Traveling with your Mac

I spent the last week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our extended family. Seventeen of us spent 7 days at a beautiful beach house. We swam, played on the beach, did some sight-seeing, ate – and we “computed.”

In taking our family to the beach we packed 6 Mac laptops (and two Windows PCs), 6 iPhones (plus 3 Blackberries and 3 assorted cell phones), a Nintendo Wii, 3 Nintendo DS and at least 4 iPods.

While we did not spend our entire week with the “electrons,” our family was certainly “connected!” Add 11 digital cameras to the mix, and our days were well-recorded.

Taking all those electronic devices to the beach and expecting them to work requires a bit of packing. Since six families were involved, there were a few “forgotten cords, cables, and adapters.

Let’s make a quick checklist to help you pack for your next trip.
I spent the last week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with our extended family. Seventeen of us spent 7 days at a beautiful beach house. We swam, played on the beach, did some sight-seeing, ate – and we “computed.”

In taking our family to the beach we packed 6 Mac laptops (and two Windows PCs), 6 iPhones (plus 3 Blackberries and 3 assorted cell phones), a Nintendo Wii, 3 Nintendo DS and at least 4 iPods.

While we did not spend our entire week with the “electrons,” our family was certainly “connected!” Add 11 digital cameras to the mix, and our days were well-recorded.

Taking all those electronic devices to the beach and expecting them to work requires a bit of packing. Since six families were involved, there were a few “forgotten cords, cables, and adapters.

Let’s make a quick checklist to help you pack for your next trip.

Car items

Since everyone traveled to the beach in cars and our trips were at least 5 hours long, power adapters were a necessity. There are lots of different USB power adapters available. If you have multiple phones, iPods or game systems but only one power outlet in the car, consider this one by Belkin. You can plug two devices in at once.


Since this power adapter can be used to plug actual USB cables, it is far more useful that this one that has the iPhone/iPod cable attached


Similar products are available from other companies such as Griffin Technology.


If you need to plug in your Mac laptop, consider a power inverter such as this one from RadioShack. Just plug your laptop in and then use its USB ports to charge your iPhone or iPod.


These devices will also allow you to plug in a camera charger.

If your car has only one power outlet, be sure to check the back seat area for an additional outlet, especially in mini-vans and SUVs.

Computer needs

There are some obvious things to pack when you are traveling with a portable Mac, but adding a few more items can make your computing a bit easier. The length of your trip and your computing plans will help you refine this list.
  • an extra power adapter. I keep one power adapter in my computer bag and I pack one in my suitcase. Having a backup power adapter means that I am less likely to forget an adapter if I head out to a coffee shop. It also means that forgetting an adapter in a hotel room is less of a crisis (Don’t forget to put an address label on your power adapter so that hopefully it will be returned if it is misplaced).
  • a copy of your latest Mac OS system disk and your most important software. I have a small CD case that contains these discs along with a few blank CDs and DVDs in case I need to copy files
  • a USB Flash drive. Even with the blank discs, it is sometimes easier to use one of these tiny portable devices. They are not good choices for backing up photos and files since they can become corrupted if they are not removed properly.
  • a portable, self-powered hard drive such as one of these from OWC. I use this drive to back up my computer and to make a backup of the photos I am taking. Remember that you do not have a backup unless the file is stored in two different placesl
  • a small mutiple-outlet power strip. These are handy in hotel rooms that don’t have adequate power outlets.
  • any video cables you might need to connect your computer to a projector--or a TV that can act as a monitor.
  • an Ethernet cable, a FireWire cable and USB cables in the various common types.
  • Power mangagement – check out this earlier post for ways to make your computer battery last longer.

Camera needs

A camera without sufficient power and storage space can mean returning home without photos to remember your trip! Consider these items:
  • three batteries – one in the camera, one in the case, and one in the charger. If your camera uses a special battery and if you are away from a major city, it is often necessary to order extra batteries by mail.
  • extra memory cards – on our trip last week, we had one card that was ruined when the camera was turned off while a video was being written to the card. Another became unusable when it was removed from a card reader before it was ejected. Memory cards are cheap these days--keep plenty of spares!
  • a card reader for your computer – connecting your camera to your computer can be very dangerous. The camera is usually out of any protective case, it has cords and straps that are easy to snag, sending the camera crashing to the floor. It’s been a long time since I ruined a camera by dropping it, but I attribute my good fortune to being very conscious of where I place my camera! I am very careful to put it in its case – and I am careful to snap or zip the case shut so that in a trip to the floor, my camera is well-protected.
  • the download cable that came with your camera. Even though I seldom use it, I always travel with the cable that came with my camera. If a card is damaged, it can often be read by connecting the camera to a computer. It happened last week – we were able to download some of the images from the unstable card by using the camera cable. Even more important, we were able to reformat the card so that it could be used again.
  • a lens cleaning cloth – lenses and filters pick up finger prints very easily. If a lens cloth is not easily available, you see people use a their shirt, a tissue, or something even less desirable to clean their lens.
  • a ziploc bag – Cameras and water don’t go well together. I kept a plastic bag in my pocket last week. It helped to protect my camera near the water and I used it when we got caught in a downpour. They are also helpful in dusty situations.

iPhone and iPod devices


These little devices can cause some special issues in traveling. Here are some things to consider:
  • are your charging habits going to change? – At home I generally charge my iPhone by plugging it into my computer. However, when I travel I find myself using a wall charger more frequently. If I have a rental car, I will probably plug into the car’s power outlet, but if I am riding in someone else’s car, the power outlet is frequently unavailable, so I use my external battery case more frequently.
  • be sure to pack an extra cable in case you misplace one.
  • At home – I frequently don’t keep a case on my iPhone. It rests beside my computer on my desk. However, when I am out and about, I like to have some protection. For general use, I tend to use a light plastic case. If my pants or skirt don’t have a pocket, I like to have a case with a hook available so that I can slip my iPhone on my belt. If I am going to be hiking or jogging, I will want my armband. Carrying three or more cases in my luggage is not unusual!
  • a ziploc bag – Just like cameras, iPhones water and sand don’t go well together. I frequently tucked my iPhone into the plastic bag in my pocket last week.
  • Power Management – check out this earlier post on ways to make iPhone and iPod Touch batteries last longer. This post tells you about the various accessory batteries that are available for iPhones.

I’m off to the mountains of New Mexico this week. I will be spending a few day at a family camp high in the mountains, away from cell towers, electricity, and even running water. Later in the week I will be visiting in Las Vegas NM and giving a day of Macintosh seminars. I’ll also do some private consulting. Since I can work anywhere that I have electricity and the Internet, I will also be answering calls for Bob LeVitus Consulting. Of course, I will be visiting with my brother and sisters too! Aren’t working vacations great!

– Pat

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