The Apple Tablet Trip: A Little Light Packing.

Minimal Packing.jpg

I’m off to San Francisco. On Wednesday, I will enter an auditorium at Yerba Buena Gardens and sit down. Apple will then say things to me and a few hundred of my closest friends.

This ends the factual portion of my pre-event coverage. Everything else (I must remind myself) is mere Speculation. Though if Apple doesn’t plan to announce their rumored Tablet at the event, our first tipoff will be the protective floor-to-ceiling wall of chicken wire that’s been erected between the stage and the audience.

But I’m sure that Apple is well aware that we’re hauling our butts alllll the way out there for just one reason: to hear Steve Jobs sing the theme from “Rawhide.” If it turns out that the biggest news to come from the whole Event is a new blackish-purplish color for the iPod Nano…?

No, that’s not going to happen. I felt pretty safe when booking my flight well a few weeks ago because of the nature of the January 27 Event rumors. They certainly had all of the ineffable earmarks of a managed leak rather than random speculation.

And I should (gratefully) point out that this will be the cheapest trip to San Francisco in Team Ihnatko’s league franchise history. I had two different offers of guest rooms to sleep in, so I decided to play “chicken” with the various travel sites to see how desperate hotels get as the clock ticks down. I was hoping to get a four-star hotel next to the convention center for $8 a night. Instead, on the day before my flight I got a 3.5-star hotel a 15-minute walk away for $75. I learned that the “butter zone” — at least for this trip — seemed to be about a week before check-in reservation. That’s when the best hotels released their rooms to the deep-discounters.

(I’m exceptionally skeptical when I read people’s Tweets about fantastic room rates for Macworld Expo and the like. $149 is no bargain in San Francisco. I’ll pay $100 a night if I’m desperate; otherwise, I know I can find something very good for under $90 by performing a little due diligence.)

I’ll soitenly have much more to say about the event and my time in San Francisco as the week progresses. For now, I’m wrestling with a self-imposed challenge:

I am determined to make this my very first Carryon Luggage-Only trip to San Francisco.

Companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to calculate the exact dollar amount that will suddenly cause consumers to revolt and decide that their product, service, or pill-popping lead singer just isn’t worth it. Apple’s certainly wrestling with that question as they choose the right price for their (rumored!) Tablet.

It’s unpredictable. We’re a fickle marketplace. I can only say that when airlines instituted new fees for checked bags, I sighed and accepted that airlines define success as “we lost way less money than our closest competitor last year.” I didn’t think they were totally out of line to ask for a small fee for each checked bag. When the fees started to creep up, I didn’t really flinch.

Okay. But with the latest round of increases, those fees are now $25 a bag. Each way. One suitcase adds fifty dollars to the price of a ticket!

No. No, no…NO. I’ve reached my limit. I’ve finally had that moment when I feel like a sucker for disassociating those fees from the cost of my airfare. And I feel like a lazy spendthrift for not getting myself in the habit of being thrifty about the things I take with me on trips.

American Airline’s luggage increase doesn’t take effect until February. But there’s no time like the present. This relatively short trip — which includes only one real “business” day — will be a good initial test of discipline.

I’ve instituted a new mission rule:

I will not check a bag unless it’s absolutely the cheapest way to get absolutely indispensable things to my destination.

The two key words being “cheapest” and “indispensable.” If I’m flying somewhere for a formal event, checking a full-size garment bag for my tuxedo is a permissible option. But only if “rent a tux when I get there,” “ship the tux ahead of me via UPS” or “stuff the tux in a carryon and have it cleaned and pressed before the event” are all more expensive than checking the bag.

I have just the thing to help me in this campaign: Pelican’s 1510 Laptop Overnight Case. It meets the maximum FAA definition of overhead-stowable luggage, which is very good. What makes it very great is the fact that it’s made with the same materials and engineering that Pelican uses when designing a case that can protect a 24″ CRT from baggage handlers.

That was a big concern for me. I’m usually assigned to the boarding group that’s technically numbered “4 or higher” but which a more forthright industry would simply announce with “Okay, all the riff-raff we barely give two ****s about can grab now grab their live chickens or whatever and board the plane. Whoops! Sorry, I think you people refer to it as the ‘sky trailer’, don’t you?” By the time I board, the overheads might be full. That’s a bad time to realize that you packed that thin nylon rollerbag with the expectation that you’d be carrying it personally to its destination.

Mind you, I’ll still be packing anything valuable or fragile in my laptop bag. But that hardsider will give me a little piece of mind. It utter intolerance of your desire to overstuff it will also enforce the aforementioned new self-discipline.

(Another bonus of its built-like-a-tank-ness: during my trip this weekend, I used the Pelican as an laptop table while I waited for the train to New York and then as a seat when I waited for my train back home. This thing is bloody sturdy.)

It’s nicely fitted-out inside, with a big zippered compartment for clothes and accessories and custom-fitted bags for your laptop and cables that Velcro in place, right inside the lid.

Choosing a bag was easy. Deciding what to pack will be a challenge. The “one pair of undies per day” rule is a sensible one and will remain. Everything else is open for discussion. Tonight I found myself going through my socks and wondering if I shouldn’t favor the thin ones over the thick, comfortable hiking kind I normally wear.

I want to pack my black blazer. Can I afford it? Or should I take the unstructured “hybrid” shirt/jacket that fills many of the same duties but takes up less space?

It’s the selection of tech gear that’s causing me the most angst. I travel with an SLR. That’s usually not a question. But can I absolutely count on being able to wear it on board like a big black medallion? Or should I take the pocket Nikon instead, just for safety?

At least I have an “free” carryon option for the SLR. What about my netbook? I have the nagging feeling that I’ll have to leave it behind.

Which would be a damned, damned shame. A netbook is a godsend during a conference or an event I need to cover. All I need is something with a keyboard and system resources that’ll let me take some notes, do a little research, and post a few things. The MacBook Pro is Captain Overkill; it’s a hell of a lot to be carrying around a convention hall. I can’t count on the battery lasting through a 90-minute keynote with furious typing and WiFi action, and a 15″ laptop is a pretty big thing to take into a keynote hall where you’re all going to be packed in, kneecap to kneecap.

So. Hmm. Under this new self-imposed restriction, can I afford the luxury of bringing two computers?

Or can I do something as daft as leave the MacBook at home? It’s not the processing power I’d miss…it’s the fact that it’s my entire creative universe, with every tool, project, and scrap of research I work with every single day back at the office.

Damn. A side-goal is to avoid relying on my laptop bag as an Equalizer, packing it to the gills. Otherwise, there’d be plenty of room for both.

Well, I’m sure it’ll work out. It’s an experiment. Initial failures can be expected.

New York was a very minor test-run, to re-familiarize myself with the bag. It was just an overnight, so the packing was simple and even my laptop bag was very light on my shoulder. It was a bit of a thrill, I must confess. I felt like…well, like a normal traveler. You know, those people who seem to have taken just the essentials and who can glide onto a train or an airplane effortlessly, instead of looking like a stevedore trying to manhandle four casks of molasses onto a clipper ship in one go.

So overall, I think this new Mission Rule will be good for the soul. Limitations and restrictions build muscles: after all, the only way to succeed with greater restrictions is through greater thinking.

All I know is that I’ll probably have fewer incidents where I’m unpacking my bag in a hotel and discover that I’ve just taken the 13.5 volt charger for a portable hard drive I haven’t used in a year on a little 3,000-mile vacation away from the office. I’m looking forward to that.

You’ll have to excuse me now. I’ve just remembered that I need to find an 8″ plastic baggie for my toiletries, none of which may contain more than 3 ounces of liquid.

30 thoughts on “The Apple Tablet Trip: A Little Light Packing.”

  1. I couldn’t help but wonder: Don’t cloud-based services exist precisely to relieve you of the kind of dilemma of which laptop size to log around with you?

    As for the center of your creative universe (I’m assuming you’re referring to your music, photos and videos), can’t an Iphone do the trick for you?

    Cheers and good luck!

  2. I’ve been using that very same pelican case for 4 years now, and it has protected my pro camera gear and three lenses and associated paraphernalia very well. A couple of things worth noting though: (1) if you decide to use a padlock on the built-in hasp, you will find yourself snagging it on airline seats as you roll it down the aisle. I gave up on locks. (2) For taller people like myself – 6’2″ – the handle is a little too short when rolling it through airports. You will constantly hit your heels and flip the case. (3) the case is not very stable when it is on edge width-wise. I think the rolling mechanism throws the whole thing off balance. (4) it also makes a great seat while waiting in lines, though I wish that the end mounted carrying handle was more flush mounted — it’s literally a pain in the ass. (5) .. and this is a big one: the case is almost over the weight limits for carry-on *empty*. I’ve only had it weighed once, and was shocked to hear that my full case weighed 55lbs. Do everything you can to make it *appear* light, and stay away from the scales. Wish item: The padded dividers and mesh lid bag are great, but I’d love to see an adaptation that would allow me to pack a laptop in the case as well. There is room for it, but changes to the height of the dividers would be required.

  3. @Marshall – Good points. In fact, I found the 1510 LOC while I was shopping for a new checked bag, and considered buying one of their bigger cases to use as a “trunk.”

    But the LOC is a version of the 1510 that’s been specially-fitted as a laptoppy carry-on. The lid of the case has a 15″ laptop sleeve and an accessory bag Velcro’d in. And the interior is upholstered, to prevent any external crumminess from working its way in and getting on your clothes.

  4. @mustapha – Relying on the cloud would be a great idea. But that would require a bunch of advance planning, I wouldn’t have access to the majority of my research, and I couldn’t rely on it to store all of the media I acquire, anyway.

    I’ve used cloud storage for quick overnights with my netbook, though.

  5. Don’t most (all) airlines allow you to take a laptop bag and/or book bag IN ADDITION TO a carry-on? I know that I have on many occasions filled a backpack to the brim with laptop, etc., etc. as well as filled my carry-on full of clothes. Would this help your dilemma?

  6. Clothes are the key Andy. Get them out of the bag and wear them … all.
    Choose the ones with lots of big pockets and you’ll probably be fine without a bag at all. How cool would that be? OK you’d look more like a molasses smuggler than a stevedore and you’d set off every alarm at every airport between Boston and SF, even from 35,000 feet, but what the hell.
    To avoid long delays and missed flights, just remember to keep the ID and boarding pass in the outer garment.
    Have fun.

  7. I imagine quite a few people will start shipping clothing & whatnot to their final destinations, instead of paying those nutty baggage fees. Hotels will start to look like UPS & FedEx depots. While it’s true we can all probably stand to pack smarter and lighter, I feel bad for families who just want to go visit Grandma and get walloped with over $100 in baggage fees each way.

    And now I’m going to click on the Pelican link & check out that wicked cool case…

  8. Bon Voyage! I applaud your confidence and courage. Until this past summer I had not travelled by air for more than a decade. A two leg journey from Maine to Cincinnati via Detroit in June provided me dramatic evidence as to how low the quality of air travel had sunk. My wife and I had a thoroughly horrible experience.

    It’s funny, the ONE element of the trip to Ohio and return that went as advertised was the baggage routing. Of course, our checked bags were not available to us when we unexpectedly spent the night in Detroit after having arrived there six hours too late to make the “connecting” flight. But, they did somehow arrive in Cincinnati the next day concurrent with ourselves.

    I hope you will be dropping by “the cottage” in Petaluma while in California. Please say “hello” Leo for Shepherd Jim.

  9. I use Orb to access all my media, documents or live tv from any location even on the iphone. No need to drag your main tower of power with you .

  10. I think you are definitely a good candidate for couchsurfing.com. In this case, tabletsurfing but think of the adventures.
    Much more interesting than searching for good hotel deals!

  11. Andy,

    What if you left your Macbook at home, turned on and online, and used GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, Dropbox, or some other service which gives you access to all of you research via the netbook? Heck, Leo keeps advertising the 30-day free trial on GTMPC, might as well take him up on it.

  12. The UIC (unintended consequence) of this whole checked baggage brouhaha is that it totally enhances your TSA ‘experience’ (including those behind you in the conga line) plus everyone’s upper body gets an infomercial-grade workout as they push and shove and rotate and yank to squeeze their bag into the smallest available space in the overhead bins.

    Do you remember when people would courteously assist women and the elderly as they put their little bag up top? Now it is “schlep it your own self if you are too cheap to drop the Andrew and the Abe on the airlines.”

    I mean, if I forked over the quarter C-note, I’m not helping someone stuff a bag that is twice the size of the farcical if-it-doesn’t-fit-in-here-it-must-be-checked frame, into the overhead flippers. Ain’t doin’ it. Wouldn’t be prudent….

    I’m just saying.

  13. I haven’t checked a bag in years and it’s great. I always hated having to stand there, staring at the carousel, willing that klaxon to sound and the belt to start moving. When I travel now, I take a backpack which carries my laptop, digital SLR, headphones, and various charging implements. And everything else goes in either a rolling suitcase or a duffel bag. The duffel is particularly nice since it can be squished into the overhead if space is tight. It is really nice knowing that as soon as you walk off the plane, the only thing standing between you and your destination is the speed at which you can walk yourself out of the airport… :) Not to mention it’s an extra line you can avoid at checkin, too.

  14. From backpacking across Europe with the Maple Leaf sewn onto a large LL Bean bag to my recent day commutes between Mtl and TO on small turbo props, I’ve found that carry-on is the best policy ever. Over the years I have obsessed more about the weight of what I carry than I will ever admit. The SLR and Lappie go in to a KATA camera backpack which has a great sling for propping onto the handle of your wheelie case. My case is a little lighter and more destructible than yours but I only keep dressier sensible shoes, undies and clean shorts in it. I can usually roll up a t-shirt just in case the turbulance is pretty bag. I fold the dress shirts like you get them form the store sand stack them top to tail then roll the rest in between them to preserve the collar, I’m not sure how well it works but it eases my OCD to know I tried. I now wear sports blazers that work well with jeans or slacks just in case the city and customer I’m visiting is not as relaxed about jeans as Montreal is. I never pack the blazer, I always wear it. This has also gotten me bumped up a class a few times. Ceremoniously, my first task at the hotel is to unpack and hang the shirts and spare slacks then turn on the shower for 15 minutes. By them time I get back from a wake up walk around the block, the shirts have dried the creases and fold are gone. On longer trips, I’ve relied on local dry cleaners (never the hotels unless it’s included) or simply put new clothes that I end up shipping back if I can’t fit them in. I can’t travel with old clothes and leave anything in the hotel, something about my mother insisting I have clean underwear on if ever I had to go to the doctors… Silly but that stuff stays with you forever.

    The zip-lock toiletries is a real pain in the neck and now means relying on the hotels to provide razors and shaving with soap. I’ve never been a fan of solid stick antiperspirants and now I hate them. Often buying a new gel stick while away and then leaving it at the airport.

    I have now idea how any of his will help you but I thought I would share anyways.

  15. On a trip to Chicago this fall I was thinking that hotels should just routinely rent men’s dress shoes, like bowling alleys. They take up a ton of room in a suitcase (even if you stuff socks and sundries in them), they’re heavy, and often you take a pair of sneakers along, too.

  16. I really think the airlines have this backward. They should be charging for carryons, not checked luggage. This is from someone who often travels with his violin plus a backpack with a laptop. I’d gladly pay extra for my fiddle to be safe with me, rather than risk all the overheads being stuffed with my fellow travelers’ suitcases. And wouldn’t this reduce the amount of time it takes passengers to load and unload?

  17. The dilemma over the computers is daunting. But maybe, just maybe, Apple will release something that will at least partially help you out of that situation in the future. I guess we’ll find out on Wednesday.

  18. Totally unrelated, but why are you still promoting the 2nd edition of iPhone: Fully Loaded and not the new edition?
    Just curious…
    BTW, love the book!

  19. Have fun Andy!

    When you have a chance check out the idiotic international flight carry on bag limits. Something like 5kg in weight, usual size limitation. Problem is, it’s not unusual for the bag itself to weigh 5kg (about 11 lbs), so they charge you or make you check it, so there really is no real free carry-on in that case. What a nickel and dime ripoff racket the airlines have become. such a shame.

    g’day!

  20. Andy,
    Enjoy the show, I really do hope that Jobs & Co. really have a killer show planned.

    I took your advice with a couple of pair of Tactical 5.11 pants with me to a trip to Ethiopia. I also had my Hackintosh netbook with me. No problems with the flight there…I was able to have 2 carryons full of dongles and other “necessities” with my carry-on luggage. What changed was on the return flight, due to the codeshare change between international airlines, I was only allowed 1 carry-on and it could only be 15kg!
    I remembered your advice that a netbook could fit in the backpocket of my “Internet pants”, so I was able to bring it aboard while I crammed all other “necessities” in my checked luggage.

    Use the pants!
    Chris

  21. The idiom is peace of mind. Perhaps you were using a sophisticated pun about pieces of luggage. Is that what you intended?

    Too bad you don’t have Southwest in your neck of the woods. Not only do you get free checked baggage, but you get the ability to buy your boarding number for $20 each way when you buy your tickets. That should get you fairly high on the A-list for boarding. Peace of mind — for you and all your pieces of luggage.

  22. I don’t know if it’s widely stocked (or at all) in the US but – Rohan’s technical clothing is what you want to be looking at, for minimising space taken up by clothes on your travels.

  23. Ha if Jobs is behind chicken wire and all he has is a blackish purple ipod nano, I suspect he’ll be singing “Stand By Your Man” as people hurl their iphones at him. But I think we all know that we are going to be impressed on Wednesday. Here’s hoping that twitter, gadget sites, twit, and Apple (once they post the keynote video) don’t get crushed by the traffic!

    Good luck on your journey and I hope the TSA doesn’t give you any trouble!

  24. The Pelican 1510LOC reminds me of the computer cases I used to carry across the country when I did Novell Labs. Having all sorts of routers, laptops and other equipment that needed to be protected was nice. It makes sense that there would be a carry-on bag of the same type of sturdy material.

    Hope the event will bring good news (and credit card filling figures) for all of us.

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