Essential Gear for Small Business Travelers

I’ve arrived at a point in life when my 11-inch MacBook Air is too bulky for travel (it weighs 2.38 pounds). I want to be as unencumbered as possible when I travel. And yet, I also need to get work done. With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of essential gadgets (not including a laptop or smartphone) to pack for small business travel.

Top Small Business Travel Gadgets

1. Lightweight Tablet

Not everyone will be able to go laptop-free on a business trip, of course. Certain content management systems, for instance, don’t play well with mobile browsers like the iPad’s Safari, which means you may need to carry your laptop.

But if you’ll primarily check email, browse the Web, and work on Microsoft Office documents, a tablet may be all you need. Apple’s iPad Air (starting at $499) is my favorite. It weighs just 1 pound, has a zippy processor, and a huge ecosystems of apps and accessories.

If you prefer Windows, you have lots of compact Windows 8 tablets from which to choose. My pick: Lenovo’s IdeaTab Miix 2, a full Windows 8.1 device in a tablet that weighs just 0.77 pounds, and it costs only $230 on Amazon.

For Android fans, I recommend Google’s Nexus 7 ($229 and up), a solid but compact tablet that weighs just 0.64 pounds.

2. Tablet Keyboard

If you travel with a tablet for work, you’ll need a physical keyboard. For my iPad Air, I use Zagg’s backlit Cover, an excellent, thin, Bluetooth keyboard ($100) that weighs 1.3 pounds. Zagg makes keyboards for other tablets, too.

Zagg Cover Bluetooth keyboard

Figure 1: Zagg’s Cover, a back-lit, Bluetooth keyboard designed for the iPad Air.

Yes, I realize that an iPad Air combined with a Zagg Cover weighs the same as my MacBook Air. But I used to travel with both my iPad and my MacBook, so leaving the MacBook Air behind does make a difference.

Kensington recently introduced the KeyFolio Thin X3 ($100), an iPad Air keyboard case that can also charge your smartphone. Logitech makes great, ultrathin keyboards for iPads and Samsung Galaxy Tab tablets, ranging in price from $50 up. Microsoft’s Wedge Mobile Keyboard ($43 on Amazon) is a solid option for Windows tablet owners.

3. Lightweight Laptop Bag

Recently, I had to buy a new laptop messenger bag. To help me decide, I wrote up a list of features I wanted and showed it to a sales person at the Timbuk2 store in San Francisco. On my list of must-haves were an affordable price; protected pockets for laptop and tablet; external water bottle pocket; TSA-friendly design; a roomy interior; the ability to slip the bag onto a wheeled bag’s handle; and easy access to at least one external pocket.

Timbuk2’s Command Laptop TSA-Friendly Messenger bag ($129 and up) met all my needs, and then some. It comes in small, medium, and large sizes and in various colors. (I bought the small black model.) It’s not the most gorgeous laptop bag around, but it’s great for casual use.

Timbuk2 laptop bag

Figure 2: Timbuk2’s Command Laptop Messenger bag is both well-designed and TSA-friendly.

4. Dual Voltage Power Strip

I’ve made several international trips with Magellan’s inexpensive ($29.50) dual voltage power strip. You can recharge or power up to three devices simultaneously using its AC outlets. And there’s a USB port that supplies enough juice to recharge a tablet. The power strip’s dual voltage lets you recharge your gear in countries that support 110-240 VAC, though you’ll need adapters to plug the power strip into wall sockets overseas.

Even if you don’t travel overseas, I recommend this power strip. Hotel rooms are notoriously stingy when it comes to offering unused AC outlets, and it’s compact and weighs only 6 ounces.

5. Noise-Cancelling Headphones

On any given flight, you’re likely to encounter screaming babies (bless their hearts), and chatty seatmates. The best defense is a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. I’ve tried several, but my favorite is Bose’s QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling compact, lightweight earbuds (for iOS devices; the QuietComfort 20 is for other mobile devices). At $300, they’re not cheap. But they do a great job filtering out background noise, so you can concentrate on your work or enjoy some tunes.

6. A Bag to Hold Your Cables

Cables and chargers for your tablet, smartphone, and laptop are a necessary evil when you travel. Rather than just throwing them willy-nilly into a bag, I corral them all into Tom Bihn’s Snake Charmer ($30), a pouch with two separate compartments and see-through mesh. I’ve also invested in extra chargers and cables for my iPad and iPhone and keep them in the Snake Charmer, so I don’t have to pack and unpack them for each trip.

7. A Compact Lightning or Micro USB Plug

If you want to really go minimal, check out NomadClip ($40), a carabiner ends that fold out into a male USB 2.0 plug on one end and a Lightning or Micro USB plug on the other. You can hang the clip on a belt loop or on your keychain as well. For $29 on Amazon you can pick up a Chargekey, which claims to be “the world’s smallest, most portable Lightning cable.” It’s shaped like a key and fits on a keychain.

NomadClip USB carabineer

Figure 3: The NomadClip contains both a USB 2.0 plug and a Micro USB plug.

8. Portable Recharger

Your smartphone or tablet may run out of juice before you do. HyperJuice Plug ($81 and up) is a solid recharger, available in six aluminum colors and in two different capacities. It has two USB ports to simultaneously recharge two iPads or other devices.

9. Portable Storage

Depending upon your workload, you may need a portable hard drive, flash drive, or other storage device. For example, you might buy a compact portable hard drive, use it as a Time Machine backup for your MacBook, and carry the drive with you on long business trips—just in case your MacBook goes down for the count. For that, I recommend Western Digital’s My Passport, available in various models, capacities and prices. My preferred model is the 2TB USB 3.0 version for Macs ($119 on Amazon).

Alternatively, you might simply need to offload large presentations, videos or other files from your laptop to another machine. LaCie’s PetiteKey is a USB 2.0 flash drive that fits on a keychain, comes with data encryption, and offers 8GB ($15), 16GB ($20), and 32GB ($35) storage capacities.

For external tablet storage, consider the pricey but well-reviewed LaCie Fuel, which gives your tablet access to additional storage via the Fuel’s own Wi-Fi network. It costs $180 for 1TB and $250 for 2TB and lets you share files with five devices at once, play music and videos on your devices, and stream content to an AppleTV.

10. Fitness Tracker with Silent Alarm

Alarms are rude. They blast you out of bed, with no consideration for their impact on your nerves. When I absolutely must set an alarm, I use the silent vibrating alarm on my Fitbit Force. Sadly, this fitness-tracking wristband has been recalled (something about giving some people a rash). But the Fitbit Flex ($100) wristband is still available and gently vibrates you awake at your appointed hour (no snooze button, though). Jawbone’s UP24 wristband ($150) lets you set a window of time to be awakened, so that it vibrates when you’re in light sleep vs. dead-to-the-world slumber.

James A. Martin is a marketing consultant specializing in SEO, social media, mobile apps, and business blogging. Follow him on Twitter and Pinterest.

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