This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Web-savvy road trips

If only Apple would introduce an Apple Store passport! We’re well on our way to the goal of getting stamped at every Apple Store in North America. Not (only) because we make a point of seeking out each retail location in hope of finding some as-yet-unseen doodad, but because we rarely hit the road without discovering that we have left behind some crucial piece of our tech kit (usually a Macbook, iPhone or iPad adapter, but occasionally all three!)

The beauty of a road trip is that you don’t face the air traveler’s constraint of limited luggage and a security check that may look at you suspiciously if your entire suitcase is full of computer cables. Here’s what we’ve learned to pack…or regretted leaving behind:

  1. AC adapters for your car’s cigarette lighter/outlet. Buy at least as many charging adapters as you have AC outlets in your car (unless your car has more adapters than you have devices, in which case you either have too few devices or too big a car). Make sure your adapters are capable of charging all the devices you are actually bringing; in the case of the iPad, a standard iPhone charger won’t be powerful enough, so you need a special adapter.
  2. Power bar with all your adapters plugged in. The absolute smartest thing we did was to bring a couple of power bars that together provided enough outlets to plug in all our chargers (4 iPhones, 2 iPads, 1 pay-as-you-go phone). We plugged all the charging adapters into the power bars, and then dropped them into the one bag that came with us into every hotel we stayed at (the same bag that held our toiletries or pjs). Unfortunately we didn’t have quite enough USB/dock cables to leave them all plugged into the adapters (one had to move into the car each day to keep the iPad charged while we drove and navigated), but ideally you will have your power bar(s) fully set up so that all you have to do is plug a single power bar into an outlet at your hotel, and all your adapters and cables will be ready to charge your devices. Don’t count on your computer’s ports to cover any of your charging needs; you don’t want to be forced to pull out and plug in your computer just to use it as a power bar.
  3. Keyboard. If I’d packed my iPad’s keyboard or a Bluetooth keyboard, completing the occasional form would have been even easier. From now on it’s staying in the car!
  4. Extra-long charging cable. We got an awesome 10-foot iPod/iPhone/iPad charging cable at the Apple store, which is long enough to snake from the outlet in our trunk all the way up to a kid playing on an iPad in our backseat. Presto! No more whining because an iPad has run out of juice mid-game.
  5. Camera connection kit. The iPad’s camera connection kit lets you dump your digital camera’s photos directly to your iPad, using either an SD card or USB port. How we wished that we had remembered to pack ours so that we could quickly post our latest snaps to Facebook! Without the connection kit we were forced to wait until we connected the camera to our actual laptop at the end of the day…when we rarely had the energy to post content. An even easier option: the Eye-Fi card, which (depending on your camera) may allow you to upload your photos to the web directly from your camera, whenever you hit a wifi hotspot.
  6. Headphone splitter. Pack one or two of those headset splitters that let you plug two sets of headphones into a single jack. That way two kids can share a single iPad, sparing you from the nightmare of listening to Barbie videos while you drive. Better yet, use the splitter to share an iPad with your sweetie so that you can watch a movie in bed without waking the kids who are sleeping in the next bed. For those of you who have more than two kids, but are still brave enough to pack them up for a road trip, Belkin makes this multi-headphone splitter. If you have more kids than the Belkin splitter can accommodate then you might want to download this app.
  7. Cheap back-of-the-neck headphones. When Rob or I listen to something on the iPad or iPhone, we use Apple earbuds (me) or mid-grade earmuff headphones (Rob). Neither option works great for our kids, however, and kid-specific headphones are unnecessarily expensive. We’ve found that cheap, back-of-the-neck headphones work great: the kids put them over their heads instead of behind their necks, and the smaller circumference makes for a good and comfortable fit.
  8. Portable speakers. If you want to listen to music in your hotel room or by the beach, consider packing some speakers to connect to your phone, tablet or iPod. Just please don’t blast your music at a campsite. After dark. Next to people who are trying to get their kids to sleep. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
  9. Airport Express. Sad to say, there are still many hotels that charge for wifi, or that charge you separately for each computer you connect to their network. If you have an Airport Express router, it’s easy to throw it in your tech bag so that you can plug it into the Ethernet jack in your hotel room and run your own wifi network, sharing a connection among all the devices you’re using in your room.
  10. VGA adapter/cable and/or DVI cables. Most hotel TVs have their cables virtually soldered in place, but once in a blue moon you’ll stay someplace that could actually let you connect your iPad or TV to the hotel TV. (The all-time high water mark in this regard was the Hotel Intercontinental in Chicago, where the hotel TV had a separate adapter box offering almost every type of input imaginable.) Pack whatever video adapters you have for the tablets or laptops you are traveling with, and you may have the option of connecting to the hotel’s TV to watch your own bank of video content instead of whatever happens to be on TV.
  11. Separate bags for each computer. I didn’t bother bringing a separate briefcase for my MacBook, figuring it would be easier to throw it into the same backpack as Rob’s. But once that backpack was loaded with 2 MacBooks plus 6 devices’ worth of cables, it was a beast! I made Rob carry it into our hotel each night, which is why he is now lying in a special chair while he waits for his back spasms to subside.

Once you’ve checked all these must-have items off your packing list, be sure to take one item out of the car before you start driving. I don’t want to deprive you of an excuse to visit the Apple Store!

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