Being Productive While Working Out of a Suitcase

 Being Productive While Working Out of a Suitcase

Not everyone has the natural ability to live out of a suitcase or do business from a laptop bag. However, with a little practice, you can learn how to make the most of your travel time. It’s amazing what you can get done when you put some miles between yourself and the usual distractions of everyday life.

So how do you make the most of your time away? Here are some tips that work for me. I hope a few of them will help you become as efficient when you’re away from the office as you are when you’re there.

Pack efficiently. It all starts with being organized and thinking ahead. Did you ever stay up half the night packing and spend an entire trip frustrated, exhausted, and wondering what it is you forgot? Don’t let it happen again. It’s pretty rare that a trip will pop up at the last minute, but they do have a way of sneaking up on you. Instead of getting packed the day before, start thinking about your trip the week before. Find an out of the way spot to leave an open suitcase and drop things in as you think of them. When it really is time to get ready to go, you’ll be practically done. I have a toiletries bag with duplicate items of everything, so I only have to pack outfits. I have a friend, Rebecca Morgan, who photographs her entire outfit at home—shoes, jewelry, purse, etc.—so she can quickly pull together what she needs at the hotel.

Don’t check your briefcase or laptop bag with the luggage. Stuff happens. Bags disappear—usually not permanently, but long enough to make you wish you had them. While there’s not a whole lot that you can do if it does happen, you can at least be confident that your computer and other work essentials are close at hand. Don’t be tempted to tuck that stack of folders in with your suitcase. If there’s a baggage mishap, you can probably handle business in yesterday’s clothes, but not without your files. I wear business causal attire when I travel, since I have presented in my travel clothes before, but audiences are very understanding.

Have a plan. You’ll usually have a pretty good idea of how much downtime you’ll have during your trip. Before you leave, set some goals. How long is the flight each way? How long will you be alone in your hotel room in the evening? Know what you want to accomplish during various parts of your trip. It isn’t set in stone, just a guide. When you sit down in that airplane seat, you should know exactly what to do next. Maybe there’s a report you want to read or a proposal you want to write. Whatever it is, be ready to dive right in.

Embrace the smart phone (in moderation). You don’t need to become a full-fledged Crackberry addict to enjoy the benefits of a smart phone. It shouldn’t hijack your life, but it can be a useful tool while you’re riding in a taxi or sitting at the gate. Use your downtime to keep up with e-mail. It is a good feeling to know that your e-mail isn’t piling up while you’re away. A smart phone can also help you stay on top of things back at the office without having to play phone tag and leave voicemails all over the place.

Use a jump drive, just in case. It’s tiny, inexpensive, and in a pinch, just might save your career. These little gadgets can go right on your keychain, or for the truly paranoid, around your neck for safekeeping. You can use it as an emergency backup for files essential to your trip. If you laptop is stolen, your battery is fried, or you come face to face with the blue screen of death, you’ll have a backup of your files; like that presentation you came so far to deliver. I had a computer refuse to start up once, but I was immediately able to upload my PowerPoint presentation to the client’s laptop and carry on.

Simplify with a docking station. Do you find yourself transferring files between a desktop computer and your laptop when you need to travel or bring work home? This was one of the biggest frustrations and wastes of time for me for many years. Unless your work requires some serious computer resources (I’m talking way beyond Microsoft Office here), you can probably stop using that desktop machine altogether (I use a Sony VAIO). A docking station means you’ll be able to keep your nice big monitor and full-size keyboard, but still be able to pop your computer out of the dock and slip it into your laptop bag and have all your files in one place. It really is the best of both worlds.

Access your computer by remote. If taking your computer with you isn’t an option, consider setting up remote access. Some companies provide this through a virtual network. Otherwise, similar technology is available through sites like As long as you have internet access, you’ll have access to the files and programs on your computer. Once you’re connected, you’ll be able to operate your PC just as if it were right in front of you.

Load up a phone card. Hotel telephone fees can be outrageous and cell phone service can leave you hanging when you least expect it. I’ve often not had reception from my hotel room, couldn’t get an internet connection (to use Skype), and had to use the land line. Get a prepaid phone card or calling card service so you can make calls from your room without racking up phone charges or wandering around the parking lot searching for a signal.

Pick up an extra set of chargers and connectors. Keep them in your laptop bag or briefcase. This way all of the cords for all of your gadgets are always packed and ready to go. This applies to your cell phone, PDA, Bluetooth, and laptop computer. When you arrive back to your office, you don’t have to unpack all your cords. My sets are permanently plugged in my office and stored in my briefcase.

Get EVDO. If you absolutely need to have internet access wherever you are, EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) provides high-speed internet access through certain wireless networks such as Sprint or Verizon. It’s like using WiFi without having to search for a hot spot. If you pay for connection charges a few times a month in a hotel, the convenience is worth the price tag.

Carry a pocket folder or portfolio. We’re not talking about running around the office where you can juggle fistfuls of papers until you get back to your desk. Conference papers, meeting notes, proposals, and sales receipts are all things that can end up crushed, mangled, or lost if you don’t have someplace to put them. Keep everything together and organized until you get back from your trip. I create an envelope for each client meeting and carry a seven-pocket Pendaflex folder for conferences, with the documents I need separated by day.

I hope these tips help you spend your time as a road warrior more productively, and more importantly, have less to do when you return home—so you can squander more time reuniting with your loved ones.

Make it a productive day!



  1. Thanks for the very helpful tips, Laura. I’ve started traveling for business, and they’ll come in handy.

    Regarding “Did you ever stay up half the night packing … and wondering what it is you forgot?” – One of the best tips I’ve found for travel is to create a travel checklist. This is in the “bring” category of checklists (the other I know about is “do”), and really helps me trust that I’ve not forgotten anything. I print it a day or two before, and work from it, checking off items as I pack them. I continue to add to the digital original as things happen. Real mental relief!

  2. Great tips. It shows how essential preparation is in our daily lives. Productivity doesn’t only mean accomplishing a lot of task but also making a good decision on what to do first.

  3. These are wonderful ideas. Having a plan is probably the first thing we need to consider every time we have downtime. It’s a matter of spending our time wisely.

  4. Great (and thorough!) advice.

    I’d add these pointers, too:

    1. Have a set 6-10 outfits of clothing (and toiletries, and jewelry, etc.) just for travel, and keep them in one location together. This makes it much easier and quicker when it comes to packing.

    2. Pack any wrinkle-prone clothing in the plastic sleeves that come from the dry-cleaners. I’ve found they keep clothing neat and wrinkle-free.

    3. Before you leave, pre-schedule your calendar with all catching-up activities for your return, so you’re not too overloaded or miss important items because you scheduled too much too close to your return. This way you can feel more confident and effective during your travels because you’re prepared for what you’ll face when you return.