I am one of millions of commuters who take public transport to work and back each day. I should resent the huge chunk of time that takes out of my day, except for one thing: I write on my laptop on the way to work and on the way home.
In the middle of winter, when everything slows down to a crawl, sometimes it takes over two hours to get home. I look at it as prime writing time. As an added bonus, it’s dark outside, so no distracting scenery, it’s warm inside, and with my earbuds in and the music cranked, I can get lost in my own little world.
The laptop and the earbuds are great public signage asking the world not to disturb me.
As I’ve been using the same bus route for over five years now, most of the regulars on the bus also seem to stay away from my favourite seat – the one in the back corner where there’s room to set up the laptop. The occasional stranger on the bus who dares to use my seat gets glares and mental daggers sent their way as I grumpily set up on another seat.
So, because I write wherever I can, I take a laptop with me everywhere I go. I also take my own lunch, snacks, music, and I’m typical enough a woman that I have a loaded handbag, too.
I used to carry everything in over-sized totes, until about three years ago, when I noticed that a lot of hackers use backpacks to carry their tech gear. Hmmm… I started looking out for a backpack, and snagged one when I was in Las Vegas. It had spiffy wheels and an extending handle (both of which were amazingly convenient when I flew back to Australia in 2013).
But after a few months, I noticed that the backpack was incredibly heavy. Well, d’uh – I had eight pounds of computer and peripherals, lunch that I refuse to pack in plastic, the glass container it’s stored in, and more besides. But it wasn’t just heavy, it was uncomfortable.
I have to hike across the downtown core to get from my bus stop to my office. If I really floor it, it takes a good ten minutes. On slow days, it’s fifteen. By the time I got across town, I found my shoulders were aching, and there were two hot spots between my shoulder blades that no amount of massage got rid of.
I started thinking that perhaps a backpack wasn’t a good idea, after all. I tried paring down what I carried, but the laptop and its leads and peripherals were essential, and I didn’t much fancy depriving myself of lunch. There wasn’t too much I could off-load after that.
So I started thinking about a specially designed tote, one with padded interior pockets for the laptop and its gear, space for my lunch and other essentials (including inside shoes in winter).
In late September this year, the zips on my backpack started separating all by themselves. I was saved from a bad situation when one of my bus regulars walked up to me at the bus stop and lifted up my sagging backpack, holding up the laptop that was on the verge of crashing to the pavement.
That was a warning. I started being very careful about putting pressure on the zips, while I figured out an alternative.
Then the zip on the main compartment separated one last time and no amount of zipping backward and forward would bring the teeth together. It was completely busted.
I dug up an old laptop carry bag from the basement. You see executives carrying them all the time – padded satchel shaped bags that hang over one shoulder. I crammed my laptop into it (laptops have got bigger since it was made), along with my leads…and that’s all I got into it. I had to carry a second bag with my lunch in it and my handbag.
I figured it was an opportunity. I had got rid of the backpack, and could transition to a better tote in the next few days. The weekend loomed, after all…
I lasted less than one day with the laptop bag. I hated it.
Constantly shifting the strap. Endlessly pushing the body of the bag back behind my hip. Banging my hand on the side of the bag and scraping it. Then, not being able to swap hands to carry my lunch and my handbag. And my shoulder was on fire by the time I got to work.
Yeah, I’d got used to and taken for granted the hands-free aspect of a backpack.
I gritted my teeth and decided that sore shoulders was better than a blazing shoulder, sore hands and arms and much more. I went and bought a backpack from a luggage shop downtown.
This time I was a bit smarter about buying it. I researched backpacks online and in particular, laptop backpacks. Then I found one that would carry my size of laptop, and seemed to have room to spare after that. I ended up picking a Swiss Army Laptop backpack, took it back to work, and transferred everything over to it.
I wore it home that night, and only had to walk the ten minutes to the bus-stop to understand that there are backpacks…and then there are backpacks. This was one of the latter. It was light, even when loaded with everything; comfortable; and it felt nice against my back. Plus, my shoulders didn’t ache.
Oh heavenly relief!
It wasn’t until I sucked it up and bought the second backpack that I really understood that backpack design is a critical technical matter, involving load and balance and strength, stress points and more. Some companies care about ergonomics and design their packs accordingly. And some just make backpacks.
The difference is incomparable.
I am now a geeky backpack girl and will be so forever. How about you?