One of the more annoying aspects to traveling around a lot is figuring out what to bring and how to bring it. In the grand scale between hyper-minimalism and carrying around the kitchen sink, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. I like to pack light when possible to avoid checking a bag, but find that there are instances where that’s just not possible within the realm of my personal comfort.
Additionally, I’ve found that there is a huge difference between general travel and going on-site to work with clients for a delivery. This post will review some of my modular designs for packing, some tips to travel light, and some ideas for packing for on-site work.
Embrace Modular Design
I like to change backpacks semi-frequently as I acquire a new and shiny container. Historically, this has meant switching out various VMworld backpacks for other vendor backpacks and messenger bags. And each bag has a different amount of pockets, compartments, and partitions. So, I have worked out a modular design that completely negates the need for the travel bag to provide any containers. Instead, all of the things I need are separated into padded, zip-up style canvas containers with a variety of colors.
For example, I have a green version that I use to house network patch cables, a serial port cable, spare fiber optical cable, and my USB to serial converter:
When I need to do work with network gear, or just have a gut feeling that it may come up, I drop this green container into my travel bag. Otherwise I just leave it at home. This gives me a simple way to add everything I could need for network projects into a modular container.
I also have a brown container that holds the general purpose tech items that I need for just about any job, such as a long wired mouse, Internet hot spot, HDMI to VGA converter, USB micro cable, and USB charging adapter. The brown container pretty much lives in my travel bag all the time, but it’s nice to reach in and grab a single container that holds nearly anything I could need while working off my laptop in a remote location.
For times when I might need any number of different chargers, adapters, connectors, or data center PDU cables, I have a see-through mesh container. This one comes with me about half the time, depending on what sort of work I’m trying to accomplish. I did bring it with me to Tech Field Day 9 and ended up loaning a few things to the Nutanix presenter. You never know when it comes in handy, so I usually stuff it in the travel bag when I’m fuzzy on exactly what I’ll need for a job / project. 😉
And last, but certainly not least, is my industrial strength, reinforced container for whiteboard markers and whiteboard wipes. It’s designed to protect my travel bag from a marker breaking, since the material is ridiculously strong and water proof. I also like that it is see-through and pliable enough to fold in half. I use a pair of green car shams to erase whiteboards without leaving any film or requiring the whiteboard cleaning juice.
I did have a few incidents when traveling through LHR (London Heathrow Airport) in which the security guys thought my markers were bombs. So, yeah, be aware that people might think you’re packing explosives once in a while. 🙂
Travel Bag, Light Edition
Can you live without it? That’s usually the question I propose whenever deciding what goes into the bag for casual travel. This typically means snagging a few of my containers and stuffing them into a smaller bag with some clothing (for a few days) or a full size backpack (for a week). I’ve had much success with borrowing, buying, and simply doing without many different tech items while on the go.
The whiteboard markers are a great example. The time that I brought them through LHR was for my VCDX defense, and I tried to be overly prepared with anything and everything I could get my hands on. But for most air trips, they stay at home. I know that just about any place I visit with a whiteboard is going to have markers – even though I prefer mine because they are always fresh and work well – and that if they don’t, we can make a quick trip over to an office supply store to get them. I don’t want to truck them around.
Travel Bag, On-Site Work Edition
There’s an exception to every rule, and on-site work is that exception. Whenever I know that I’m completing delivery work for a client, I pack EVERYTHING that could possibly be required. And then I bring spares for those items. It may seem curious to do this, but life has taught me a few harsh lessons:
- Most data centers are incredibly annoying to get in and out of, and time is precious. Some of the more secure facilities eat up 30~45 minutes to clear security and find an escort.
- The item you didn’t bring is almost always the item that either no one has or everyone assumed you would have.
- Some data centers are in the middle of nowhere. It can be difficult to find replacements for items.
- It looks silly when you don’t have the tools needed to complete a job.
As you might guess, in those instances I bring just about all of the containers featured above, plus a bright orange 50 foot Cat5e cable and various hardware tools (drivers, clips, velcro, ties) when the project is focused on hardware in the data center. It’s a bit bulky to lug around, but pays off in spades when you (or someone else you’re working with) need something and don’t have to waste time hunting it down