Traveling Tips and Doo-Dads for Writers

Ah, traveling. What writer doesn’t love the refreshing feel of foreign, faraway places? New sights, sounds, cultures and flavors and time away from the daily grind can really spark our creativity. Thank goodness, because traveling also brings challenges. Little ones. Funny ones. Please-get-me-outta-here I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening ones. With a little creativity, we can weasel our way around or through them. (Okay, most of them. May as well chalk the gigantic OOPS! ones up to “research.”)

When I spent much of my time traveling for work in the fashion industry, I picked up useful habits. My multiple, large bags gradually whittled down to a single carry-on. I’ve honed the art of travel-friendly wardrobe choices. And I no longer choose flights solely for the lowest prices. (Four transfers and twelve-minute layovers are seldom worth it.)

Writing brings a whole new set of challenges, from typing on airplanes without laptop-squish or over-the-shoulder story stalkers to toting the “office” along without creating 10-ton luggage. As I prepare for ThrillerFest in New York (YEAHOOO! ;)), I’m applying lessons I learned last year with hopes of an even better time. Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to make writerly traveling easier.

1. If you’ll gain a lot of loot, bring a prepaid flat-rate shipping box. Goody bags of books are a huge perk of writers’ conferences. Last year I had to choose between buying something to tote them home in and a $40 bag fee , and didn’t have time to hit the post office mid-trip. So I left some of the freebies for the hotel cleaning staff. *cringes at the memory* This year, not gonna happen. For about $16, I can ship books home from the hotel lobby.

2. For short and busy trips, consider a compact writing gadget. For the first time in years, I may travel without my laptop. Assuming I don’t wimp out, I’ll rely on my iPhone, word processing app and attachable keyboard for writing. (The same tools work with iPads.) If you have the cash, you could invest in MacBook Air—a slim, light-weight laptop I occasionally dream about. *sigh* Ginger Calem uses a NEO, which is much more affordable and similarly compact. Dell and other companies also make mini laptops.

3. Take measures to elongate your phone’s battery life. Heat, push notifications, intense brightness, email alerts and other factors zap battery power. Changing the settings on your phone can help keep the juices flowing. For more tips, check out these Apple’s battery tips.

4. Research hotel tech features. The last few hotels I’ve stayed at have had iPhone charger docks—same for rental cars. Not having to pack chargers saves us luggage room, keeps us from having to remember to re-pack them and forgetting them. Some hotels charge a pretty penny for WiFi use, so if you’re going to need web access, seek a hotel with free or affordable WiFi. You could also scope out the surrounding neighborhood, if you don’t mind heading to Starbucks as needed.

5. Invest in comfy travel gear. Backpacks, laptop bags and sturdy luggage on wheels can help ease physical stress during travel. If you’re looking for a great, well-made laptop bag, check out outdoor and climbing stores. Stores like REI have entire laptop luggage sections, all designed for portability and comfort. (I get loads of compliments on my REI laptop bag; they actually look pretty chic.)

Other tools worth toting:

  • Kindle or other eReader
  • Notebooks, pens
  • Business cards in a sleeve or caddy (Cards look way less professional laced with granola bar crumbs.)
  • Mini hand sanitizer (Laptops and smart phones are notoriously dirty. I can’t imagine travel helps any.)
  • Healthy snacks—whole grain granola bars, fruit, trail mix, nuts…
  • Travel pillow and blanket (For collapsible comfort, try the Travel Pillow Reinvented, by TravelRest. It rolls up and inflates with three breaths. I LOVE it for overnight flights.)
  • Headphones, ear plugs and eye mask
  • Mini toiletries (I tear perfume samples out of magazines for trips—fun way to try new scents at far less than 3 ounces. ;))

Any tips or gadgets to add? Funny stories of travel-gone-wrong? What can you not leave home without?

Psst! Don’t forget to send me your “I’m a writer” photos by July 21st. For a few more details, visit my last post.

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61 Comments

  1. Fantastic post August. I haven’t travelled that much in my life but enough to know that picking the time of year (if possible) is key. I’ve driven to an airport 3 hours away to save a little cash only to drive in white out conditions from a snow storm. Not worth it!
    And travelling as light as possible and with GOOD travel gear is huge. I’ve carried and lugged around old, heavy suitcases that don’t wheel well ONE too many times. Spend the money. Get the gear. My next purchase will be: http://www.luggagetogo.com/helium-colours.html – the big one in hot pink!!! I want to be able to just roll along any which way…
    I got myself a Dell Mini last year and love it. It’s light and so portable, I can carry it in my purse! I have an ergonomic keyboard at work so I am totally used to the smaller, more compact keys…it totally does the trick!
    GREAT post!

    Reply
    • That is a gorgeous suitcase, Natalie. And so you! Wheels are awesome, right? My new favorite bag is a backpack/roller bag—perfect for big city travel.

      Great point about weather… I’ll have to keep that in mind when I travel to Canada someday. 😉

      Reply
  2. Oooooh! I saw ThrillerFest, but I didn’t know anyone going. Grrrrr. Anyway, these are great tips. I have some great bags from Skooba that I love, plus my friend Michael gives me (and all my readers) a 20% discount on his stuff, so that’s cool.

    Will send my picture as soon as I get home. You see, this writer is traveling now. And I nerd all the proper accoutrements to make sure I send you a photo of my writerly self.

    Reply
    • That is one awesome friend perk, Renee. I’ll be sure to check Skooba gear out! (Nothing to do with scuba diving or swimming, right? I hope?!)

      Can’t wait for that photo. May your nerdiness (synonym: smart, thoughtful and fabulousness) shine. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Catherine Johnson

     /  July 9, 2012

    Great timing, i’m off tonight. I don’t really want to use the internet on my phone but I wonder if free wifi will still work. Luckily I can still catch up with my parents computer. We’ll see! Thanks August.

    Reply
  4. So wish I could go! These are great tips for travelers, August. And I’m a Mac girl all the way – love my MacBook Pro – but an alternative is an Ultra Book by HP. My hubby has one (he actually won it at a convention!) and it’s very similar to the Macbook Air with a smaller price tag.

    Reply
  5. gingercalem

     /  July 9, 2012

    Great tips, August! I’m a huge planner for trips and like to pride myself on having all my little must-haves. You’ve given me some great ideas to add to my lists! Thank You!

    Reply
  6. Dang, girl. You and I have almost an IDENTICAL travel list. The only other thing I add is an extra toothbrugh and toothpaste that goes in the special “airline bag” that holds the earphones, the eye shade, ear plugs and melatonin to help with the jetlag. Looking forward to seeing you in New York.

    Reply
  7. Learned the hard way about the wifi tip when Marcy and I went to the Writer’s Digest conference in NYC last year. Why they insist on having it in downtown Manhattan baffles me. Marcy sweet-talked us into half-price wifi though 😛 Always have a savvy sweet-talking travel companion. Maybe I’ll try and get to Thrillerfest next year.

    Reply
    • It’s a great fest, though it’s definitely a pretty penny more than others. I think the location is wise from an industry standpoint—more agents, publishers and editors than any other conference I know of. Always good to have a sweet-talking pal to help out! 😉

      Reply
  8. Wow Thrillerfest! Are you writing a Thriller?
    Great tips. Wish I was going. I LOVE Manhatten!

    Reply
    • Hey Susie! Yes, thriller-writing is my main focus. I’m working on my second while my agent pimps my first. 😉 I wish you were going, too!

      Reply
      • Cool! I thought you were doing a wellness book since that is the focus of your blog…Maybe next year. Thanks!

      • Are there others going that you know? I want to know all about it!

  9. Awesome travel tips, August!

    Reply
  10. I recently stayed in a Las Vegas hotel that didn’t have WiFi. I just assumed it would. Bad assumption. Luckily, I had my 3G iPad and was able to do what I needed, but not as effortlessly as I would with my laptop. Then again, to be able to do so much on a small iPad is a blessing, indeed, and I was very grateful for its usefulness. People grumble about technology, and it certainly has its issues, but I thank all of those intelligent and innovative minds who’ve created all that we have. 🙂

    Reply
  11. Awesome traveling list, August. Good suitcase that’s easy to pull saves you from tense shoulders. The investment accompanies you to many journeys. It’s also a good idea to have a little bag with you in the plane that holds all the essentials in case something wonky happens to your luggage. Been there with those hasty layovers.

    Reply
    • Great tips, Reetta. I’m so grateful for my roller backpack, and that little bag can definitely speed up security checks. Thanks for weighing in!

      Reply
  12. Because my husband and I did the long distance romance thing while dating, I got really, really good at fitting a week’s worth of stuff into a small carry-on bag with wheels and a backpack. I’m an absolute pro when it comes to getting through airport security with as little fuss as possible.

    I’ve always struggled with the travel for conferences though for some of the very reasons you mentioned. When I have to bring my laptop, it means I only have one carry-on for everything else because my laptop bag basically fits the laptop, my Kindle, my phone, my wallet, and healthy snacks. I also don’t own an iPhone (that’s actually a strategic decision on my part because if I owned one, I’d be tempted to check email and work when out with friends). I really want to get a NEO or something similar for when I’m on the road.

    Reply
    • I love that you don’t have an iPhone so you can be sure to focus on your friends, Marcy. I hope you’re able to find a great portable computer option. The NEO looks pretty good. 🙂

      Reply
  13. These are invaluable tips. Especially the prepaid envelope. Thanks so much, August! Hope you have an awesome time at ThrillerFest. Do you have your zombie costume ready? Got all the moves down to Thriller? LOL! JK!

    Reply
  14. Great tips, August! I carry my lightweight laptop or an old-fashioned paper notebook. And the kindle (it even includes a mp3 player, so I’m all set). Camping with a kindle is perfection 🙂

    Reply
  15. Coleen Patrick

     /  July 9, 2012

    “And I no longer choose flights solely for the lowest prices.” This is what I told my husband after our crazy flight schedule last week. It can easily be mentally and physically taxing–too easy to ruin a lovely vacation.
    Thanks for the great tips 🙂

    Reply
  16. Dito Dito Dito! Great tips. My android WP app is a savior if I don’t want to bring my laptop with me.

    Reply
  17. What an incredibly clever, helpful post!
    Nice work, August!

    Reply
  18. Great and practical traveling tips – thanks!

    Reply
  19. Awesome tips, but you failed to mention comfortable shoes. Always, always bring comfortable shoes.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
    • True, Patricia! I really didn’t hit up wardrobe here, but those comfy shoes are crucial. One pair that goes with all outfits, even better. 🙂

      Reply
  20. Love the idea of having a return mail shipper. Great thought!
    On Laptop bags, just last year I went through the analytical job of finding the best bag I could for my mac pro. Tom Bihn, makes the best protective and practical bag I have seen on the market. They are also a Seattle based company. When it comes to carrying around something that expensive, it pays to have the best product out there.
    REI is an awesome store, I never get out of there without something cool.
    Always enjoy reading your posts August!

    Reply
    • Indeed, computer bags/luggage is one area in which we tend to get what we pay for. Thanks for the support!

      Reply
      • August forgive me if I came across, or come across as ill mannered by sharing my opinions. I want you to know I love your site, I have learned a lot of practical insights by reading here, and am glad I have found the level of writing you offer in my blogging community. Thank you.

      • You haven’t seemed ill-mannered at all—only supportive and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing your opinions and your support. I welcome both!

  21. mgedwards

     /  July 9, 2012

    Great travel tips, August! I would add these:

    — A packing list. I keep a dynamic packing list of things to bring on trips and always double check it before I leave to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. If I miss something, I make sure to add it. It saves a lot of headaches and what I call “Oh, shoot!” moments.
    — A document pouch to hold all important travel documents. Mine has my passport, WHO shot card, currency, itineraries, frequent flier mileage numbers, and even PINs (keep separate from credit cards). It should be small enough to carry at all times and stash in a safe at a hotel.
    — iPad. Have to put a plug in for the iPad’s multifunction capability. I love using the Pages program to write, watch movies, and read books. I can’t live without it. When I climbed Kili, I left it behind in favor of my Kindle because I didn’t want to risk damaging it, but I find the iPad indispensible for regular travel.
    — Half empty suitcase. Save at least half the room in your suitcase for souvenirs, books, shopping purchases, etc. Mailing shippers are fine in the U.S., but I shy away from using the postal services in many countries overseas because the packages could be pilfered. Couriers like Fedex and UPS are okay but expensive.
    — If you’re traveling outside the U.S., notify your credit card company, or they may lock your card down if you use it to make an unusual transaction!

    Great job as usual!

    Reply
    • From the mouth of a travel pro! 🙂 Thanks so much for weighing in.

      I haven’t traveled overseas in a while, but it certainly brings unique challenges. I’m going to keep your tips in mind! Love the half-empty suitcase idea, too.

      Reply
      • mgedwards

         /  July 11, 2012

        Funny thing…my family is in the states, and my wife told me she already filled up the empty half of her suitcase! Plan B is to bring ANOTHER suitcase. Looks like I’ll be hauling a lot of loot, er, goodies, back to Thailand from the United States when I go in August.

  22. great tips, August. My kindle is a given – it makes travel so much lighter…and I no longer feel the need to visit all the book stores wherever I am in the US (your stores have more romance titles than those in canada) so i’m saving money and time there as well.

    i bought a backpack on wheels for high school students LOL not exotic but it carries all my carry on stuff, including my laptop, which accompanies me everywhere.

    my pet peeve when travelling? Expensive hotels that make me pay another $15 a day for wifi in my room. what a rip off!

    Reply
  23. Yup, all good tips. I find a backpack with extra pockets, and large enough to accomodate my laptop works for me. I don’t have anything like a Kindle, so the laptop comes with me wherever I go, like a faithful puppy. 🙂

    Reply
  24. A few years ago, I bought a netbook because of its size and weight. With the iPad even smaller and lighter, plus the added benefit of using it for email and as a reading device, I’m going to switch to it as my favorite travel companion.

    Enjoy Thrillerfest, August!

    Reply
  25. Running from Hell with El

     /  July 10, 2012

    I too dream about the Macbook Air–just waiting to be discovered LOL. And I agree that REI is fantastic. I still use my forest green backpack that I bought there for our trip to Ireland 10 years ago. It became my birth-bag for all three children; now we use it whenever we get out of town, just the two of us, to get a break from the children. And next time we hit Ireland: same bag, no doubt.

    I gotta agree with you re cheap fares. Price point for me also includes factoring in comfort and convenience.

    As always, love your posts, August!

    Reply
  26. Kourtney Heintz

     /  July 10, 2012

    Fantastic tips August! One thing I learned from my 7 weeks in Asia with one suitcase was that linen pants are a godsend. They handwash in the sink, dry overnight when hung in the bathroom and breathe well in tropical climates. And they take up less room in the suitcase than chinos. 🙂

    Reply
  27. Great tips! It’s been a few years since I’ve flown to get anywhere. I’ve definitely employed the half empty suitcase and the pre-paid envelops before, anything to make life easier 🙂

    Have a fabulous time in New York!

    Reply
  28. Karen McFarland

     /  July 10, 2012

    I can tell by this post that you are so excited about your trip to New York August! You and everyone else that are going to Thrillerfest are going to have a blast! I am so happy for you! I don’t think you’ve forgotten anything. Yep, I think you’re ready to go! Have a wonderful time. I feel a Thrillerfest post coming up in your future! 🙂

    Reply
  29. Have a great time at ThrillerFest… sooo jealous!

    Reply
  30. Raani York

     /  July 11, 2012

    I love this blog post! Another GREAT one with useful hints and tipps.
    My baggage too had become lighter with the years since first: I made more friends and more often visit family when flying home and in case I have to stay at a new place, learnt how to use a laundrymat. LOL
    I never pack my pants “flat” – I turn them into “rolls”. They come out of the suitcase much less wrinkled and can more or less be carried right away.
    And for short trips I bought some empty “cream” containers, very small ones. That way I don’t have to take the big ones with me.

    Reply
  31. I recently bought a carry on that has easy slip out laptop section. Comes in handy at airports. Another thing I experienced lately is with GPS on rental cars. Two experiences back to back, at same Airport & same rental company. Earlier this year I was given a GPS with no mount, I some how managed. The same company at the same airport gave me a GPS with a different charger on my trip there last week!

    Reply
  32. Great tips! I didn’t know about all of those ways to save battery power. Definitely going to make some of those changes.

    Reply
  33. Buying a prepaid shipping box: what a brilliant idea! Never thought of that.

    My favourite motto is, “travel light, travel happy”. Nothing spoils the wonderful experience of travel than lugging around an unnecessary amount of luggage! 🙂

    Reply
  34. For a less expensive travel typing solution, check out AlphaSmarts! Very basic but they have a wordcount. And if they break or get stolen…you’ll probably be ok. Range about $150

    Reply
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