How to Set Up a New Mac for Travel

Dec 2, 2010 • Nathan Smith

Cramer Development is getting together in San Francisco this week for one of our periodic meet-ups. As I’m normally on an iMac at the office, our employer graciously is letting me use a brand new MacBook Pro for the trip. Since it’s new, I have to get a working environment up quickly so I can get back to helping you build websites.

While I’m doing this, I might as well share the steps I’m taking to get this Mac ready for work. As a development, support, and operations guy this is my setup, so it’s not for everybody. It is a good template setting up any new Mac. Add you own apps and ideas to make it your own.

I’ve said before that I can get all my work done with just a web browser and an SSH client. That’s true, so I don’t really need to install anything, but here’s some extras to get started.

tl;dr. Take me to the downloads plz

System Preferences

To start off we can poke around the System Preferences app, the Dock, and the Finder preferences and view options. Everyone has their favorites. I like the dock on the right (just like on the old NeXTstation), the Finder in column view (the same), and some hot corners for Exposé and the Dashboard.

Run Software Update before you go; you don’t want to waste precious time and bandwidth downloading updates over questionable internet connections on the road.

Google Chrome

Safari’s nice, but Chrome is my favorite right now for 2 main reasons: It’s fast and it syncs. With Google Chrome Sync you can get all of you bookmarks, extensions and more by putting your Google account information into the Chrome preferences. With all my bookmarks, the web is at my fingertips just as I left it at the office.


Dropbox is a web service that lets you sync a directory of files across computes and the web. I store some important documents on my Dropbox account. Installing the app on your Mac gives you a dropbox folder that will automatically sync. Put some video files in there and you’ll make it through your flight in style.


Git is a version control system that we at CramerDev use, along with GitHub, for almost all of our projects. There are a few ways to install Git on a Mac, the easiest being a standalone installer. If you’re going for the long haul you might want to go all out and install MacPorts or Homebrew so you can get all the Unix tools (including NetHack).

I have a server where my private SSH keys are stored and once those are downloaded I can access all of our repositories.


When it comes to editing text, I’m a big Vim fan, and MacVim is a Mac-specific version. Since I’ve got all my configuration on GitHub, I can have the perfect editor ready to go quickly.

If you’re interested in Vim tips, check out the Daily Vim Devotional, written by CramerDev staff and updated frequently.


CramerDev has team members in many different states and one day we may even have employees working in space, so we’ve got to communicate remotely. Most of our chats and meetings are done with Skype. There’s the current version and a newer beta version, take your pick.

Our office phones use Jive, a hosted VOIP platform. If you want to your computer for a phone, Blink is a good choice. It connects to your address book too.

Dashboard Widgets

We use Harvest for time tracking. They have a Dashboard widget that lets you keep track of your time on projects accurately.

I like to have a couple Weather widgets up so I can see the weather where I’m going and back home. It’s supposed to snow in Iowa and I won’t be there, but at least I can laugh about it while in a slightly warmer location.

If it’s football season, you’ll want the College Football Widget to keep your team’s schedule at the ready.

And More…

At the office I use a combination of VMWare, Outlook, Mail, iSync, Address Book, and Plaxo to to keep my Calendar, Email messages, Contacts, and RSS feeds all together. While on the road Google Apps can be the communications hub to manage all of this. If you don’t have Microsoft Office on the road, Google Docs can work as an acceptable substitute as well.

So the main theme of this lightweight setup is to get as much as your usual setup you can in a short time. Thanks to free tools that focus on synchronization and communication, it’s easy to have a comfortable trip with your information and sanity intact.

The Downloads

If you don’t want to read through this whole thing, here’s a list of what to download: