Make a Living Writing From the Road: Tips for Working While Traveling

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One of the great things about figuring out how to make a living writing is you can work from anywhere.

You can jump on a plane and then, while on a beach in Thailand or in a ski lodge in Canada, tap away at that laptop to pay for the trip.

Well, that’s the theory anyhow. But the first time you try working while traveling, you’ll likely find it’s more difficult than anticipated.

When I first tried to write while traveling, I realized my usual routine was broken. Hunting down morning tea was an adventure rather than a short walk to the kitchen. Hotel checkout times snuck up on me just when I was doing my best writing. And there were distractions; after all, I travel to see things and have new experiences, so it wasn’t easy to fit work into my days on the road.

Of course, you could just take a vacation from writing and get back to work when you return home. But here’s a thought: If you can learn to write while away from home, you can afford to take trips more often.

And yes, I did finally learn how to get some work done while traveling. So if you like to travel and want to do more of it, here are some tips for making a living writing while on the road.

Prepare before you leave to increase productivity

Your important files need to be available wherever you are. That’s not a problem if you use the same laptop at home and on the road. Otherwise, consider free cloud storage options like Dropbox or Google Documents, so you can access everything regardless of your location. Just remember to upload everything necessary before you leave.

You can also install a remote access program to use your home computer that lets you log in from anywhere. LifeHacker recommends using either TeamViewer, or the built-in remote connection options available on many Macs and PCs with Windows Professional. All of these options require leaving your computer on with the remote program running, so don’t make the mistake of powering off before you head to the airport.

I prefer to carry important files on a USB flash drive. That way I can still work where there’s no internet connection, and if my laptop crashes, I can still accomplish some work from any computer. Imagine you’re using your home desktop remotely and it shuts down on day one of a two-week trip. Of course, you could use cloud storage, remote access and a USB flash drive for total safety and convenience, but most of us don’t take that many precautions.

What about passwords? Don’t leave home without them. Bring a paper list or email it to yourself. For security, add a certain number of digits and letters to each password but leave those off the cheat sheet, making them unusable to anyone who sees the list. Just remember the pattern you add, or you won’t be able to access anything at all!

Bring tools that will help you write your best

Even when using a laptop, my big clumsy fingers prefer a regular keyboard, so I take one on road trips. I use a small tape recorder for safely taking notes while driving; many of my best ideas come on long quiet stretches of highway.

You’ll have to decide which tools are most important for you, but here are some possibilities to consider for your list (and you should have a list, so nothing is forgotten):

  • Laptop
  • USB flash drive
  • Keyboard
  • Mouse and mousepad
  • Extra battery for mouse
  • Camera
  • Pen and paper
  • Tape recorder
  • Headphones
  • USB plugin for wireless mouse and keyboard

Check your internet connection before you move in

One night in a hotel, my wife and I had already used the pool and watched a movie when we discovered the wireless signal in our room was worthless. Management moved us despite the room already being well-used, but it was a hassle.

Lesson learned: Always check the connection before you settle into your room.

Let your surroundings inspire your work

You will be distracted from writing when you travel, but you can also be inspired. Once, sitting with my laptop in a rented cabin in the mountains of Colorado, it occurred to me how wonderful it was that I could work from anywhere, so I wrote about that for one of my websites. On another occasion, after a catamaran cruise on Lake Tahoe, I wrote about the experience and sold the article. And many writers find simply changing their setting and routine makes them more reflective and in a position to produce their best personal essays.

You don’t have to cover travel topics just because you’re traveling. Inspiration can come for just about any niche you work in. If you write about small businesses, check out the ones around you. If you write for a landscaping magazine investigate how yards are commonly landscaped in the cities or countries you visit. Keep an open mind get inspired.

Develop your own unique travel routine

Routines keep you focused and prevent deadly procrastination. But since you probably can’t replicate your home pattern, you may need to develop a routine just for traveling.

I find it easiest to write as soon as I get up in the morning, and maybe for an hour just after I check into a hotel (by that time the pool or bar is calling my name). I also find I can work well at the airport if I arrive a couple hours early, especially if I’ve brought an internet hotspot with me.

But I have a confession: I can’t write half as much while traveling as I do at home. Instead, I do other things to be productive. For example, long road trips and a micro-cassette recorder help me come home with a ton of new ideas I can execute once I’m back at home. And although it’s tough to write articles in hotel rooms and fast food restaurant booths, when in these places I find it easy to do research and take notes for future articles.

Of course, what works for me may not work for you. Perhaps you have to stay several days in each place to get some writing done and truly enjoy the trip. Maybe you should go to a coffee shop wherever you are, if that’s how you normally work.

Write outside, write inside — who knows until you try. To find a routine that works for you, just hit the road and start experimenting.

Do you try to write when traveling, and if so, what routines work best for you?

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Steve Gillman's experiences inspired a website about odd businesses and jobs, which in turn led to writing .

Webhiker Services | @stevegillman

Working on the Road

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Working on the Road

You’ve heard the stories of location-independent work — now it’s your turn. Master the skills to work from anywhere and take your career abroad.

Comments

  1. I’m a photographer and writer working towards monetizing my writing finally… I just wanted to say how helpful your blog has been since i started reading the past few weeks. It’s gotten me motivated to actually start researching places to submit some of my essays.

    I’m

  2. Steve,

    What a wonderful list of tips for writing while traveling. Thank you!

    I don’t travel as much as I used to, but even short, day trips can prompt ideas for novels. Since freelancing isn’t my primary focus–or hasn’t been up until now–the ideas have always revolved around novels. An interesting setting, a unique experience. That sort of thing.

    So the idea of writing freelance pieces is new. And intriguing! My lesson learned for the day!

    Thanks again and best wishes,

    Carrie

  3. Since i’m a golf writer I find golf course clubhouse patios, verandas, and resturants provide not only locale but inspiration. I’m always writing about a setting that is happening around me.

  4. That’s great, Steve! I find that I have a similar shift in my writing while traveling – it’s harder to actually write, but I find my mind bursting with ideas. I always keep a running list in Evernote to process when I get home.

    My husband is a sales rep, so I often go with him on long road trips. I’ve become pretty good at taking client phone calls in parks, polishing up drafts in coffee shops, and typing in the car (except when we’re winding along the Oregon coast).

    The main thing for me about writing when I travel is to draw solid lines between work time and fun time. Because If you’re visiting some place new and just spend all your time in the coffee shop hitting deadlines, you may as well have stayed home!

    • The “solid lines” might work for the actual writing time for me, but many of my best ideas come at any time, and fortunately stopping to jot down a note or record a thought doesn’t (for me) get in the way of having a good time.

  5. Thanks for tips!They seem to be effective.
    I completely losing my productivity while travelling.
    But I will follow your advice during my next vacation.

  6. Really interesting article! This was an awesome piece of info you wrote there. Definitely I will follow your advice during my vacation. I’m so glad I’ve found your site.

    • Thanks Mariya, I just came back from vacations, and as usual, returned with more ideas than actual writing, but my notes (recorded and on paper) will be good for at least several articles.

  7. I exclusively use pen and paper while working/traveling. I journal thoughts, ideas, places to visit or eat, experiences and so on. I take tons of photos and keep every piece of paper and scraps like resort bracelets, bus slips, drink coasters. I use these items to jog my memories for when I return home (and get down to business.). I store everything in a resealable bag throughout the trip.

  8. I’ve recently begun writing away from home even when I’m at home, Steve. Confused?

    Back in summer, the step-son and his girlfriend moved back home between lease agreements. Great to have them back, but our routine went to pot and the distractrions became unnumerable.

    Anywho, I bought a gold membership with an office hire company that allows members to use any of their business lounges across the UK – and they have hundreds.

    Since joining in August, I’ve subconsciously appropriated my main base, a business lounge in Temple Row, one of four such offices in the metropolitan second city, Birmingham (UK).

    The diversity of cultures alone is inspiring enough. But you also can’t help but submerse yourself in the history and atmosphere of the once-dubbed “City of 1,000 Trades” as you make your way from the Metro to Temple Row.

    When I do feel starved of inspiration or out of focus, I just mix it up. I find a new lounge (Birmingham Airport’s lounge takes diversity to a whole new level!) and soak in everything I see en route (and yet more when I nip out for a burst of nicotine – us social lepers are glad to be among similarly ostracised company ☺).

    I used to pay just as much to access one Chamber of Commerce networking meeting as I do now for a month’s “roaming brief” membership. Yet the networking opportunities I’ve found just by being out and about far outweigh those theorised in contrived situations or coffee mornings.

    The best thing about getting out from your home’s trappings is that you get to meet so many other independent professionals following a similar path. Working away from the home office is becoming so popular, especially in the digital arena.

    But you’re on the money: preparation is everything. It took me a good fortnight to get into the routine of packing the right gear:
    • Google Docs/GMail Offline – in fact, ensuring that all the apps and software you have on your Desktop PC appear on your laptop;
    • all-in-one headset and mic – privacy is a two-way street;
    • printed copies of research notes for longer features (and a desk stand upon which to put them);
    • Kindle for listening to music and podcasts to save draining the laptop’s battery before you’ve opened your first Office docx;
    • even lunch if you’ve got a particularly heavy day of writing or meeting and want zero distractions;
    • and, of course, a notebook to capture ideas on the commute.

    Taking the work-away-from-home leap for a solopreneur is a big step – and, it has to be said, an additional cost.

    But for me, it’s worth every penny. The extra work I can put out without the distractions of home cover those costs, and some. And as for the networking, diversification and inspiration, what better way is there of keeping your writing fresh?

    Cracking – and inspiratinal – article, squire; thank you.

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  1. […] Make a Living Writing From the Road: Tips for Working While Traveling Steve Gillman (@stevegillman) on The Write Life The Write Life, Inspiration, Freelance Writing One of the great things about figuring out how to make a living writing is you can work from anywhere. You can jump on a plane and then, while on a beach in Thailand or in a ski lodge in Canada, tap away at that laptop to pay for the trip. Well, that’s the theory anyhow. But the first time you try working while traveling, you’ll likely find it’s more difficult than anticipated. Read More […]

  2. […] Make a Living Writing From the Road: Tips for Working While Traveling […]

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