Q. What should I pack if I'm probably going to have some holiday tech-support requests coming from the family?
A. In four words: cables, storage, bandwidth and (most important of all) patience.
You want to be able to solve most problems on the spot, without having to run to a store for some accessory part (and probably pay too much for it) or make your hosts wait for an online order to arrive (after first deflating any hope they may have had of 30-minute deliveries via Amazon drone).
Cables should be the first things to go in your tech carry-on. New gadgets being unwrapped will probably lack one critical connector or another. These are the kinds I'd pack, just in case:
— HDMI cables are essential for linking most audio and video gadgets in the living room, and also most likely to be subject to in-store markup.
— Ethernet cables are becoming less essential, but you still see Web-enabled TVs and Blu-ray players that lack Wi-Fi, requiring a wired connection to a nearby router.
— If your hosts have late-model iOS devices or will soon have them, a spareLightning cable can come in handy to connect them to older devices. Remember that you don't need to buy these from Apple; authorized third-party models can save you about a third of the cost.
— With Android phones and other non-Apple portable gadgets, an extra micro-USB connector can provide the same convenience at much lower cost.
— This is more of a stocking stuffer, but a USB extension cable can allow for a tidier desktop — without one, my iMac would have its keyboard cable running over the top of the desk.
Your storage needs are simpler: a high-capacity flash drive should suffice unless you're meeting people with new digital cameras, who might need a new SD Card. By "high capacity" I'm thinking at least 8 gigabytes and preferably 32 GB in the exceedingly likely event of your hosts not having a working backup routine.
At the low end, that leaves enough room for a minimal backup of crucial files and settings. At the high end, you've got capacity for many users' collections of photos, e-mail and music.
If you'll be visiting people with minimal bandwidth, download any particularly enormous system updates they'd need (for instance, a Microsoft "service pack" or one of Apple's multi-hundred-megabyte updates to OS X) to that flash drive.
In a case like that, you should also want to bring your own bandwidth, either in the form of a phone with tethering enabled or a portable wireless router. But most maintenance downloads — browser updates and patches to Adobe's Flash playershould be foremost among them — don't need much bandwidth.
And speaking of routers, if you have an old, spare model collecting dust, stashing it in your luggage will give you a valuable backup for debugging wireless-networking issues — or, in an emergency, replacing a broken or under-performing router. (That's how my old AirPort Extreme came to find a second life in my in-laws' house.)
Don't forget to tend the software in your own head. If your customary method of troubleshooting is to swear a lot and smack the computer involved (yes, I am talking to myself here!), that doesn't look good to onlookers hoping you can finally rescue their PC or Mac. Neither does reacting with impatient exasperation when they can't describe a problem in industry-standard jargon.
Take a deep breath, figure out what issue they're trying to describe and try to work the problem with a smile — or at least not a scowl.
TIP: POCKET POWER STRIP, USB HUB CAN EASE HOLIDAY TRAVEL
During the holiday travel season, the odds of finding the last outlet in an airport taken will only increase. Bringing a travel-sized power strip — one has been part of my CES packing list for years — can help with power-sharing. If you travel regularly, you should consider making the same investment.
But a simple outlet splitter can also do the job. Or, if you have a power adapter with a standard USB port, a cheap, pocket-sized hub will let you share that source of power — or a laptop's USB port — with additional devices.