Flashpacker Guide to Packing a Laptop Backpack With Travel Gadgets

01 of 10

1 - Get a Great Laptop Backpack

Best Laptop Backpack 2006 - Great Flashpacker Backpack From STM
Photos courtesy STM

Flashpacker is a new buzzword for student travelers and young at heart backpackers, and one defining characteristic of the breed is gadget hauling. We lug laptops onto chicken buses, haul tattered backpacks bulging with travel tech gadgets into hoity hotels or sketchy hostels, pack cargo pants pockets with world cell phones, and we find the wifi.

Yeah. So, the first step for packing a flashpacker backpack with travel gadgets is finding the right gadget-friendly laptop backpack. We can’t find a perfect specimen, but we get pretty close with this one.

Having just been in Australia, we noticed how the Aussies love the phrase “purpose built” – one Australian company gives meaning to those words with laptop backpacks built by Bondi Beach hangers who needed a camo laptop backpack of their own that was protective, comfy, stylish enough, and very sturdy. Enter STM laptop luggage, purpose built for your flashpacker travel.

Why do we love STM’s Loop laptop backpacks? They’re ergonomic, air conditioned, well padded, well made, water resistant, and they’ve got laptop compartments, sound ports and practical pockets aplenty without featuring excess crapola. A waist strap turns these backpacks into workhorses, but can be completely removed.

STM Small Loop Laptop Backpack

Small Loop has pockets galore and three zippered sections; laptops up to 13" including MacBook Pro.

  • Apparently, STM has stopped making this backpack (drag!) -- try eBay or MacMall.

STM Large Loop Laptop Backpack

If your back can take it, this pack can haul it – holds most 17” monsters.

Best Travel Backpack Recommendations?

Got a recommendation for a travel backpack? Add it here!

Let's fill this backpack with some fave flashpacker gadgets. Next: best flashpacker laptops 2008, including the lightest ultraportable and smallest PC.

02 of 10

2 - Top Travel Laptops

The best flashpacker laptops need DVD/CD players and preferably recorders, good wireless, photo editing capability, and must be very lightweight (you're carrying this laptop through airports and onto chicken buses on your own back -- possibly for months). That said, here are the recommendations:

Personally, I can't be separated from my itty bitty (but old) iBook when I'm traveling (taken a serious licking and kept on ticking). Apple not to your tooth? Scroll on down for some PC travel laptop lists.

Apple MacBook and MacBook Air

Though I'll be sticking with my iBook's perfectly travel-sized 12" screen over the new MacBooks' 13+" screens for now, you may have to try eBay for an iBook these days. Or look into the MacBook or MacBook Air -- personally, I'd take the regular MacBook over the Air as the Air just doesn't provide enough of what I also need at home (like it's got only one USB port and no firewire), but check it all out for yourself:

  • Read the MacBook review
  • Read the Macbook ​Air review

Traveling PC's

PC land had lots o' lightweight PC's suited to travel in 2008 -- check out a couple of lists:

While you're researching, read a great thread over at Engadget -- hundreds o' responses to a traveler's question regarding which laptop to lug around the world.

Where to tap the wires with your laptop? Locate a hotspot with a mini WiFi finder next.

03 of 10

3 - Keychain Sized Mobile WiFi Finder

Keychain Sized Mobile WiFi Finder - Mobile Edge Mini WiFi Hotspot Locator
Photo courtesy Mobile Edge

Travelers will find a keychain sized wifi finder a boon; use it instead of booting up to locate a wifi hotspot. Imagine lugging an open laptop around a foreign city, watching a stumbler program while you stroll and looking for a place to get online. Not. Now, imagine clicking a button on the mini wifi hotspot locator in your pocket and finding a wifi connection just-like-that. Snag a comfy seat and pull out the laptop.

Very cool must-have item for a flashpacker. Almost a laptop backpack accessory, really -- you'll probably carry it in a cargo pants pocket.

Mobile Edge WiFi Signal Locator

  • World's smallest
  • Finds *only* wifi hotspots -- no false readings from microwave and portable phone signals
  • Detects 802.11B and G Networks

About those cargo pants we mentioned? Look at the best traveling world cell phones next.

04 of 10

4 - GSM World Phones With Wifi (Skype on the Way)

Eten Glofiish and T-Mobile Dash or Excalibur Cell Phones
Glofiish photo courtesy Eten and Dash photo courtesy T-Mobile

Understanding why US cell phone carriers sell so few unlocked quad band GSM phones is for the more cynical to speculate upon. We just know we can't have the cool Skype phone in the US. In the meantime, we do have a few options for unlocked GSM quad band cell phones (learn why the phone must be unlocked) and we've learned to love Skype itself... and we could marry a little Wyoming cell phone company which sells unlocked quad band GSM cell phones (learn about quad-band). Some ideas:

Unlocked Razr

Yep, we love the Motorola Razr. You can find it unlocked in stores (cheap as ebay, too). [

  • Other Music GSM Cell Phones
    • Nokia 5300 Xpress Music
    • HTC Excalibur (ensure it's unlocked!)

    2008 Unlocked GSM Quad Band Cell Phones

    Look for features you'll love, like built-in GPS and decent camera. Take a look at the Blackberry Pearl options -- super spendy, but we're liking the phone...
    • All the 2008 Unlocked GSM Quad Band Cell Phones

    Also called "Qtek 9100" and "HTC Wizard," the iMate KJAM Mini is a tech wizard's dream cell phone. Overseas use only for now, though.
    The E-Ten Glofish 700 literally rocks with an FM tuner... and GPS gizmo in a phone? Oh, man.
    Check Prices
      With any unlocked GSM phone, you'll need a SIM card -- you can get a prepaid SIM for another country before you leave the US, but it's a slight pain (as opposed to buying SIM cards overseas, where you can pick up new SIM's as easily as you can buy phone cards in the US). Learn more about SIM cards:
      And the Wyoming cell phone company we love so? It's called Union Wireless, and we will be loyal forever... if it works for you, grab an unlocked GSM phone from them. You've got a world phone -- now let's find some pockets to put it in, as in gadget travel clothing.
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
    05 of 10

    5 - Gadget-Carrying Tech Travel Clothing

    Scott eVest Ultimate Cargo Pants - Travel Clothing Cargo Pants
    Photo courtesy Scott eVest

    When packing a laptop backpack with travel tech gadgets, don't forget to toss in some gadget-carrying tech travel clothing -- take a tip from the Boy Scouts and be prepared with plenty o' pockets for every gadget.

    Sun Valley's SCOTTEVEST knows you can't leave your gadgets at home, and they've designed "technology enabled clothing" that makes it easy to bring 'em all along. Their TEC line features the cool MP3 player-friendly "Ultimate Hoodie" -- a decent sweatshirt that loves your iPod as much as you do -- and the SeV "Ultimate Cargo Pants" with gadget-grabbing pockets galore.

    iPod Friendly Hoodie Sweatshirt

    • Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, I rode a Whistler chair with a tech weenie who had the most ingenious little thing -- a portable cassette player with earphones. It was called a Walkman. We've evolved - now we've got clothing made just to carry around the grandbaby of the Walkman: iPod-packing duds like SeV's Ultimate Hoodie.
    • Read the full review
    • Buy the hoodie

    Ultimate Gadget Cargo Pants

    • Anybody can make cargo pants, right? How about cargo pants with zip off legs? Okay -- common enough. 18 pockets? Well.. A Personal Area Network built in? That would be new. SeV's cool cargo pants have an astonishing array of gadgety features for the travel techie: leave home without leaving it all behind.
    • Buy the cargo pants

    Oh -- and the iPod? Get the goods on the great iPod gifts for 2008 before you buy:

    • iPod Gift Guide 2008

    What to pack next? Well, an international electricity adaptor is a must for plugging in gadgets worldwide.

    06 of 10

    6 - International Electrical Plug Adaptor

    Electrical Plug Adaptor - All in One International Plug Adaptor
    Kathleen Crislip 2006

    The All-in-One Adapter with surge protector is the best international adapter I have ever seen, hands down. At $20, it is a screaming deal. Adapters do not convert electricity, but this electrical adaptor takes the guesswork out of plugs on phone or laptop chargers internationally (don't need to convert electricity for those). Flip out the right prongs (countries are labeled beside plugs), plug those prongs into the wall and your cord into the adaptor, and you're set. Works in reverse, too (like plugging a UK unit into an American outlet).

    Writing? Can a pen be high tech? You bet... check out a night writing pen next.

    07 of 10

    7 - Night Writer Pen and Travel Journal

    Night Writer Travel Pen LED Light Pen Photo
    Photo courtesy Magellan's

    Who has time to journal when traveling? You, that's who -- if you have a Magellan's Night Writer pen and a cool travel journal. Write at night -- a hostel bed is a good place to jot down the day's travel memories and with a pen that lights your travel journal's pages, you won't disturb dorm mates. Slip a journal into your laptop backpack's front pocket and a Night Writer Pen into one of the pen sleeves -- write now.

    Night Writer Pen

    • Built-in blue LED light illuminates page with a click.
    • Needs three watch batteries (included) -- comes with three additional batteries and two black ink refills
    • 5-1/2" L x 3/4" W; 1 oz.Buy the pen direct from Magellan's

    Moleskine Travel Journal (Moleskine Info Book Travel Journal)

    • Sturdy, oilcloth bound travel journal divided into bed, food, people, sights and facilities laminated and tabbed sections
    • Elastic book closure, black ribbon placeholder and cardboard accordion pocket
    • Made in Italy with acid-free paper pages

    Speaking of nocturnal tech gadgets, let's look at a very cool way to read while traveling: the Amazon Kindle...

    08 of 10

    8 - Amazon Kindle 3G: Great for Travel (Especially a Wifi Kindle!)

    Kindle 3G - Amazon Kindle 3G for Travelers
    © Amazon.com

    Kindle 3G (Kindle 3G With Free Wifi)

    The advent of the ebook reader is a cool boon to the backpacker and the Amazon Kindle 3G, with free wifi, has ushered in a new era for student travelers: the truly workable lightening of the book load without breaking the bank (that would be the iPad's job). The Kindle 3G is a light, thin piece of hardware with which a traveler can not only read book (including textbooks*), magazines and newspapers, but hook up to the internet with worldwide wifi. It's not one gadget to rule them all, since it's not a GSM phone nor a true traveling internet solution, but it's a very versatile tool for travelers at $189.The 3G is the third generation of the Amazon Kindle, or the Kindle 3, which is called the Kindle 3G. Spend a little less but forego the free 3G -- which is well worth getting -- and get a wifi only Kindle at $139. Why do you want the 3G? 3G is a term regarding cellular or mobile networks: just like a cell phone with 3G, the 3G Kindle accesses mobile airwaves from just about anywhere. In many countries, you can use a web broswer via a 3G network, meaning your Kindle's internet interface essentially looks like a "normal" web page. Facebook, tweet, Google, access Amazon's treasure trove of reading material.  *A problem for serious studiers: page numbers aren't consistently preserved in a printed book's transition to a Kindle, making it hard to cite sources in a footnoted paper or do precisely assigned readings.

    • Amazon Kindle 3G With Wifi Features
    • 6" Reading Area
    • 8.7 Ounces -- Weighs less than a paperback
    • Battery Life: One Month (with wireless off)
    • 3 Gigs of Storage -- Up to 3,500 books
    • Free 3G Wireless Wifi (that's free, free, free... yes, truly, really free)
    • WebKit-Based Browser
    • PDF Reader
    • Download non-Amazon stuff via USB or the Kindle 3G's own e-mail address

    Buy the Amazon Kindle

    The Amazon Kindle we've been talking up here is the $189 model:

    • Buy the Amazon Kindle 3G Wifi eBook Reader in White
    • Buy the Amazon Kindle 3G Wifi eBook Reader in Graphite

    Buy Amazon Kindle Accessories

    Want some Kindle accessories? Check out these:

    • Kindle Accessories Bundle - Amazon Kindle 3G Silicone Case, Neoprene Sleeve, Screen Protector, Screen Cleaner - About $35
    • DigitalsOnDemand 14-Item Kindle Accessory Bundle - Includes Black Silicone Skin, White Silicone Skin, Black Leather Case, Screen Protector, Robotic Reading Light with Battery Included, Earphones, Earphone Splitter, AUX Cable, Wall Charger Adapter, Car Charger Adapter, USB Sync Cable, Retractable USB Data Cable, Fishbone, Drawstring Travel Pouch: About $50
    • CrazyOnDigital Kindle 3G Accessory Kit - Leather Case, Screen Protectors, Auto Car Charger, AC Home Wall Charger, Sync & Charger USB Cable, Headphones: About $33

    Let's move on to packing the exterior of your laptop backpack...

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
    09 of 10

    9 - Traveler's Water Purifier and Water Bottle

    Katadyn Exstream Purifier Bottle - Water Bottle Purifier Photo
    Photo courtesy Katadyne

    World travelers say, "Don't drink the water," for a good reason -- millions of squirmy, scummy reasons, in fact. Don't be scared; do be practical, don't drink straight from the tap in developing countries unless you know the water's okay, don't eat fly-festooned food and dp consider using one of your backpack's elasticized side pockets for a water bottle purifier and strain your own drinking water to avoid gut-wrenching encounters with the developing world's water.

    Katadyn Exstream Purifier Bottle

    Cartridge system inside the water bottle strains gunk and eliminates bacteria in tap, river or lake water.

    • Kills over 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and over 99.99% of waterborne viruses (U.S. EPA microbial water purification protocol)
    • Kills over 99.9% of waterborne cysts and other creepy living things like Giardia and Cryptosporidium
    • 26 gallons per cartridge
    • Filters odor-causing, crummy tasting sediment


    Quite a concept -- a filtering drinking straw that can keep many open water bugs at bay. Doesn't kill Giardia (hate that stuff), but Medgadget says it works (and features a photo of a fellow sipping straight from a third world river).

    More on water, food and travel health: ]ul]

    10 of 10

    10 - Safe Skies TSA Luggage Locks Secure Your Gear

    TSA Luggage Locks - Safe Skies Luggage Locks Photo
    Photo Courtesy Safe Skies

    The last travel must-have for your laptop backpack is a set of luggage locks to keep its contents safe -- you're carrying some spendy tech gear. The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) allows baggage screeners to clip luggage locks, sift through stuff and send a bag on unlocked. Let's not have that. And whether checking a bag or not, you need to lock it.

    Safe Skies Luggage Locks

    • The torch logo on these Safe Skies TSA luggage locks tells TSA baggage screeners that they can open bags, using TSA-supplied keys, and relock without clipping the luggage lock. And the company will replace a lock if it does get cut. Four-dial heavy duty combo locks come in five cool colors to help with luggage ID -- beauty brass key versions, too. I've tried these locks; I like 'em.

    I carry three TSA locks and, if I check luggage, use two to lock my backpack (main compartment and zip off day pack), and keep one in my carry on shoulder bag -- if my locks are clipped at an airport, I thus have a spare. The two locks lock my backpack's zippers in my lodging or one locks it in a hostel locker, and I lock my shoulder bag's zippers with the third while I'm walking around.

    Luggage locks are a way to avoid avoiding lost luggage while hanging about in airports, too.

    And that's it -- your locked laptop backpack is packed with the best tech travel gadgets. Happy trails!

    Return to Practical Travel Gear - Return to Student Travel

    Was this page helpful?