Some Tips for Working on the Road

Ah The City, the beautiful city of San Francisco. As I sit at my 23rd floor hotel room desk looking out the window at the beautiful skyline this morning, I work away on the lap top. Working you say? Clearly the winner over shopping with the wife at Macys Union Square. Not that I don’t love my wife, but I’ve been to Macys and Bloomingdales and Nordstrom and Saks… I’ll join her for lunch later on on the balcony at the Cheesecake Factory high atop Macys overlooking the Square.

With my morning’s work accomplished, I caught up to the wife about noon. The shopping damage didn’t look to bad so far but we split a Kobe burger and saved some money and calories as well. We discussed our dinner last night with #1 son Scott who lives in the city and was turning the ripe old age of 27 today. Rex Cafe in the Russian Hill district was great and we talked mostly of his upcoming move to Chicago to attend the University of Chicago’s Masters in Business Administration program. He’ll start in August/September and he’s really ready to go.

Anyway, trying to be productive on the road can seem tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Even though my work doesn’t need to be done in an office, it can be very hard to work when you travel. You may be a freelancer, you may own your business, or you may telecommute, but there are several steps you’ll need to take to prepare yourself to work on the go. They’re especially key for long-term travel, but if you’re only going for a week, consider making the effort: these steps will not only simplify your current trip, but they’ll make it easier to prepare for future travel as well.

  • Downsize your equipment. Sure, you can’t do your job without half a dozen gadgets and ten reference manuals. But do you really want to carry all that stuff through airports, hikes or whatever travels you have planned? Take it from a road warrior who’s hauled the lap top bag from here to kingdom come. I now have a permanent groove in my right shoulder and back problems to go with it. Look for places to minimize: your reference manuals may be available as PDFs and you might be able to find one gadget that does everything. As a general rule of thumb, if you can fit in your luggage, you’ve got too much stuff to travel comfortably.
  • Plan your schedule carefully. You can be spontaneous and wander off into the wilderness if you want, but you should make sure that your clients or employer know that you’ll be unavailable for contact during your wilderness wanderings. Furthermore, most of the wildernesses that I have visited have not offered reliable internet access: schedule yourself to be places with internet access when you need it.
  • Check your insurance. Not all insurers cover travelers for even little things like lost laptops. Especially if you’re going for a nomadic lifestyle, make sure that your insurance covers all eventualities; like health care in a foreign country or coverage for a broken computer. Many insurers offer special long-term travel packages.
  • Automate as much as possible. Even on the road, you’re likely to have bills, such as your insurance payment. Schedule payments ahead of time through your bank to reduce worry. You may also be able to answer most email questions with an automated email, or handle other business details. Going to the full outsourcing plan advocated by some may be further than you need to go, but simplifying your obligations as much as possible will make your business run smoothly while you’re on the road.
  • Inform your clients (and your prospects) of your travels. Things go wrong, no matter how hard you try, and you don’t want your clients to find out that there’s an issue by you missing a deadline. You’ll get more leeway if a client knows that you’ll do everything you can than if you leave your client in the dark.
  • Double check prescription medication. If you require prescription medication, it’s up to you to make sure that you can get a refill wherever you go, especially if you lose your meds. You may face some problems, though: TSA regulations may prevent you from caring your medication with you if you fly, or you may be visiting a country where certain medications are restricted (to check, you’ll need to contact the embassy of the country you will be visiting). Your medications may be more of a personal issue than a business matter, but you won’t be able to work if you’re not feeling so well.
  • Keep records. You’re not just a traveler, you’re out there doing work for your business. You’ll have the same need for itemized receipts when you do your taxes if you’re in Timbuktu as you would in New York. Personally, I like a small manila folder that can serve as a holding place for receipts and other bits of paper, though I know plenty of people who use their wallets as catch-alls as well; they’re the ones with the bulging behinds). Consider keeping track of contact information and other details in the same way.
  • Bring nice clothes. You never know when you’ll find an opportunity, but you might not get the chance to talk to a potential contact if you’re wearing cut-offs or camping gear. Stick one dress-up outfit in your gear that you can pull out and wear immediately. Avoid things that need ironing or special care, like dry cleaning. Personally, I’ve found that sweaters are often the best tops, especially light ones that won’t overheat you in a warm climate” they don’t wrinkle and, if you wear them with undershirts, you rarely need to wash them.
  • Choose a backup plan. Travel presents hundreds of opportunities for you to lose key equipment, such as a laptop. You’ll want to back up your data on a regular basis to a central location, that is, one you aren’t carrying with you. I use a very lightweight and portable external flash drive for this purpose. You’ll also want to have advance plans of how you might obtain new equipment. If, for instance, a certain type of cellular phone is vital to your work, could you have a new one shipped to you quickly? Could you make do with another phone?
  • Adapt as needed. As a 30 year traveling professional, I’ve found that life can be full of surprises. That’s half the fun, after all; getting out and doing new things. If you’ve managed to automate the things you’d normally worry about, and you know that issues like insurance and Plan Bs are taken care of, you have the opportunity to relax and go with the flow. Sure, you’ll still need to find some time to take care of your work commitments, but that’s why you planned ahead.

With all the planning done and work aside, don’t forget to have some fun.

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