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Gearing up for Macworld: My 5 apps & packing list


Hitting the road for a week or more can be daunting enough when packing for a regular business trip, but when the itinerary includes the hustle and flow of Macworld Expo, I start to think a bit more seriously about exactly what I'm taking and why.

The good news is, of course, that a few well-chosen apps can substitute for destination guides and navigational help. The bad news... there's still a lot of stuff to bring along. Here are five-plus apps I loaded specifically for this trip, and a few hardware items that I couldn't do without.

The Apps

As many times as I've been to San Francisco, I still don't have a firm notion of the city's geography outside the immediate vicinity of Moscone Center (don't blame SF -- I still get lost in my own home town, too). To help me get around, I've tried iBART, BayTripper and the free, location-aware mobile site.

Still, I come back to two tried-and-true tools every time. For public transit and walking directions, the Maps app does a great job; bus timing may not be precise, but you get where you're going. If your transit needs are a little more personal, the astonishing Taxi Magic app gets a ride to wherever you are in no time flat -- and with no additional fee, if you pay in cash. Honorable mention: the Zipcar app, if you need wheels of your own in a jiffy.

Before boarding the plane to come out to the West Coast, I checked that my two favorite air travel apps were loaded and ready. The Tripit app (paired with a Tripit Pro subscription) keeps my itineraries right at my fingertips, including the ability to search for alternative flight reservations. While I'm hopping through the airports on either end, Gate Guru helps make sure I don't skip past the best place to eat while I'm meandering towards my gate.

Keeping with the travel theme, two of the nodconcept travel apps -- Travel Assistant and Rooms -- have found a place on my iPhone. Travel Assistant syncs my trips with the Tripit service but adds a rewards account database, travel log and packing/activity list manager to the function suite; it also scrolls directly to the current date when viewing a trip, which is very handy if you forget which city you're in. Speaking of forgetting, since the days of having your room number actually printed on your hotel key are long gone, you'd better have another way of tracking that bit of info before you find yourself blankly staring down the hallway at 2 am. Rooms ups the ante from the original Room app, which badged its own icon with your room number for immediate reference; you can now track the room numbers of several traveling companions, as well.

Beyond those travel basics, I also loaded up Pzizz, for catching up on scarce sleep; Foursquare, for keeping track of my fellow TUAW night owls; Happy Hour and Good Food Near You for balancing my diet; the KQED Check, Please podcast for restaurant reviews from real San Franciscans; iMacworld, for knowing what's going on when; and the closed beta of VoiceCentral Black Swan edition, for the best Google Voice client on the iPhone so I can keep my voicemail sorted out while I'm on the move.

Now onto the hardware...

The Gear

My most essential road accessory, without question, is my Belkin mini surge protector. 3 grounded outlets + 2 USB charging ports in a compact, friendly package has made me a happy man. 2nd most essential, and certainly the cheapest, is an Ezonics SD card to USB adapter. I think I might have paid all of $7 for it, and it has served with distinction for photo offloading and in-a-pinch flash drive duty. I've got a few SD cards to swap in and out of cameras, and a quick and accessible reader is vital. The only drawback is that the reader is wide enough to block the other USB port, so I usually bring along a short M-F USB extender cable as well.

I normally use a Verizon MiFi card to provide mobile internet access, but for this trip I'm carrying a Sprint Overdrive 3G/4G wireless mobile router (I had a stop in a 4G-capable city before coming to SF, but the unit only works on 3G here). Sprint thoughtfully includes Sierra Wireless drivers to allow Mac users to tether the router over USB, which is handy if you're trying to conserve laptop battery power by turning off Wi-Fi.

Storage is always at a bit of a premium, so I'm offloading some of my bulkier files (older movies, photos and music) to external drives for the week. My LaCie 500GB Little Disk is a loyal pal, and I've got a few other drives in the bag, including a borrowed and super-fast WD Firewire 800 MyPassport Studio drive that I'm loath to return. A random assortment of USB flash drives accompanies the bigger media, but I'm putting small stickers with my phone number on them to make sure they find their way home. I've also got more cables than I need, even though I tried to double up on USB cords; they just seem to multiply in the bag. Fortunately I have several small photo kit velcro-seal pouches to keep the mess under management.

Another thing that gets kept in those pouches: cameras. It seems that every year I bring another different camera to Macworld Expo, and every year the one I use most frequently for video and photos alike is my steadfast Canon PowerShot SD600. It's now verging on four years old (that's almost middle-aged, to you and me) but it's still perfectly capable of delivering sharp 640x480 video at 30fps with remarkably solid sound, not to mention clear 6MP images. I'd love an SLR but I know I wouldn't love lugging it around the show.

Meanwhile, my Aiptek Action HD camera (otherwise known as 'Crappy, the World's Worst Cheap HD Video Camera') usually stays in the case. This year I am also carrying an original standard-def Flip Mino for quick, impromptu videos like this one; since my iPhone is a 3G I don't have native support for good video capture, and as you can tell by this motley assortment of old and inexpensive cams, I'm something of a skinflint when it comes to spending money on cameras.

Finally, yes, a close eye on the picture above would reveal both my iPhone 3G (sporting the 'rugged' Case-Mate Naked Case, with electrostatic screen cover for hard duty, and supplemented by a Monoprice external battery) and another phone: an HTC Droid Eris on Verizon, which I'm testing out this week just in case I get stuck in some AT&T dead zones. Just don't take any pictures of me using it while I'm wearing my TUAW staff shirt, OK?

What items can't you do without when coming to Macworld? Let us know below!

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