I realize with the current (as of the time I write this) COVID lockdown, people aren’t doing a lot of traveling. But things are beginning to open back up, and will continue to do so as the year progresses.
In a former job I traveled a LOT. In addition I frequented user groups and conferences, giving presentations. Over time I’ve picked up a few handy, and inexpensive tips and tricks for keeping your laptop bag organized. So I thought I’d do a bit something different with this post and share some of these tips with you.
Keeping It Together
I have a lot of laptops, I admit I’m a bit of a gear nerd. Most folks though, have at least one, along with a tablet of some type, plus various accessories. How do you keep the power supplies plus all the associated cords neat and together?
I use pencil bags available in my local big box store in the school supply area.
These bags are inexpensive, typically around $3, come in a variety of colors, and hold a lot. Each laptop I have has a bag associated with it, which holds the power supply plus any extra cables I use with it.
As you can see, this is the (after market) power brick for my Dell Inspiron, along with two USB cables (one Apple and one Micro-USB) that I often need with that computer. When I’m ready to go somewhere, I just reach into a box and grab the bag for the laptop I’m taking with me.
In addition, we all seem to have lots of spare cables. I’ve used these bags to organize my cables, one for Micro-USB, another for USB-C, and so on.
What’s In The Bag?
So how do I remember what’s in each bag? Well at first I bought the book “How To Be a Psychic for Fun and Profit”, so I could use my magical abilities to just discern what was in each pouch. But the book didn’t make much sense, until I realized what’d I had actually bought was “How to Be Psychotic for Fun and Profit”. So I abandoned that and went with an alternate solution.
I purchased small tags, these are typically sold as tags for keys. You’ll find them in the office supply section of stores. On each tag I write what’s in the bag, making it easy to identify.
They are inexpensive, so if I decide to reuse a bag for something else I can take off the tag, throw it away and put on a new one. They can also be used to identify other devices.
Here I’ve attached one to each of my USB keys, to let me quickly identify the size. For other keys in my collection I might also write down what’s on there, for example “Backup for XYZ Project”.
It Just Needs More Power
One of the first things I do after I get a new laptop is hop on Amazon or swing by my used computer store and purchase spare power supplies for my laptop. This lets me keep one on my desk, one in a bag, and sometimes I’ll get one more to put by my recliner.
When I get a power supply, I use a Sharpie to write which laptop the power supply goes with.
Now I don’t have to think about which laptop this supply goes with.
It’s gotten a bit easier these days as many laptops are now powered with USB-C. This makes it much easier to share supplies. Earlier I showed the power supply I travel with for my Dell Inspiron. I actually have two of these, one for my Dell, and a second for my 2017 Apple MacBook.
This model provides 87 Watts to the laptop, plenty to power not just the laptop but any accessories I want to plug into the laptop like a USB monitor, hard drives, and the like.
In addition this power supply also has four USB A ports which I can use to recharge my iPads, Android tablets, iPhone, etc. This is especially nice in places like coffee shops or hotels where plugs may be limited.
Power To The People
Another thing I do to help address the problem of limited plugs is carry a small extension cord.
These are two I had handy. One is setup for devices with three prongs, the other two, I pick the one to use depending on what equipment I’m bringing with me.
Both are 9 feet long, which may seem a bit excessive but I have learned from experience wall plugs are not always where they are convenient. I can’t tell you the number of hotel rooms I’ve been in where the desk was no where close to the plug.
There may also be competition for an available plug. The small coffee shop I frequent has very few plugs. I’ve found I can make new friends by using an extension cord and offering to share it.
Hold It Together
In order to manage the mess of wires that accompanies any electronic device, I use Velcro cable ties.
These things are great. EVERY cord that comes into my house gets one. As you would expect, all my cables, laptop power cords, etc get these.
But I also put them on the power cords for my TV, lamps, power tools, fans, all my ham radio gear, you name it if it’s a cord it gets one of these straps.
Rising to the Occasion
Hand issues seem to run rampant in the tech community, being on a keyboard all day can take a toll. Something you can do to help your hands is get a laptop riser.
These are two different types I have, but there are many others you can pick from. On the left is a pair of wedges, they seem similar to door stops. They are nice because you can spread them out for any size laptop, and raise the laptop to different heights.
On the right is a riser that folds up nice and small, but the legs can extend out for whatever size you want. The L shapes on the front (closest to the lower edge of the photo) keep the laptop from sliding off. Note, if you have an extremely thin laptop your wrists may brush against the tops of the Ls.
Either way, it can raise your keyboard up and make it much more comfortable and ergonomic for typing, especially for long periods of time.
Which End is Up?
Cables ends like USB-C or Apple’s lightning are a real blessing as you don’t have to figure out which end is up. Micro-USB however, is another story.
As I’m sure you are aware, Micro-USB has one edge longer than the other. As I’ve aged, with my poor old eyes it can be hard for me to tell which side is the longer one, especially in dim light. I’ve come up with a simple solution though.
I’ve taken a silver Sharpie marker, and drawn a line on the side of the cable that corresponds to the long side of the connector. For white cables, I use a black Sharpie.
For the devices I plug into, I draw a corresponding line where the long side plugs into.
Here you can see I’ve drawn a black line by the port where the long side of the Micro-USB goes. This makes it extremely easy to plug my Micro-USB cables into the various devices I use, I just align the two lines and away I go, quick and easy.
You could also decide to draw the line on the short side of the Micro-USB connector, rather than the long side. Just be consistent once you make the choice.
In addition to silver and black, I’ve found the orange and red Sharpie markers work pretty well too.
I’m a Big Fan
One last piece of gear I keep in my bag is a small fan.
This fan has a battery and can be recharged over Micro-USB. As a matter of fact the previous photo is the back of this fan.
I can’t tell you how many stuffy conference rooms I’ve been stuck in. At my local coffee shop, sometimes sitting in front of the window can get really hot when the afternoon sun starts coming in. Even a small fan like this can make a huge difference.
This fan is small, about the size of my hand (although I admit I’ve got big hands). I like this model, it has three speeds and can run even when the battery is being recharged.
These fans come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and prices, so pick one that fits your budget and laptop bag.
In this article I’ve laid out a few tips that I hope will make your life a bit easier, and help get your tech gear organized.
If you have tips and tricks you want to share do so in the comments below, or let me know if you’d like to see more blog posts like these.
One thought on “Tips for the Disorganized Laptop Traveler”
When you’re traveling with a laptop in tow, it’s always important to invest in a messenger bag with several compartments. These ensure that everything from chargers to headphones and beyond will be stored neatly and become less likely to be lost.