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I just got back from an amazing, month-long European adventure. My travels in Iceland aimed to circle the perimeter of Iceland, followed by a race through Oslo, Norway. And finally terminated in Germany. But the break-neck pace caused tremendous damage to my productivity. Dead laptops, weak batteries and the hazards of the road can make your life miserable. Even worse, the perils of travel can crush your professional life.

But how did I manage to not get fired from my job?

Productivity on-the-go requires the right gear and applications. For writers and other kinds of mobile professionals traveling abroad, you will want software and gear offering reliability, portability and redundancy. Here’s my list of tips, including the software and hardware that got me through a European adventure.

map of europe

Applications and Software

On the road, you’ll encounter various security hazards, particularly theft. The worst threat remains unsecured and potentially compromised WiFi access points. Because of the various hazards of using public WiFi, I suggest using some kind of cloud storage, encryption, VPN and mobile productivity apps.

Cloud Storage

I personally use Dropbox (our manual on Dropbox The Unofficial Guide To Dropbox The Unofficial Guide To Dropbox There's more to Dropbox than you might think: you can use it for file sharing, backing up your data, syncing files between computers and even remotely control your computer. Read More ), although given the recent issues with the NSA and some of their unfortunate choices for board members, I am looking for a replacement. Cloud storage services can provide a variety of essential functions for mobile professionals. For example, I use Dropbox for syncing documents across mulitiple devices. It also offers synergy with TrueCrypt, which can create an encrypted file storage container.

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Dann Albright wrote about four Dropbox alternatives Are Your Files Getting Lost in the Cloud? These 4 Cloud Storage Managers Will Help Are Your Files Getting Lost in the Cloud? These 4 Cloud Storage Managers Will Help How can you keep track of your files when they're all in different places? With the availability of free cloud storage increasing all the time you'll probably need to answer this question soon. Read More , including:

  • PrimaDesk: Includes encryption among other security goodies.
  • JoliCloud: Also includes improved security.
  • ZeroPC: Browser, Android and iOS based cloud syncing service, with encryption.
  • CloudKafe: Browser based cloud syncing, using SSL encryption.

I keep my backups of my travel documentation inside of the encrypted container file, including passport, driver’s license, credit card numbers and more. While some security issues could exist with such a setup, I find it more likely that my travel documents may get stolen rather than my encryption passwords.

VPN

Anyone traveling abroad may benefit from using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPN allows for secure log-ins from remote locations. A proxy allows users to change their log in location. For those who may wish to anonymize their Web search traffic while in a foreign country, proxies and VPN remain indispensable tools, particularly for journalists, political dissidents and others seeking to anonymize their Web traffic.

Personally, I use Private Internet Access (I received a deal costing around $4 per month). It routinely ranks among the top VPNs out there and – for me at least – offers ease of set up and configuration. For most users, you will simply install and run the application, which runs on almost all operating systems. You get the added benefit of receiving streaming video and music in countries where such services aren’t permitted.

privateInternetaccess

Mobile Office Suite

Lately, I’ve preferred using QuickOffice (recently acquired by Google), but I’ve also relied upon Kingsoft, Documents-to-Go and OfficeSuite 7. Another worthy processor is the Android port of Open Office, which continues to receive development support. Conversely, Microsoft’s mobile variant of Office just dropped its price to nothing.

Although I’m not an Apple user, we recognize iA Writer as an excellent alternative iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used iA Writer for Mac & iOS: The Best Word Processor You've Never Used Be it a school paper or a blog post, all of us at some point find ourselves in the position of having to dump a bunch of characters into a text file. While cell phone... Read More to the baked-in client in iOS.

Email Client

I prefer using the open source K-9 for email K-9 Mail - The Best Alternative Email Management Solution For Your Android [1.5+] K-9 Mail - The Best Alternative Email Management Solution For Your Android [1.5+] The great thing about Android is that there usually are alternatives to be found that address the shortcomings of one program. Google Play gave me the rather un-mail like name of K-9 Mail. But from... Read More , despite its many flaws. However, some excellent alternatives to Gmail Email Apps For Android: 3 Excellent Options To Try In 2014 Email Apps For Android: 3 Excellent Options To Try In 2014 There's always someone on the Web who's claiming that email is dead, but your busy inbox tells you otherwise. Read More exist. These include:

  • CloudMagic: The search capabilities in CloudMagic are excellent. Lately I’ve actually been using this more than K-9.
  • Blue Mail: Features reminders, which can function in parallel with a zero-inbox email management strategy.
  • SolMail: Part of the Sol family of productivity tools, SolMail offers efficient email processing.

RSS Apps

As an RSS fanatic (I’ve written about dozens of uses and hacks for RSS), I use a variety of RSS reader apps on both the desktop and on mobile platforms. Nothing really beats a browser for consuming RSS, but on mobile, one of the most data efficient apps is FeedMe, which offers offline access as well as automatic image blocking on mobile data. Although Google Reader may have passed on into the great unknown, a number of mobile apps have filled its place:

  • Tiny Tiny RSS: Allows users to provide their own RSS hosting service.
  • Flipboard: Allows importation of OPML files and offers iOS and Android apps.
  • Feedly: It’s a great app, although with some serious managerial issues.

Gear

Mobile productivity requires light weight and redundancy – you will see more hardware failures in the field than you ever did at home. I prefer carrying a minimal amount of hardware around. Unfortunately, you will likely require a laptop.

Protective Cell Phone Case

acase superleggera nexus 5

ZeroLemon offers combination power bank/ruggedized cases. We’ve reviewed ZeroLemon’s cases for the Galaxy S4 and Note 3 ZeroLemon Batteries for Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3 Review and Giveaway ZeroLemon Batteries for Samsung Galaxy S4 and Note 3 Review and Giveaway Phone manufacturers are putting a lot of money into research and development of small, lightweight, and powerful batteries that should last all day. But did you know you're not limited to the stock battery? Read More . They’re very good.

Note: Pictured above is Superleggera’s Acase for the Nexus 5, which is one of my favorites. I reviewed a large number of protective devices for the Nexus 5 My Quest For The Best Nexus 5 Case (and Screen Protector) My Quest For The Best Nexus 5 Case (and Screen Protector) Looking to protect your Nexus 5? There's no such thing as "the best" case, but rather, there are cases that fulfill specific niches. Read More .

Grid-It Organizer

I first read about Grid-It on Lifehacker. Although you will likely want something larger to carry most of your gear, the smallest Grid-It offers an excellent combination of carrying capacity and limited bulk. It is also small enough to fit inside of a quart-sized plastic bag. In many wet or humid weather conditions, this permits the Grid-It to receive some degree of weather protection, if reduced to makeshift means.

grid it cocoon

If interested, you can buy the Grid-It Cocoon for $14.99 via Amazon.

Multiple MicroUSB Cables

tangled microusb

I cannot stress this enough – carry more than one micro-USB cable. micro-USB cables rapidly developed into the standard for cellular charging. The wide adoption of the standard also spread into other devices, including backup batteries, tablets and more. I also carry around adapter tips, which permit micro-USB cables to function as either mini-USB or USB.

Portable Backup Battery and Flashlight

backup battery flashlight

Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of backup batteries and flashlights. Some of my favorite two-in-one devices include those from RAVPower. Their devices are quite diverse: Some even offer wireless file storage (such as the RAVPower WD01) RAVPower RP-WD01 Wireless File Hub and Power Bank Review and Giveaway RAVPower RP-WD01 Wireless File Hub and Power Bank Review and Giveaway The RAVPower WD01 can charge mobile devices and function as a standalone wireless storage drive, but do you need both features in the same package? And is it worth the money? Read More .

For those working out of the field, most flashlight-backup battery combo devices offer excellent value. Keep in mind that the battery performance of many backup batteries depends heavily upon the length of the micro-USB cable. Unfortunately, batteries can suffer from over-discharge if used with too short a cable. Be sure to test your devices, and their respective cables, before taking them out into the field.

Pictured above: The RAVPower RP-PB03E

The Appropriate Travel Adapter

travel adapters

Different parts of the world use different wall sockets. For example, Europeans use two pin ports and North Americans use a two-pin, ground optional, power port. You can buy adapters for either kind cheaply. However, if you’re forced to buy at the airport, expect to pay a massive premium. On Amazon, I paid mere dollars for each adapter.

For example, you can purchase a universal adapter for less than $4. For those intending on traveling from the US to Europe, you will only need a single standard, as Europe has homogenized its power plugs.

SIM Card

Once out of your home country, you will find that your phone won’t work or will incur roaming charges. In this case, if you have an unlocked phone, you can swap in a third party SIM card, from the country you’re visiting. Remember to always bring the appropriate SIM card ejector, if you do not have a removable back to your phone.

Alternatively, you can contact your cellular provider and request an international plan. Unfortunately, you will be charged criminal prices (unless you have T-Mobile and are traveling to Europe).

Laptop and Laptop Bag

hp 17 pavilion

Productivity from a smartphone isn’t easy. Smartphones and tablets generally can function for word processing (with SwiftKey), browsing and email — for more complex computing tasks, you will need a laptop. I picked mine on the basis of its CPU, monitor size and battery size. Unless you can afford a ruggedized laptop 3 Of The Best Durable And Ruggedized Laptops You Can Buy Today 3 Of The Best Durable And Ruggedized Laptops You Can Buy Today Tough laptops don't come cheap. But that high price tag gets you a machine that won't give in to rain or a dunk in a river. Read More , make sure to also purchase a protective case. In my case, after experiencing some minor drops inside of a padded attache case, the monitor went out. For mobile productivity, having a broken monitor can kill your workflow.

A major strength of using a laptop lies in its ability to charge multiple USB devices, simultaneously, without needing multiple travel adapters. While my laptop is currently dead (further testament to HP’s manufacturing standards), it still functions as an excellent device charger.

Tablet

nexux 7 with travel case

The Nexus 7 offers a great combination of GPS, WiFi and a large screen, which is great for reading maps. I used it in combination with Google Maps and the amazing OSMAnd as a backup navigation tool. It’s worth noting that any tablet with GPS functionality can offer the same redundancy as the Nexus 7.

A Nexus 7, with an OTG-attached keyboard (how to connect OTG How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone How To Connect a USB Keyboard To Your Android Phone While I’m a big fan of Swype, SlideIT, and other advanced keyboards for Android, there’s something to be said about a keyboard with keys on it. I mean the physical-type keyboards – you know, the... Read More ?) can also serve as a laptop backup, in the event of a hardware failure.

E-Reader

nook simple touch with travel case

My most cherished device, a rooted Nook Simple Touch (how to root the Nook Simple Touch Hack Your Nook Simple Touch Into a Super E-Reader in Three Easy Steps Hack Your Nook Simple Touch Into a Super E-Reader in Three Easy Steps A hack can turn a rooted Nook into a full-fledged, game-playing tablet. Read More ) can sideload apps How to Manually Install or Side Load Apps on Android How to Manually Install or Side Load Apps on Android Sideloading a file onto your Android device is easy, and we can show you how to do it. Read More , including offline Wikipedia apps Hitchhike Your Way Around The Internet With Three Free Apps [Android] Hitchhike Your Way Around The Internet With Three Free Apps [Android] Everyone who has heard, seen or read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy remembers the eponymous Guide, a source of vast and questionable knowledge, which bailed out or confused the travelers, time and again. You... Read More , maps, a ridiculous number of e-books and more. Because it offers a month or more of battery life, the Nook can operate as a backup to a smartphone for many simple WiFi or offline tasks.

3.5-inch Earphones

If flying anywhere, always remember to bring a 3.5-inch headphone jack. Most in-flight films nowadays require that you have your own earphones – the airlines will supply these, at a grotesque markup. So it’s best to bring your own – here are 5 great headphones you can buy for under $50 5 Quality Headphones That Cost Less Than $50 5 Quality Headphones That Cost Less Than $50 Owning a quality pair of headphones is very important for anyone who wants or needs to listen to music by themselves on a regular basis. In fact, they're more important than the device actually playing... Read More .

Warm Jacket With Lots of Big Pockets

Another trick that many traveling professionals use – they wear large jackets with lots of pockets. You may end up looking like some kind of pervert or criminal, but you will be able to carry all your gear without paying for additional luggage.

Credit Cards

Not all credit cards will work in other countries. Also, before traveling abroad, considering acquiring a card specifically for international travel. For example, some credit cards come without international transaction fees, which cost somewhere in the ballpark of 2.5% of all purchases. If you plan on traveling overseas, try using a credit card that doesn’t include international transaction costs and offers good returns on frequent flyer miles. The best online tool to locate such cards is NerdWallet.

credit card processor

Conclusion

Traveling abroad proved both a practical and meditative exercise in productivity for me. I broke and drained several devices while struggling to keep up with a neck-breaking pace. Airports, buses and trains always seemed just moments away from stranding me in a land where I lacked language skills.

Staying safe and productive required the right blend of applications and gear. I highly suggest redundancy, light weight gear and battery life. All three will keep you functioning while neck deep in some hellish environment without Internet access or charging stations.

Anyone use any killer apps or software for traveling? Please share in the comments.

Image Credits: Seth Werkheiser Via Flickr

  1. Dave Brett
    April 26, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Nice post, agree with the E reader, In love with mine, just a real time killer on long bus journeys and flights

  2. Timothy C
    April 24, 2014 at 5:32 am

    might wanna fix "bring your own 3.5" headphone jack"

  3. Matthew H
    April 23, 2014 at 9:24 am

    I think the last time I caught a flight with checked luggage was when I moved back to the UK, a few years ago. As a result, every time I've gone abroad, or caught a flight, I have been traveling light with just a rucksack.

    I actually carry a lot of the stuff you listed, albeit with a few exceptions. Here's what my travel bag looks like:

    - Macbook Pro 13". Perfect balance between portability and power.
    - Nexus 7 with keyboard clamshell case. Because the little tray tables on EasyJet are never big enough for my dinner and my computer at the same time.
    - Portable power bank and enough micro-USB cables to earn a good frisking at security.
    - Blackberry Q10. Nuff said.

    When I code on the go, I usually depend on the following apps:
    - Dash for OS X. Documentation, offline. Which is kinda handy.
    - Git, for cloning repos before I head off.
    - Wget, for grabbing webpages. Some don't use RSS, unfortunately.

    Awesome article as usual, Mr Yamada.

  4. jerry
    April 22, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    You should try out Box.com - secure and great for mobile workers.

  5. Yves
    April 22, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    For safety in wifi zones how about a Linux os on your laptop or better yet on a USB bootable memory stick.

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