© 2011 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

Back in the good old days, business people used to travel with a briefcase, which contained some stationary, their business papers, and some sort of paper-based calendar and contact list. [In my case, when teaching seminars, I also hauled along several heavy boxes of overhead transparencies.]

When records were kept manually, one had all one's eggs in the same basket; there simply was no concept of having a backup copy. One day, I was riding a car-rental bus to a west-coast US airport terminal and my briefcase—complete with paper-based calendar and contact list—was standing up front with all the other passengers' hand luggage. At the stop prior to mine, a passenger got off and pulled his bag out of the pile causing mine to tip out the bus into the gutter. Either no one up front noticed or bothered; in any event, the bus drove off. Of course, when it came to my stop, my bag was nowhere to be found. I thought for sure that my all-important diary and contact list were lost forever. However, that same evening soon after I got home on the east coast, I got a phone call from an airline ticket agent. When getting off her employee bus that morning, she'd found my bag, thought that it looked lost, and phoned me using the number on the business card luggage label. She then arranged to put it in cargo on the next available flight at no charge, and her airline wasn't even the one I'd used. I thanked her profusely and once the bag arrived, I mailed her a substantial reward. [Had this happened after 9/11, I expect the bag would have been destroyed!]

In this essay, I'll look at how business (and personal) travel has evolved since then, at least for me. I should mention that I always travel dressed way down in loose hiking clothes and walking shoes, and I wear a large fanny pack (which, because of the offensive connotations that name has in certain cultures, is called a bum bag) tied around my waist.

The Debut of Portable Computers

I say portable because I'm referring to the time before laptops. So what does portable mean? After all, given sufficient manpower, I guess that my full-size refrigerator is portable!

In my case, it was the first commercially successful portable IBM PC-compatible computer, from Compaq. In truth, it was about the size and weight of a portable sewing machine. It had two small-capacity floppy-disk drives (one of which I replaced later with a 20MB hard drive). For several years, I hauled it on flights up and down the east coast on a regular basis. On larger planes, it just fit into the overhead compartment. On the smaller "puddle jumpers" I got to carry it out to the plane where it was checked, and from where I retrieved it on landing. And not only did I carry that, I still had to carry my oversize briefcase.

Laptop Computers

As with most new technologies, I was a late buyer of a laptop, waiting until the initial bugs had been ironed out, and the prices reduced before making the plunge.

Once I found a good program to manage my calendar and contacts list, I stopped using a paper version, which freed up a lot of space in my briefcase. Eventually, I was able to stop taking my briefcase altogether as I had on my laptop electronic versions of most things and could put papers and stationary in the laptop bag.

I am on my third laptop, all from Dell. The first was small and could actually fit on my lap. The second was big and clunky, and, technically, was called a portable desktop. The heat it generated actually came through most tabletops on which I placed it! My current one truly is large and heavy. No matter how many times I upgrade my eyeglass prescription I still don't seem to be able to read screens all that well, so I prefer them to be as large as possible. (My desktop screen is 27".) And with a 17" screen, my current laptop is heavy. In fact, the power adaptor alone weighs more than some really light machines! Often, progress simply is change!

The great news is that laptops are no longer significantly slower than are their desktop counterparts, nor do they have less storage. In fact, when I travel, I take a complete copy of all the data files from my desktop system with me, and can run my business very effectively while on the road.

Netbook Computers

For years, the emphasis was on making portable computers more and more powerful. And then a few companies decided to go in the opposite direction, towards a smaller, slower, and cheaper machine, now known as a netbook computer. In my case, it was from Asus and had a 10" screen, a 75%-of-full-size keyboard, plenty of memory and disk, and a built-in web camera and stereo microphone, all for under US$400. (Prices for capable netbooks start at $200.) I called it MiniMe, named for Austin Powers' miniature clone in his second and third movies.

I love my netbook; I can run my whole business on it (albeit more slowly than on my other computers), I can use it to play music, watch movies, and to phone via the internet. And it weighs next to nothing and fits into a very small carry bag. In fact, it's so small, that whenever I carry it during travel I fear I'm going to accidentally put it down and leave it behind.

As MiniMe's carry bag is just a bit bigger than MiniMe, there is little room for anything else; however, I manage to squeeze in the power adaptor, some cables, and a mouse (as I don't care for touch pads).

I pretty much restrict my use of MiniMe to vacation trips where I can use it for email, phone calls, and light editing. For my big fingers and poor typing skills, the keyboard is too small for lengthy editing tasks. And the screen is small.

Pocket Computers

As I wrote in, "Technology, Unplugged – Part 2", in December 2010, I take my Compaq Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) with me at all times.

While my PDA fits easily into my fanny pack, it does require a charger/cable, and if I want to synchronize it with my laptop or netbook, I need to take a data cable as well.

So, What's in my Laptop Bag?

When my laptop bag is fully loaded, it weighs a lot! Apart from my large laptop, here's what it contains:

  • Power convertor brick and cable
  • At least one international power adaptor plug set that handles sockets in the US, UK, Europe, and Australasia
  • A 3-way US power plug, so I can charge multiple devices at the same time
  • Smaller-than-full-size wireless mouse (being wireless, I can't use it in-flight, however)
  • Mouse pad (light-based mice don't work at all well on glass conference tables)
  • Several Ethernet and USB cables
  • An RJ11 phone cable (a hold-over from the old days; now that broad-band internet access is available pretty much everywhere I go, I no longer need to take international phone adaptors)
  • Spare batteries for the mouse and laser pointer
  • At least three memory sticks of varying capacities
  • A very strong security cable with which to lock the computer to a desk or some other fixture (like many meeting/conference attendees, very often, I leave my laptop unattended in a semi-public place during lunch breaks)
  • A folding headset for internet-based phone use (I had an expensive Bluetooth earpiece, but that died, so I'm back to cheap headsets)
  • Basic office supplies: business cards, ruler, business stationary, pads of paper, pens, pencil, pencil sharpener, laser pointer, US postage stamps
  • Earplugs (for those nights in hotels with noisy/inconsiderate neighbors)
  • Paper maps of the US and the world
  • Some headache tablets
  • Some emergency rations
  • US$20-worth of bills in each of four or five foreign currencies
  • A printed copy of my flight itinerary, hotel, and car rental details, and some reading material (all in an easily accessible side pocket)

Camera Gear

There is no room in my laptop or netbook bags for any camera gear. Occasionally, I travel with a small still digital camera, and that goes in my fanny pack. If I take my digital video camera, I also take my still camera, and they have their own small shoulder bag, which can also accommodate a paperback novel and some emergency rations, some business cards, and pencil and paper.

Music

For the occasional musical interlude, I have ripped a number of favorite CDs to disk on my laptop and netbook. [Recently, I won an iPod shuffle music player; however, I have yet to configure it.]

Telephone

I use Skype with Skype-Out via an internet connection. If I owned a mobile phone, it would need its own charger and data cable to sync with the laptop or netbook, but hopefully, it would replace my PDA.

Conclusion

In the early days of my teaching seminars and lugging my old Compaq around, I also hauled a projection system. Now that had to be checked in my luggage, packed properly so none of the glass parts would break. These days, all my clients have standard projection systems in their conference and training rooms.

As you might expect from my "lost briefcase" story earlier on, now that all my records are electronic, I am very conscientious about backup. As I've often said, "If it's worth doing, it's worth preserving!" So, apart from a copy of new/changed files on my laptop or netbook's hard disk, I put copies on at least two USB memory sticks and another stick that goes in my PDA and/or digital still camera. One backup stick goes in my fanny pack, and another goes in my checked luggage. Call it a case of "suspenders and belt", but it works for me.

On a few occasions, I've traveled without a computer or camera bag, and boy does it feel strange. I keep getting the horrible feeling that I've left something behind. However, it does make security checking much easier.

If the next time you go through an airport, you see a very tall guy with one arm longer than the other, it may well be me. Say G'day!