The Lazy Geek’s Travelling Office

One man’s mission to create the ultimate ‘on the road’ workspace.

Best thing about running my own business? No contest: travel.

Over the last few years, I’ve spent 3-4 months each year abroad. Friends always ask the same question: “How do you work while you’re away?”.


Like many self-employed geeks, working remotely is pretty straightforward. Forgive the cliche: the hard part is deciding to do it. Tim Ferris’s Four Hour Work Week (both the book and the blog) has some good practical advice.

Since I arrived in Berlin last week, I thought I’d give the lowdown on my mobile office.

My mobile office in Berlin

I’m no fan of living in hotels. It’s also usually *far* cheaper to rent apartments short-term via Craigslist, so I look for places with a decent workspace and plenty of natural light.

Apple MacBook

Apple MacBookMy PowerBook (RIP) was built like a tank and perfect for travel. My dilemma: replace it with a small, light MacBook or a more powerful, more rugged (but bulkier) MacBook Pro?

I chose comfort over speed. My souped up MacBook has travelled 10,000s of miles over the last year with a Noreve leather case. My laptop casing took a heavy dink, which Apple replaced gratis under AppleCare.

AppleCare is the only warranty I’ve ever paid for. I’ve dealt with support staff in Toronto, New York and London, and every time they’ve helped me get up and running again pronto. Don’t forget a spare laptop battery for long flights.

(NB. I’m no Apple fanboy. The sales staff were so rude when I went to buy my PowerBook, I nearly walked out of the Apple store…)

Tivoli PAL Radio

Tivoli PalFact: laptop speakers suck. And who wants to travel without music or the BBC World Service? The Tivoli PAL has been my weapon of choice for three years. It’s waterproof, rugged and rechargable, and will double as an amp for your laptop/iPod too.

Yes – it’s pricey, mono, and there’s no DAB/satellite radio. But the sound quality is exceptional. Plus tuning stations on the monster FM dial makes me feel like a safe cracker…


Quad-Band Cellphone

Nokia N95I spend *way* too much time online without an iPhone, so I got a Nokia N95. Big mistake: it crashes like Windows 3.1 never happened.

A reliable multi-band cellphone is a must (memo to self: ditch the damn N95). Invest in an unlocked handset, if possible, so you can use cheap pay-as-you-go SIM cards abroad. They’re easy to find in the UK, less so in the US. Take my tip: search eBay for ‘unlocked cellphone’.

I use Skype for most phone calls while abroad, and use my phone mostly for SMS, voicemail and Gmail mobile.



Belkin Snagless Ethernet Cable

Ethernet cableMy rule of thumb: the availablity of reliable wifi is inversely proportionate to how much you need it.

Even in developed countries, wifi is often not as common as it is in the UK/US . In 2006, I spent a month reviewing hotels in Spain; maybe half my hotels had wifi that was dial-up speed, unreliable or dead on arrival.

The answer? Invest in a l-o-n-g, high-quality ethernet cable. The network cables in hotels, internet cafes etc are never quite as long as you need them to be…


Shure SE310 Earphones

Shure Se310 earphonesAfter years of using cheapo headphones, I was given some SE310’s. The sound quality blew me away and I became an instant convert.

They mould to the shape of your ears after a couple of hours use, which helps the sound-isolating design cut background noise. That means clearer sound and reduced risk of hearing damage with lower volumes.

Yes, they’re a luxury, but no other earphones I’ve tried come close.


Post-Its, Sharpies, Paper…

Some people use fancy GTD tools to keep organised. I use:

  • My iCal calender
  • Post It notes
  • Sharpie markers
  • A4 paper

That’s pretty much it.



Kensington All-in-One Plug Adapter

This travel adapter is the most elegant solution I’ve seen to convert plugs. It covers 150+ countries, has no removable parts and works both ways (eg, UK to US and US to UK).

Now if only it could stop me leaving my plug adapters behind when I travel…



MyBook Backup Hard Disks

MyBook HDI learned the hard way: It’s not if your hard disk will fail, but when.

I use MyBook external disks to keep backups. They’re Firewire compatible, built by Western Digital and cheap. What’s not to like?

That said, next time I write one off with a clumsy elbow, I’ll probably buy a more rugged alternative (eg, LaCie Rugged All-Terrain HD) or perhaps get over my fear of relying on online backups.



Zip-Linq Road Warrior Kit

Ziplinq USB cableZip-Linq make retractable cables. Their USB cable and phone charger go everywhere I travel.

They felt flimsy when I got them, but have lasted two years now with no complaints.




Zyxel AG-225H Wifi Finder

Apparantly some geeks use open wifi networks without permission. Obviously, I think this is morally reprehensible… but if I didn’t, I might use a Zyxel AG-225H wifi finder to find unsecred networks.

Unlike other wifi finders I’ve used heard about, the AG-225H shows signal strength and is rechargable via USB. Better still, it’ll turn any PC with an internet connection into an instant wifi network. Just plug it into a USB port and you’re good to go.

What are your favourite tools for working on the road?

  • Sarah Morgan says:

    Great ideas, thanks!

    My personal favorite is my Callpod (

    Off the same plug, it charges my cell phone, Blackberry, headset, iPod, Garmin Forerunner. Only one thing to pack, light (all those plugs get heavy!), perfect for rooms stingy on outlets, and you only need one converter/adapter.

    It makes me happy every time I use it, and that’s my sign of money well spent.

  • Richard Kershaw says:

    @Sarah – Not seen Callpod, great idea.

  • Steve says:

    What? No EVDO card? I would’ve thought that’d be a necessity in today’s world. Does it even work overseas?

  • You truly have inspired me.

  • Razvan says:

    super post..thanks for all the info..what phone would you recommend ? i have the same issues with nokia…iphone 3g ?

  • Tom Colvin says:

    While in England last month, I came across a historian working in a UK archive, using a Samsung Q1 Ultra tablet PC. I was very impressed: small, powerful, bright screen, 5-hour battery life. He also used a portable keyboard to speed up his typing.

    I myself found my USB memory stick, set up with a full array of programs, was particularly useful in non-English countries. With the stick, I could use internet cafes and still have all my programs in English.

  • Richard Kershaw says:

    @Tom – Your USB memory stick idea has been on my ‘to do someday’ list for a while. Basic setup with Firefox etc for when you’re stuck in a remote internet cafe sans your ‘must have’ software.

  • John Ek says:

    I would suggest adding Hamachi to your list. I love that I can access all of my systems from anywhere in the world. Best of all it’s free 😉

  • erwin says:

    and mobil scanner genius cp-sf 600 ????? !!!!!!!

  • Richard Kershaw says:

    @erwin – Hadn’t seen that before, nice find. Now if only I could find a similar size printer…

  • erwin says:

    HP Deskjet 350c in Kombination mit bluePrinter Bluetooth

  • Graha Keen says:

    Quality post! Good call on the ethernet cable, I remember my shiney new eeepc pinging onto the floor in the Luxor in Vegas, perhaps they should do away with the ‘auto winding’ cables!

    Have you updated the firmware on your N95 – I did and it made it much more stable.

    See you soon

  • Richard Kershaw says:

    @Graham – The Nokia shop on Regents Street told me I couldn’t get the firmware updated without sending it off for service. Need to find someone friendly with a PC who can do it for me…

  • Pingback: Oliver Gassner
  • As a former “Mac/Unix Geek in a RV”, my favourite tool for working on the road was a fifth wheel trailer outfitted as a mobile office. Internet connectivity was good. The office area itself was much nicer than most offices I had in over twenty years as a software developer, and it moved with me.

    Check it out at:

  • Tom Freeman says:

    Brilliant advice thanks! I’ve been meaning to do this for years, but since starting our own company haven’t taken the ‘final plunge’ and booked a ticket to work abroad. What would be your tips on meeting people while you’re away? Surely it might be a lonely 3-4 months if you’re in your appartment working all day and don’t know anyone locally to go for a beer with? I’ve been travelling before and I know it’s easy enough to meet people when you’re back packing etc, in hostels or on tours, but working in my room… Hmm what’s it really like on a day to day basis? I’d be really interested to know.

  • Richard Kershaw says:

    @Tom – Had planned to write a followup post on that very topic but have never quite got around to it. But my top tips off the top of my head:

    1. Most major cities have an expat forum full of people in the same boat (or who have been recently).

    2. Find a workspace, like The Business Class.

    3. Choose a city where you have friends (or friends-of-friends).

    4. May sound obvious, but choose a country where you speak the language or do your homework on where English is widely spoken (eg, Amsterdam, Berlin spring to mind, Madrid is an obvious one to avoid).

  • Joe says:

    I’ll bear this all in mind if I ever get to the level where I can do this full-time. Barcelona would be my ideal city.

  • Dale Harries says:

    Dont forget cloud computing too! No need to lump around a backup hard drive that way! I used Linux myself but im fairly sure Mac has a version of Ubuntu One.

    I usually pack an unlocked mobile broadband dongle, dell mini 10 (Or any decent little laptop thingy running Fedora/Ubuntu), a notepad, pen and a good book for reading on the train!

  • Kim Chipper says:

    I’ve retired and so I now travel a lot. But, I’m still in business (must have a pasive income). I have a MacBook Air (weight-less) and always carry a light-weight four-socket powerboard with one multi-electrical plug which enables me to plug in 4 items with my plugs (Australian) without having to have multiple adaptors. Works like a charm.
    Hopefully you have worked out your mobile (cell) phone problems. In Australia you can disconnect your iPhone from one provider and use local prepaid SIM cards in the different countries, which I ALWAYS do (soooo much cheaper than roaming).
    Recently I worked out a GTD system in one A5 file which houses all the forms I need. It’s working well so far but still have to see how it performs in the long run. Also I carry an A5 20 pocket display book which houses all my lists of business information. It’s reasonably heavy but the last display book I had was a cheap one and it fell to bits with travelling stresses.
    I do all banking by internet. I’m now working on all bills being sent by email to me.
    Thanks for your article. I picked up two useful items: the Zip Ling USB and I bought a backup drive 2TB by WD.

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