Inside a Planner’s Backpack: The 7 Most Essential Tools to Always Pack

February 13, 2014

Photo collage courtesy of the following brands: NorthFace, Apple, Canon, Belkin, and Lego. Pictures above from Australia and the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ) from previous business trips. 

By Benjamin Warsinske

As planners, we are often tasked with traveling to remote sites to understand the topography, landscape, the social and economic impact new development may have on a location. Sometimes these areas can be far flung, tiny country islands that no one has heard of. Other times, they can be remote locations near a major city, yet not yet fully developed with the basic necessities we have come to expect.

Through extensive trips to many remote sites, I have found, mostly through trial and error, that there are a few essential tools to always pack with you. Aside from the standard trail mix, energy bars, and dried fruit for snacks and in times when food is not available, here are my top seven tools for a planner’s backpack:

1. Laptop – I prefer a MacBook of some kind whenever traveling. Macs have a way of connecting easily to wifi, understanding time differences automatically, and are fun to use.

2. Essential Software – Planners tend to think and communicate graphically. I love having multiple ways to express ideas, either through Illustrator or AutoCAD, or through words or spreadsheets in Excel or Word. Below are some of the best software that always comes in handy while traveling in remote locations:

3. Notepads/Pens – There is nothing quite like a notepad and pen to jot down notes or sketch out ideas. Sometimes the act of physically writing or drawing can connect you better to the location. Other times ideas may come to you and it is just easier to write something by hand rather than type it out, especially while cramped on an airplane.
4. Digital Camera– Sure, everyone has a camera on their smart phone device, but it can also be helpful to have a dedicated camera to save battery life on your phone should you need it to make a call.

5. Smartphone – iPhone, Samsung S4, it doesn’t really matter what device you have. What matters is that you have a smartphone that can help you navigate, understand foreign languages, and help you while out exploring. Look for a later post on the top apps for planners.

6. Extension Cords/Power Cords/Cables for all Devices – Everyone has left an essential cord at home or in a hotel at one point or another. I like to have two sets of cords, ones that travel with me and ones that live at home. That way I always have an extra set waiting for me upon my return.

7. USB Drive – This one seems like a no-brainer, however it tends to escape others. When in remote locations, the internet can be hard to come by, or be very costly with by the hour fees. The most expensive per hour internet fee I have run in to was off the west coast of Australia on a tiny island. The cost to use the internet was about $12.00 US/per hour!

Bottom line: You never know where a planning project may take you. However, by making sure to have these essentials tools in your backpack, you will always be prepared. What’s in your backpack?

About the Author

Benjamin Warsinske is a Senior Planner with experience in resort residential communities, strategic planning, and federal planning. He takes a keen interest in evaluating and identifying potential process improvement through workflow analysis, resulting in a more efficient and higher quality product for the client. 

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