Sunday, July 13, 2008

33. Notebook Travel Guide

By: Johnny T from


Travelling from A to B is part of everyone’s daily routine. More and more people are opting for notebooks instead of desktops, due to their portability. Whether you are taking it to work, class, or a LAN party, how you carry your notebook along with its accessories is an important consideration during and after the notebook purchasing process.

This guide will aim to help people pick a suitable notebook “carrier’’ and to give you a few useful hints on the do’s and don’ts when travelling with your precious investment. There are 3 parts to this guide with subjects spanning from picking the right bag and accessories to advices on packing your bag for a long trip.

Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there
- Will Rogers

Hope you enjoy this guide. More importantly, hope this helps with your next journey!

Table of contents

  • Part 1 - Bags
  • Part 2 - Coming soon
  • Part 3 - Coming soon


So lets get started with part 1!

The ''Laptop Bag''

Traditionally, when the term “laptop bag’’ (or laptop brief case) is mentioned, this sort of style of bags comes into mind…

The good old type design made purely for notebooks. They come in many shape and sizes, and are available from notebook manufacturers (usually rebranded), and big notebook accessory brands. Used by most professionals and corporate users, mainly because “it just works” and does exactly what it says on the box. They feature a well padded area within the bag and a strap to hold the notebook in place. They are usually quite rigid and durable, although they can be fairly heavy on their own. The bags are usually made from synthetic materials with a few high end products made from leather. In terms of comfort, they are pretty standard inline with messenger bags, though it might depend on the shoulder strap provided. At the end of the day if you don’t feel the pads that came with the bag are good enough, then you could always ditch the standard ones and purchase one of your own as there are wide selections available.

Usually they don’t have much room for much else except for the notebook and its charger plus some discs and a small book or two.

Deviating from the traditional style are modernised designs such as the one below…courtesy of NBR member John Ratsey’s snacks and accessories. As you can see it is quite stuffed, it features a much larger outer compartment for accessories and other goods. The design is edging more towards the “messenger style” bag.

If you are looking for something practical, and not too flashy, this is the one for you!


Many members participated in polls a while ago, the first poll asked about which type of bag members used. Messenger style bags topped the poll, with back pack trailing closely behind. Notebook sleeves by themselves came last out of the three.

So, let’s get on to messenger style bags. They have one strap going over the shoulder just like the traditional laptop bag, but they come in a large variety of shape and sizes. Original messenger bags were meant for telephone pole repairers in New York City, they were designed with easy access in mind so that workers can reach for their tools easily. Soon they were adapted by bike messengers and since then its popularity have risen dramatically. Since the 80s they are have became a fashion accessory for the masses, but also remained the choice of bike messengers.

So what made them so popular? Most bike messenger styled bags are made from durable canvas, and are designed to last. One of the main reasons is that the items inside remain easily accessible and have many useful compartments. There are many derivatives of the messenger bag. As a fashion accessory, it has downsized and its range of materials has increased too. This has resulted in many more designs and colours.

Notebook messenger bags differ from the traditional laptop bags greatly mostly because the main priority of the bag is not only the notebook, but also the contents. This meant that the notebook compartment does not take up the majority of space in the bag, but it takes form as a small compartment, almost like a “sleeve’’ attached to the insides. This leads to another option: users can choose to pick any type of messenger bag they want and put their notebook in sleeve of their choice and just put it in the bag, meaning there is no need to purchase a notebook specific bag.

In terms of notebook messenger bags, there are many established brands such as Belkin, Timbuk2, Crumpler and Targus. The notebook accessories orientated brands tend to aim to design a messenger style notebook bag, where as the more traditional messenger bag brands focus on the materials of the bag and its functionality with an added notebook compartment, but they do tend to cost more due to the use of premium materials and more demanding quality control.

Since the traditional messenger bags are designed for what its name says, they tend to have mountains of room for other goods. Even with the additional notebook compartment, I managed to fit 2 full size pillows into a messenger. On the other hand, notebook messenger bags are usually quite compact, essentially being a modernised version of the traditional laptop bag.

In conclusion, the messenger bag is popular because of the range of sizes and designs available on the market. The two main types of bags are the traditional messenger, which focuses on durability mixed with the traditional style that have attracted a strong following, and the “messenger style” bag offering good notebook protection whilst remaining stylish along with a affordable price tag.


Backpacks, or rucksacks as know in many parts of the world, are the preferred choice for comfort. Two straps distribute weight evenly on your shoulders in comparison to shoulder bags’ single strap design. Rucksacks also provide decent back support. The majority of backpack has a far superior capacity than standard shoulder bags; they also have many external compartments so that items can be easily accessed.

When comparing its notebook carrying abilities’, it in very similar to that of a messenger bag because it is essentially a special notebook compartment build into a backpack. Again, you can choose to purchase a standard backpack along with a notebook sleeve to be put into the bag.

While backpacks might not be considered as stylish by some people, the range of designs offered is definitely on par, if not better, than shoulder bags, with a selection ranging from camping packs to speciality notebook bags. Some designs even incorporate wheels and an extendable handle so that you can drag a heavy bag along.

The size of backpacks is a problem for some people, especially among those who frequently travel by public transport. It might be considered as “bulky”, and sometime it is hard to find space to place the bag on the floor and carrying it on your shoulders without knocking into someone can be difficult.

If capacity and comfort are high on your list, then backpacks would be an excellent choice!


Whilst bags have a good amount of space for AC adaptors, and other accessories some people might not require that and that is where a notebook sleeve will do a great job for people on short journeys such as going to your local library or coffee shop. Although they are only designed to carry a single notebook computer, you can easily fit some paper work inside, or maybe a few discs.

Notebook sleeves are usually made from neoprene, which is a soft material similar to that used for wet suits. For a higher level of protection there are notebook sleeves which have a hard shell, that although not totally rigid, provides extra protection for harder impacts. The downside is that they are usually slightly larger and not as light as their neoprene cousins.

Notebook sleeves come in a large variety of sizes and designs, so there will be one that will fit your notebook and style.

Hard shell/rugged

Some users may be required to take their notebook to non-everyday destinations. This could be field work, or to destinations where carrying a notebook with you is not an option (e.g. must be checked in, or put into a boot of a car). Or maybe, you just feel like a bit more protection for your notebook is required.

There are a few hard shell backpacks on the market. The “shell” is usually made from durable plastics and can withstand a certain degree of abuse. Of course this will not safe your notebook form the worst accidents.

There are also rugged cases. The outer shell is generally made from metal (usually aluminium, may differ for premium products or others which require an even higher amount of durability). The insides are usually padded with thick layers of foam to protect the notebook from shocks. The compartments are usually pre-cut to fit specific accessories therefore it is not very flexible in terms of what you can put inside the case. Of course with good build quality and extremely durable materials, it all comes at a higher price in comparison to other bags.


Picking right one for you

There are several important factors to consider when choosing the right bag/sleeve for carrying your notebook. Below are a few important points.

Size of your notebook
The protection features are most effective when the sleeve/compartment fit your notebook snugly. This because a tight fit would mean that the notebook does not “hit” the padding when landing on impact, instead the padding will nicely cushion the notebook.

Notebook protection features of the bag
Some bags/cases pride themselves on protection features, whilst others might have other features or better style but only light protection. Perhaps you will pick your sleeve and bag separately. The choice is yours.

What other goods will you be carrying?
The capacity of the bag will be important if you carry a large amount of items with you daily. Cables, drives, paperwork, snacks, and drinks and take up room. Therefore it is very important to consider the amount of space you will require before making a purchase.

The length of your journey /comfort of the bag straps
This is important in terms of comfort. Whilst convenient, using a bag with poor padding will not be good for your shoulders in the long run. Individual pads are available for shoulder/messenger bags, some manufacturers even provide you with a choice. Also using a single strap bag regularly will put all the strain on one shoulder. Consider the distance of your journey and pick a bag that is comfortable for your shoulders will do much good for you!

Weight of the bag when unfilled
Certain materials whilst durable they are also much heavier when compared to others. This could add a significant amount towards the overall weight. Be sure to try out the bags.

The type of environment in which the bag will be used
You might require a rugged case, or you won’t need a bag at all! Don’t buy something you don’t need just because of looks and features. Consider your uses.

The looks is an important factor for many people when purchasing a bag. A flashy bag might attract looks from people you might or might not want looks from. Sometimes a more subtle design hides the fact that you have an expensive notebook in your bag.

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