Lifestyle entrepreneur. Solopreneur. Digital nomad. Location-independent entrepreneur. Wantrepreneur?
My wife Ryan and I were laughing the other day at some of the buzzwords and made-up words that we see going around the interwebs these days. Whatever you call yourself, there's a growing community of people who have left the 9-5, started their own thing, and are now location-independent (or are working towards it).
For the past year and a half, I've been what you could call a location-independent entrepreneur--I can work from anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and an internet connection. I work from home most of the time, but will occasionally go work at a coffee shop. When my wife worked a short-term job halfway across the country last summer, I was able to go along with her and work from the hotel. When we want to drive down to Florida for a few weeks to visit friends and family, it's as simple as packing up my laptop and other gear.
This mobility will become even more important next month (February, 2014), when Ryan and I will be moving to Cancun, Mexico. I'll probably spend most of my days working in an internet cafe, at a coffee shop, in our apartment, or on the beach, and I can't wait. In order to work on the go like this, I have a "mobile office" that I carry with me to make it as easy as possible for me to be productive from anywhere.
For those of you who are location-independent, or would like to become so, I just wanted to share with you what I include in my mobile office. These items get packed into my backpack when I go out to the coffee shop or drive across the country, and they allow me to continue building and operating my businesses no matter where I am. They're not all absolutely necessary, but they sure do help me be more comfortable and productive when I'm working on the go.
Note: I've included Amazon links to some of the items below. If you click on a link and buy something, Amazon will pay me a small commission at no extra cost to you. However, the primary purpose of this post is to give you my honest opinions of the items that I've found to be useful, quality items for a mobile office.
I don't recommend anything that I haven't personally tried or that I can't honestly endorse whole-heartedly. If you do choose to purchase anything using the links below, I sincerely appreciate your support of what I'm doing here at Ecommerce Pulse!
My mobile office gear
This bag has been my trusty companion for the last 7+ years. I bought it in college, and it's seen many days of hauling veritable truckloads of books, clothing, and multiple laptops at the same time. I've taken it hiking up waterfalls in North Carolina, trekked with it to the edge of a volcano in northeastern China, hauled it with me camping in the Mojave Desert, and carried it into most of the coffee shops in the Greenville, South Carolina area. I rarely leave home without it.
Through all of that use and abuse, it hardly looks worn, and shows no signs of falling apart any time soon. I wouldn't be surprised if it lasts for at least another 3-5 years, if not longer.
It 's rigid enough that it stands upright on its own, which is great--I can set it on the floor next to me while I work in a coffee shop, and easily reach down into it to grab whatever I need.
It has a laptop sleeve inside the main pouch (fitting laptops up to 17"). I've carried several laptops in this bag--sometimes three at a time--and have never had one damaged.
All in all, this backpack is spacious, durable, and comfortable. I highly recommend it.
Macbook Pro - My cost: $1799
If you'll be primarily managing an online store, sending emails, and writing, you'll probably be fine with a Macbook Air (or refurbished Macbook). I have bought several refurbished Macs directly from Apple.com, and they've always been great (and 15% cheaper than brand new Macs).
If, however, you'll be doing much design work (having multiple large programs running at once) or video/audio editing, I'd recommend going with the Pro.
iPhone - My cost: $0 upfront + T-Mobile monthly plan
One of the most important features of the iPhone for my mobile office is tethering. I've often been working in Panera Bread during a busy time, only to find my internet freezing up since I'm sharing bandwidth with everyone else in the restaurant. When that happens, I can simply whip out my iPhone, plug it into my computer, and have instant LTE internet on my laptop.
My carrier is T-Mobile, which has recently announced their new global plan--unlimited free data and texting internationally. International calls are $0.20/minute, but if you have wifi or a good data connection, you can just use Skype for free international calls. When Ryan and I move to Mexico in a few weeks, I'll put the free data to the test and see how reliable it is.
- Mac power cord
- Extension cord - Just in case there are no free tables near an outlet. I wouldn't want to get caught with a dying battery and no power outlet in reach.
- iPhone cord - For charging and tethering
When I'm working at my home office, I have a normal second monitor hooked up to my Macbook Pro to give me more working space. This is especially useful when I need to be referencing a document or email while working on something related. For example, I might have a spreadsheet of all of my products open in one screen, with my Shopify admin open in the other screen, so I can be referencing the spreadsheet while working without having to constantly minimize/maximize windows.
However, it's impractical to drag my 22" monitor, HDMI cable, and power cord into a coffee shop, so until recently, when I worked outside of my home office, I just made do with my laptop screen.
My genius wife solved this problem by getting me this USB portable monitor as a Christmas present, and it has been fantastic as a second screen while on-the-go. It just plugs into my laptop (no need for another power cord), and I instantly have almost double the screen space. It stands up using a fold-out leg on the back, which allows it to fold up compactly and fit in my backpack next to my laptop. I keep it inside a foam zip-up laptop case to protect the screen.
Note: This particular model has not performed well on my Mac when using it to watch video--the screen tends to flicker. However, for reading emails, writing in Google Docs or Word, using a spreadsheet, or generally browsing the web, it does just fine.
Working for long hours on a trackpad can be rough on your hands and wrists--I know that mine tend to get tight and ache if I work on a trackpad for too long. A mouse keeps my body healthier and allows me to work faster.
I always make sure to bring a mousepad, since coffee shop tables are sometimes clear glass (which doesn't work with an optic mouse) or slippery surfaces, and are generally just unpredictable. Always using the same mousepad gives me more consistent interaction with my mouse, which allows me to work faster.
Another recent addition to my mobile office, this battery pack charges my phone when I don't have access to an outlet. I can normally just plug my phone into my laptop, but if both of my USB ports are being used (for my mouse and second monitor), I need to have another way to charge up.
Note: I've only had this item for a couple of weeks, and so far it's worked well. There are some Amazon reviews saying that it doesn't work well, so take that into consideration, but for under $6 including shipping, it's hard to go wrong.
I almost always listen to podcasts or music while working. If the work I'm doing is somewhat mindless or repetitive, or if it's visual design work, I like to listen to something that engages my mind. This usually includes podcasts on the subjects of entrepreneurialism, history, and science.
These earpods also have a mic in them, which allows me to make Skype calls easily from my computer or iPhone. I used to carry a USB headset, but they were pretty bulky and uncomfortable to wear after awhile--earpods are much lighter, smaller, and the audio quality is not much different.
Other tools and toys
What kind of "survival knife expert" would I be if I wasn't prepared myself? I don't always carry around a survival knife, but I'll sometimes toss one in. A few other little items are included for easy H2O consumption and other "just in case" scenarios.
- Water bottle
- Pocket multitool
- USB thumb drive
- Survival knife (Cold Steel GI Tanto)
All packed up
What items have you found essential to working from a mobile office? I'd love to hear any recommendations you have for things I should get before I head to Mexico. Leave a comment below if you have any tips for me!