There's nothing better than an extended vacation, am I right? A few extra days in the mountains; on the lake; in the sand to relax. But with work, email, keeping up with Twitter and all the other bits it takes to run a business, sometimes taking time off is easier to do when it’s a few hours a day instead of a few weeks a year.

As newly-minted solopreneurs, my husband and I have been experimenting with extra long road trips that mix fly-fishing with work hours, stops on the water with wifi and giving ourselves a few extra days of exploring to conquer both. We've seen the Smoky Mountains, snacked on Alligator wings in Southern Georgia, climbed the fossil hills of the Badlands, kayaked in one of Puerto Rico's bioluminescent bays and used the wifi at every Starbucks we passed along the way.

With three road trips under our belt since our wedding in March, I've put together a quick list of six digital nomad essentials that have made our road trip life of biz time and break time easier:

1. Pocket-sized notebooks

If you're anything like me, your brain is chugging out genius plans just as your iPhone hits that dreaded "no service" zone. I make sure I bring a notebook to document any brilliant ideas that come to me at the edge of Lake Coeur D'Alene. My favorite notebooks: Moleskine. I particularly like the blank-paged ones and the grid paper: perfect for organized lists of client work and plenty of space to sketch my surroundings. As an illustrator, I never leave home without a Sharpie. For road trips, I pack at least six. (I tend to lose at least a few along the way.)

2. Extra USB cords

We have at least four USB cords for our iPhones to plug into the car charger, the computers, and many budget hotels now offer USB ports in addition to outlets in their rooms. Inevitably one gets left behind. It pays to pack a couple just in case. (Side note: bring. your. computer. charger. They are expensive to replace and oh-so-necessary on the road. I charge my MacBook over night to make sure it's pumped up and ready for my morning work hours.)

3. Yakima Rocketbox

This car topper was a new addition to our road trip chariot (the beloved Hyundai Santa Fe) and let me tell you, it was the very best. When we're on the road we're fishing, exploring, and wandering in Filson pants, t-shirts and, sometimes, waders. On our first extended road trip we packed work bags with our rugged clothes (and camp chairs and fishing rods and snacks) and things got very crowded. The Yakima Rocketbox was a life saver. It allowed us to keep outdoor gear up top, leaving the car feeling a bit more organized. I could quickly grab my work bag when we pulled into a coffee shop, rather than dig through the blankets and tackle box to find my MacBook.

4. Business cards

While you might not always be working on the road, you never know who you might meet along the way. I've exchanged contact information with a business professor I met while dining in Idaho, who just so happens to specialize in entrepreneurial business. I met a super talented calligrapher/barista who dreams of a creative business plan. I still keep in touch with a financial advisor I met in Italy AND illustrated some thank you notes he sent to fellow trip goers. Business cards are key, friends. As key as connecting with the sweet souls you meet along the way. Pack more than you think you'll need. (And I always forget to put a few in my evening clutch. Be sure to stash some in all your bags.)

5. Mini file for receipts

My accountant suggested this to me and it's been a GREAT way to keep tabs on all my potential write-offs on the road. You know those plastic coupon books you've seen to sort the egg discounts from the 2-for-1 cereals? Pack one of those in your glove box. Mark the tabs with key tax categories (i.e.: meals and entertainment, travel, postage, etc.) and stash your receipts accordingly and immediately. This will save you a ton of time come April, especially if you make a habit of labeling the receipts before you file them. Also -- don't forget to do your research on write-offs. That dinner I had with the business professor: it quickly became a write off-able meal as we talked marketing strategy and business planning over marinated cucumbers and garlic bread.

6. Stamps

I never leave home without them, especially postcard stamps. There's nothing better than writing "home" about your trip. I send clients and friends postcards from each city we visit. (And occasionally a note to my husband documenting our day. It's a nice surprise in the mail hold pile when we return.) Pack 20 of them in your wallet and document your adventure. Have a client who mentioned they've always wanted to see Mt. Rushmore? What a thoughtful way to let them know you're still focused on their projects -- send them a quick postcard from below George Washington's chin.

A couple other tips for mixing vacay and work day:

Can’t let these go by the wayside:

  • Let your clients know what's happening. I try to sign my emails with "from the mountains of Montana, LP" or other bits that give clients a window into where we are, but also let them know that I'm accessible.
  • Check with your cell provider before you hit the road and ask about: roaming data limit, turning your phone into a hot spot and about coverage in the states you're visiting.
  • Use your early morning hours as work time if possible. You'll be amazed by how efficiently you can use the first three hours of the day if you know your afternoon is being spent at the Cody, Wyoming rodeo.

We're still learning the digital nomad basics, yes, but with each trip we take, we get a little bit better.

(And honestly, for an artist, seeing beauty on the road inspires all kinds of new work!)

So what are you waiting for? Get out there. Explore. Pack your laptop charger and bring a pen. It'll be worth it.

Digital nomad and location independence resources

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Laura Palmer is an Iowan, illustrator, amateur adventurer and a one-woman-shop owner. Together with her tall, well-dressed (and truly patient) husband, she's set a goal to see as much of the USA as they can manage in their first year of marriage, sending her headfirst into digital nomad-ing (or as they call it: #nomadlyweds).

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2 Comments on 6 Packing Essentials for Your Next Digital Nomad Adventure

  1. Genesis
    July 27, 2015 at 12:57 pm (4 years ago)

    So many good ideas. My husband and I spent last summer traveling SE Asia and I couldn’t agree more with these tips. It got really old scrambling around for scratch paper all the time to write notes, great ideas I had or the name of someone I wanted to remember. And you ALWAYS loose chargers or small cords.

    I also love the idea of sending clients postcards. I wish I had done that~ it would make them feel so special. I will try that on my next extended vacation. Thanks!

  2. Ronaye Bush
    August 14, 2015 at 5:59 pm (4 years ago)

    Great article! I wish I had thought to send postcards to my clients while I was in LA and visiting Catalina Island. Thanks for the tips


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