I’ve been traveling full-time or living abroad for the past 15 years. All the while I’ve worked one job or another as my writing and mentoring career developed. I’ve pitched editors from the deck of a tiny wood cabin on a Caribbean island and met deadlines while in airports. I’ve videoconferenced clients while in coffee shops, friends’ houses, and temporary rentals all over the world.
I love the freedom I have to make choices for my life. Now, it looks like more of us will be moving out of the traditional office setting and creating a different vision of our work lives.
This guide will help you decide what to keep in your backpack so you can travel light while living and working anywhere you want.
The gear you need will vary, obviously, depending on the work you do. But the following list allows you to perform basic office functions as well as create media-rich content, run meetings and workshops, and collaborate with clients.
This home office setup guide covers most of what you’ll want, but obviously, the larger equipment won’t fit in a backpack.
Choose Your Laptop
To decide which laptop fits your needs, make a list of the work you do. Then choose one that balances processing power with the cost and weight of the equipment.
I use a 14-inch MacBook Pro. I need something more powerful than a Macbook Air, plus I want the additional ports. The small screen saves about 1 pound in weight, which isn’t much, but it adds up as you place your gear in your pack.
Check out these laptops under $700 and these good deals.
To keep your laptop charged and connected to your accessories, carry a multiport hub, and don’t forget all the necessary chargers and cables. And don’t forget any gear and accessories you may need to do what you normally do: headphones if you need to block out noise and work, a microphone if you record audio, and so on. Just remember to shop smart. You’ll have to lug all of that gear with you wherever you go.
A solid internet connection is crucial for working on the road. Luckily, it’s easy to find a connection just about anywhere you go. Don’t underestimate the ubiquity of free Wi-Fi! It’s generally available at cafés, restaurants, and especially if you’re a guest at a hotel. When you’re a customer, most businesses will have no problem connecting you.
When There’s No Internet or the Internet Sucks
I ran a writing retreat at a mountaintop yoga resort in Costa Rica. It was beautiful and full of monkeys, but no internet. To solve this, I purchased a local SIM card that included internet access anywhere in the country.
There are three sizes of SIM cards that fit into just about any phone. You’ll need a tiny pin to pop open the part of your phone that houses the chip. A small paperclip works well, and it’s worth keeping one tucked away in a safe space in your pack.
Create a Hot Spot on Your Phone
Whether via a local chip or through your own service, it’s simple to go to your phone settings and set up the hot spot. You also have the option of creating a password to maintain your privacy and protect your precious data minutes.
When You Can’t Connect
For those times when internet access is elusive, back up your work on Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox or another cloud storage option and make sure it’s available even when you’re offline. It’s an excellent option for working on flights or when you’re in transit. These cloud services also automatically sync your offline work when you reconnect.
One Bag to Carry It All
Your backpack needs to be lightweight, durable, and comfortable to carry. You’ll want pockets of varying sizes, including small, easily reachable ones for compact items that might get lost easily or things you’ll need quick access to, like your ID, keys, transit passes, and so on.
I carry SwissGear’s Wenger Ibex 17-inch Laptop Backpack. I love the “quick pocket” on top to store things I need often, like my cell phone and keys. The reinforced wire handle on top makes it easy to grab and run for a flight or bus.
For more options, check out WIRED’s 2021 review of the best backpacks for work.
How Your Smartphone Fits In
Almost anything you do with your computer you can do with a smartphone. Load it with the apps you use regularly to access your data, edit documents, manage social media, or run meetings.
Smartphone photography and video are of excellent quality. You won’t need to buy additional equipment unless you’re a professional photographer or videographer. Extend the capabilities of your phone with add-ons and accessories like these.
By the way, you’ll need an unlocked phone when using a SIM from a service other than your carrier. Most US phone carriers charge a fee to unlock phones if you bought it through them. Or you can always buy an unlocked phone and use any service you want.