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bag of tricks | by immaculate aaron
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bag of tricks

During the course of my travels (~100k flown miles per year on United), I've learned a few things. Being a technologist and a huge fan of gear, I've had the opportunity to field a variety of different bags, cameras, flashlights, laptops, tablets, e-readers, mp3 players, IEMs, etc. I thought I'd share a few tricks of the trade that have stuck over time and have made my travels simpler.


There are a few themes I follow when I travel - less is more, redundancy is good, lighter is better. If I pack something and don't use it after 3 trips, it comes out. There are a few exceptions to this rule - the most notable being a basic First Aid kit that I keep in my toiletries bag - Edit: per requests sent to me via messages, I will post the contents of the first aid kit in a future post - short version includes safety pins, emergency medications like Advil, Tylenol, Nyquil, Caffeine, Imodium), a small sewing kit, Neosporin, bandaids, a chemlight, small packable towel, etc.



Garmin GPSMap 62s handheld GPS. Mine has a 16gb Sandisk MicroSDHC card loaded with city and topo maps for just about every continent I could possibly end up on. Great for finding directions in a new city both on foot and in-car. I carry this vs a car-mounted GPS because this handheld GPS takes AA batteries (I load mine up with Energizer Lithiums), which can easily be replaced if I'm on foot. Can't say the same for most in-vehicle GPS devices.

SureFire Flashlight - The model varies because I have so many it's absurd, but it's always a 2xCR123 model. This time it's an L4 Lumamax. It's also always the 2nd SureFire I have with me (I carry a SureFire Titan T1A in my pocket everywhere). I always have spare batteries with me as well - usually 2 or 4 of them.

Doorstop - This hasn't seen much use in recent times because I mostly stay in Starwood properties (the W San Francisco for this trip) that at least provide a decent illusion of security, but it doesn't weigh much and I keep it around anyway because I like having it with me. This particular doorstop can be deployed in a variety of ways to keep doors open, keep them closed, etc. If you've ever seen how easily an older-style hotel door chain-lock can be bypassed - same for some keycard locks - you'll understand =]

Recyclable tote bag - This one came from a conference - they fold up nice and flat and don't weigh much and are handy to have for lugging around handouts, souvenirs, and just creating some extra storage if your main pack is full.

Radio - This one is a Yaesu VX-3R 2m Ham radio with a little stubby Maldol antenna. I think it's very handy to have. Cellular networks are among the first things to buckle during a disaster or even when under heavy load at a tech conference - having a radio is very handy.

Watch - Sometimes mechanical, sometimes digital - it really depends on where I'm going and for what purpose. This Suunto Core watch is nice because it has a compass, keeps track of temperature/barometric pressure, etc. Also, it has an alarm, which is really handy until the day comes when I wind up with a mechanical watch with minute repeater from Ulysse Nardin or Audemars Piguet ;]

Phones - iPhone 5 pictured here - I carry 3 phones. 1 work phone and 2 "personal" phones - of the 2 personal phones, one is always an unlocked phone ready to take a SIM that I purchase at my destination. I have AT&T and Verizon as my carriers - if you only have AT&T, you can probably guess why I have two different carriers. I included the phone here because of a specific trick I've been employing for years - I use the camera on my phone to capture quick photos of things I'd otherwise forget during my travels that may be the # of the cab I get into (if I have to ride in a cab) just in case I leave something behind, or a map of my hotel's fire egress route. In the event of an emergency, just about everyone these days will grab their phone, so...

Retractable Cables - I love these. I carry a CAT6, 2x Mini USB and 2x Micro USB - two of them frequently get used with my:

Mini 802.11 AP - This one was a gift from my brother from his last trip to Taiwan, so the menu/firmware is all in Chinese - good thing "SSID" and the other basic things were easy to figure out. A similar American model is available on Amazon. This thing is fantastic - powered via Micro USB and has a WAN IN and LAN out port on it - instant wifi in a hotel room that otherwise only has CAT5E and wants to charge extra for wifi. I always SSH tunnel into my home network before connecting out when on any sort of a public network and use FoxyProxy in Firefox to send my web traffic through my home internet as well.

Location-specific items - I was in San Francisco during this trip and so I had a BART ticket with me as well as a FastTrak (bridge/toll road payment device). You can usually purchase bus passes, train tickets, etc online in advance these days - I like to go prepared whenever possible. The BART tickets ended up being really handy during this trip as I decided to cancel my rental car at the last minute when I figured out that overnight parking at the W hotel in SF is $60/night.

Verizon MiFi - Mine has the huge Mugen Power battery on it. This device is a godsend. I never leave home without it. At some point I had an AT&T 4G device as well, which gave me the redundancy I so badly long for (GSM and CDMA), but I no longer have that. I haven't upgraded to an LTE device because Mugen Power doesn't make a huge battery for the newer MiFis...yet.

Alfa high-power WiFi adapter - Because sometimes - just sometimes - I need to hit a wireless network that's far away and am getting unusable service from my Verizon MiFi. The Alfa gets it done.

Outlets - Another godsend - this one turns a single outlet into 3 + 2 USB. Fantastic in airports, hotel rooms, and just about everywhere else.


I have a few other little things I do that make sense to me but may seem absurd to others: an example would be that I never push out my TripIt/travel status (Aaron is leaving on a trip to _______ for x days) on Facebook, etc. And most of the time, I try to avoid posting my travel photos/details of my whereabouts until I'm nearly home or at home. Maybe it's paranoia, but as a former home burglary victim and a desirable target for all sorts of opportunity criminals, I just can't see a reason why I should make it easier for them by announcing that I plan to be away from my home.


Late last year my local airport implemented TSA's PreCheck, which is a great throwback to travelling pre-9/11. I get to keep my shoes, belt and jacket on and my toiletries and laptop don't need to come out of my bag. The only thing that goes in a bin are my mobile phones. My average time through security (including the "line") has been UNDER 1 MINUTE at the airports I've visited that have PreCheck. I qualified for PreCheck via my enrollment in Global Entry, which is also fantastic as it lets me bypass the lines to re-enter the US at customs.


Explored 4/2/2013

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Taken on March 26, 2013