I love a good gadget. Who doesn’t? And when you live the life of a digital nomad, the technology that you use can have a huge impact on your productivity. Here, in no particular order, are some of the best gizmos I have used to make money while traveling.
Wi-fi portable hard drive
Look, we all love the cloud. There’s no better way to travel light than to back up all the documents you need online. And the ability to access your documents from any device in the world with an internet connection is something that you’ll be endlessly thankful for if you lose your phone or your luggage.
But when you’re traveling, it’s difficult to always be online. There’s always going to be those times when you can’t access wi-fi or even a cell phone signal. And when that happens, you’ll be glad that you’ve backed up your work on a physical hard drive.
These devices aren’t just great for work, either. On my travels, I use a hard drive that has the ability to create its own wi-fi hotspot. That way, any device with the password can log in and access the hard drive’s contents. Do you know how many movies and TV shows you can fit in a terabyte or more of storage? I’ll give you a clue: it’s a lot. And with a wi-fi capable hard drive, I can watch downloaded episodes of Atlanta on my phone will my wife simultaneously watches Downton Abbey on her tablet. It’s like having your own version of Netflix that doesn’t require an internet connection to use.
Laptop privacy screen
For digital nomads, the world is our office. That’s a grand way of saying that we often find ourselves working in strange places. In coffee shops, in bars, on beaches – working in public is just part of the digital nomad lifestyle.
But not everybody is nice out there. Wherever you go in the world, there’s always going to be some shady characters. Depending on what it is that you do for a living, it’s quite possible that you’re going to have some sensitive information up on your screen, just begging to be stolen. Even your passwords and login details can be compromised by the simple act of somebody watching over your shoulder while you work. Besides, it’s not just work. Do you want some bored stranger on the train reading over your shoulder as you email your family from the road? I know I don’t.
So when I’m using my laptop in public, I use a privacy screen. These plastic films slide into place over your laptop screen and can be removed and replaced in seconds. The special coating on the screen is transparent when viewed straight on, but to anyone not sat directly in front of it, the film is completely opaque. Great for defeating those prying eyes.
I probably don’t need to sell you on the merits of carrying a battery bank with you when you travel. As our phones get more and more sophisticated, they become as hungry for power as the villain in a James Bond movie. Given that I use my phone as a GPS, a TV, an mp3 player, a camera and a computer when I travel, it’s no surprise that I’ve been known to go completely through my phone’s battery twice over in a single day. And anyone who’s been to an airport recently knows how cut-throat the battle for electrical outlets can get. Besides, with an electrical outlet, you’re tethered to one spot, waiting for that battery to go from red to green. With a portable battery bank, you can keep moving while your phone charges.
The battery bank I use also functions as a solar charger. It can be charged from the wall like a regular battery bank, but also charges itself in direct sunlight. Since the solar charging is a lot slower than cable charging, I generally try and keep it charged from a wall outlet, then clip the battery bank to the outside of my backpack and let the sun keep it topped up while I travel. The ability to bring my phone back to life even without an electrical outlet has saved more trips than I can count.
Universal travel plug adaptor
Perhaps one day, when the world is ruled by a super-intelligent AI, plug sockets around the world will be standardized. It’s only an accident of history that a device from the US can’t be plugged in in the UK, all that something bought in France can’t be powered in Israel. But until the machine uprising, we’re stuck with the inefficient system that we have.
When you finally do find that elusive power outlet, you’ll be glad that you brought an adaptor that will allow you to power your devices from home in any country in the world. And if you really want to look like a seasoned traveler, you could bring a small power bar with you so that you can charge multiple devices from a single adaptor. Just remember that different countries use different voltages, so check to make sure that the power supply in your destination won’t fry the devices that you brought from home.
Folding Bluetooth keyboard
Sometimes, I wonder if my folding Bluetooth keyboard is the best $30 I ever spent. I make most of my money from writing, and the dead time on planes and trains while we travel is perfect for getting some work done. But have you ever tried to use a 14-inch laptop on a Ryanair tray table? It’s not happening. Besides, who wants to carry that kind of weight around with them while they sightsee?
My Bluetooth keyboard folds up small enough to fit into my pocket. But unfolded, it’s almost the same size as the keyboard on the laptop I’m using to type this article. The keyboard connects to my phone via Bluetooth and, with the help of a word processing app, allows me to write on my phone wherever I am. I can’t count how much money this little device has made for me over the years.
The first solo trip I ever took was in 2001. Back in those days, phones were something you used to make calls and the internet was something you needed a computer to access. Instead of smartphones, you know what we had back then? Guidebooks! And we were glad to have them as we trudged through the snow, uphill both ways, hunting woolly mammoths and sheltering in caves.
The internet has changed travel completely, just as it’s changed everything else. And with a mobile hotspot, you don’t have to be cut off. You can buy or even rent these handy devices, and they work like a regular Wi-Fi hotspot that you can take with you wherever you go. All you need is a phone signal to stay online, and it can often be much cheaper than your carrier’s outrageous roaming charges.
Noise canceling headphones
I’m a born cheapskate. I’ll use a coupon at McDonald’s if I can. I have been known to walk miles to avoid paying for parking. But when a friend allowed me to try out a pair of Bose noise canceling headphones, I was sold. I immediately got a pair for myself.
These headphones aren’t cheap, but on a long flight or train journey, they are an absolute godsend. Pop these over your ears and close your eyes, and you’ll find yourself transported to somewhere quiet and calm, far away from screaming babies and yelling strangers and that guy who insists on playing his music loud enough for everyone to hear. Think of it as an investment. You know you’ll get much more work done while traveling if you focus, and these headphones will help you do just that by cutting out the ambient noise that would otherwise distract you. Or, they could help you sleep during your journey, so that you wake up refreshed and ready for adventure instead of groggy and cranky and sick of it all. I never go on a long journey without my noise canceling headphones.
These are the gadgets I’ve found the most useful in allowing me to work while traveling. Because the best view I can imagine from the office is one that changes every day.