Earlier this year, I’d decided to set off to India to meet with IT companies there. It would be a three-month trip, and I’d need to continue working throughout. For me (as it is for so many these days), the computer is everything.

When I’m not behind my normal office desktop machine, things feel wrong. So, if I was to be working with another rig for so long, I wanted it to feature certain things, including:

  • It should be an actual computer (not just a tablet). These days, many professionals might be able to get away with, say, a Chromebook (which is a kind of laptop / tablet hybrid). But, I needed a full-fledged Windows machine, mainly for Adobe programs and certain desktop applications. (So, right off the bat, I’m eliminating Android tablets and any Apple / iOS machines.)
  • It should have considerable screen real estate. I like three large monitors, ideally. The way I work, I routinely have a web site up on one screen, an IDE (to work on my code) on another, and yet another for all of the additional screens I have going on — web site back-ends, documentation, Photoshop, emails, etc. Sure, one *could* work on a single screen, but I find myself considerably more efficient with three. (If I could run six, I probably would. But, for now, it’s three.)
  • I need a real keyboard. I can’t stand working on laptops for doing much else than simple email.
  • It should be lightweight, with a small footprint (when packed up). After all, this is for travel, and who wants to lug around a desktop machine and heavy monitors? Add to that practical considerations such as weight limits for carry-on and checked baggage. So, I had to find the largest, yet lightest, gear possible.

The End Result

I’m going to mention some important specifics of my rig here, but wanted to note that I’m not specifically promoting any brands or products. The items I mention below were merely what worked for me; your mileage may well vary!

For the computer: The Microsoft Surface Pro clearly fit my needs best. It’s got a respectable (for a tablet-sized item) 12+” screen, runs Windows (which means it can run normal programs like Photoshop, etc.) and, most importantly, can power multiple monitors. It also weighs less than 2 pounds, which means it can easily fit in a carry-on bag.

Granted, I’d mentioned screen real estate as being important, and you can’t get too much done on a 12" screen. But, once I found out that the Surface can power two additional screens, I knew I’d be okay. The touch-screen, tablet-like functionality was a bonus for me — comes in handy at times when I’m not able to break out a mouse, for example.

With the Surface, if you purchase a docking station, you can extend the capabilities of the core machine. The dock has two Mini Display ports and a bunch of other useful goodies (extra USB ports, etc). So, I grabbed one of those, and two “Mini Display to HDMI” cables to connect the port to the extra monitors.

Extra screens and accessories: For the monitors and keyboard, the brands I purchased don’t matter as much. For me, it was a couple of stock 20" Samsung LED monitors and a generic, but full-sized keyboard. I’ll talk a bit more about the monitors, below.

Pro Tip

When you’re shopping online (e.g., Amazon, where I bought my gear), it’s key to note that most online stores list the item weight. Amazon has this for just about everything, although it’s not a field by which you can search. Still, you can poke around and hunt down the lightest versions of whatever you’re looking at, so long as they meet your minimum specs. .

For me, for the monitors, I wanted at least 1920 x 1080px resolution (aka “full HD” or “1080p”). You can use the filters on Amazon to drill down the number of possible matches. Once you set the resolution, size, and a few other things, the list of potentials becomes manageable.

Assembly and Packing

When it all arrived, I tested things out. All worked perfectly right out of the boxes. But, all of the boxes together were far too bulky. So, I had to work out a better way to consolidate all of it.

I was able to use the shipping box for one of the monitors as the main container for all of this. Instead of putting in just one monitor, I stacked them inside the box, with their stands removed, stuffed all of the accessories around them, and used the factory styrofoam and factory box from one of the monitors to protect it all. It all fit extremely well — surprisingly well, actually — and offered my mobile office superior protection.

Full Rig Listing

  • One Microsoft Surface Pro 3, running Windows 10
  • One Microsoft Surface Dock (compatible w/ the 3 and 4)
  • Two 20" monitors
  • A full-size keyboard, and a stock scroll-mouse
  • Two Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cables
  • One power strip to plug everything into
  • A power adapter for the foreign outlet

Everything except the Surface goes in my checked bag. (I carry the Surface in my carry-on, where it has its own little keyboard and a mouse/pen that it comes with.) The monitors, stands, cables, dock, and mouse all fit inside the monitor boxes. The power strip and keyboard fit in the suitcase easily, but not in the box.

All worked out well on that front. Too bad I couldn’t pack my 1Gb home office bandwidth, though!


After three or four successful trips with the above scenario, I finally ran into a snag -- the TSA inspected the bag I carry my monitor in and, when I got to my destination, the monitor no longer worked. Clearly, the TSA was too rough. It looks like they actually stepped on it or something, which is baffling to me. But, I know it worked upon packing it up. I've read that it's nearly impossible to recoup damages from TSA inspections, and that the process can be drawn out over many months, so I decided to not pursue it for a $100 monitor. But, the whole thing makes me feel good about the overall strategy, which is to carry the laptop myself instead of checking it. And, at least I had one extra monitor for that trip. A two-monitor setup isn't as good as a three, but it's better than just the laptop, for sure.