Hardware Packing Dilemma

As I pack for what may seem to be another extended stay overseas, I realize that I no longer have the luxury of moving with most of my hardware with me. After an expensive experience involving overweight baggage on a flight from China, I knew that I had to leave behind two of my Linux laptops this time around plus a few more "luxury" devices and accessories.

After more than 6 years of service, I'll be leaving my ASUS EEEPC1000H netbook behind and toting an openSUSE-powered Toshiba NB520 as my primary Linux laptop instead.

Everyone says "travel light! travel light!" but no one really talks about travelling light when moving to a different country for work and bringing your hardware with you.

Bringing along hard drives is the hardest dilemma for me.  I have one 4-year old Toshiba 500GB drive I can't leave behind, two laptop HDD's in enclosures and two desktop hard drives filled with more than 20 years of current and archived data. And no, I would never pay for a commercial storage service to back up all that.

All the audio CDs I ripped over the years, including my Bobby Brown collection (cough), the Best of Rick Astley and jazz compilations are in my storage drives along with bootlegged movies like Richard Grieco's If Looks Could Kill (1991) and Monster Squad (1987).

A very young and fresh Gabrielle Anwar appears in the James Bond-inspired comedy misfire, If Looks Could Kill (1991). Although Richard Griece was miscast, it's actually a pretty entertaining film with high production values.
Since I'll be once again alone in another foreign land with nary a friend or companion to keep me warm during the cold winters I need to have something to trigger good memories. In the end, I decided on leaving one of the enclosures and a heavy winter jacket instead of doing without an extra desktop hard drive.

A contributor from Lifehacker was proud to show off his systems administrator kit which included a Macbook Air and an expensive tool set. Now, as a guy who stares outside a Dairy Queen store for 15 minutes before deciding I can't afford a cup of mud pie Blizzard ice cream I can only wish for such luxuries. I have a cheap Stanley mini-screwdriver set, kindergarten scissors, duck tape and Ethernet cables I stole (cough) pilfered from neglected stockrooms.

Note: I am considering taking out a loan so I can purchase a standard Swiss Army Knife before my trip though.

Besides Ethernet and charging cables, other cables I always recommend expatriates bring with them are:

  • Power strips - These ubiquitous home accessory is amazingly invaluable in today's mobile device world. Visit the local Starbucks and you'll find college kids fighting over a socket.
  • HDMI/micro-HDMI cables - HDMI cables come in handy in hotel rooms and partially furnished apartments. If you're a professional, bring one for the office (for your laptop) and another for the living room (for your media player).
  • Extra audio cables and stock earphones collected from cellphones and flights - There is nothing worst than damaging your earphones and suddenly end up overpaying for products from Dr. Dre because you need your Chet Baker fix.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. A media player is also essential if you're a loner living in a non-English speaking country.

The Noah's ark rule says to bring two of everything. I'd love to bring my old Linksys WRT120N wireless router in case I need to set up an extender in my toilet, but since I'll probably be living in a 30 square meter room for a few years I think the ASUS DSL-N55NU N600 AC router will more than suffice.

Note: Don't forget to reset your router before going to your new destination (or at least remember your admin details) to avoid surprises when working with the local ISP.

The Noah's ark approach does apply to cameras and phones though and I will be bringing my old, dependable AA-battery powered 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot A2000IS to supplement my Sony NEX-3NL. Why? Because the PowerShot takes great photos for its age, has a good timer and I can web it to walls to take photos in public. 

Note: Yes, the Lumia 925 has an excellent camera for taking photos on the go but I would never subject my smartphone to abuse.

It's always a good idea to bring another phone if you're going to a different country. It's not just because you might lose your primary smartphone, but it can also be useful if you use both a roaming and local SIM. If you have the cash, there's nothing wrong with getting a smartphone that supports a dual SIM but I'd rather bring along my old Nokia E63 as a back up for my Windows Phone 8-powered Lumia 925.

Two generations of Nokia phones
Universal adapters are essential but I absolutely loathe carrying them. They can be dirt cheap or expensive depending on where you buy them so you often end up packing the chunky pieces of plastic and copper in your check-in or carry on.  Moreover, the socket/contact points loosen over time and although it doesn't seem obvious for such a simple accessory, manufacturers actually produce lemons quite often.

For those who have little tech gear when moving to a different country and only have to worry about their tablet, smartphone and laptop, they should feel fortunate they remain unencumbered by the weight of hardware. For people like me who can't leave their Wacom Pen and Touch tablet or Linux LiveUSB sticks behind, we can only dream.

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