Five top pieces of travel gear we rate in 2012

By John Walton, August 8 2012
Five top pieces of travel gear we rate in 2012

Every so often  at Australian Business Traveller we take a look at the bits of travel kit we take on the road, and share them with you.

Here's a mid-year round-up of the five pieces of gear that have made my travels in 2012 faster, easier, and smoother so far.

Now some of this isn't necessarily a 2012 invention. But with changing travel trends things like weekender bags, which had fallen out of fashion, are coming full circle and are useful once more.

1. Retractable spool cables

Yes, everything has a charging cable these days, and wrangling the things is a lot easier by spending a few dollars on retractable cables to replace (or supplement) the leads that your devices came with.

The retractable cables are on a spring-loaded spool, which takes all the knotted cable faff out of travelling with electronics.

With mini-USB and micro-USB (plus the Apple dock connector if you're in the iOS ecosystem) emerging as firm standards, getting a set of retractable cables makes more sense than ever.

(Over the last year, I've been consciously checking whether new bits of electronic kit use these two connectors or not. If it's a manufacturer-specific cable, I'm starting to think about purchasing something else.)

I picked a half-dozen of each cable up online for only a few dollars each, and the amount of faff and untangling they save has surprised even me.

My tip: over-order the cables so you can throw an extra set in your luggage in case one goes missing or you generously give one away to the boss.

2. Four-wheel spinner rolling bag

The "two-wheel vs four-wheel bag" debate is one of those business traveller debate chestnuts, like "window vs aisle" or "Qantas vs Virgin".

This year, I took the plunge into the world of the four-wheel case for the first time, and during six months of travel I've found that I've really come to like the rollability of the thing, especially along airports and pavements.

I don't think I'd go back to a two-wheel version, although I've found out the embarrassing way that you need to keep a hand on it when it's on a train.

My tip: get a colour that isn't black for easy spotting on the carousel, and don't go overboard on cost. More than around $350 and it'll be a hassle to replace when (not if) the airlines manage to break it.

3. "Weekender" style hand luggage

I've given up on taking a rollaboard case with me when I travel. It's just too much of a pain to try to find overhead space for the thing, even on larger aircraft.

Even my relatively small rollaboard can be a pain to fit in some bins.

With laptops and other portable electronics smaller and lighter than they've ever been, the need for a larger, sturdier bag to hold your computer has also diminished.

Since I have the frequent flyer status to always include a piece of hold luggage, my decision of when to check and when not to check a bag has shifted in the direction of checking. (Yes, this is all but heresy for frequent flyers!)

Instead, I've moved to a small shoulder bag (STM's compact Velo) for the laptop, tablet and ebook reader. I combine this with a lightweight but still stylish leather weekender bag when I'm on short trips that make a suitcase impractical.

My tip: I'll often keep the laptop bag inside the weekender on the outbound leg or when the "one piece of hand luggage" rule really does mean "one piece", then filling it up for my return. Having a bag-in-a-bag is also useful for longer flights: you can keep your clothes up in the overhead bin but have your laptop and work gear tucked under the seat in front of you and close at hand.  

4. 11-inch ultralight laptop

Speaking of the laptop, I've downsized from a mammoth 17-inch workhorse to a super-portable 11-inch version.

I've had to adapt some of my tools and workflows, but my overall advice to anyone considering taking the Ultrabook plunge is to dive on in.

The lighter weight, plus the speed bump and instant-on capacity from the SSD (solid-state drive) make ultralights a no-brainer for me, especially on the plane.

Read my first-hand observations, both good and bad, on making the move from the 17 inch MacBook Pro to the 11 inch MacBook Air.

My tip: Ultrabooks can be very fragile. Get a snap-on case for yours before you dent it (like I did), not after. A coloured case also helps distinguish your computer from everyone else's in the room.

5. Portable external battery recharger

I carry several devices when I travel: smartphone, tablet, ereader, pocket 3G-wifi device, and my trusty old iPod for long flights.

Inevitably, one or more of those runs out of juice on the way, even if I'm really careful about making sure to recharge them in the lounge.

I picked up a portable external battery recharger (mine's from Duracell) on a whim earlier this year, and it's saved my bacon a half dozen times.

My tip: Get one that has a USB socket to pump out power rather than a specific connector for interoperability -- and specifically avoid the ones with Apple Dock Connectors, since all the next iPhone looks to have a different connector.

What's your favourite new piece of travel gear? Tip off your fellow AusBT readers in a comment below!

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

15 Mar 2011

Total posts 19

What a great overnight bag that looks like - what is the brand/style?

I'd also like to know please! Very nice.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Jun 2012

Total posts 58

I have a weekender that looks's by Mulberry.  Picked it up in Edinburgh several years ago but there is now a shop in Sydney in the new Westfield Mall.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Dec 2012

Total posts 21

Four wheel rollers are great, unless you are at Perth Domestic or International airports, as some genius decided that, it would be great if the paving used outside at these terminals, had gaps between each paver, so wide, that the only way to use a 4 wheel roller was to pull it along, like a conventional two wheeler. Not very helpful Westralia Airports!!!

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Five top pieces of travel gear we rate in 2012