By Christopher Breen, Adam C. Engst, Dan Frakes, Joe Kissell, Dori Smith and and Macworld readers (**)
MacworldAPR 3, 2005 5:00 pm PDT
Whether you travel all the time or only occasionally, and whether you travel for business, pleasure, or both, chances are (if you’re reading Macworld ) you bring a little tech with you wherever you go.
But if you ask 20 different Mac users what they take on the road, you’ll get at least 21 different answers. (Some of us have “heavy” and “light” packing lists, for example.) As with so many things Mac, these decisions are as individual as the icons on our desktops or the bookmarks in our browsers. Some of us cram everything we can into our carry-ons. Others do everything possible to shave off each extraneous ounce.
Whatever your packing style, though, there are probably a few things you can do to make your travels easier and safer. So we asked our experts—editors, writers, and (most important) readers—for their favorite tips. From what to bring (and what not to bring) to getting online and retrieving e-mail, here are the best.
What to carry
Use all your gadgets
If you’re like most modern business travelers, your carry-on holds your laptop and a cell phone, a smart-phone, or a PDA. So why burn up your laptop’s battery charge when you can use one of the smaller devices to do some useful work—managing contacts and calendars, maintaining to-do lists, or making notes for a presentation? With these mundane chores assigned to your lesser gadgets, you can save your PowerBook’s battery for more-important tasks (such as watching the first season of Arrested Development on DVD).— Christopher Breen
Date your batteries
Frequent flyers know that you need a second laptop battery on cross-country flights. But batteries lose capacity as they age, so it’s all too easy to swap in what you think is a fresh, new battery and then discover (at the worst possible time) that it’s really old and weak. The cure? Label your batteries with a purchase date. And if you have an iBook or a 12-inch PowerBook, remember to shut it down (or make sure it’s plugged into an AC power source) before you change batteries; unlike the larger PowerBooks, those Macs can’t withstand having their batteries removed for even an instant.— Adam C. Engst
Plug in on the plane
There’s an alternative to lugging along a second battery on long flights—booking a seat with an AC outlet. Such powered seats are turning up more frequently on newer planes, particularly in first and business class. But how can you tell whether your seat will be powered? Before you select a seat, find out what sort of plane you’ll be on, and then check
SeatGuru. It provides layouts of all the planes flown by the major airlines, showing which seats are powered (as well as which ones have limited legroom, and so on).— Iain Drummond **
Back up your slides
You’re on your way to a make-or-break presentation, but somehow (clumsy security, clumsy cabbie, or clumsy you) the PowerBook holding all your slides and notes gets irreparably damaged. But if you’re smart, you can use the backup copy of your presentation that you put on your digital camera or iPod photo. How? First, you need to convert your slides into JPEG image files that your iPod or camera can work with. (There are a few ways to do this: PowerPoint can save directly to JPEG; Keynote 2 has an Export command that lets you save slides as JPEGs.) If you’re using an iPod photo, your next step is to upload the images with iTunes. (Note that iPod photo users can make this process a bit easier by using the
iPresent It utility, which will create slide shows from either Keynote or PowerPoint files and automatically set iTunes up to sync them.) If you’re using a digital camera, name the files using your camera’s usual file-name conventions and numbers that have already been used (IMG6523.jpg, for example). Next, use a USB media reader to copy the slides to your camera’s media card via the Finder, put the card in the camera, and verify that you can view your images on the internal LCD screen. Finally, make sure to pack the cable that connects your camera or iPod photo to a television; most projectors should have the necessary composite video inputs.— Adam C. Engst
Pack a short cord
Want to be voted Most Popular at your next conference? Bring along a very short (6- to 12-inch) extension cord. Here’s how it works: You’re in a session, and all the attendees want to plug their hulking power bricks into the one available power strip. But you just plug your power brick into your short extension cord and then plug the cord into the plug strip. That leaves more room for others.— Dori Smith
Carry just the cables you need
When you’re packing your carry-on for a trip, put in only the cables you’ll need on the plane. Put the rest in a plastic bag inside your checked luggage. That way, you won’t have to pull out a rat’s nest of cables when emptying your bags at the security checkpoint.— Mark Davis **
Play iTunes on TV
Want to play some music in your hotel room? You don’t have to settle for the dinky speakers on your PowerBook or lug along a dedicated pair. Instead, just pack a minijack-to-RCA adapter. At the hotel, plug the minijack into your laptop’s or iPod’s headphones port, and plug the other end into the RCA jacks on the front of the TV. Most modern TV speakers sound pretty good.— Dave Everitt **
Get a USB phone charger
Lose some unnecessary tonnage by investing in a USB charger for your cell phone. Instead of relying on a heavy power brick, you can recharge your cell phone and PDA by plugging them into your PowerBook’s USB ports. A number of companies, including
Zip-Linq, sell them, for a variety of cell phones and PDAs (their prices range from $10 to $25).— Adam C. Engst
What’s in your carry-on?
Adam C. Engst
I’m on the road an average of three days a month; I have 125,000 frequent-flyer miles. I’m currently using the Kensington SaddleBag: I like the option of using it as a backpack, and I love the little pocket for airline boarding passes.
PowerBook power cord (the long one)
Extra PowerBook battery
Canon PowerShot S400
Motorola 120C cell phone (with the antenna broken off so it fits in my pocket)
Little bag containing iPod earbuds, Koss earphones, an iPod remote-control cable, and a pair of adapters (one for double-headed airline jacks and another that lets two people listen to the same iPod)
Two blank CD-Rs
DiskWarrior boot CD
Kensington FlyLight USB LED light
Kensington security lock (I’ve never actually used it—instead, I just never let my bag out of reach—but it’s a good thing to have on hand)
Cables (camera to USB, camera to TV, FireWire, Ethernet, and RJ-11)
Adapters: mini-DVI to DVI, and mini-DVI to VGA (for connecting to projectors and other monitors)
Handeze gloves (In case I need to do a lot of typing while traveling)
Antibacterial hand gel (essential at any conference where you’ll shake hands with lots of people and then touch food)
Fairly large plastic bag (to act as backup rain protection)
Don’t take chances with your PowerPoint or Keynote presentations: create backup copies of your slides and put them on your iPod or digital camera just in case.
Create a room-to-room network
If you’re traveling with a group on a tight budget, ask your innkeeper to place all the travelers in adjoining rooms. The people in the room closest to the middle can then sign up (and pay) for broadband access. Using either an AirPort Express or OS X’s Internet Sharing feature, everyone in the adjoining rooms can share that broadband connection. (Be sure to check with hotel management before you start surfing.)— Christopher Breen
Sign up for AOL
My wife and I have extensive international and domestic travel experience. We’ve tried all sorts of Internet connections, from cell phones to Wi-Fi networks. The only method we’ve found reliable worldwide is a bare-bones AOL dial-up account. For $4.95 a month, you get just five hours of connectivity, but that’s enough time to grab e-mail and do some quick Web surfing. It has worked wherever we’ve gone, and we’ve gone over our time allotment only a few times.— Hans Fischmann **
Find your mail server
If you want to send e-mail from your hotel, you’ll probably need to give your e-mail client the name of the hotel’s outgoing mail server. Unfortunately, hotel staffers often have no idea what it is. But (assuming you can get onto the Web) you can figure out the mail server using a reverse DNS lookup. I use the aptly named
Reverse DNS Lookup, but there are plenty of other sites that do the same thing. When you go to Remote DNS Lookup, it’ll show you your IP address. Simply click on the Submit button, and it’ll tell you the domain name associated with that address. With that information, you can usually deduce the mail server. For example, if your IP address resolves to xxx.example.com, you can be pretty sure your mail server is mail.example .com. If that doesn’t work, try smtp.example.com. One of them should work for any mail client unless access to the mail server requires authentication.— Bart Meltzer **
Switch to IMAP
If you travel a lot and want to keep all your e-mail in sync, consider getting an IMAP e-mail account. The IMAP protocol automatically stores copies of all saved and sent messages on the mail server. It also tracks all changes you make to messages—marking them as read, replied to, deleted, and so on. You can then retrieve them from any computer in the world with an Internet connection, using either a Web interface or an e-mail client. IMAP is especially useful for people who prefer to travel without a laptop. .Mac subscriptions include IMAP access, and your ISP may offer it as an option. If not, you can find a list of
IMAP providers.— Joe Kissell
Relay your mail
Sending e-mail when you’re on the road can be tricky. You may have to use the ISP that serves your hotel to get onto the Net, but your ISP’s mail server may not accept messages sent through another’s SMTP gateway. That’s why many business travelers opt for Yahoo or other free accounts when they’re traveling. But there’s another way: Sign up for an SMTP relaying service from an outfit such as DynDNS.org or smtp.com. For a monthly fee (starting at around $10 per month, depending on message volume; relays are capped at several hundred a day to thwart spammers), your e-mails will be relayed through the service’s gateway, and your recipients will never know you’ve left home.— Christopher Breen
Adjust your headers
Many of us use personal e-mail addresses when we’re on the road. But to keep incoming business and personal e-mail separate, and to give your correspondence a professional look, you can make remotely sent messages appear to be from your work address (even if you’re using a Web-mail service that won’t let you mess with a message’s From header). E-mail- redirection services such as
Thinmail charge a small monthly or per-message fee to reroute e-mail. By adding a few special characters to the end of an e-mail address, you tell Thinmail to intercept the message and adjust the headers to reflect your desired From address.— Joe Kissell
Fax through a gateway
If you have access to e-mail but not to a fax machine (or a phone line for your fax modem), you can still send and receive faxes—by using a gateway service such as jConnect, from
j2. Receive-only accounts are free; full Premier accounts, which let you send faxes, make conference calls, and listen to voicemail toll-free, cost $15 per month. j2 assigns you a fax number (in the area code of your choice); faxes sent to this number are forwarded to you as e-mail attachments in TIFF or PDF format. To send a fax, you use a Web form or send an e-mail message (which can include attachments) to a special address.— Joe Kissell
Most PowerBook and iBook users have the software basics covered—word processor, Web browser, e-mail client, and so on. But adding a few other cool bits of software can turn your portable Mac into a real powerhouse and make traveling a bit more comfortable and entertaining. Here are a few of our favorite laptop gems:
Raging menace’s $15 SideTrack ( ) transforms your humble trackpad into a supercharged input device. It lets you use the edges of the trackpad to scroll left, right, up, and down; designate alternative functions for clicking the button and tapping the trackpad; map different functions to the corners of the trackpad; and customize tracking speed and sensitivity far more than OS X’s own preferences will let you.
Using gnufoo.org’s free
uControl ( ), you can swap your laptop’s modifier keys around. So you can finally convert that seldom used enter key into a second option key. Or if you’re left-handed, you can reverse the buttons on an external two-button mouse. But perhaps the most useful feature is the ability to enable mouse or trackpad scrolling so that pressing a user-defined modifier key (such as the fn key) lets you scroll through a document simply by moving the cursor.
As its name implies, Colin Henein’s free
SlimBatteryMonitor ( ) takes up a lot less room in your menu bar than OS X’s battery indicator. But its real power lies in its flexibility. You can set up SlimBatteryMonitor to show different information depending on whether your laptop is running off the battery, plugged in and charging, or fully charged.
For people who want to be able to find an open wireless (AirPort) network while on-the-go, but also think that a dedicated hardware detector (such as Canary Wireless’s Digital Hotspotter) is overkill: KisMac, MacStumbler, and iStumbler are free and will do the job using nothing more than your laptop’s wireless card. The only drawback is that you have to open your PowerBook or iBook and turn it on—a hassle and a waste of battery if there are no networks nearby. MacStumbler and iStumbler have better interfaces and are easier to use; KisMac includes a number of features useful to network administrators but probably confusing for beginners.
Ever need to browse a Web site while traveling far from Net access? With a little foresight and HexCat’s $7 DeepVacuum ( ), you can. DeepVacuum lets you download entire sites. Before you leave, you simply enter a site’s URL, customize DeepVacuum’s settings to determine how “deep” into the site it should search, and then click on the Start Download button. You’ll have the site on your drive, accessible no matter how far you are from a phone line or a hotspot.
If you travel a lot, sometimes you need to keep yourself occupied on the plane or in your hotel room (and you can watch only so many DVDs). The solution? What travelers have been doing for centuries: playing cards. Semicolon Software’s $25 Solitaire Till Dawn X ( ) provides 85 different kinds of Solitaire, as well as some of the best game play of any computer card game I’ve seen. Scenario Software’s $30 iPoker ( ) offers more than 100 variations of poker, complete with animated opponents. An Analyze Hand feature helps you learn the game—perfect for “business” trips to Vegas. —Dan Frakes
What’s in your carry-on?
I used to hit ten or twelve conferences a year, logging tens of thousands of air miles and thousands of car miles. Then I had a baby, so those days are (fortunately) over. Since July 2003, I’ve been to two or three conferences and have flown maybe 8,000 miles. But I still carry stuff around: I work in Wi-Fi hotspots and “third places” (away from home and office) several days a month for an hour or more a day.
Canary Wireless Digital Hotspotter
Canon S1 IS camera
Sony Ericsson T616 phone (with Cingular 9600bps GSM service)
Targus CoolPad (to keep lap from scorching)
PC Guardian ComboLock
Cables (Ethernet, RJ-11)
Need to find the name of your hotel’s e-mail server? Use reverse-DNS lookup to find the domain name, and then add mail or smtp to it.
Keep it safe
Lock but verify
Most barrel locks—such as those made by Kensington, Kryptonite, and other makers of computer, bike, and general-purpose locks—can be easily picked with a ballpoint pen. Many combination locks for laptops can be opened with a thin piece of ordinary plastic. So what works? The only lock that Marc Weber Tobias (the expert behind Security.org who claims to be able to pick any combination or barrel laptop lock currently on the market) recommends is the PC Guardian
ComboLock ($40 — see
Best Current Price ).— Glenn Fleishman
Label your latop
Once, at an airport security checkpoint, a pilot standing behind me almost took my iBook. He saw what looked like his laptop, grabbed it, and proceeded to walk away. Luckily, I was paying attention and asked him to look on the bottom of the notebook. He saw the label with my name on it and immediately apologized for the mix-up. Moral of the story: Your mother was right. Put your name on everything.— Rich Cruse **
Secure your e-mail
If you use a standard hotspot to send e-mail from the road, all your transmissions—messages, user names, and passwords—may be picked up by nearby snoopers. SSL-based e-mail—which encrypts your transmissions—is one good solution. But while most e-mail clients support SSL, not all ISPs support it. Enter
FastMail. This Australia-based service offers free accounts that include secure Web mail. Customers can use SSL-based POP, IMAP, and SMTP to securely send and receive e-mail from any Mac e-mail client. Accounts cost $25 or $40; the $40 plan includes 2GB of storage and 3GB of monthly inbound and outbound e-mail. FastMail also offers self-service aliases, domain names, and spam handling.— Glenn Fleishman
Your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance may not cover your portable computer equipment against theft or damage while you’re traveling. So you should consider purchasing a computer-specific policy from a company such as
Safeware. A $10,000 policy, for example, costs $200 per year, with a $200 deductible. It covers accidental damage, theft (even, under certain circumstances, from an unattended vehicle), vandalism, and other losses, and provides the full replacement cost of both your hardware and software.— Joe Kissell
Let OS X protect
OS X has several built-in features that can safeguard your laptop data. In the Security preference pane, select the Require Password To Wake This Computer From Sleep Or Screen Saver option; if your computer is stolen while it’s asleep, the thieves won’t be able to see your data without your password. Also select the Disable Automatic Login option, so merely restarting your computer won’t automatically enter your password. Finally, to prevent anyone from booting your laptop from another volume (such as a CD), launch Open Firmware Password (in /Applications/Utilities) and set a machine-level password.— Joe Kissell
Encrypt your files
Panther’s FileVault can keep your files safe by encrypting your Home folder. But like any other files, its disk images are prone to damage that may render all your data unusable. A safer alternative is to create your own encrypted volumes and use them to store your sensitive files. Apple’s Disk Utility can make encrypted disk images, but
PGP Disk ($59 as part of PGP Personal Desktop), offers stronger encryption and more configuration options. It also lets you encrypt e-mail messages.— Joe Kissell
Laptop cases for the true road warrior
Everyone needs a laptop bag, but some people need a laptop case, the kind that protects not only against scuffs and scratches, but also against bumps, bruises, dents, and drops. For these users, a heavy-duty enclosure is in order. These three packs will protect your precious PowerBook or iBook throughout the roughest of trips.
At first glance, passers-by might think you’re carrying national security secrets in Matias’s slick and stylish
Laptop Armor ($150 to $180). Only you need know it’s just your precious PowerBook. The Laptop Armor has a rigid aluminum outer shell and padded inserts that fit any laptop; the company claims that the case can help your laptop survive a 10-foot drop onto concrete, so it should have no problem with everyday abuse. Interior pockets hold a power adapter, a PDA, a mobile phone, and a few files, and a padded shoulder strap gives your hand a rest. The sturdy latches are lockable for additional security. The Laptop Armor is available in aluminum, black, and white. (Secret-agent handcuffs not included.)
For people who need the ultimate in crush-proof protection and who don’t care about pockets for PDAs and pens, RadTech’s
MacTruck ($200 to $230) is made of thick aluminum-alloy plates that won’t bend, let alone break. In fact, the MacTruck isn’t so much a case as an exoskeleton: You leave your PowerBook in the MacTruck during use—it gives you full access to all ports, its air channels allow for cooling, and thick pads keep your laptop safe and stable. RadTech claims that the MacTruck is sturdy enough to protect your PowerBook from being run over by a truck—hence the case’s name. However, this heavy-duty protection is also just plain heavy—the case alone weighs between four and six pounds, depending on the size.
If you’d rather wear your laptop on your back, Axio’s
Urban ($150) could be the bag for you. It features a rigid polycarbonate outer shell and lots of padding—you never want to take a spill off your bike or motorcycle, but in case you do, the Urban is like a helmet for your other brain. Interior compartments hold PDAs, an iPod, and other gadgets, and an optional Tek-Pack attaches to the outside of the Urban to accessibly store smaller items or a hydration pack. The Urban is available in titanium silver, metallic gray, and metallic olive.—Dan Frakes
What’s in your carry-on?
I travel about three days a month; I have about 40,000 frequent-flyer miles (I just redeemed a bunch for trips to Hawaii and Florida). I have two travel kits: the light bag and the heavy bag. The light bag goes everywhere (as you might guess), while the heavy bag comes along only on longer trips or trips where I’m going to need more hard-core tech gear.
What’s in the light bag:
15-inch PowerBook (and power brick)
Sony Ericsson T610 phone (and USB charger)
Green-beam laser pointer
Jabra BT200 headset and power brick
Targus Ultra Mini Retractable Optical Mouse
Targus USB Retractable Notebook Light
Macally 128MB flash drive
Keyspan 4-port USB minihub
2 Dimple Gel wrist rests
Discgear Discus 22-disc carrier
Cables (FireWire, Ethernet, and two extension power cords)
Adapters (CompactFlash PC Card, iPod cassette, 3-to-1 AC [with surge protector], DVI-to-VGA dongle)
What’s in the heavy bag:
All of the light bag’s contents
Citizen PN50 printer (and cables and power brick)
Tungsten T PalmPilot (with cradle)
Canon Powershot S300 Digital Elph camera (and charger)