What’s in my bag

9 min readApr 6, 2024

As I approach my 30s, I find my daily routines settling down to a repeating pattern, and so do my everyday carry items. Here’s a not-so-brief introduction to what I keep in my backpack.

Disclaimer: I don’t have affiliate links, and many items are not available in the US anyway, so sit back and relax — I won’t persuade you into buying anything.

Repurposing pen cases and clips

Let’s start with the little pen case that cured my OCD in cable management. A simple polyester bag, it has just enough room to fit a three-port wall charger and two roll-up cable boxes. As a plus, it has a mesh pocket that keeps my Apple Watch charging dongle well secured.

Left: The pen case shuts nicely into a boxy shape — I love it! Right: how the Apple Watch charging dongle looks like when attached to the USB-C-to-Lightning cable.

In one of those blocky cable rollers, I keep a USB-C cable for my laptop and my iPad; in the other, a Lightning cable for my iPhone and my Apple Watch. They are sufficient to keep all my electronics charged in a library or a coffee shop. I used to take an additional MagSafe charging cable just for my MacBook, but eventually I figured the C-to-C cable will do just as well.

Due to this initial triple-cable scramble, my wall charger of choice has three ports instead of two. With one port always unoccupied, this charger invites conversations that begin with “can I borrow that port while I sit beside you”. I made quite a couple of interesting acquaintances this way. Never thought paying for an useless feature would open doors, eh?

Just in case I ended up at a place where the only charging option is a USB-A port (*cough cough* Beijing Capital Int’l Airport), I also keep a USB-A-to-USB-C adapter plugged in my wall charger. In fact, this little dongle initiated perhaps the most important talk in my personal life, which I’ll save for another post.

I put this sacket of charging equipments in the front pocket of my backpack, just beneath the eyewear case with my computer glasses. They stuff up the front pocket to just the right size — How satisfying!

You would be wrong if you thought my bag-in-bag matryoshka stopped there. I have another organizer for personal care supplies, including hand lotion, artificial tear, Band-Aid, and — ughhh, the bane of being Asian — Lactaid. It’s a green canvas pencil case I bought in 2015. Turns out it was too thin to hold my stationaries, so it was never put to use until I unearthed it from my parents’ place last year. The case is designed by L’absurde, which — despite the French-sounding name — is actually a brand from Japan.

This little zippered bag, too, fits snuggly in a pocket in my Herschel backpack. Another satisfaction to my (self-claimed) OCD.

What I don’t carry, though, is a wallet. I always feel that a fat pocket is an inviting target for pickpockets. Instead, I use a money clip. I wrap ~$15 of cash around a couple of my business cards (yeah I pretend to be classy at times), put my driver’s license on one side and a credit card on the other. I side this monetary sandwich into the slit, and — voila — I’m set.

Left: My first “money clip”. Right: My current.

In fact, it wasn’t even a money clip. It’s what the Faust Winery use to hold their menus in binders. I told them that the golden coating looked much better than the reflective finish on my clip back then, so they just gave one to me as a souvenir. How nice!

Pocket notebook

The metallic one shown above, also my first money clip, was a repurposed pen holder that once attached to leatherback notebooks. Always writing and sketching, I have accumulated a whole drawer of notebooks through my teenage years:

Nowadays, I simply keep a Field Notes with me. I glue onto it bus tickets from cities I toured, random stickers that I received in networking events, and pieces of clippings that I found pleasantly decorative. In this sense, it’s like a personal garden that I attend to, or a one-person scrapbook.

The notebook also serves a social function. As someone who constantly need to commit short-term memory somewhere else, I also found people more accepting if I pull out a pen and paper instead of picking up my smartphone.

When choosing a pocket notebook, I prefer those with dotted grids, instead of purely blank or ruled with lines. Additionally, perforation lines are a bless to have when you need to tear off sheet X but wish to not lose sheet 24-X . Field Notes fits the bill just right.

I prefer to write across two pages with the notebook laid out flat on the table.

Electronic Gadgets

Since I got my first iPad in 2013, I have been doing most of my hand-writing on a screen. (Of course, I also type things down, and — as a matter of fact — I type a lot. See note-taking apps I’ve used from the age 9 to 27.) My current tablet is the larger iPad Pro. This device is great for reading textbooks as PDFs, which tend to be too heavy to carry around in print and ill-rendered in epub format.

That being said, since graduation, I don’t find myself reading textbooks as often. The size of a 12.9-in iPad Pro has become a burden rather than a feature. Therefore, I plan to downsize it to an iPad mini soon, which is the form factor of my first.

A far more frequently used iOS device of mine is the iPhone 12 Pro. I thought about upgrading it in early 2023 when it mysteriously refused to charge via wires. Maybe it was the cold weather in January Calgary to blame, which I was visiting back then. Since the Canadian Apple Stores held no spare parts for US models, I was given a chance to replace the whole phone when I got back to California (as was covered under AppleCare), so I happily did. With the battery coming anew and all scratches gone, I no longer felt the urge to invest in a newer model. At this point, I’m actually curious to see how long I can keep on using this phone.

On the Android side, I carry a company-issued Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (what a mouthful!). Despite launching with a mid-range price tag of $699, the phone felt quite premium in my hands. I guess I did not feel a performance bottleneck because I use it for receiving PagerDuty alerts only. In contrast, I actually had to daily drive my last work phone (a Google Pixel 3, $799 at launch) for a while, after I killed my iPhone X by drowning it in a bucket of ice water mid-2020. Android devices have great features that I enjoy, but it’s the convenience of Continuity that keeps me coming back to iPhones.

Case in point: I also wear an Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods Pro, even through the nights. My current dwelling is quite close to a street and an airport, so the noise cancelation is a must-have for a sound sleep. Plus, I like how I can keep banging to my K-pop mixtapes from my personal phone till the last moment I need to call in to a Zoom meeting from my corporate MacBook — It just automatically switches over. Both devices are attached to my body so long that I treat them as my exoskeleton now.

The braided thread was a departure gift from a neighbor’s kid when I left my hometown in 2019. I spent a summer there between graduation and starting to work.

For consuming audio, I also enjoy my Sony WH-1000XM5 headphones. They have great noise cancelation performance and far superior audio quality than my AirPods. With that being said, the over-ear form factor is quite clumsy to “everyday carry”, so nowadays I reserve them for video-gaming at home.

Big bags

In preparation for grocery shopping or keeping my backpack dry while walking along seashores, I keep a polypropylene tote bag with me.

The bold typographic design had me at first sight. It says “WANDER (around) parks”.

Originally sold as branded merchandises at a bakery in Shanghai, they seem to be bulk-ordered from this wholesaler on Alibaba, which comes at $3 per piece for samples, and yet I paid ~$28 for it. I know it sounds like bragging about my splurge, but let Jimmy O. Yang convince you that, as an Asian, I actually feel bad about it:

“We like to brag about how LITTLE money we spend on some sh*t.”

Everything mentioned above fits in my Herschel Pop Quiz backpack, except that the edition I purchased back in Feb 2022 didn’t come with side pockets for water bottle and umbrella. (FYI, the model being sold today does have them.) This is fine most of the time, as my tumbler & umbrella can prop up the backpack into a nice-looking shape when they are stashed in its main chamber, but I kinda wish it was more expandable when I travel with it. Buyer beware.

Total cost

I’m curious how much my daily essentials have set me back, hence this list. (All prices are pre-tax, since I purchased them at various locations.)

Charging equipments (~$112):

  • Polyester Pen Case Large: ~$10.
  • I use the cables that came with the electronic gadgets I purchased, so I won’t add them here. The polypropylene cable cases themselves cost $3 each: ~$3 x2 = $6.
  • My wall charger of choice is Ugreen Nexode 140W USB C GaN Charger: ~$130 MSRP. ~$80 as of 4/5/2024.
  • The USB-A-to-USB-C adapter that I keep plugged in my wall charger is nothing specific, so any generic brand on Amazon will do: ~$3/count.
  • I can’t find the charging dongle / adapter I use for my Apple Watch on Amazon, but this one looks close enough: ~$13.

Personal care (~$586):

  • Cost for computer glasses would vary across vision insurance plans, so your mileage may vary drastically. Mine is a pair of ic! berlin Toru N., coming at ~$550.
  • Lactoaid: MSRP $30. Seen as ~$20 on Amazon.
  • Artificial tears: Any OTC will do the trick. Usually sets you back by $9.
  • Hand cream: I had quite some difficulty choosing my favorite flavor, so I bought a box of 12 variants from La Chatelaine. Each 1-oz tube costs about $7.
  • The L’absurde pen case that holds them all costs around $8. I can’t find the exact item anymore, but here’s a catalog for 2022.

Electronic gadgets (~$2,677):

Other items (~$130):

They sum up to $3,505. For scale, it’s around the MSRP of a 14-inch MacBook Pro released in early 2024. Do you think this is a good price tag to pay for? As an additional question, what do you carry in your bag? I would like to learn about your style.