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The single best travel accessory you can buy

Here's a hint: It'll make your laptop a lot easier to work with.

Like a lot of folks these days, I routinely play "office" in my local coffee shop. On any given day, I'm surrounded by 10-20 other teleworkers similarly tethered to their laptops.

But you know what's interesting? Not many of them bother with a mouse.

Obviously you don't need a mouse to operate a laptop; that's why manufacturers build in trackpads. Heck, I eschew both whenever possible, instead preferring a good keyboard shortcut to dragging or scrolling or clicking.

But sometimes you just have to move that little pointer, and for that, nothing beats the comfort, convenience, and precision of a mouse.

Can a trackpad get the job done? Sure, but I suspect a lot of workers rely on that simply because it's there: "It's a laptop. It has a trackpad. So that's what you use."

No. A trackpad is what you use only when you've forgotten to pack your mouse, or your mouse's batteries are dead, or you can't remember how to pair your mouse with your laptop. You use the trackpad only when the airplane tray table doesn't have room for a mouse.

If you're among those who never bothered to buy one because, well, "there's already a trackpad!", do yourself a huge favor: buy a mouse!

It won't cost you much. I'm a big fan of the Logitech M125, a compact but comfortable wheel mouse with a retractable USB cord. That means you don't have to worry about batteries or wireless connectivity, and you can make the cord as long or short as you need it.

It comes in a handful of different colors, and it's cheap: Meritline currently has the blue model on sale for $9.99. (Normally it sells for $14.99, which is still a solid deal in my book.)

That's just one option of many. I know some people who have mad love for the Microsoft Arc Mouse, which last year was a PC World 2011 Innovations Awards honoree. It's a wireless mouse that folds flat for easy travel, and it uses a touch-sensitive strip in place of the classic scroll wheel.

Whatever mobile rodent you choose, I guarantee you'll work faster and make fewer pointer-related mistakes.

And here's another perk: When you plug in a mouse, you can disable the trackpad (some laptops do this for you automatically), thus ending the dreaded, "I grazed the trackpad with my thumb and somehow lost three hours' worth of typing."

All this may sound like an odd amount of cheering for something so simple, so basic to everyday computing, but when I see mobile workers fumbling with trackpads, I can't help but wonder why. You use a mouse at your office desk; why not use one when you're working at your coffee-shop desk?

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