Traveling with a portable computer is sort of like traveling with a baby: every time you take it anywhere, it seems like you need a whole bag of accessories. There's a whole industry out there that makes and sells add-on items for laptop users. Some, like an AC power adapter and some kind of physical security, are all but essential; many others, like an external mouse and a cleaning cloth or brush, just make your computer easier to use.
In earlier chapters, I talk about a few common accessories for laptop computers, including external keyboards and mice, AC and DC power adapters, and flash drives and PC Cards. This chapter describes some other accessories for laptop computers that may be more obscure but can still be useful. You probably don't want to carry every one of these items with your laptop every day, but you might discover one or more that become essential parts of your computer kit.
Any time you carry the computer any farther than the next room, you should use a carrying case to protect it from the weather and make the computer easier to carry and less obvious to potential thieves. Carriers for laptop computers can range anywhere from inexpensive canvas bags all the way to hand-tooled leather cases with individual compartments for everything you might ever want to carry with your computer. Of course, the case should be comfortable when you carry it in your hands, hang it on your shoulder or across your back, or when you wheel it through an airport concourse.
The design of a computer case or bag is a combination of fashion and function. It should look good (whatever that may mean to your particular sensibility), and it should also protect the computer, make it easy to carry, and provide space for all the other stuff you want to carry along with the computer itself.
The first and most important characteristic of any computer carrier is its size; the case should be wide enough to hold the computer, but not so big that the computer slides around while you're carrying it. The label or tag on a new bag should show the maximum screen size that it can hold. Even so, it can be helpful to note the dimensions of your own computer and carry a small tape measure when you're shopping for a new bag. A well-designed computer bag or case should also have internal straps or other restraints to keep the computer from sliding around.
Computer carriers come in several forms: briefcases, backpacks, travel cases with space for a change of clothes, and messenger bags that fit over one shoulder. Still others resemble attaché cases, ladies' large purses, and traditional luggage. If you expect to carry your computer through public places like airports and hotel lobbies, you may want to seriously consider a case that does not look like it contains a computer. Carrying a standard computer case can be like attaching a big sign to your luggage that says "This bag contains valuable equipment. Please do not steal." A bag that looks like it contains nothing more than three changes of underwear and a couple of clean shirts is a lot less attractive to would-be thieves.
Most of the major laptop computer manufacturers offer bags, backpacks, and other carriers that fit each of their laptop models through their Web sites. Or if you prefer, Targus, one of the biggest makers of laptop carriers, offers an online tool that can identify matching bags for many makes and models. You can find the Case Configurator at http://www.targus.com/us/compatibilitysearch.asp.
In addition to space for the computer itself, a computer case should include:
Pockets for accessories, including a power adapter, mouse, PC Cards, cables, and so on
Space for a notepad and several pens or pencils
Compartments for blank CDs, flash drives or other removable storage, and emergency software
Pockets for anything else you might carry with the computer, such as manuals, airline tickets or a supply of business cards