How the Pros Run Their Business On the Road

July 17, 2014


Running your business while you travel isn’t easy, but it’s easier than it’s ever been. If you want to know the latest and best tips, tricks and apps to keep your business going on the road, follow the advice in this post from some expert business travelers.

Gary Arndt runs a very successful travel blog and photography business. His blog Everything Everywhere is widely considered one of the most popular travel blogs in the world. He is also one of the most awarded travel photographers of this decade. Yet, he literally travels all the time. In 2013 he visited 44 countries. So far in 2014 he’s been to 25 countries.

As Gary says, “When you travel that much, you don’t have time to work. Not only that, it’s impossible to develop a routine. I’m often in hotels without a desk or a chair, and more often than not, crappy WiFi. The act of working often becomes a chore.”

So how does Gary make it work? “I use Google Hangouts to talk to my assistant,” Gary says, “both on my laptop and on my phone. I also use Google docs when I have to collaborate with her or another person. I use TripIt for organizing all my travel plans. I use Gogobot for quickly finding places to eat when I’m in a new city.”

Google hangouts

Google Hangouts seems to be the single most popular tool among the hard-core travellers I spoke with. Annemarie Dooling works in audience development from wherever her passport takes her, including Skyping in Hong Kong, reading emails in Disney World, and managing teams from Vienna, and she travels up to six months a year. She says Google Hangouts is the easiest way to communicate with collaborators and share documents.

“You can see each other, which makes it more personal than the phone,” Annemarie says. “Plus, you can take part in a Google Hangout from your smart phone if you have a strong connection.

To share Google docs, she says, “You can create a screen share image and email it directly from inside the Hangout. Embed your Google docs within the email and you can privately collaborate with anyone in the Hangout.”

Building a workspace on the road

People who travel and work offline—only using Internet connectivity to send and receive files and communicate with clients and coworkers when needed—have other challenges. For example, freelance writer and editor Rachel Stuckey of The Nomadic Editor says, “The key to my business is finding a space to work that suits my needs, where I can be productive. Sometimes, the lack of screen real estate is a challenge—some of my projects involve many windows running simultaneously, and my MacBook Air is much smaller than my huge display at home.

“I get around that by using my phone and tablet for support, such as using my iPhone dictionary, and keeping reference documents open on my iPad. When that’s not enough, I will sometimes try to rig up a desk next to the TV in my hotel room or apartment. Most places have new TVs with HDMI connectors. I carry an HDMI cable with me, and make use of that large screen whenever I can.”

Top tools for working anywhere

Rachel recently spent a year travelling the world and working. Here are more of her tips and recommended tools:

DROPBOX: I use Dropbox to be able to access all my work files on all my devices. I can’t edit documents on an iPad, but I can keep reference materials open on the tablet while working on my laptop screen. It’s also helpful to be able to consult files if you need to answer email queries while on the road, and you don’t want to dig out your laptop.

SIM CARD: I always try to buy a local SIM card with a data plan for my unlocked iPhone. WiFi is widely available pretty much everywhere, but in the “developed” world, it’s often expensive, and in the rest of the world, it’s often unreliable. Creating a hotspot for my computer is a good way around a spotty WiFi connection. It’s also useful to have a local phone number for personal use if you’re going to be in a country for more than a few days. If your smart phone is locked, it might be worth buying a cheap local phone.

SKYPE: I have a Skype subscription that lets me call landlines in North America—it’s a fairly cheap service, and works on all my devices.

CLOCKS: Time zones are definitely an issue—I keep a variety of clocks open on my Mac dashboard, so I can always double check the time for EST, PST etc. Most of my clients send meeting invites that go into my iCalendar—if I have the time zone set correctly on my computer, the meeting will automatically set to my local time. The harder part is getting up early or staying up late—or trying to get clients to set meetings at reasonable times that work for you.

COMPUTER: A good computer is key. It should be lightweight and up-to-date. The cloud is useful, but not always accessible, so you need a reliable external device with ample storage. It’s also a good idea to keep your portable hard drive in separate baggage from your laptop.

What to do before you travel

Rachel admits the biggest challenge is taking the time to focus on work. “At home, work is a big part of your life, but when you travel, there is so much more to do, so getting work done can be difficult.”

Mobile photographer Andrea Rees spends a lot of time in Africa working on a passion project, but needs to be able to continue working. She juggles multiple devices and has found that getting organized ahead of time is the key.

“When I know I’m travelling, I prepare my devices such as my iPhone, my Macbook and my two hard drives ahead of time with the must need apps and files in case of poor Internet and I can’t access my Dropbox,” Andrea says.

“My newest favorite tool is an iFlash Drive. It allows me to transfer files between my iPhone and iPad so I can travel without my laptop. I also highly recommend a battery charger. I have one, from Just Mobile, hat will charge my iPhone about five times before it needs re-charging. It has two slots and can charge my iPhone and IPad at the same time.

Staying organized

For staying organized, freelance writer Luigi Benneton recommends a service called SugarSync, that puts all of your documents in the cloud and also syncs them on all your devices for offline use. “SugarSync is fantastic at using the folder structures you already have instead of forcing you to put your stuff in a special folder.” He also suggests buying a pouch, such as a pencil case, that contains all your cables and keeps them from tangling and breaking.

Surge protectors, backups and other must-have travel solutions

As a travel writer and blogger who spends three to six months on the road each year publishing my travel blog Breathedreamgo, I am always learning new tools and techniques for running my business while travelling. Here’s a few to add to the many good ideas mentioned above.

– I always travel with a Belkin Mini Travel Surge Protector. I plug it into an appropriate electrical adapter, and plug all my devices into the surge protector (otherwise known as a power bar).

– For coordinating work with my assistant, we use Trello. It allows us to easily create visually rich boards for sharing links, photos, emails and project updates.

– As an extra backup, I subscribe to CrashPlan, which backs up my hard drive to the cloud at times I can set and change.

– One last tip: don’t forget to leave an up-to-date out of office phone message, perhaps indicating the time zone you are currently in; and also an email autoresponder if you think your travels will delay your response time.

The truth is, trying to stay on top of technology is a never-ending voyage. There will always be a better way, especially as new technologies and apps are produced at a blistering rate. Find a few that work for you, rather than trying to master them all. Happy trails!

More Resources

7 free tools to organize and prioritize your writing life 

How to achieve inbox zero

More great ideas to grow your business


about the author

FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud designed to make billing painless for small businesses and their teams. Today, over 10 million small businesses use FreshBooks to effortlessly send professional looking invoices, organize expenses and track their billable time.