Boost Your Productivity With Clever Travel Hardware

Nevermind Game of Thrones, winter is not coming, at least not in the northern hemisphere. It’s summertime, and here at Toptal that usually means many of our freelance developers and designers are either on the road or getting ready to hit the beach.

When I started writing this, some of our people were in Portugal, trying to work out the math behind surfboards. Now it’s my turn, and I’m wrapping up my draft with a nice view of the Adriatic Sea, just a few miles away from the best windsurfing spot in Europe.

Yes, I’m a workaholic, so this might as well be a good time to cover the topic I had in mind.

I can probably guess what some of you are thinking:

This is a lifestyle post! This guy is going to talk about surfing, healthy food and excercise.

No. This is not a lifestyle post. As far as food goes, fresh fish and veggies are always a safe bet. Exercise? Well, cycling to a nearby village to try a marginally different fish dish and sample local wine counts as exercise, at least to me.

So, with all the lifestyle stuff out of the way, I can get back to my message and start discussing the logistics behind travel and remote work. You can buy capri pants, cheap flip-flops, and boonie hats everywhere, but beachside shops usually don’t carry quality hardware that can help you be more productive on the road, or save time and money for more enjoyable activities.

Caveat: If you’re an avid Apple user with a profound dislike of Windows, you may not like where I’m going with this. I don’t intend to bash Apple, but Cupertino simply doesn’t bother with cheap hardware that won’t be missed if it ends up in the water.

Travel Hardware: Myths and Moths

When you hit the road, what do you stick in your carry-on? And no, I’m not talking about shorts and Toptal shirts. You pack a fair amount of hardware, and I am assuming we all have our personal preferences when it comes to our kit. This is entirely subjective, so I’m not going to tell you your choice of hardware sucks.

If it works for you, stick with it. End of story.

Instead, I will focus on often overlooked gadgets and accessories that can make your life easier andcomplement your existing travel hardware. I will try to stay away from expensive or exotic hardware that may be hard to come by, and focus on cheap stuff that won’t burn a hole in your pocket.

Working on the road with spotty internet access can be a nightmare. Luckily, the hardware is evolving to keep pace.

Working on the road with spotty internet access can be a nightmare. Luckily, the hardware is evolving to keep pace.

The hardware industry has been making a killing on high-end laptops and notebooks for decades. They come in all shapes and sizes, from ruggedized Toughbooks that can withstand a low-yield nuclear blast, to sleek ultraportables that sacrifice performance and value for money, but look awesome and turn heads wherever you go. Whether you’re in the market for a powerful, portable workstation for virtualization and design, or a featherweight ultraportable that doesn’t skimp on performance, you are likely to spend loads of money on your primary laptop. I am not suggesting high-end computers are a bad investment because they cost a lot of money to produce, and in turn, they save time and boost productivity. Magnesium alloys, high-density batteries, powerful mobile GPUs and low-voltage CPUs cost a lot of money, and performance rigs will never be cheap. Virtually every major component in a high-end laptop costs much more than desktop components with comparable performance, and like all things in life, you have to pay a premium to get the really good stuff.

But does this principle apply to all portable hardware? It does not, and this is the myth I mentioned earlier. Useful stuff doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

The commoditization of IT has turned the market on its head. Devices that used to cost hundreds of dollars a couple of years ago are now being sold on supermarket shelves for $99, and you can get even better prices if you take your time to look for online deals.

As I explained earlier, these cheap gadgets won’t replace your MacBook or ThinkPad. You won’t mothballthem anytime soon, but you could get some hardware that will supplant them. You won’t have your full development environment or Adobe CC suite on cheap, secondary devices. At the same time, you don’t need a $2,000 laptop to check Slack, write a few emails, or tinker with spreadsheets while you’re sipping your Mojito by the beach. A convertible or hybrid device can handle basic productivity tasks at a fraction of the cost, plus many of them offer superior battery life and can be charged by a powerbank in your backpack. Why drain the battery on your primary computer just to attend a Skype meeting and draft a few follow-up emails? It’s overkill.

Would you use a massive chainsaw to trim a couple of shrubs in your garden? Of course not. Well, I might, but that’s just because I dislike my neighbors.

To summarize, you will still have to pay loads of money to get a proper primary computer, but you can save money elsewhere, and you can get more flexibility. Luckily, mobile computing has never been cheaper, and just a couple hundred bucks can buy you a useful yet nearly disposable device.

Wait, What The Hell Are Convertibles and Hybrids?

I spent the better part of a decade covering hardware, and based on my extensive experience in the field, I can confidently say that I have no idea.

These are not technical terms, they’re marketing talk. Every few quarters, chipmakers and vendors have to come up with new buzzwords to appease pitchfork wielding activist investors and analysts, but you can only come up with so many pointless buzzwords before you blur the lines between all sorts of product categories, throwing all rules and definitions out the window.

New chips and form-factors are turning inexpensive hybrid computers into useful secondary devices. Check them out.

New chips and form-factors are turning inexpensive hybrid computers into useful secondary devices. Check them out.

So, convertibles, detachables, clamshells, 2-in-1s, hybrid tablets… What are they really?

They’re basically cheap computing devices, usually based on tablet hardware platforms. Their design and form-factor vary wildly. I know this is a very broad definition, but this is a broad product category.

Tablet hardware, Ewww! That’s not gonna work for me!

I agree, at least to some extent. These devices can’t and won’t replace your primary computer, but they’re not supposed to – that’s the point. They are secondary devices, stuff you can fall back on in case your primary fails, or if you need something lighter and more portable for menial tasks. However, if you think all these devices are underpowered and useless in a professional setting, you’re probably wrong, and once you try one of them you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

I had a chance to try out a few tablets, hybrids and ultraportable notebooks based on Intel’s latest 14nm Atom x5 and x7 processors (codenamed Cherry Trail). These processors are cheap and tiny, but they can still run circles around most 5-year-old laptops. Whereas a high-end mobile processor costs a few hundred dollars, the price of Atoms is measured in tens of dollars. This does not necessarily mean you end up with terrible performance. These highly integrated chips have four physical CPU cores and integrated graphics capable of handling everyday tasks, media consumption, and even running some casual games.

Don’t be fooled by the “quad-core” moniker. Yes, these are quad-core processors, but the architecture is different, and four Atom cores are usually much smaller than a single CPU core used in Intel’s Core-series chips. This means performance is much lower, but since these are 14nm parts, power consumption is ridiculously low. This means the processor can be cooled passively, and a vendor can get an Atom processor for the price of a beachside lunch. In fact, sometimes vendors pay next to nothing for them, because Intelsubsidizes its platforms, although the chipmaker tends to use different nomenclature for this controversial business practice. Last time I checked, they were referring to it as “contra-revenue”, and didn’t like people using the s-word, which is exactly why I am using it.

While a thoroughbred Core i5 mobile processor requires 15W to 35W of juice when it’s running at full load, tablet Atoms can get away with just a fraction of that, on the order of 2W to 3W. This obviously has massive implications on battery life. A few years ago, I had a chance to review one of the first Atom-based hybrids, designed by Asus. One of the biggest problems I encountered during my review was battery life. I had a hard time draining the bloody thing in my everyday routine. It was like a Duracell Bunny; it offered all-day battery life and then some. Better yet, it could be topped off using a standard microUSB charger, although it took a while to fully charge. Intel was clearly onto something, and its engineers from Israel to California obviously did an exceptional job designing this new breed of Atoms.

Atom processors aren't the toys they used to be. The latest generation offers sufficient performance for many applications and scenarios.

Atom processors aren’t the toys they used to be. The latest generation offers sufficient performance for many applications and scenarios.

That was three years ago, and things are even better now. The latest crop of 14nm Atoms is even more efficient, so battery life should not be an issue, even if you get a dirt-cheap “whitebox” device.

But what about the rest of the spec?

This is what a typical low-end hybrid/convertible/2-in-1 tends to have under the hood today:

  • Atom x5 or x7 series processor – usually an entry- to mid-level x5 chip
  • 4GB of LPDDR3
  • 32GB/64GB of eMMC storage – eMMC storage is slower than proper SSDs, but eMMC 5.0 drives can be quite fast and won’t bottleneck the system
  • microSDXC card reader
  • FullHD IPS touchscreen – usually ranging from 10.1 to 12 inches. Some devices also support stylus input, in case you need to sketch stuff or just doodle something
  • Optional 3G connectivity – 4G is still quite rare in this product category, but that’s changing fast
  • 6000mAh to 12000mAh batteries – this largely depends on display size and the form factor
  • Windows 10 – Apple users probably won’t like this, and neither will the Linux crowd
  • Proper full-sized keyboard with touchpad

Big brands usually market such devices at about $500+, but if you want something really cheap and expendable, you might want to consider Chinese vendors, as you can get something with this sort of spec for $200+, and you’ll usually get slightly better specs than if you go for a big brand device. Some of them use virtually the same components as big brand devices.

Personally, I rely on a compact 10.1-inch “detachable” based on a more powerful Core M processor, with a pretty good stylus which I use sparingly, mostly to annoy our illustrators with my half-baked ideas. Core M devices cost more than Atom-based hybrids, but they offer superior performance and can actually replace your primary computer in some situations (especially if you get a bigger device, as 10 inches isn’t going to cut it for most people).

Unfortunately, Apple users don’t have nearly as much choice.

If they insist on avoiding the traumatic transition to Windows, they’re limited to the MacBook Air series or the new iPad Pro, neither of which are cheap or expendable. Of course, you could use a standard 9.7-inch iPad for some tasks, but in my experience, the relatively small 4:3 screen and the necessity to carry around a Bluetooth keyboard leaves much to be desired. If you’re an Apple user, and if you can live with Windows from time to time, you’re probably better off getting a cheap Wintel hybrid with a proper, full-sized keyboard. It all depends on what you’re going to use these devices for.

Google apps and all sorts of web apps look and behave identically on Apple and Windows. This obviously makes a potential transition from OS X to Win a bit less inconvenient, given the secondary nature of these computers.

4G Stands for Gotta Get Global Gear

So, you packed your laptop, tablet, camera, Kindle, smartwatch, and a bunch of other devices, and hopefully, you didn’t forget the chargers. You’re good to go, but you’re traveling abroad and you’ll have to rely on wireless data when WiFi access is not available.

A few years ago, this was a massive problem, because cellular data plans were expensive and pre-3G standards did not offer a lot of bandwidth. This limited our options and forced us to be on the prowl for decent WiFi networks, or even use stone-age hotel Internet (I still have my sawed-off LAN cable somewhere).

Now, it’s not only possible to get relatively good cellular data abroad, it’s something that we take for granted, and the cost tends to be negligible. You’re usually just a Google search away from a cheap pre-paid SIM card that can get you online at 3G or 4G speeds, depending on where you’re traveling (4G coverage is still spotty in some regions, and may be limited to impractical or expensive post-paid mobile plans). You can also get inexpensive portable 4G routers and modems, as well as unlocked dual-SIM phones.

4G/LTE is the fastest mobile broadband standard. Dozens of different standards are employed around the globe, resulting in compatibility issues.

4G/LTE is the fastest mobile broadband standard. Dozens of different standards are employed around the globe, resulting in compatibility issues.

However, there are still some pitfalls to avoid.

Just because a device is 3G or 4G compliant, that doesn’t mean it can use every 3G and 4G network. In fact, the vast majority of them can’t. These are very broad standards, and telcos use different frequencies and bands in different countries. Things get exponentially more complicated if you travel overseas. Instead of explaining how and why we ended up with loads of different spectrums and standards, I’ll just suggest you do some research on your own. Here’s a good place to start, and you can check out this LTE frequency bands sheet on Wikipedia while you’re at it.

Unfortunately, I cannot help you here, because there are too many variables in play. I could write a huge essay that still wouldn’t explain it well enough. You will have to check the frequencies and bands for every device and potential destination yourself. Once you figure out where you’re likely to travel, and which standards your mobile devices need to conform to, you can start shopping.

The next question is whether you really need a mobile 3G/4G router. What about a cheap phone for tethering instead?

Hardcore geeks and geekettes may be inclined to take the router route, just because they tend to focus on specs. Dedicated routers have a number of obvious advantages, and since this is an engineering blog, I see no point in explaining why proper routers trump smartphone tethering.

However, that does not mean we should dismiss unlocked dual-SIM smartphones because they have quite a few things going for them as well. In fact, they’re probably a better choice for most people. They tend to be cheaper, more compact and offer more functionality and flexibility. If you don’t need to connect loads of devices at once, and don’t expect to go through a few gigabytes of data a day, a simple smartphone should suffice. Your AirBnB or hotel room will have WiFi anyway to take care of “heavy” stuff.

There are a few points you need to consider:

  • Are you going to travel with a few coworkers or go solo?
  • How often will you be away from WiFi access and for how long?
  • Will you even consider accommodation without broadband access?
  • Would you rather have a dedicated device or a smartphone Swiss Army Knife?
  • How much money are you willing to spend?
  • Can you live with 3G connectivity rather than full 4G speeds?

Personally, I prefer backup phones over routers because I rarely find myself in a situation that would necessitate the use of a mobile router on the road. While routers look better on paper, I simply don’t need them, but that’s just my routine and may not be applicable to everyone. A good “world-mode” 4G router usually costs $200 to $300, and for that sort of money, you should be able to pick up a great backup phone. Cheaper routers are available as well, but they usually can’t deal with 4G bands, whereas most cheap phones can.

Dual-SIM phones are a good alternative to mobile routers. They are cheap, unlocked, and can prove very useful on the road.

Dual-SIM phones are a good alternative to mobile routers. They are cheap, unlocked, and can prove very useful on the road.

Android phones are clearly the more frugal option, yet they can augment or even replace your primary phone in an emergency. You also end up with a lot more choice.

For example, you can buy a very compact phone, or an oversized design with a 5.5- to 6.5-inch screen that can double as a tablet. If you’re an avid outdoorsman, you can get a ruggedized smartphone that can take a lot of punishment and won’t die if you soak it in mud and water. Some vendors offer smartphones with oversized batteries, rated at 6000mAh or even 10000mAh. These devices are designed to double as powerbanks, allowing you to top off your iPhone or Nexus anywhere while providing tethered connectivity. However, that’s just marketing. This is why you really need a big battery in your cheap travel phone: 4G connectivity consumes a lot of power, especially if you are going to tether more than one device and use up a lot of bandwidth.

I recently bought a backup/travel phone and decided to go for a dual-SIM all-rounder: a big-brand device that doesn’t skimp on performance yet doesn’t cost much. It packs a 5.5-inch display, aluminium body, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage (expandable), 4000mAh battery, and a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 650 processor under the hood. It’s even got a fingerprint scanner and a decent 16-megapixel Sony camera with PDAF, although these are hardly priorities for a backup device.

It set me back about $150. Do you think I overpaid? Because I don’t.

Getting Online and Staying There

No matter what you do and what sort of platform you prefer, you are bound to need extra power for your gadgets. This is the great equalizer between iOS and Android, Linux and Windows – all toys need a socket.

Luckily, the industry has done much to standardize DC chargers, so the days of worrying whether or not your device will work on a different continent are long gone. You do, however, need a multi-socket adapter if you are traveling overseas, but I guess that goes without saying. As far as smaller devices go, USB is the ubiquitous standard. All you need are the appropriate cables or adapters and you’re good to go (micro-USB on most devices, USB Type C on next-gen devices, Lightning for Apple devices).

It sounds simple, but there are a few things you need to keep in mind.

First off, please don’t buy the cheapest power supply units, adapters, cables or anything that plugs into your DC port. It’s just not worth the risk.

For example, with cheap USB cables and chargers you can face the following headaches:

  • Lack of support for fast-charging standards, namely Qualcomm Quick Charge 2.0 and 3.0
  • Lower than declared output
  • Horrible cables incapable of handling 2 amps or more
  • Questionable reliability
  • Safety/security concerns

Before Apple users start making fun of their Android counterparts and their cheap micro-USB chargers, they probably need to consider the following: Apple’s own chargers and cables tend to get the worst imaginable reviews of any Apple product, and here’s a good (or bad) example of what I’m on about. So, if you want to bash non-Apple users, I suggest you just show them your MagSafe connector and you’ll win by default.

With chargers out of the way, let’s take a quick look at so-called powerbanks. These cheap and practical devices come in a variety of capacities and form-factors. Every self-respecting geek should have one in their travel bag, period.

You should be able to get a good powerbank for $20 to $40. This should be enough to get a unit with dual USB output rated at 2A or more, with capacity ranging from 10,000mAh to 20,000mAh, and Quick Charge support to boot. Many are based on 18650 batteries, so a unit with four 18650 cells on average delivers 10,000mAh, which is enough to charge an average phone three or four times. Some DIY designs also allow you to charge 18650 cells, which comes in handy if you have other devices compatible with these cells (flashlights, laser pointers, bicycle lights, and so on).

While many people may not be familiar with this battery standard, it’s actually been around for ages. Laptop batteries of yesteryear were basically three to eight 18650 cells soldered to each other, so chances are, you already used them without even knowing.

A lot of new powerbanks also support Quick Charge, USB Type-C output, while others feature integrated wireless chargers. Also, if you’re an iPhone user, or use a big-brand Android device, you should have no trouble getting ruggedized cases with an integrated battery, which will protect your device and give you an extra day of battery life.

The Ultimate Travel Hardware Guide

Sorry, but I haven’t got one. It all depends on your needs, your hardware, and lifestyle. It would be presumptuous to assume otherwise.

Must-have gadgets for every geek backpack: check out what they can do for you.

Must-have gadgets for every geek backpack: check out what they can do for you.

However, I can think of loads of inexpensive must-have items for every geek backpack.

  • High-quality multi port USB charger
  • Extra USB cables and adapters for all your devices
  • Universal AC socket adapter (or two)
  • 10,000mAh+ power bank
  • SIM card removal tool, nano-to-micro SIM adapter
  • MicroSD to SD adapter and/or compact MicroSD USB reader
  • HDMI adapter (hardware dependant)
  • Spare phone and/or mobile router
  • Spare flash drive, memory cards
  • Backup headphones
  • Bluetooth mouse with spare batteries
  • Cable and hardware travel organizer

All items listed above should weigh just a few hundred grams and take up a little space in your bag, provided you organize them properly. Their overall cost, save for the spare phone or router, should be around $100. A secondary dual-SIM phone should add about $150 to the total. All of these items are readily available online, via Amazon, eBay, or Chinese e-commerce platforms like AliExpress.

I took the liberty of including a few bits that aren’t directly related to productivity, such as memory cards and corresponding adapters, since I assume most don’t rely solely on their smartphones for photography. I did not include toys and gadgets that many of us take to the beach, like action cameras or fitness trackers, but much of the travel hardware listed above should help you deal with them as well.

But what if you want a bit more? Well, having a secondary computer is always a good idea. I’m a fan of redundancy, and I hate having to sort out hardware issues on the road. At today’s prices, you just need a few hundred bucks to get a good Atom-based backup machine, provided you don’t insist on using a MacBook all the way. The same goes for smartphones. It’s always good to have a backup, but more importantly, a cheap dual-SIM phone can be used for tethering.

This article was written by Nermin Hajdarbegovic, a Toptal Technical Editor.

Productivity On The Road: Work Full-Time, Travel Solo, Have Fun

I’ve traveled solo while working full-time for ten-plus months, across more than 15 countries. It’s one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve ever done. My work breaks over the past year have included things like scuba diving in Belize, polo lessons in Buenos Aires, music festivals in Hungary, and more.

Working full-time while on the road is not easy, but it’s definitely a skill that can be mastered over time.

For those interested in the nuts and bolts of how to travel while working, there are already several great articles out there explaining how it’s done. If you’re not familiar, I recommend starting with Toptal COO Breanden Beneschott’s guide.

In terms of logistics and planning, pulling off a full-time work schedule while on the road is much easier and cheaper than you probably think (at least in my experience), and the infrastructure for doing so continues to grow rapidly.

However, the following problem is far more difficult to solve, especially when traveling solo: Can you fully enjoy your travels while not sacrificing the quality of your work?

Striking The Right Balance

Can you navigate travel logistics, work full-time, and take care of yourself physically and mentally, all while setting aside enough time to explore the places you’re visiting, find fun things to do, and meet new people?

Since you won’t have much of a support system when you’re alone in a foreign country and (usually) don’t speak the language, finding the right balance is critical. Your routine has to be sustainable in the long run, and if you aren’t careful, things can go downhill in a hurry.

As I’ve been traveling, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends and colleagues about the psychology of this lifestyle, including everything from how to avoid loneliness to how to maximize productivity.

It’s not for everyone, but this lifestyle can be both incredibly fun and extremely productive, provided you figure out how to do it in a way that works for you. As I’ve traveled, I’ve noticed some key habits, mindsets, and tricks that are important for anyone who is considering working and traveling to keep in mind, regardless of their occupation or interests.

This post covers some of the most important strategies I’ve picked up while on the road.

Go To X To Do Y

When you have the option of living anywhere, it can be difficult to choose a destination, and going to places to see/do touristy things can get old fast. I’m a big fan of going to places to do specific (non-touristy) activities, as opposed to just going to places that sound interesting on paper.

In the past months, I’ve gone to:

  • Portugal to learn how to surf.
  • Berlin and Zurich for conferences.
  • The UK to take a trip through Wales.
  • Santorini to join friends who were on vacation.
  • Israel to visit family and work on my Hebrew.
  • Belize to learn how to scuba dive.
  • Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina for the Toptal Roadtrip.

Working full-time and traveling the world might be easier than you think, especially when you’re traveling for a purpose.

Working full-time and traveling the world might be easier than you think, especially when you’re traveling for a purpose.

I’ve found that having a purpose to your travels leads to a few great outcomes:

  • It’s a lot easier to structure your time and priorities.
  • It’s easier to meet fascinating people with shared interests.
  • You learn amazing new skills that you’ve always wanted to learn.

When you’re traveling solo and devoting a lot of time to work, it’s important to limit the extent to which you’re “re-solving” the same problems on a daily basis. What I mean by that is, you don’t want to find yourself waking up every morning without any plans for where you’re going to work, what you’re going to work on, where you’re going to eat, who you’re going to meet, what non-work things you’re going to do, and so on.

Not only is it easy to waste a lot of time and energy answering the same questions over and over again, but it will also quickly make you feel like you’re swimming in circles without accomplishing much.

To be clear, I am just as strongly against doing anything that’s “too organized” while traveling. I’m pretty averse to resorts, guided tours, and so on.

As a good friend of mine likes to say:

“I always love seeing big cruise ships. The more I see of them, the fewer people there will be wherever I am.”

The adventure and uncertainty of traveling is half the fun, and it’s important not to lose sight of that by planning too much.

In short, don’t just go to Thailand. Go to Thailand to motorbike from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Go to Brazil because you’ve always wanted to experience Carnival. Go to Nepal because you dream of hiking the Annapurna trail.

The possibilities are endless, and it’s when you go somewhere with a goal in mind that things begin to take off.

Set Aside Time Every Day For Learning

When you’re working at a startup, there are always a million different tasks that need to be accomplished, and you’re constantly in a race against time. You can easily spend all of your waking hours knocking things off of your to-do list, and with so much that needs to get done, it can be hard to justify investing time in anything that’s not the task at hand, or at least directly related to the task.

Being on the road is no excuse for complacency. You can work, play, and master new skills, just as you would from home.

Being on the road is no excuse for complacency. You can work, play, and master new skills, just as you would from home.

However, taking time each day for the explicit purpose of improving your skills and learning new things has a profound and positive impact in several important ways:

  • You become much better at your job. Whether it’s taking a data science course, reading case studies on hyper-growth companies, or learning SEO best practices, investing in developing a strong cross-functional skillset will invariably make you more effective at your job in the long run. Every time I read or watch something just because I want to learn about it, I always come away with a bundle of new ideas, even if that thing was only tangentially related to my job.
  • You’ll be happier. If you’re like me and enjoy picking up new skills and being productive, you’ll be a more outgoing, adventurous, and happy person when you’re learning new things. I usually feel pretty great after spending a few hours reading in a cafe or getting a machine learning crash course by the beach. But after binge-watching movies? Not so much.
  • It’s easier to meet people with shared interests. The more diverse interests you have, the more likely you are to have something in common with a stranger. More importantly, when you’re interested in learning something (especially if it’s related to tech or startups), you can almost always find groups on or elsewhere that are full of people who organize events centered around the topic. This is a great way to meet and learn from people who share your interests.

Much like the “Go To X To Do Y” strategy, setting aside time every day for learning is all about feeling like you’re moving forward. By carving out time to pick up new skills, I work more effectively, stay happier, and enjoy my travels much more.

Pack Light, Stay Mobile, And Make Logistics Easy

It’s no fun when an airline loses your luggage. It’s even worse when an airline loses your luggage and you’re alone in a foreign country, don’t speak the language, have no contacts, and have a long list of unread work messages that you desperately need to check.

You’re traveling solo, so you can maintain an amazing level of flexibility. You won’t end up using at least half of what you were originally going to pack, so ditch the suitcase, put that extra sweater you’ll never wear back in your closet, and go carry-on instead.

I fit all of my belongings into one Deuter 65L travel pack and 25L Marmot backpack. There’s plenty of space for everything I need, and I can carry everything comfortably on my back without trouble.

Stay lean with your luggage and dozens of roadblocks that would’ve become huge pains will never happen in the first place.

Road warrior essentials: Hardware, travel packs, and SIM cards. Don’t get carried away. Pack light, but pack smart.

Road warrior essentials: Hardware, travel packs, and SIM cards. Don’t get carried away. Pack light, but pack smart.

The final thing I’ll add here is that travel logistics are way, way easier than you probably think, especially once you get a prepaid SIM card. These usually only cost $10-20 for a few GB of data, and getting one is pretty much the first thing I do when moving to a new place (it’s also absolutely essential for working from the road). This Wikia page is a great resource for an accurate overview of pre-paid SIM card options in most countries. If possible, make sure you get a SIM card that allows tethering. For bonus points, you can also look into getting dual-SIM smartphones or 3G/4G routers.

With a working phone and the rapid global rise of Airbnb and Uber, not only can you typically find a nice, reasonably inexpensive place to stay within a few hours and get a ride there within a few minutes, but you can do all of this from your phone, without ever taking your wallet out of your pocket. Sidenote: It pays off to do a little research on Airbnb hosts; if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, finding a host who does (and who might share some of your interests) can make a big difference.

These solutions, coupled with the steady decrease in flight costs, mean that many of the pains associated with travel are quickly disappearing. You can decide to jump halfway across the world tomorrow and have everything planned out just a few minutes later without breaking the bank.

Take Care Of Yourself: Exercise And Eat Well

This isn’t exactly a huge revelation, but it’s important. When you’re abroad, your support system is minimal, so it’s critical that you invest in making your lifestyle sustainable. This goes both ways: Working non-stop is as dangerous over the long run as failing to work at all.

You’re on the road, but you’re not on holiday! Take care of yourself, eat healthy, and make sure you get enough exercise.

You’re on the road, but you’re not on holiday! Take care of yourself, eat healthy, and make sure you get enough exercise.

My colleagues at Toptal are extremely smart and impossibly efficient, and teams here strive to move very fast and execute ruthlessly. What may be high priority one week will no longer be relevant the next. Everyone needs to not just keep up, but actively push things forward, and the occasional psychological strains of travel can’t ever get in the way of that. In this type of environment, you absolutely must take the time to take care of yourself. Even small habits such as being mindful of posture or buying boxes of protein bars can make a big difference when you don’t have time to eat and need to be operating at a high level. If you’re working at a computer all day, you need to be taking a few minutes every hour or two to at least do some basic bodyweight exercises.

If you’re spending an extended period of time in a new city, a good habit to develop is to spend time familiarizing yourself with the grocery stores and markets in your neighborhood. Cooking regularly saves you time when you need to focus on work, and can really help keep costs down. If you’re concerned about food quality or have dietary restrictions, it will also pay off to do some research on destinations ahead of time.

Aside from watching what you’re putting into your body, taking care of yourself means that you need to carve out time for regular exercise and figure out a reasonable sleep schedule to which you’re going to stick. Note that this definitely doesn’t mean your schedule has to be “normal”—you don’t have to simulate an office-to-gym-to-dinner-to-bed routine. Being able to design your own schedule is one of the major bonuses of a flexible lifestyle, after all. There are people who do their best work in the dead of night and sleep in every day, but the point is that they choose habits that are sustainable for them.

Exercising while traveling can be very easy or very hard. While it can be annoying to find a new gym every time you move to a new place, traveling solo means that you can specifically seek out places where adopting a healthy routine comes naturally.

For me, this means getting an apartment by the pickup basketball courts in Tel Aviv or a place on the beach by a surf school in Lisbon. Figure out what you like doing that’s fun and also healthy, and then go somewhere that makes it really, really easy for you to do it.

Join Communities Of People With Shared Interests

As I pointed out earlier, the infrastructure that is available around this nomadic lifestyle is growing rapidly, and I’m curious to see what things will look like a year from now.

For people who don’t have a travel partner but are wary of going it alone, there are options such as Hacker Paradise or Remote Year that invite you to join small communities of people who are also working from the road. There are also many combined co-working and co-living spaces establishing footholds in exotic locations around the world, including the Surf Office in Lisbon and Gran Canaria, for example.

In terms of online communities and meetup groups, in addition to, groups such as InterNationsand the Hashtag Nomads Slack community are good ways to making friends in new places. However, in my experience, none of these compare to the Toptal Community when it comes to finding people to meet up with for trips, events, or just a nice dinner.

Regardless of whether you choose to be a part of such communities, it’s useful to know that they’re there if you need them. The infrastructure for making friends exists in most sizable cities around the world if you know where to look.

Spend Time Traveling With Coworkers

This is especially important if you’re new to a company, or if you are just starting your career and need to do everything possible to learn as fast as you can.

Every time I’ve visited or traveled with colleagues at Toptal (who are located in over 100 countries), not only has it been incredibly fun, it’s also led to immediate and substantial jumps both in my understanding of different aspects of the company and in the quality of my own work.

Travel with fellow Toptalers or go solo. We have communities in hundreds of cities all over the world.

Travel with fellow Toptalers or go solo. We have communities in hundreds of cities all over the world.

There’s so much to learn from spending full weeks traveling, having meals, and working with colleagues across the company, and it always leads me to intriguing new ideas. The Toptal Roadtrip and the Toptal Academy React Course (that 200-plus Toptalers are currently completing) are two initiatives that have been a direct result of spending time visiting colleagues.

Moreover, the chemistry you build by traveling with coworkers, while not as tangible as an exciting new idea, is just as important to the long-term success of you and your team. Proper communication is the lifeblood of distributed teams. By spending extended in-person time with coworkers, you’ll be able to accelerate how fast you get to know each other’s habits, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. The productivity gains will be apparent immediately.

There are plenty of opportunities to do awesome things with coworkers, including attending conferences, traveling to exotic locations, or simply visiting them in their hometowns. Doing so frequently and regularly is a great way to enjoy your travels while accelerating your personal and professional growth.

In Conclusion…

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that it might seem daunting to try to do everything at once: travel, work full-time, stay healthy, make new friends, and find time to actually enjoy yourself while exploring new places.

It’s important to understand that it’s a balancing act, not a to-do list, and there’s definitely a domino effect. Spending quality time on one thing doesn’t take away from the others; it’s all interrelated. When you’re having a great time traveling, it’s easier to meet compelling people. When you’re spending time learning new skills, it’s easier to be hyper-productive at work and meet people who share the same professional interests.

It’s when you hit that sweet spot that this lifestyle really reaches the next level. Before you know it, you find yourself doing such things as executing high-impact company initiatives from rooftop beachside apartments before taking a lunch break to go jet skiing, or reading data science books between asados with new friends.

The possibilities are endless, and there are always new places to visit and exciting goals to achieve. The world is an amazing place, and I hope everyone gets a chance to see it. Good luck and happy travels!

If you have questions about anything in this post or are just curious to know more, you can reach me at

This article was written by DROR LIEBENTHAL, Toptal’s Director of Operations.