On The Road (Warrior) Again

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Now – more than ever – it’s possible to do business from anywhere at any time.

For over ten years, I’ve been doing my best to figure out how to be as upwardly mobile as possible. To ensure that I can work from anywhere and have access to everything that I need access to, no matter what time zone I am in and no matter what time during the day the muse to work strikes. None of the gear and tips that follow can compensate for collaborating with a team of amazing professionals (like my team at Twist Image), but having the right frame of mind, mixed with the right tools will turn you into a powerful and mighty road warrior.

Removing the obvious.

There are certain, obvious pieces of hardware that you need to have to make the transition from cubicle to coffee shop. These include a laptop (my weapon of choice is the MacBook Air 13") and smartphone (to keep it all in the family, I’m loyal to my Apple iPhone 5). You don’t have to be an Apple advocate like me, but my general guidelines for buying portable computers (from laptops to smartphones to tablets) is to seek out the lightest and most powerful devices within budget parameters. Core to mobile business success is being able to access information as quickly as possible with a device that won’t cause too many visits to the chiropractor.

OK, you have the basic gear… now what?

  1. Double-down on chargers. Always have an extra charger for everything (one for your laptop, one for your smartphone and one for your tablet). Leave the extra chargers in your briefcase. These are your mobile powerplants. This way, you can go home (or to the office) and your regular chargers are there and already plugged in. Having an extra set for on-the-go removes the need to remember where the chargers are or having to plug them in and remove them from the home/office.
  2. Plug in. Wherever you are, plug in. Keep your devices as fully charged at all times as possible. My MacBook Air is known for its long-lasting battery life. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been stuck on a flight or in a convention center without any access to a power plug and I’m suddenly regretting not taking advantage of the abundance of power outlets at the airport lounge, because I was under the impression that an extra hour of not plugging in wouldn’t be all that detrimental.
  3. Ditch the briefcase. The majority of fancy briefcases are not all that functional for those business professionals on the go. Get a nice looking knapsack or backpack. Brands like Tumi, Samsonite, Eagle Creek and others now cater to business people with both functional and stylish laptop backpacks. Much like the gear you are going to stuff in it, make sure that it is a light as possible and has the right balance of form, functionality and fashion. Also remember, too many pockets and areas can also make it difficult to remember and find the gear you need as quickly as possible.
  4. Become a bag lady (or man). Take all of your cables, chargers, headphones, adapters, USB memory sticks, dongles and more and store them in one bag. This way, you’re not rummaging through a briefcase that looks like it has become infested with rattlesnakes of tangled wires. Rolls all the wires, wrap them (twist-ties work great for this) and leave them all in this small sack. Eagle Creek (my brand of choice for all of my travel gear) has a Pack-It Specter Sac that comes in various sizes and they are ultra-light. It looks like a large pencil case, but I never have any wires or small devices to worry about. They are all safely stowed in this one bag that fits neatly within my briefcase.
  5. Save it to the cloud. Having back-up copies of documents and presentations is critical in my line of work. And, you never know when a hard drive crash is going to happen and how it could ruin your next business opportunity. Along with always having a back-up on a USB memory stick, I’m deeply in love with Dropbox. Dropbox is much more than a cloud-based back-up system, it also allows me to share and collaborate on larger files with ease. It has an amazing iPhone application, and I’ve set up my account to always update whatever document I am working on with my local computer to Dropbox. So, the minute I hit "save" on a document, Dropbox is also saving that version to the Internet. The system makes it seamless to grab a document should a problem arise… and problems always arise.
  6. Block out the world. Consumer electronics manufacturers of all shapes and sizes are claiming that their headphones are the best when it comes to noise-cancelling or noise-isolating. Some of them are great, but the majority of them are so-so. While I own a pair of Bose QuietComfort headphones (they are expensive but worth every penny), I rarely use them. They are simply too big and bulky for travelling. The other issue with over-the-ear headphones is that they are difficult to sleep with if you do a lot of flights overseas or the red-eye. Get yourself a good pair of in-ear headphones that are both comfortable and able to block out your surroundings. Also do some online snooping as many of the better headphones also offer foam tips that you can add on for both comfort and more superior isolation of noise. If you’re not comfortable splurging on a good pair of headphones, see if family and friends may be wiling to gift them to you for the holidays or an upcoming birthday.
  7. Being your own extension. Whether it’s your local cafe or a swanky boutique hotel, finding a power outlet (and one that is available) is increasingly more challenging. I always carry an extension cord with me. There are two functions to this cheap luxury: 1. You have more options in terms of where you can sit, as you no longer have to huddle up right under the one plug in the hotel or cafe. 2. You will make friends because every extension chord also has extra outlets. There’s nothing more friendlier than those willing to share their power (just ask the folks in lower Manhattan). Nothing gets me more smiles than when I whip out the Monster Outlets To Go Mini Power Strip. My friend, Chris Brogan (co-author of The Impact Equation and Trust Agents with Julien Smith), calls his extension chord his "friendmaker."  

Ultimately, the idea is to be as connected as possible with the least amount of gear and the most amount of flexibility.

There should be no need to have your briefcase on wheels. Start thinking about what you would need to make your business day as mobile as possible. It doesn’t have to happen in one fell swoop and, slowly over time, you will discover what mobile flow works best for you. Don’t try to recreate your office while you’re on the road, but look towards ways to make yourself (and everything that you do) as lean and mobile as possible.

What are your tricks to being a better mobile road warrior?    

The above post is my twice-monthly column for the Montreal Gazette and Vancouver Sun newspapers called, New Business – Six Pixels of Separation. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure.


  1. Some great tips, I regularly work from many locations. Having a business philosophy of blurring the lines of work and play, I take my work with me and integrate it into my play time.
    Using the power of technology you can work less and play more! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Great tips and product suggestions, Mitch. However, you don’t mention the “Mili” line of products. A friend turned me onto this “under the radar” company and line of products. They are sensational. When nearly drained, my iPhone is back to 100% within a few hours of connecting it to this battery pack. Comes with multiple adaptors to charge numerous platforms. http://www.iphonemili.com/Products.aspx

  3. Mitch, thanks for the great reminder tips. My favorite way of keeping all my travel electronics organized is with a toiletry bag – lots of pockets and places to put those cords, extra whiteboard markers (always carry my own) and even one of those pica projectors. And that bag usually fits in the front pocket of a backpack (it does in my Tumi one)

  4. I spent a little over a year on tour playing in a Broadway show and used to carry Pop Tarts wherever I went because I was able to put them on the heater in the hotel room to warm them up. Ahhh, the life of a traveling musician. I’m not sure that’s what you meant here though.

  5. Awesome tips, very helpful!
    I’ve found that I’m continuously downsizing the size of my carry-on.
    For trips that are less than three days I’ve started to use an Eagle Creek Packing folder. I can fold all my clothes and fit everything into the folder. It’s the size of a large magazine (old-school Rolling Stone). Then liquids go in my backpack.
    I also always carry water. I use a Platypus water bladder. It folds down flat when not in use.

  6. I am a perpetual house-sitter. About 30% of my time is spent from my relocated office — which is a little different than a mobile office Nonetheless, all of your tips apply. One that I didn’t know about is setting my Dropbox account to update automatically. Can’t wait to look into that.
    You inspired me to add a blog topic to my list: How to maintain momentum (i.e., flow) when you’re on the move. Once you’ve overcome the challenge of having all the right hardware with you when you’re mobile, the next challenge is to not become distracted by an ever-changing work environment.
    I’m house-sitting right now in a beautiful mountain home with spectacular views — perfect inspiration for writing this kind of blog. (Foreshadowing how to turn distraction into inspiration.)
    Love your stuff Mr. Joel. Thanks for consistently cranking it out!

  7. Great tips here! I normally carry all of my power cords with me, but I have yet to invest in a power cord and have found myself numerous times searching for an outlet. This will be on my list of purchases today.

  8. Great tips. I never thought of # 7 – Being your own extension. This would have helped me so many times. Will be packing an extension from now on.

  9. I love the idea of keeping duplicate chargers and storing them in ONE bag. I do this and it means I can take a quick peek in just one place to double check I’ve got all my cords and plugs. I’ve gotten away from the practice of bringing a power strip for space restraints (I try to travel with carry on’s as much as possible) but that decision has come back to haunt me with delayed flights and no power outlets!
    As a woman, I can suggest that it’s helpful if you keep a separate set of makeup in a bag to travel. Before I did this I was notorious for having to hunt down a drug store to pick up eyeshadow. I choose neutral colors so to have it match any outfit or situation.
    I know Mitch is an ‘all black’ kind of guy when he travels, but my wardrobe options are a bit more diversified. I always wear purple (it’s sort of my MO) but am careful to choose either a black or brown color scheme so I’m not packing double shoes and accessories to go with outfits. I’m sure men could relate!

  10. I bought the eagle creek carry on, you recommended in the past. What a find!
    So what’s your current backpack? Personally, i always put way to much stuff in mine.
    I’m struggling in ear headset, iwhat do you reccomend ?

  11. Saddleback leather makes this really awesome laptop bags. They’re great. I really love ’em!
    But when you’re traveling to a conference, and speaking, and you have a ton of gear to carry… Laptop, cords, flip-cam, converter cables, etc. That fancy looking bag is suddenly not very functional. Unfortunately.
    So these days, I carry a backpack. And I used to feel silly doing so for some reason. But I’m also confortable knowing that I have all my gear with me and can work from wherever I am.

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