I’m heading to China soon to do some research for my next Sky Wilder novel, THE BONE HOARDE, the follow up to my just-released REVISED EDITION e-book, UNSEEN FORCES .

I’ll have to make good use of my time, and since I’m only bringing a carry-on bag, I need to pack strategically. Meaning I need to have the right tools with me.

And that reminds me of this piece I recently wrote for The Hit List:

My career as a thriller novelist has taken me conduct research in some pretty sketchy locations, from rebel jungles in Asia, to gang hangouts in East LA, to bunkers brimming with weapons in the Middle East—and then there was the dangerous stuff…

Since I usually need to get in and out of a place quickly, having the right tools makes all the difference:

Camcorder Watch:

Sometimes I need to take clandestine video. Being obvious about recording border crossings, military facilities, or a reluctant source, can cause problems fast. While many of the cheaper Asian-made camcorder watches available online are of so-so quality or are hard to use, the prices are right and they do work. Keep in mind that the unit should look just like a regular watch—so think twice before getting the Apple Watch.

2. Travel Computer:

Writers need a close approximation to real keyboards: I travel with a Samsung Galaxy Tab S and an external keyboard in a folding case. The SD card is 16GB and I use Polaris Office for simple word processing. For heavy writing on the road, I like a larger screen and/or the ability to connect to an external monitor, but I still need a lightweight machine. I like the 13.3″ MacBook Air or the awesome Dell XPS 13.

3. Smartphone:

Back in the 1990s I yearned for an all-in-one device—the digital equivalent of a Multi-Tool. Now I have several unlocked world phones and a large collection of Internet-friendly SIM cards from multiple countries. My smartphones give me the Web, GPS, camera, camcorder, audio recorder, word processing, flashlight, and apps ad infinitum, like CamScanner which turns my phone into a document scanner.

How did I ever live without one, especially while doing research? I use a rugged, waterproof case, such as an Incipio Atlas to protect my babies from a hard-charging lifestyle.

4. External Power:

In Kazakhstan I bought an external power unit that had a small solar panel built in for charging. That’s nice, but my favorite big-boy back-up power source is a Samsung 9500 mAh Battery Pack. A smaller but still nifty unit is a EMTEC Power Pouch 6000 mAh.

5. Encrypted Memory Stick:memory-stick

I have too many passwords to remember them all, and writing them down is risky. I also load my secret stick with contact info, passport/visa stamp/credit and debit card scans, and other sensitive info. I wear mine around my neck so my latest photos and word files stay near and dear. Consider getting the Aegis Secure Key 3.0. It’s PIN-activated with its own alphanumeric keypad for physical security. This baby is super secure right now.

6. Secure Bags:

Pacsafe has been making sturdy, secure travel bags and accessories for years. I’ve had my backpack on countless deployments and overseas trips. A removable insert is lined with steel cable mesh and cinches with a padlock at the top, making it a travel safe that’s slash-proof.

7. Four-Cipher Locks:

The most common locks are three-cipher locks that only have 999 possible combinations, and a crooked hotel maid could defeat that in less than thirty minutes. Use four-cipher locks to keep all valuables locked up when you’re out interviewing a source.

8. Hide Safes:

We’ve all see the soda cans that have a secret screw-off bottom revealing a secret stash area. So have the crooks. And believe me, if you find yourself in a dicey situation requiring some juice, nothing says “Get me the hell out of here!” better than a crisp $100 bill waved at the right person.

I hide a couple of Benjies in a hard eyeglass case; remove the lining, insert cash, reseal with rubber cement. Put an old pair of extra glasses in the case for good measure. Or buy a Hidden Safe Spy Bolt.

9. Tactical Pen:

While it may seem old school, writers still need to carry a writing implement that isn’t dependent on zeroes and ones, and cheap pens aren’t dependable. So why not carry a pen that packs a lot more bang for the buck? I always carry a tactical pen that offers more versatility. It’s a very bright flashlight, a window-breaking tool for emergencies, and can be used in self-defense as a striking/slashing weapon. And it writes great!

Yes, I like gadgets, but always remember: the best gadget is the human brain.

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