BYO: 5 tech tips for the business traveller

Sim Ahmed shares ideas on how to approach technology when travelling for business

Recently I travelled to Florida to cover a technology conference. The trip each way took around 24 hours, and I was expected to be able to work and report as soon as I landed. Before I left I prepared all the gadgets I’d need to take with me, but while travelling I picked up some tips about how to approach technology when travelling for business.

1. Take the right computer(s) for the job

I took with me a laptop and an iPad, with a detachable keyboard. You might think carrying a laptop and a tablet would defeat the portability advantage of the latter, and add unnecessary weight, but if you can stand adding 700g to your carry-on luggage, the weight is worth it.

The two devices are complementary, and compensate for each other’s shortcomings due to size or specs.

The laptop is good for heavy duty word processing, editing images and videos, and any other work that is processor intensive. If you’re like me, and perpetually stuck in economy class, there isn’t much room to use a 13-inch laptop, so this is where a tablet comes in handy.

The tablet is good for consuming media like movies or preloaded podcasts and music, or reading emails.

Also if you buy a detachable keyboard, you can do some basic wordprocessing with pretty much the same speed and accuracy as a laptop keyboard.

One word of warning though, most detachable keyboard docks use Bluetooth technology to connect the keyboard to the device. The use of Bluetooth, like many other radio frequencies, is often restricted on a plane because it can interfere with navigation equipment. If you need to write on an aircraft, but cannot fit a laptop on your tray table, I recommend getting an Asus Transformer tablet which connects to its detachable keyboard using a physical connection.

2. You will not win the battle with free wi-fi, take your own

When you’re at a conference you might want to be the first person to tweet the great insights the speakers have to offer because it makes you look like a real ‘thought leader’. But with hundreds of people trying to access the same wireless connection, it’s likely that you’re going to have issues connecting to the wi-fi.

I recommend you take a portable hotspot device, like a MiFi unit (between $180-$400) or tether using a 3G enabled phone or tablet.

In Florida I used my iPhone tethered to a laptop, but the battery life was poor on both devices, and left the phone worryingly hot when I finished using it. Tethering is battery intensive, so if you’re expecting to be using it for two or more hours, a dedicated MiFi device might suit you better.

3. Mobilise your power

Available electrical outlets at conferences are rare, which makes charging your gadgets in the middle of the day difficult.

You could always get into the habit of fully charging all your devices the night before a long day of sessions and keynotes, but even then if you’re using 3G or taking a lot of photos, your batteries are going to run out.

Portable USB chargers are a small and relatively inexpensive way to power your devices on the go. They can charge most types of devices through a USB cable, usually weigh around 400-700g, and are small enough to carry in your laptop bag,

4. Don’t cross your wires (or the TSA)

If you’re travelling to the US be very wary of your chargers and adapters. The X-ray scanners used by the US Transport Safety Authority (TSA) are designed to pick up potential threats like explosives, and while the operators are trained to distinguish between serious threats and harmless electronics, mistakes can be made and you may be asked to step out of the line for an inspection. When you only have an hour between connecting flights, an inspection could mean the difference between making your flight or spending the night sleeping in an airport lounge.

The TSA website recommends organising your wires neatly and in tied up bundles. Keep your wires together in a strong plastic bag (to stop it from ripping on the metal prongs of a plug). That way if you do get pulled aside for inspection you can take the wires in and out of your bag without much trouble.

5. Adapt to adapters

None of the devices and chargers you take with you will work unless you can connect to the power grid of the country you’re in. Save yourself a fortune in international adapters by buying only one, and connecting all your devices through a standard multi-plug powerboard.

You can buy a multi-region adapter for around $20, and invest in a decent powerboard with built in circuit breakers to protect your device in countries with unreliable power grids.

* BYO is a new section in Computerworld that looks at devices and applications that are of interest to business IT users.

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