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How to Work from Hotels on a Road Trip

This photo shows a close up of a computer and a sign saying free wi-fi, with the bedroom out of focus in the background.

Writers, teachers and consultants can work just about anywhere.

If you’d like to have a productive working vacation, here are some expert tips to help you work better.

Since I’m a writer and internet marketing consultant, I can work anywhere in the world. That’s why I like road trips so much.

If I did my homework right, I picked a place near a mall, or some big box stores, so my wife and kid can go shopping. The bigger the mall, the longer they’re  gone, and the more work I get done. (Just be careful in West Edmonton Mall and The Mall of America, those malls are so big that you might never see your family again.)

To work away from home, all I need is my computer, backup drive, earphones and smartphone. (I used to bring a USB headset, so I could talk with my clients over Skype. When it broke, I discovered that the same iPhone earbuds with built in mic, work on the Mac too. Now there’s one less thing to carry.)

What the hotel needs to provide is a strong internet signal, a decent desk and a good chair. It seems simple enough, but that combo is harder to find than you might think.

Free internet is essential. If the hotel wants to charge me by the day, or for usage, it’s a deal breaker. I don’t even bother booking places that try to nickel and dime me to death.

I rely on photos from the hotel website, and those uploaded to travel sites, to judge the furniture in the room. Usually the desk is kitchen table height, around 30 inches (76 cm) which is ok. It’s far from being ergonomic, but at least it’s a desk.

Most proper computer and office desks will have a drop down keyboard shelf at around 26 inches or 66 cm. If I can get one, great! If not, I’ll suffer through.

More important than the desk is a proper chair. Sometimes these desk chairs are just kitchen chairs, or worse, a webbed chair, like a lawn chair. Look for a proper office chair that offers tilt, swivel and adjustable height. It should also have a padded seat and a high back, if you plan on spending any time in it.

If you have lower back trouble like I do, you might want to travel with an ergonomic back rest. These are portable, lightweight devices, that help with posture and release stress on the lower back. Mine is by Obus Forme and I always leave it in the car, just in case.

The computer is essential because I write for a living. I find my laptop perfect in every respect. It is light weight and small, with a full sized keyboard. Yet it’s powerful enough to drive the huge monitor back home.

The computer also doubles as my telephone for client consultations, using Skype and earbuds. I don’t use my iPhone, because there are no long distance charges when everyone on the call uses Skype. If the client wants to share screens, transfer files, or do a video conference, Skype on the computer does all that and more.

If you’re not into Skype for some reason, there are some popular alternatives. For meetings, look to Zoom and Microsoft Teams. For secure one to one conversations try Signal. If everyone is on an Apple device, FaceTime offers meetings and end to end encryption.

A smart phone like an iPhone is an essential business tool. I use mine as a calendar, calculator, watch, timer, alarm clock, flashlight, camera, document holder, ebook reader, GPS and list maker. Thanks to a great selection of apps, it eliminates all sorts of electronic gadgets that I used to travel with.

Another thing that I bring on road trips is a portable laptop desk. That way, when I’m tired of sitting at the desk, the support lets me use the laptop in my lap without it getting too hot.

Something that really helps if the hotel wifi signal is weak, is a signal booster, or hub that plugs directly into the wired internet beside the desk. Using a booster will allow full strength wifi signal throughout the hotel room, from bathroom to balcony and everywhere in-between.

Another item I suggest is backup drive. I always carry an external drive with me, wherever I travel. Even though my computer’s hard drive is solid state and it has no moving parts, I don’t take any chances. I backup my entire hard drive at least once a week.

It’s also a good idea to bring a couple of memory sticks, which are also known as flash drives, or thumb drives. These are great for quick backups, or transferring photos and documents from one computer to another. They’re also good for that very rare occasion when someone – still living in the stone age – needs something printed and faxed. 

(Why people insist on using 1980s technology like fax machines is a mystery to me. A better way is to use PDF format and keep everything digital whenever possible.)

Usually the hotel has a business center for guests, that has a couple of old Windows PCs and a laser printer in it. Sometimes they include access to the room for free. Other places charge by the hour, or for how many pages you print. So be sure to read the fine print, before you print.

If the hotel is savvy enough to have a wifi printer, then there shouldn’t be a problem printing documents. Just select the printer as your target and let it rip. Otherwise, your best bet is to make a PDF of the document that you need to print.

First make the document on your computer and save it to the USB drive as a PDF file. Then eject the USB stick from your computer and insert it into the USB slot on the hotel computer. Now double click on your PDF file, and print it out to the hotel printer, from whatever software that launched.

These days, I only deal with companies that know how to handle digital documents. There’s no reason for ink on paper anymore, just excuses. With PDF I can mark up documents, fill them out, sign them off, and send them out by email, keeping everything digital, minimizing my carbon footprint.

(If you do need to sign something, be sure to read the article about working on long road trips. It has a great tip on how to sign documents digitally, using the camera in the lid of your laptop.)

So if you want a great working vacation, take a long hard look at photos of the hotel room, before you book it. Make sure you have free internet, a decent desk and a good office chair included in the price. And don’t forget lots of shopping and entertainment nearby if traveling with your family.

QR Code for Driving Road Trips
This is the QR Code for https://drivingroadtrips.com so people can easily scan and transfer a page displayed on a laptop to their phone. It makes for easy sharing too.