Ultralight conferencing

Ultralight backpacking by http://www.backpackinglight.comPrompted by Scriptorium Publishing’s Sarah O’Keefe’s one bag method for travelling (she doesn’t check any luggage into the hold of an airplane), I’ve been looking at ways of reducing the weight I need to carry when flying to conferences or to clients. I’ve called this “ultralight conferencing”.

Keynote on the iPadFor conference speaking, my focus has been on reducing the weight of the technology I need to take with me. A laptop typically weighs 3kg, with its bag, charger and cables taking it up to 5kg. So in recent years, I have been taking an iPad instead. I create my slides in Apple Keynote on a Macbook, and present them using the Keynote app for the iPad. The iPad weighs in at about 800 grams (including cover, charger and VGA adapter cable), so it’s considerably lighter.

Using the iPad as a device for presenting slides at conferences works well, but there are a few drawbacks. As you cannot charge the iPad and connect the VGA adapter cable at the same time, you do have some “range anxiety” as to whether you have enough battery life. Also, you cannot use a remote controller for moving your presentation onto the next slide (unless you use a special app on an iPhone), so you’re limited to presenting at the podium.

tablet remote app iconIn 2014, I plan to use a Nexus 7. This tablet is smaller than the iPad, and it weighs in at around 350g, with charger and cables. Its smaller size also makes it more manageable for storing inside a flight bag.

There’s a free app called Tablet Remote that enables you to use an Android smartphone as a remote controller, so you have the option of walking around the stage and still be able to progress the slides.

Apple’s Keynote is not available on the Nexus, so this means you need to save any Keynote presentations in PowerPoint or Acrobat formats and view them in Google’s QuickOffice app. This makes a good job of displaying the slides, although the image reflection effect and the Gill Sans typeface don’t seem to come across. There are also similar “range anxiety” issues with charging and displaying. Also, the VGA adapter Slimport cable for the Nexus 7 isn’t available yet.

It is possible to present slides from just a smartphone, but it’s not really practical to do any “office work” on it for a sustained period of time. Having a tablet with you gives you the ability to reply to emails, write blog posts and so on.

How do you travel light?

Do you have any techniques for travelling light when flying to conferences? Please share your thoughts below.


Sarah O'Keefe

HAHA. My mad travel skillz are rubbing off on others! (You be the judge of whether this is mad = awesome or mad = crazy.)

In related news, I have solved the laptop weight problem (for me) by buying a MacBook Air. My precioussssssssssssss….

Ellis Pratt

Indeed – For the first time, I took just carry-on luggage when I spoke at the tekom conference.

Getting a Macbook Air is an obvious choice, particularly compared to a £400, 800g, iPad. However, a Nexus has the attraction of being much, much cheaper. If it goes missing, it’s only £145 to replace. It’s also smaller and lighter.

Sarah O'Keefe

I like the cheap option, but I also need more than a tablet for many trips (especially 2-3 days at a client site). I think you’re right about tablets for conferences, but I find the idea of traveling without my security blanket, er, laptop a bit terrifying.

Ellis Pratt

As the UK is a small island, most of our clients are a car drive away – so you can throw a laptop into the boot of the car and avoid the flight.

Amazon Workspaces might make doing “proper work” on a tablet more practical in the future.


When I’m only attending a conference (and don’t make a travelling trip of it), I only use carry-on as well. I have a bag pack which maxes out carry-on restrictions, and I find I can get a week’s worth of luggage out of it.

I’m bringing a netbook to conferences that doesn’t take up much space and weighs in at a little over 1 kilo (2.5 lbs). It’s perfectly serviceable for running a presentation off of it, for blogging, mail and even skyping.

Oh, and additional travel tips: Carrying my presentation on a USB stick and havving it in some cloud storage… 🙂

Ellis Pratt

I also make sure I’ve a copy in the cloud (and often on a USB stick). You can also install Ubuntu on a USB memory stick, so you can have a computer operating system configured to your settings. However, when things tend to go wrong, it tends to be minutes before you’re due to present.

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