My Top Tips for Working While Traveling
This weekend, my wife and I will be hopping in the car and hitting the road — this time heading to Walt Disney World… for the second time in two months. Not long after that, we’ll be making a quick trip to Los Angeles before turning around and jet setting to Paris. Of course, while these trips will all certainly be packed with plenty of fun, they’ll also include a fair amount of work.
Working while traveling is exactly the type of life my wife and I signed up for when we decided to become self-employed. However, proving productive while on the road can actually require some careful packing, smart planning, and more. With that in mind, here are my top tips for getting your work done while also enjoying your various travels.
What to Pack
This one’s pretty obvious but it is also pretty important. I don’t know what tools you use to work but I definitely need some computing power in order to take care of business. In fact, that’s why I recently decided it was time to upgrade.
Although my old laptop — purchased circa 2010 — still works better than an eight-year-old computer probably should, it can be temperamental at times and make getting anything done a real challenge. That’s why, ahead of my upcoming business trips, I decided to invest in a new laptop that’s both portable and powerful enough to let me write, edit video, and more while away.
Speaking of portability, size and weight are big factors when picking out a good traveling computer. This is especially true if you’re going to be carrying your laptop around in a backpack a lot and aren’t just carrying it from a vehicle to a hotel room. Keep this in mind as you’re shopping and make sure to find a nice balance between something small enough to carry and something large enough to handle your work.
External hard drive/flash drives
On top of the size trade-off you’re likely to encounter when choosing a computer for travel, there are a few other things you’ll need to consider as well. Among them is the amount of storage your machine has. Unfortunately, this is one area where my new computer is a bit lacking.
Luckily, I found a great solution in the form of an external hard drive. Not only does this option allow me to save money on my laptop but also it gives me a great way to make sure I have all the files I need while away from my main setup. Of course, it’s always a good idea to back-up your data anyway. I personally use Backblaze for cloud backup of both my computer and my external hard drive.
The specific hard drive I decide to invest in is the LaCie Rugged 1TB model. When it arrived, I was surprised to discover just how small and portable this external drive was. Considering I plan to do some video editing on the road, this seemed like a great option for me. Another thing I like about it is that it draws its power from your computer, so there’s no need to find another outlet.
If you don’t have a ton of data you need to back up or bring with you, you might just consider using flash drives instead. These ultra-portable USB sticks are now capable of holding incredible amounts of data (as much as my internal laptop hard drive, in fact), making them a strong choice for travelers. Those with newer laptops can even find flash drives with USB C inputs to avoid having to use a dongle.
Power adapters and extra batteries
Perhaps the biggest problem with our reliance on technology and various devices is that we’re always on the hunt for more power. From keeping your cell phone topped off to ensuring that your laptop doesn’t die in the middle of a project, finding outlets and extra batteries can be essential when you’re traveling. That’s why you’ll want to set off on your trip fully prepared.
First of all, if you’re heading overseas, you’ll want to make sure your devices will fit in your destination’s outlets. Even in countries with similar outlet designs to ours like Japan, coming across a three-pronged plug like those required for some laptops can be difficult. Not to worry — that’s where having a universal adapter can really come in handy. As an added bonus, some adapters even feature additional USB plugs for those times when your hotel room is severely lacking accessible plugs.
Now, if you’re a seasoned traveler, there’s a good chance you already have an external battery charger for your cell phone, but what about your laptop? While it will add some weight to your pack, it may be worth picking up an extra battery charger for your computer, allowing you to really work from anywhere.
Finally, having headphones on hand is a must for many reasons. First, I don’t know about you, but having something to listen to often aids my productivity. Secondly, who among us hasn’t accidentally loaded an autoplay video ad with sound on, leading the entire cafe to turn around and stare? Lastly, whether you’re working out of a hotel room, coffee shop, or wherever, you may find that the sound atmosphere is less than ideal. Thus, having a pair of headphones you can slip in to help drown out distractions can be extremely important.
Planning for Productivity
Ease your work burden ahead of time
No matter how prepared you might be to work on the road, there may still be certain tasks that are easier to complete from home than on the road. Additionally, while I’ve been an advocate for combining work and vacationing, you’ll want to leave yourself time to explore your destination and, ya know, justify the cost of your plane ticket. That’s why it’s always helpful to figure out what projects you’ll need to complete before departure and what items you can work on while away. For example, even with my external hard drive and editing-capable laptop, it’s easier for me to finish up videos I’ve already started working on then to try to move them over to the other computer for completion.
On a similar note, since the unexpected can certainly occur while traveling, it’s always a good idea to get a bit ahead and leave yourself a buffer just in case. That said, I hate stressing myself out before leaving on a trip, so use your best judgment about what’s appropriate in terms of prepping.
Have a backup WiFi contingency
Every freelancer’s worst nightmare? Weak and/or nonexistent WiFi. That might sound like a joke but, if you’re trying to work remotely, it’s a very real problem. As someone who’s suffered at the hands of Internet outages in the past, I’ve learned to have a few backup plans in place.
One of the easiest fixes to such a problem is probably sitting in your pocket. That’s right, in many cases, your cell phone can provide a WiFi hotspot that, while not blazing fast, can at least get you online. The problem here is that, if you’re abroad, this type of tethering might not be supported by your provider or could cost you an arm and a leg in data fees.
Another potential solution is to invest in a separate hotspot device and data subscription. Personally, I have little experience with such offerings, but I do have friends that swear by them. Like with cell phones, they might not provide you with the fastest connection, but many services will still work overseas without charging you extra.
Finally, it doesn’t hurt to scout other free WiFi options in case you’re in a pinch. For many, this likely means heading to cafe near your hotel or wherever you’re working from. Other spots to aim for include McDonald’s, train stations, and — if all else fails — other hotels (in the lobby, that is).
Decide what time zone to work in
Funny story: even though I live in the Central Time Zone, I still keep all of my computers set to Pacific and use that time zone to determine when it’s time to call it a day. The reason for this is that most of people I need to communicate with for work live in California, so it makes sense to just pretend that I am too. Similarly, one of the tricks of traveling and working is deciding what the best schedule to maintain will be and what time zone to defer to.
In some cases, the sheer insanity of trying to cover a 10+ hour time difference will more or less make that decision for you. However, even in these cases, you may want to ensure there’s at least a few hours when you’ll be able to touch base with those back home (or wherever) and plan accordingly. Otherwise you could run into some frustrating speed bumps as you wait for others to wake up before you can work.
Set exploration plans for after work
Sometimes I think I actually get more done while on “vacation” than while I’m at home. That’s because I often have something to look forward to while traveling that motivates me to get my work done first. Because of this, I’d definitely recommend making plans that will not only help keep you on task but will also force you to find the balance between work and vacation.
Bring snacks and/or arrange your meals
When you work at home, stopping to prepare a meal or make a quick snack isn’t such a big deal. However, depending on your location, similar breaks can take far longer while you’re traveling and more or less derail your productivity. Although I don’t recommend starving yourself or resorting to outrageously expensive room service, having a few snacks on hand you can grab to hold you over until quitting time can be a good idea. Alternatively, you can also plan your day in such a way that you work in the morning, spend some time exploring (and eating) in the afternoon/evening, and then finish some things up when you return. In fact, this split day method can also help you fix that time zone conundrum in some scenarios.
One of the best things about being self-employed is the ability to travel wherever I want and being able to get my work done along the way. That said, the key to being productive while on the road is planning ahead and making sure you have everything you need. Take it from me — by investing in a few tools and supplies as well as coming up with a good game plan for your trip, you can successfully mix work with pleasure. Enjoy your travels!
Also published on Medium.