Scott Hanselman

Packing Light for Travel with Power and Geek Style

April 09, 2008 Comment on this post [39] Posted in Musings
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I've been traveling lately, and last week I posted 10 Guerilla Airline Travel Tips for the Geek-Minded Person. Next week I'm going to Seattle for the week and I really prefer to pack as light as possible. There's lots of tips on the net on how to squish your clothes (I use SpaceBags) and what luggage to use (I like half-sized wheeled totes) but what's really interesting to me is what gadgets and electronic equipment to pack that gives me the most functionality in the least space.

Here's what I'm packing for next week's trip:

Monster 4 Outlet Mini Power StripMonster 4 Outlet Mini Power Strip - Ordinarily I dislike Monster's stuff because its's so expensive, but this little gem is only $12. Paul Mooney gave me one of these and I love it. It's got four-outlets and a small extension core. The cord wraps around and it plugs into itself for storage. As Paul says, "When you're at the airport and you're looking for a plug, you're pushy. If you show up with one of these, you'll make three new friends!" They're amazingly useful when plugged into those lamps with outlets at the hotel.

Kensington Travel Plug Adapter Kensington 33117 International All-in-One Travel Plug Adapter - I love this plug. We took it all over Africa and Europe and it hasn't failed me yet. It even has a spare fuse inside. This plug is all-in-one with no pieces to lose. The plug tips are all stored inside and slide in and out. Use it along with the mini-power strip above and suddenly you've got four US power plugs. It doesn't convert voltage, but most electronic device adapters will convert voltage for you.

Maxtor 250 GB OneTouch Hard Drive Maxtor 250 GB OneTouch 4 Mini Portable Hard Drive - I've recently started doing all my presentations using Virtual Machines on this little drive. It's a great drive because it doesn't require external power, rather it uses a double USB cable to draw power. I have six VMs on this drive.

Kensington Power AdapterKensington K33197 120W Auto/Air Ultra Portable Notebook PC Power Adapter - This has replaced all my power bricks. It powers my PSP, iPod, anything USB, nearly any notebook, phone, digital camera. It'll even charge one high-power (laptop) and one low-power (phone) device at once with the Y-adapter. The brick is also about half the size of whatever came with your laptop. It's creepy small.

USB Mini CableUSB 2.0 A/Mini-B Cable (Black)- You literally can't have enough tiny USB cables. They are good for charging things, tethering with your SmartPhone for Internet access, or connecting to a portable hard drive. I keep at least four in my bag.

Garmin nuvi 350

Garmin nüvi 350 3.5-Inch Portable GPS Navigator - There just isn't a better GPS for your dollar than the Garmin Nuvi 250. I paid twice this and it was still worth it. The feature I like the most is that it speaks the street names using text-to-speech. The interface is clean and easy to use, and it has a mode for walking/hiking which is great around unknown cities. As an aside, it's got an SD Card slot, supports Audible audio-books, it's a passable MP3 player. It also charges via Tiny USB!


webcam Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 Win USB - Don't listen to the low Amazon Reviews on this one. The early drivers sucked and the LifeCam software is a little "meh." However, the secret to this webcam is a Driver Only install. I use it in 64-bit Vista and do 640x480 high-res video calls with the family whenever I'm on the road, using the Skype Hi-Res Hack.


Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000 - I've tried every little notebook mouse/usb dongle combo there is. Some have hidden USB receivers, some recess in the bottom, etc. This mouse has both a dongle, but also bluetooth. I've left the dongle at home and I just have to turn this mouse on and since I paired it once with my laptop, it just works. One less thing to sweat. Plus, it's a presenter mouse, so you just flip it over and it has a laser pointer, on screen magnifier, and Presentation Forward/Back buttons. It lets me move more freely when presenting, and my recent Mix presentation was better for it.

HTC Excalibur Dash

HTC S620 PDA Black Smartphone (Unlocked, Intl. Version) - I've got an HTC Excalibur unlocked phone that's hooked up to Cingular/AT&T. The best think I ever did was turn on unlimited data. Now I can use "Internet Sharing" with Windows Mobile. I can "tether" the laptop and the SmartPhone with two clicks, using either Bluetooth or USB (I use USB as it charges the phone also) and I've got pretty decent speed Internet (25k/sec) pretty much anywhere largish in the US. When I find a Wi-Fi hotspot that wants to charge me money, bam, I bust out the phone. I've found myself using public Wi-Fi less and less, as it's really dodgy in both reliability and speed, and just going with the slower, but always available AT&T Edge network. Both Gmail and Outlook notice when they are on slow connections and will adjust. Also, I don't need to carry around (or pay for) a Network Aircard for the laptop.

kindle Amazon Kindle - It's official, I loves my Amazon Kindle (my review). Sure, it's ugly. But it works. I don't have to sync it. I hate having one more thing to sync to some other thing. If it works wirelessly and I don't have to push any buttons, I like it. The Kindle delivers me the New York Times, Newsweek, and the Huffington Post, every day (or week, for Newsweek) and it just works. I've added a 2gig SD Card and put all my Audible books on it. I've got a dozen books, many free. The one caveat so far, I have had the battery run down over a few day period and the battery go dead when the wireless has been left on and constantly updates blogs, so I've started turning it all the way off at night and charging it like a cell phone. However, with wireless off, it'll go for 1000+ page turns before running down, plus it'll trickle charge from tiny USB.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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April 09, 2008 11:24
Scott on your advice from a Hanselminutes cast I got a quad core machine and installed vista 64 on it about 4 months ago and have not looked back. The guys at the computer shop when I said I wanted 4 gig of ram laughed and said you will only use 3 then I said I wanted vista 64 and they laughed again but I am the one laughing now. I also on your advice develop in VM's (xp unfortunately) but it works well and other than developer tools the vm's don't do much else. When I have to travel to client's I load the vm's onto the laptop and off I go.
Well now the laptop is getting on so I would like to hear your thoughts on laptops and what you are currently using as your advice has servered me well. I was looking at the lenovo t62p as i currently have the t42p which has done me well. I like hi res monitors and that seems to limit my choice somewhat. Your thoughts and some knowledge on what the Hanselman uses would be appreciated.
April 09, 2008 11:35
oops meant to say lenovo t61p and if anyone is interested in vista 64 on it check out Keith Combs blahg - Windows Vista x64 on the Lenovo ThinkPad T61p
April 09, 2008 11:36
I run 64-bit Vista on a 4gig Lenovo t60p, so I imagine that a t62p would be 2 better. ;) I also like the MacBookPro, but they don't officially support 64-bit....yet. There are ways you can make it work though. Personally, I've been 100% happy with my t60p and 64-bit. It will run a very high res monitor also as a second monitor.
April 09, 2008 11:52
Would personally swap the gps and phone for a HTC TyTn II (aka. HTC Kaiser),
April 09, 2008 11:55
Good point! I'd love to drop the GPS for a good phone/gps combo. You have a TyTn?
April 09, 2008 12:08
I propose a trade between Australian and the US. You guys can have some of our widespread and cheap 3/3.5G network infrastructure if we can have some of the services (e.g. Kindle, iTunes TV etc) that would actually make the network useful ;)
April 09, 2008 12:09
Totally, this one country at a time stuff is getting old.
April 09, 2008 12:21
One thing I've found totally invaluable is an Apple Airport Express. I can plug it into the wired ethernet in a hotel room (or anywhere else) and I have an instant, secure, firewalled/nat-ed, working WIFI network. Great for sitting on the bed surfing, or if I'm traveling with my wife (I usually do), so we can both use the internet at the same time.

I think NetGear or some of the others do a similar model, but their firmware usually sucks, and the apple one is rock solid.
April 09, 2008 12:43
I do a lot of backpacking, and while travelling countries in the far-east I've compiled my personal list of electric appliances: 2-pol power cord from an old printer, Kensington 33117, and (believe it or not) a set of ordinary batteries. Because it always happens that all my devices, SLR camera, iPod Photo, and phone get low on juice at the same time. Yes, my SLR runs on normal batteries.
April 09, 2008 12:45
I just bought the Maxtor 250 GB OneTouch 4 Mini Portable Hard Drive, it's also quite cheap (99€ in Italy) and since I'm a on-road consultant without a fixed desk I don't have to bring around another power supply.
Thx for the tip.
April 09, 2008 14:06
I have a different brand equivalent of the Kensington 33117 (actually I have two) , but mine also have USB charging adaptors that replace the input socket and allows me to charge my phone iPod etc directly. It's great.
April 09, 2008 15:49
Is the Maxtor drive a 7200RPM? Amazon's info on it kind of sucked.
April 09, 2008 17:18
I use many of the same items when I head out to speak as well. If you use audio in your presentations, I highly recommend these USB powered guys (they can fill a room easy!): Cyber-Acoustics.

GPS is something I need, so I'm going to look into the Garmin Nuvi 250.

April 09, 2008 17:37
@ScottW: no, it's 5400rpm... I never seen portable external drive (with no need for an external power supply) faster then 5400rpm probably because I guess it'll be no use to have a faster disk when the USB2 is "only" 60MB/s.
April 09, 2008 17:51
I would recommend to swap the Garmin and the HTC Smartphone for a HTC Kaiser and have the best of both.
The Kaiser and I had a somehow rocky start but I would still recommend it if you need a phone AND a top-notch GPS device (Sirf-Chip III).
April 09, 2008 18:36
ScottHa -

I really enjoyed this post. Excellent information and very practical. And you had me fully on-board until NY Times and "Huffington Post"... ;)

- Nate
April 09, 2008 18:46

Is there a reason you prefer the Maxtor to the Western Digital? The WD Passport draws power and data from a single USB connection. I have half a dozen of the WD variety (mostly tchotchkes from various events) and I find them invaluable.

I'm actually about to buy one for every member of our team, but if you say the Maxtor model is better I'll get those instead.

April 09, 2008 20:02
scott does your cell phone have wifi functionality? on my EVDO verizon phone i use , which bridges the highspeed cellular internet to wifi, and i can use multiple laptops against it at the same time, getting 3 MBPS+ speeds in many locations without tethering. This to me has been a killer app, and revolutionized my net access - Like you , now i don't care to have to find a wifi hotspot, and even when i'm not in a high speed area it still works fine for the convenience of instant access anywhere.

April 09, 2008 20:47
Speaking of mini-USB cables, I saw this today on Engadget and was intrigued:

The Ultra-Smart Cable
April 09, 2008 21:43
PWillis: I don't know if it's better, I just know it's good. If the WD can do a single USB, I'd go with that! Both are great drives, I think.
April 09, 2008 21:49
Karl - Interesting...but the only thing WMWifiRouter buys me is access from more than one machine...otherwise tethering gives me the same experience, right?
April 09, 2008 22:03
scott, what is the process of configuring the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000 to use just bluetooth without the dongle? I have a thinkpad t60p, turned on the mouse, turned on bluetooth on the t60p, ran through the add devices wizard , but it doesn't find it. any ideas?
April 09, 2008 22:13
scott, nevermind, figured it out.
April 09, 2008 22:48
this new belkin power toy is what i'm holding out for.. the monster one looks cool, but the USB inclusion is nice :-)

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April 10, 2008 0:58

Any reason you didn't go for the Garmin 200W? I've seen the 200W and the 350 side by side and the widescreen is definitely a plus.
April 10, 2008 13:12
Scott said: "However, the secret to this webcam is a Driver Only install. "

How do you do the driver only install?? This has been bugging me for a long time - I don't want all the other crap.
April 10, 2008 19:31
My tip is a retractable cable such as the ziplinq. This means no twist ties/rubber bands/velcro straps to lose, and I get as much or as little cable as I need. Plus all my cords (save power) live in one small pouch in my bag. I love my retractables!
April 10, 2008 19:43
I'm laughing that you consider this "packing light." Don't get me wrong, I'm totally jealous of all the cool toys (and in your job, I'm sure you need them). It just doesn't strike me as going light -- for one thing, that is a lot of gadgets in your carry-on, and that doesn't include your laptop(s). What's it like when you go through the security checkpoint?

Seems like you could get rid of the camera by just getting a laptop that has a built-in camera. And I would think you could do just as well GPS-wise with a cell-phone solution.

The spacebags look useful, but what do you do on the return trip (presumably there's no vacuum available)?

On another note, I'm considering getting the iPhone and am curious why you chose the phone you did. Follow-up post?
April 10, 2008 20:14

About Spacebags, I think Scott probably uses the travel bags on this page:

Those don't require a vacuum to use but they also don't compress as much as a result.
April 10, 2008 20:21
You have a strange definition for "packing light", especially for just a week. Also, I know that Seattle is a weird place, but it's still running on regular good ol' US electricity isn't it? Why the international adapter?
April 10, 2008 21:24
joe: ah yes, I see now. Thanks, I may have to try those!
April 10, 2008 21:43
@Karl, @ScottHa:

I run WMWifiRouter on my TMo Shadow, and it is a great experience. I actually provided bandwidth for like 8 people at a recent CodeCamp.

A big disadvantage to using WMWifiRouter when it is only one person is battery life. On my Dell XPS 1710, I can work about 3.5 hours on battery while tethered. But I can only work 2 hours on WiFi. Furthermore, after 2 hours of WiFi, my mobile's battery is drained, whilst it's charged after 3.5 hours of tethering.

Could be some wierd configuration of my particular device(s), so YMMV. But that's why I tether as a first choice.

(And, just for completeness: Bluetooth never wins. It drains additional battery on the notebook and the mobile!)
April 11, 2008 1:49
Joe - You're busting my chops here. ;) This isn't an accurate representation of what I'll take to Seattle next, week, it's more of a "what to take generally" post.

However, you're totally right about combining objects like GPS/Phone and Laptop/Camera!

And yes, I use the SpaceBag that you rollup or sit on. Not the one that needs a vacuum.
April 11, 2008 3:37
"Seems like you could get rid of the camera by just getting a laptop that has a built-in camera. ..."

Of course... just hold the laptop up there and take a nice photo with the cool 1.3mp which will print nicely.

So do you usually walk around with a laptop on you? What if you want to take a quick shot, do you wait for the laptop to boot? I think that almost extinct bird is long gone! :)
April 11, 2008 4:00
Adbu - I mean for a WebCam, not for a digital camera.
April 11, 2008 9:54
I wanted to make a comment about your Kensington 33197 power adapter -- these are great power adapters. I own 5 of them now and have gotten some for family members. They're small, don't get excessively hot, are 110/220, have wall/auto/airline input, they can power up to 120W (enough for my huge laptop), and there are tip adapters for every device I've needed them for. I power my laptop only with these adapters (the standard power supply is huge).

While the prices for new ones are pretty high, they've been around long enough that you can pick up a refurbished one cheap. I just bought two at J&R ( for $20 ea. Fabulous deal at that price.

The only negative is that it can be tough to figure which tip adapter you need for a particular device. Their lookup tool is woefully out of date. I've taken to looking up the specs on the device's standard transformer and then figuring out which of the tips has the same connector.

I just ordered 4 of those Monster power strips on ebay -- Thanks for tip!
April 11, 2008 21:04
Sorry. I spoke too fast. :)

Still.. I would use a detached Webcam because then you can adjust its position separately while with a built-in one, you are forced to adjust the laptop itself which puts it away from your comformt zone.

April 14, 2008 0:22
Did you really think I was suggesting using a laptop webcam as a point & shoot?
June 02, 2008 12:59
I got the HTC TyTN II (code name Kaiser) since the day it was announced and it's an amazing device. The only problem is putting everything in the same bag, My device went to service and since then I'm clueless, I need to take again everything with me ...

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.