Travel essentials: Useful small tech to pack

Stay connected, powered, and charged wherever you may roam.

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by Daniel P. Dern - Today's tech products are remarkably self-sufficient when it comes to accessories. Most of us are (thankfully) no longer packing a floppy drive and an acoustic coupler in our tech travel kits, or even an RJ-11 phone cable, a Line 2 to Line 1 adapter, and a phone line tester/protector.

Even so, packing a few things -- or carrying them in your pocket or bag -- can mean the difference between problem and productivity... if not for you, then for some less-well-prepared member of your party.

[ See also: How to sleep cheap ]

I'm not talking about things that let you do your work more productively, like a mouse, a USB LCD light, or sound-cancelling headphones. Nor am I talking about software, or about tools like screwdrivers and flashlights. I'm talking about the tech that ensures you can connect your mobile and portable gear, have power, read data, etc.

The trick is to strike that balance between being prepared and being over-packed. Here are some suggestions on the hardware side - beyond what you'd be carrying simply to use the device, like a Bluetooth headset. (Note, this is for within-the U.S.; provisioning for international travel adds a few more items to your kit.)

Two general suggestions regarding cables: 1) most are available as retractables, which saves some space and definitely minimizes tangles; 2) If your power or data cables use "tips," make sure these tips are bagged, taped or otherwise prevented from falling off and getting lost.

A fair amount of this you can provision from trade show tchotchkes (vendor giveaways), if you don't already have shoebox's worth. Failing that, trot over to Radio Shack, Staples, Micro Center, or some other shop with an accessories aisle.

(Thanks to Chris De Herrera and Ernest Lilley for sharing their advice, passim.)

1. A USB cable or two, and adapters. Just about every mobile device and accessory today uses USB ports for charging and communication. "I charge everything via USB - the fewer AC adapters you have to carry the better," says mobile expert Chris De Herrera.

A two to three-foot cable is useful for connecting to the back of computers; De Herrera also suggests packing a few-inch one for when the USB port you're trying to connect to is too crowded for your dongle or device.

Remember that not all the ports on a desktop or notebook are "powered," so check that your device is getting charged. Some notebooks will provide power to the USB port even when the machine is off.

You also want USB connectors of all shapes and sizes: mini, micro, FireWire, etc. I'm partial to an six-tip adapter "wheel"; you may want separate cables, or one of the "hydra" cables that sprouts a cable with each tip.

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