I'm writing this at an RV camp near Twin Falls, Idaho. Yesterday, my husband and I started the day in Rawlins, Wyoming. Tomorrow, we're hoping to make it to somewhere in Oregon.
We're in the last days of our coast-to-coast trip across the United States as we relocate from Woodstock, N.Y. to the Seattle area. (Thirteen states, 2,900 miles, and three cats in a camper van pulling a trailer. We may be insane.)
One thing that's made this trip more challenging, but also possible, is our commitment to my keeping up my work schedule even as we cross the country. That means not only my columns on this site, but also ongoing work for other writing and editing clients. It's been three weeks on the road so far, during which I also flew back and forth from Cleveland to San Francisco so I could speak at an event.
How have I managed to pick up my business and keep it going as we travel across the country? It takes a variety of technological tools, personal assistance, and attitude adjustment. Here's the mix that makes it work for me:
1. Mobile hotspot
Most hotels, rest stops, airports, and even RV parks have Wi-Fi. But there's a lot that can go wrong. It's on the fritz, or you have trouble signing in, or it doesn't reach where you are, or--as happened to me recently--too many others are using the signal and it slows to an impossible crawl. Whatever the case, it's a good idea to have your own mobile hotspot along and they're so small and have such good battery life there's no reason not to. (This is the one I'm currently using.)
2. Laptop with long battery life
Even with heavy Internet use, the battery on the laptop I'm using to write this column can run for at least five hours without a charge. That's very handy for long flights, sessions in cafes with no handy outlet, and other times when you need to work uninterrupted for a long while without the benefit of electricity.
3. Smartphone with tethering
Internet access is so important that in addition to seeking out hotels and dining establishments that supply Wi-Fi and having a mobile hotspot, I've also got tethering (e.g. a mobile hotspot) set up on my smartphone. I've used it, too.
Why would I need both a phone and a mobile hotspot? For one thing, all mobile providers put data limits on their plans, and I want that mobile data available on my phone for when I need it. Besides, when it comes to technology, I like having suspenders and a belt.
I know a lot of people these days are switching to phablets, and I've been looking at them with curiosity, but I keep coming to the conclusion that, for me, a smartphone that I can easily stick in my pocket, and a 7-inch tablet I can easily throw in a pocketbook or laptop bag, makes the most sense.
Why do I need both a tablet and a laptop? My tablet (a Nexus 7) is much lighter, has even longer battery life than my laptop, and is easy to take with me into a restaurant, subway, or other crowded space. There are also some functions for which the tablet works better, I find, than either the phone or the laptop, such as keeping up with social media, reading, and watching video.
5. Bluetooth keyboard for the tablet
Text entry is such a big part of most workdays and for me, a lot of it happens on the tablet. I've experimented with gesture typing (which I love), handwriting with a stylus, and voice recognition, but I keep coming back to the fact that, at least for me, the good old qwerty keyboard is the most efficient way of writing text, especially if I'm going to write more than a couple of sentences.
I've tried a few different tablet keyboards over the years and been happy with most of them. My current model is incorporated in my tablet's case, which I find makes it very easy to grab and use.
6. Cloud-based storage
If you never know where you'll be from one week to the next, being able to store, back up, access, and share your files in the cloud can make a huge difference. I use a variety of different apps: Mozy for backup, Box to store and share image files with collaborators, and Google Drive for collaborative documents as well as documents created or edited on my tablet. A different combination might work for you. The point is to have your work stored in the cloud if you need it.
7. Syncing file software
This is not the same as cloud storage, although the two types of software have a lot of similarities. Dropbox reproduces all my work files from any computer I work on to any other computer I work on, and makes them accessible from my tablet and smartphone as well. And I run my life by
Evernote, which does the same with notes and web pages I want to save.
8. Text-based notifications
When you're not in the office all day long, it's way too easy to miss important stuff. And I'm not always online. So I like having notifications come to me by text message for as many important items as I can. For me, these include flight status, adverse weather, my bank balance, voicemail messages (via Google Voice), and emails from my most important contacts via AwayFind. It's amazing how much useful information you can get by text message.
9. Virtual assistance
Even if you're a solopreneur, it's so easy and painless these days to hire virtual help for as few or as many hours as you need that it doesn't make sense not to do it. In my case, the greatest help I need is with research, keeping my correspondence with potential sources straight, and publishing items on schedule when I can't do it myself, especially while traveling.
I have two virtual helpers, one of whom I've never met because he lives in Prague. Each of them helps me out for just a few hours a week. I can't overstate how useful this is. They keep me sane.
Having spent the last three weeks on the road, I can tell you with certainty that when you're traveling things won't always go as you planned. That uncertainty is one reason I like having so much redundancy in my systems--if one fails, I can switch to another.
But it's just as important to have flexibility as a mindset. Does jet lag have you up early? Maybe that's a good time to catch up on essential matters so you can go to bed earlier later on. Stuck in an airport unexpectedly? Use your laptop with its long-lived battery to whip out a report or important emails. Whatever you do, don't be rigid about when and how you have to do things. That's the surest way to frustration.
11. Respect for your own needs
Just as important as being flexible is taking your own needs seriously. One executive I know will never take a flight before 9 a.m. because getting a good night's sleep is too important. Others choose times to turn off their phones and I myself need to create some alone time every day for important work, whatever else may be going on in my work schedule.
Whether it's time for a morning run or a couple of hours off in the late afternoon, make sure you're getting whatever you need to work at your best, even within a heavy travel schedule. Taking care of yourself, physically, mentally, and in terms of how you need to work is the most important travel perk of all. And it's one only you can supply.