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work and travelA couple of months ago, James revealed his home setup Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] Take a Look at James' Home Setup [Show & Tell] Taking a break from our regular awesome software reviews and tutorials, I thought it’d be interesting if myself and some of the other staff writers here at MakeUseOf show you our own home setups -... Read More and challenged the rest of the MakeUseOf team to do the same.

Well, I don’t work from a static location, so I don’t have a home setup. I adjusted my setup for mobility and have tested and improved my ‘system’ while traveling across Canada for the past couple of weeks. You will find that due to the nature of traveling, my setup is extremely basic, yet practical and functional.

Main Computer

Obviously, I work from a laptop. My HP nw8440 mobile workstation is an older model, but it has been serving me very well. I recently had the screen replaced, switched from Windows XP to Windows 7, and upgraded the RAM. My extended warranty is good for another 18 months, so I’m planning to get a new laptop in about a year from now.

I went with this model mainly because of the screen. When I was researching for a laptop back in late 2007, models with glossy LCDs had conquered the market, a trend I did not wish to follow. It had to be matte for me. Above all, however, I wanted a 15.5″ laptop with a WUXGA resolution. A high resolution is a blessing if you are limited to one screen, but want to open two windows next to each other, as I often do.

computer setup

The screenshot above shows my laptop and the key accessories. I use an international power plug adapter (red), a mouse (blue), and a neoprene cover amateurishly stuffed into a cotton bag. This picture was taken at a hostel in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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Since I’m traveling with buses, trains, ferries, rental cars, and airplanes, I have to keep my stuff fairly compact and well organized. What has worked best for me is using a carry-on backpack that holds my laptop and other valuables while traveling and doubles as a daypack when hiking or sightseeing. The cotton bag around the neoprene cover holds the accessories when the laptop and backpack have to be separated. A dedicated laptop bag would be much more elegant, but not practical since it wouldn’t fit into my preferred backpack.

Network

My network setup is straight forward – a laptop with internal WiFi adapter, free public WiFi, connect and go.

People often ask me whether I have trouble finding an Internet connection. Well, since I rely on it, I kind of organize my trips around Internet access. But frankly, while traveling in Canada, the US, and Europe, finding WiFi has not been a problem. I have found reliable Internet throughout my journeys, even in the most remote places, and in case the accommodation itself doesn’t offer Internet (almost all hostels offer free WiFi, though), you are sure to find a McDonald’s or Starbucks close-by.

personal network setup

The screenshot above shows my view from where I worked in the Gaspésie, Québec. I was literally only steps away from the beach (at least while working).

When I was traveling for a month in 2009, I also wrote this article: How To Stay Digitally Charged and Connected On The Road.

Working While Traveling

Don’t pity me, envy me. I get to work wherever I want and whenever I want. That’s huge and hopefully it will be easier and more common in the future! Working while traveling or rather traveling while working is a challenge, but all it takes is the right mindset and occasionally a good headset.

What has worked best for me is to do routine tasks in the morning, right after breakfast. I work for an hour or two and then spend the day getting to the next destination, sightseeing, hiking, relaxing, chatting, or shopping. I typically do research and write my articles in the late afternoon or evening, along with more routine work. This takes anywhere from two to five hours, depending on the workload, the type of article I’m working on, and how much non-work-related tasks I sneak in. Overall, I spend more time outside or on the road than on the computer.

Web Services & Software

Like James, I’m a web services minimalist. For my job with MakeUseOf however, Google Mail has become invaluable, as it allows me to easily filter, tag, and follow up on emails. For private emails I still rely on Thunderbird. I also use Flickr to share photos and Plurk to keep a minimalist version of a personal diary.

I use two browsers – Firefox and Google Chrome. Chrome is my work horse. It is barely customized, but since it’s fast, even with many tabs open, I use it when researching and writing articles. My Firefox is a ‘custom monster’ in which I keep all my standard websites opened. To write articles, I use BlogDesk and I process all my screenshots in IrfanView.

Conclusion

And that’s all there is to it. No magic, just a plain and simple setup, which travels around the world with me. This piece was written in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. When the article is published, I will be in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Upcoming destinations – Sweden via Germany and Denmark.

Do you take your work on the road? What are some tips and tricks you would share with fellow working travelers?

Image credits: olly

  1. Tina
    August 11, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Smayonak,

    thanks for sharing your setup! Great tips there, too.

    I could probably tweak my laptop a lot more, especially to increase the battery life. However, I didn't start traveling with it until a year ago and figured it would be more efficient to just buy and tweak a new machine. But at the same time I am still satisfied with what I got and decided to invest into other gadgets in the meantime.

  2. Smayonak
    August 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I've enjoyed the MUO team's gear articles thoroughly. I actually pick up a great deal of useful information after seeing what the pros actually use on a day-to-day basis. Great stuff!

    When on the go, I also prefer using a very minimal setup. My Toughbook W8 (purchased for around $450 after discount and taxes) came with an industry leading 3-year warranty. After tuning it up with a 1-watt SSD and turning down all its power consumption settings, I get more than 14-hours of battery life.

    As with Tina, its particular selling points were the XGA screen (lower power consumption) and matte finish. It's the strangest thing that more consumers don't demand matte screens!

    However, lately, I've preferred using my Android phone with a bluetooth keyboard and almost regret investing so much time into my laptop. :-(

    • Aibek
      August 15, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      How large is the scren of your Andorid phone? Dont you find it difficult to read?

    • Smayonak
      August 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      This is probably going to sound crazy, but my screen is 3.2 inches and the visibility is pretty good. People regularly comment on how insane I look with a little phone out, tapping away on a disembodied keyboard. For me, the chief limitation has been people staring at me. Public humiliation aside, the only task it does as well as a desktop or laptop is word processing. For the purposes of research/browsing (where multiple windows are open) it's just easier to use something larger. However, I find that for handling RSS (or anything that's just pure text) using cell optimized apps is actually easier. There are fewer distractions. It's just pure text and a few images.

      Another advantage over a desktop is being able to rapidly change screen fonts... through the ancient, secret technique of moving the phone closer. ;-) Just kidding.Like Tina, I spent some time at a few youth hostels, traveling through Hawaii. My companion was a T30 (a very bulky older IBM model) and it was extremely difficult hiding it from potential thieves (a huge issue at most hostels in the states). I couldn't take it surfing with me and couldn't leave it at the hostel. The lockers were completely useless. It was highly stressful!

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