TAKE A LAPTOP
The most obvious asset to your travel arsenal. If you use a laptop in your main studio space, you could certainly just take that and have all your usual plug-ins and samples at your disposal in your DAW of choice. If you do take your main laptop, dear god please back-up your music to a hard drive, or better yet a cloud service like Dropbox — everyone knows travellers are a thieves’ main target, so don’t be the silly bugger with the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude who loses three years’ worth of music. If you opt for the hard drive route, be sure to get a USB powered option so you can use it away from power outlets. If you have the means and are travelling a lot, buying a small laptop for travel use isn’t a bad option. Most DAWs allow for multiple installs for exactly this instance and keeping your sample library on an external hard drive or synced to the cloud is easy enough.
DON’T TAKE A LAPTOP
If you don’t want to risk taking your laptop, then an iPad is another good option. Ableton Live released an iOS software development kit last year that enabled music app developers to incorporate an ‘export as Live project’ feature. Meaning if you come up with some gold while tinkering around on the road, you export it to Ableton Live format and open it on your main studio computer for polishing. There are a number of apps that have taken advantage of this, but my personal favourite is Korg’s Gadget as its layout is already similar to Ableton Live — plus it has some legitimately incredible instruments.
A number of hardware manufacturers have identified travellers as a niche they can cater to. Teenage Engineering’s OP1 is a kooky little one stop shop for making music and at 28cm long and 10cm wide it’ll easily fit in your pack. Plus, around 15 hours of battery life. Korg’s drum-pad laden Electribe 2 is another battery powered unit that you could easily create an entire track on. Plus, the unit incorporates the export to Ableton LIve feature much like their app does. Novation’s Circuit is another battery powered production box with a fully featured synth under the hood and new features frequently being added via software updates. There are plenty of options out there, and buying hardware is fun regardless of whether you’re travelling so it’s a good way to justify the expense to yourself.
If you’re only tinkering around and sketching out some ideas then your headphones choice isn’t going to matter too much. Fine tuning the mix can come later, and although there’s something to be said for starting with a well balanced set of sounds to reduce headaches when it comes to mixing time, we’re not working in an ideal silent environment here so concessions have to be made.
In professional environments active noise cancelling cans are frowned upon as the cancelling process can also slightly affect the frequency response of your audio. But if you’re on a flight you might find the pros of dulling the background roar of the engines overcomes any slight cons. Battery life is a concern though, so keep that in mind when shopping. Otherwise a closed-back studio monitor design or even in-ear headphones if you’re packing light will get the job done.