Office in a bag: Basic 'musts' for the digital nomad

If you do most of your work out of the local Starbucks, consider taking some of these devices with you.

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Portable storage

No traditional office can hope to exist without file space and plenty of duplicates, and no office in a bag can survive without, say, half a terabyte of external storage. Trust me on this one. For one thing, you'll want an adequate backup of your notebook and any desktops you may still have at home base. And when you're on the road, you'll want loads of music and videos to keep you entertained.

The two obvious portable storage options are Western Digital's My Passport Essential line and Seagate's FreeAgent Go drives. Both are designed to be portable, with small form factors and USB-powered operation.

FreeAgent Go drives list from 160GB for $90 up to 640GB for $180. My Passport Essential leaps from $90 for 250GB up to 750GB for $200.

WD My Passport Essential
WD My Passport Essential

In both cases, financially as well as philosophically, higher capacity drives make more sense. No matter how much you think is too much, by the time you've archived your e-mail, documents and hours of raw video footage from your vacations, you're going to run out eventually.

One bag to hold them all

Of course, carrying all this in a single bag means the bag has to have some strength and capacity. There are a whole slew of laptop bags, messenger bags and backpacks out there to fit your color and style taste -- and your need for gadgets.

In my quest for chiropractic alignment while hauling an office-ful of equipment, I've found a design that works quite well for me. It also makes airline security lines a little less wearing. The Targus Zip-Thru Air Traveler line is designed to fit notebooks from 15 to 17 inches by providing a padded pocket that zips down so it can be scanned by airport security without taking it out of the bag.

Targus Zip-Thru Air Traveler
Targus Zip-Thru Air Traveler

The $100 Zip-Thru Air Traveler provides enough capacity to fit a full-sized scanner as well as a full-sized laptop, and it's a remarkably comfy load for such an ordinary-looking case. It features a strap that fits crosswise around the bag's central pocket, which distributes the weight in such a way that it's easy on the shoulder, and there's a little elastic in Targus' shoulder straps that cushions the impact of gravity on your shoulder. All in all, it's a winning combination.

Laptop bags aren't everyone's style. Some people prefer a funkier look to their totes, and for that, a messenger bag fits the bill better. Tom Bihn's Ego line tackles this nicely, and its Super Ego messenger bag ($150) has the kind of monster capacity that makes for an ideal office-in-a-bag, um, bag. It's big, roomy and offbeat -- if that's your style, it's a good match.

Skooba Shuttle Laptop Backpack
Skooba Shuttle Laptop Backpack

Backpacks are another style that works for lugging your workplace around town, especially if you want to distribute all that weight between both shoulders. Skooba Designs has this field covered nicely with its Skooba Shuttle Laptop Backpack, which accommodates notebooks up to 17 inches. At press time, this line was heavily discounted from its $140 list price and available in black/blue and olive/red color combos.

Matt Lake has been covering portable technology for two decades, and qualifies "portable" as "anything I can carry in a bag." He's currently lugging a messenger bag large enough to carry a Newfoundland dog.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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