On-the-Road Essentials for Traveling Freelancers
May 15, 2017

As clients have grown comfortable with and, dare I say, reliant on my services, traveling pitch gigs have become become more and more common. I don’t mean in-offce versus work-from-home. I mean “Can you get on a plane tomorrow, fly to Chicago, and work a few 15-hour days with our pitch team out of a hotel conference room?” kinda gigs.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love these jobs, but by their nature they’re particularly stressful. These are down-to-the-wire, high-stakes, the-pitch-is-tomorrow-and-the-deck-is-half-done engagements. It’s important to plan and prepare to eliminate as much extraneous difficulty and stress as possible, so you can function at optimum levels under trying circumstances.

Today, let’s take a look at some items you can invest in to help make traveling and working in unfamiliar circumstances a little less trying. Any product recommendations herein are things I genuinely use; I’m not cool enough to be paid for product placement .. yet.

1. All the Dongles

Don’t count on the client or hotel staff to have what you need. Make sure you have a collection of common connectors to hook your rig up to a variety of TVs and projectors.

Also, it allows you the opportunity to say “Here, use my dongle” all the time.

2. Collapsible Laptop Stand

Heed the advice of the Wu-Tang Clan: Protect ya neck. For our purposes, that means maintaining a posture that’s healthy for the neck, back, and shoulders. A portable laptop stand will help raise your eye level, and prevent you front craning over the keyboard for hours at a time.

Myself, I’m a fan of the Roost laptop stand. It’s sturdy and light enough, with a few different heights adjustments, and collapses down into an easily portable unit that tucks neatly away in an average-sized laptop bag. It’s a little on the pricey side, and there are cheaper bootlegs available, but make sure you dig into the customer reviews before risking a knock-off.

3. Bluetooth Mouse and Keyboard

It’s just more convenient, and becomes essential if you’re taking the above recommendation about the laptop stand. I'm a Mac-head, so I rock the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2, but obviously there are plenty of more reasonably priced alternatives for those who might not have the same unhealthy attachment to Apple aesthetics.

4. Portable, USB-Powered Monitor

This one might be excessive depending on your niche, but working as an on-site designer I’ve found that I’m always desperate for a second monitor. It’s just a more efficient way to work, and that’s often key to pitch-type circumstances. Now, you’d think hotels and business centers would have extra monitors laying around, but .. nope, not so much. The best I’ve ever been offered was like a 42-inch flat screen TV. Not at all ideal.

Now, I haven’t gotten to break it out for a client yet, but I recently invested in the ASUS MB169B+. Solid reviews, super slim, and comes with a sturdy case, which is a must for travel purposes. Once I give it a legit test-run in a non-home office setting, I’ll provide a more legit review.

5. Thumb Drives

Yes, it's unlikely you'll be in a room of executives and be lacking for thumb drives when someone needs a file, but they're cheap, and the more times you can say "I've got this, don't worry" to the client, the better.

6. A Good Laptop Bag

I know, the bag is an obvious one. I may as well tell you to buy a working laptop, right?  But look at all that gear I just recommended you lug around with you. Drop some coin on a versatile, well-reviewed laptop bag.

Get something sturdy with plenty of space, and ideally a few separate compartments so you can segment your gear more manageably.

Make sure your bag has some sort of mechanism for strapping to the handles of a rolling suitcase, so it can rest on the case itself. You’ll be standing in check-in lines and walking through airports while you prepare to slave over a computer for however many days, so it’s important to save the wear and tear on your back and shoulders when you can.

I'm currently sporting an older model of the TIMBUK2 Command Messenger Bag, though I think I'll soon be in the market for something new. It's a great bag, and it looks like they've made some great additions to the new model, but going forward I'm planning on roaming around with both a laptop and a portable monitor, on top of all the smaller bits of gear. Might need a touch more interior space. We'll see.

Some folks like the rolling bags or combo backpacks that are also built to house laptops and other tech gear, and there’s something to be said for one, convenient piece of luggage. But ... look, people on airplanes cannot be trusted. Do not put any even remotely breakable gear in the overhead compartment, unless you want to have a panic attack the first time some guy takes three tries to slam the bin closed because he just had to shove his jacket up there. Gear goes in a bag, at your feet, under the seat.

Do you you have any recommendations of your own for all the travel-weary designers and consultants out there? I'd love to hear about them. Drop links and suggestions in the comments below.

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