to wrap up the excess is even more ingenious. Truth be told though, when I am in the airport I don’t want to deal with unraveling and switching adapters. At the same time I want to have the ability to wrap up the excess cord as I do when I traditionally flip up the legs. The Quirky PowerCurl is one product that has saved me tons of heartache with reaching for the last power socket. In addition it keeps my power adapter cleanly wrapped for storage in my bags.

Creature Comforts

The next few items aren’t requirements, but they do make my travels more comfortable.

Timbuk2 Command

The Timbuk2 Command Laptop bag is such a great carry-on companion. Lots of pockets, well made, and plenty of storage for all my geeky toys it has served me well. It also is TSA approved so when I am making my way through security it is very simple for me to lay it flat and never have to remove the laptop or tablet. It doesn’t look too unprofessional is passable to carry into a board room without feeling goofy. It is a little more pricey for what you are getting, but it is justifiable for the quality of the product in my opinion.

 

ZuniConnect 150

Some wifi services still to this day only allow a single MAC registered to the acces point. This means that my phone, ipad2, and whatever else feels left out when I am in the hotel room. I used to carry a router for sharing a 3G connection, but it only had one Wifi radio which didn’t help me. The ZuniConnect allows me to (powered via USB port mind you) connect to the pay-for wifi and then share it to my own private wifi network. The device is small, comes with a case, and if wall powered can charge 2 devices via USB. The device pays for itself after one long stint of travel.

Kensington USB Mini Dock

The MacBook Air, while a great laptop is short on USB ports. Also it is short on Ethernet ports. The best adapater I have found to date is the Kensington USB mini dock with Ethernet. It requires no drivers in MacOSX and is as simple as plugging in. When I have large transfers with clients or am in a secure location with no wifi it has saved me. Without power and simply plugged into the USB port it will allow for Ethernet and a single USB keyboard to operate. The adapter is rated for 220 so plugging it in to the wall jack is no issue. Price is cheaper than purchasing the equivalent USB NIC from Apple or NewEgg.

Rowenta Classic Travel

Lastly for my appearance I love a fresh ironed getup. Us Americans are spoiled that almost every room and hotel has an iron and ironingboard in the room. In Europe and the Middle East this is NOT the case. Either it is a shared non-steam iron in the hallway closet or the one they bring to your room is rusty and a mess. I couldn’t deal with it any longer and instead opted to purchase the Rowenta Travel Iron. Oh gosh how I love it…seriously it is the best little device to let this prior-military man continue to look sharp when shoving 10 days into a carry on suitcase. In addition the steaming and 110/220 switch means I am always able to use it.

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