Further to my occasional series, "advice to a young consultant," here are some thoughts on the perfect black bag. (We are talking briefcases here. I will leave the perfect suitcase to a later post; the consultant’s world is a two bag world.)
I welcome the comments and advice of other travellers. This account does not pretend to be definitive or exhaustive.
The perfect black bag
The bag itself should be cloth, expandable, study and probably by Tumi. The bag cannot have hard sides. It is going to have to expand in some moments and collapse down in others. (Consultants should be able to do the same.) Hard sides make this impossible. The bag cannot be made of leather. This dries out and looks bad in the long term. In the short term, it will be seen as a "rookie mistake" by your fellow travellers. The Tumi brand has also become a "secret signal" for the sophisticated traveller. Don’t buy something like a Hartmann or anything showy. You want to keep a lowish profile in those moments you find yourself in the company of thieves.
Contents of the perfect black bag:
To protect yourself from the punishments of life on the road, you must have noise cancelling earphones. They work well on the plane and reduce the fatique of air travel substantially. And they mean that you can actually hear the dialogue of the movies you are watching. (Travel outside the US turns out to be a great way of catching up with popular culture inside the US. Those trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific trips allow you to watch 3 or 4 movies at a go. You can also wear the headphones when the airport or traffic gets noisy, and here they are life savers. Finally, headphones are good when you find yourself seated by a kucklehead or a bore. Nothing says "don’t bother me" like a headset. (I did actually sit beside someone who suffered "pressure of speech" so enormously that they kept talking to me even after I put my headphones on.)
The insider’s choice at the moment is the Bose headset, but recently, having lost my Bose to misadventure on the road, I purchased a set of Sony MDR-NC50 and I think they’re better. They cover the entire ear, which is essential, and they can operate as a headset without a battery inserted. I think this is key. Who wants a battery held against one’s skull for an 8 hour flight? The price might give you pause, but believe me $200-300 is the single best investment you will make as a traveller.
If you want to be an ethnographic consultant, you are going to want to take lots of photos. I am still looking for the right camera. I have a Nikon Coolpix 3700. The perfect camera would turn on, focus, and refresh instanteously. Lots of cameras lag in one or all of these areas. Much of your photography will be shot from the open window of a speeding taxi. Any kind of lag is intolerable. Also the camera needs to be really little so that it can accompany you in a jacket pocket. It should have some telephoto capacity. I would love to hear suggestions here.
There is no substitute for the ThinkPad by Lenovo. It is incredibly light, incredibly dependable, and it has the best keyboard, the point of interface that matters most. The new models have dramatically better battery life and hard drive capacity. (They also have that new, special "explodo" battery made by Sony, but I understand that’s being fixed. )
Cell phone service
If you are doing lots of international travel, you will want to have a phone capable of taking a SIM card and GSM/GPRS service, and this means Cingular and T-Mobile. The former give me good service and reception in Russia and China.
This is a special concern for me because I have subject to anaphylaxis. But the thing about travel and consulting is that schedules are hectic and its easy to miss a meal. Miss a couple in a row and you are light headed and miserable. My fall back are granola bars from Kellogg’s .
You only have room for one so you have to chose it carefully. This is going to be your companion when things get really unpleasant, so it has to be written with perfectly clarity. Last trip I took The Elizabethan Underworld by Gamini Salgado, but it is laboriously written. This is one of the "desert island disks" question, so beloved by the English, and it makes an interesting exercise. What is the single best literary companion. You might say Shakespeare’s Sonnets, but often you will be reading while exhausted, groggy, jet lagged and distracted. I don’t know about you but if find I actually have to pay attention while reading the Sonnets. Maybe the latest volume of Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series. It’s swashbuckling without being too boy’s own. Pound for pound, word for word, what is the best literate pal to have along for the ride?
iPod or Zen
I think a well appointed laptop should serve as a substitute for these devices, but there will be times when you want to protect your laptop battery or travel without encumbrance. The iPod is everyone’s favorite. Ideally, we want one capable of music and movies. I welcome recommendations here.
I know this sounds dorky but if you take a sweater, you can get them to hang up your suit jacket and the less "suited up" you feel while flying the more pleasant it will be. Travel is a process that wears away at you. Anything you can do to "give yourself a little space" is to be recommended.
adapter laptop for plane
charge cords for phone and laptop and iPod
extra battery for laptop
plugs and adapters for Europe and Asia
SD card for capturing images on camera and transferring them to labtop
thumbdrive for backup
transparent envelope for itinary
transparent envelope for project reading
transparent envelope for receipts
(remember to charge everything the night before you go)
It’s up to you to decide which of these systems is so essential you should take a backup. Strictly speaking, I guess, this should be your laptop. But if you are transitioning out of the Microsoft world to the Google one, more and more of your essentials end up on line. Don’t hesitate to email yourself that Powerpoint presentation, for a backup you will be able to access anywhere even in the effect of a cataclysmic lose of your perfect black bag.
This sounds dopy, too. but it’s essential. What you have decided on "all but only" the contents of your perfect black bag, you will want to type these in a list on a piece of paper, take the piece of paper to Kinko’s, and have them cover the piece of paper with something transparent. Your bag is now a little universe of some 30 heterogeneous objects waiting to go astray. Hard cards make it easier to keep track.
For more on the Patrick O’Brian series, see the W.W. Norton website here.