Tips for the Traveling Writer

If you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, chances are good that you’re on the brink of some of the nicest weather of the year. Chances are also good that you would rather not spend the entire summer stapled to a desk. The beautiful thing about being a writer is that there's no need, because the most important components of the work can be done from just about anywhere. Even if writing is a part-time or hobbyist endeavor, travel is one of the best ways to fuel inspiration and break out of a lethargic, counterproductive day-to-day routine.

Travel is a somewhat privileged activity, especially if you're dishing out for plane tickets. There are plenty of articles out there trying to sell the idea that "anyone can afford it!" And sure, there are travel hacking tactics that may be of some value, but the average worker doesn't have a ton of time or cash to burn zipping around the world. I'm not going to tell you how to rack up a million miles by flipping credit cards, or how to stowaway on the undercarriage of a plane and miraculously survive. But there is one definite way to pay for travel, and that's to work while you're doing it.       

The Gear

I’m going to skip over the typical essentials here, and mention only a few things that pertain directly to writing.

  • Solar chargers have improved a lot in the past five years or so. Although not always capable of powering your laptop or tablet, they make a good emergency power source for a phone. And when you have a phone, you have a potential research tool. A decent one will run you only about $20.00.
  • I like to stock up on protective cases, if only to keep a manuscript out of the elements. I'll vouch for anything made by Pelican, but their products can be pricey.
  • Portable coffee. Coffee is so important, I wrote a short travel article last year dedicated solely to making the best cup of joe on the road. The crux of it is to always bring something, even if it's instant. After a week in a tent, you won't care.
  • Waterproof notebooks by Rite in the Rain are fantastic. But in a pinch, I’ve even made notes on tree bark (birch bark is usually best).
  • A very tiny dictionary, because every traveling writer needs one.

The Destination

It can’t hurt to pick a writer-friendly destination. Here's a very small sampling of upcoming literary festivals to whet your travel appetite:

A 2011 list by National Geographic Traveler named Edinburgh the number one literary city to visit, with Dublin and London in second and third. From personal experience, I second this recommendation of Asheville, NC as an underrated city for writers.

The Writing

  • Travel time can be work time as long as you have your hands free. A lengthy bus or train ride can easily become a full day’s pay. If you have any work that doesn’t require Wifi to complete, save it for last if you can. It will give you something to do if you’re stuck in a remote area with spotty internet connection. As for ground transport in the US, I usually go Greyhound. Cheaper than Amtrak, and fewer bacon-related accidents.
  • Make observations as you go; sometimes the cost of a trip can be subsidized by an article or essay, or you might want those notes as reference when developing a setting later on. Travel is also a wonderful opportunity for character scouting.
  • It might seem obvious, but if you have an ongoing relationship with any freelance/writing clients and expect to have interrupted service for a lengthy period of time, you probably want to send them a note. No need to lay out every detail, just let them know that responses may not be immediate while you're in transit.
  • In the US, KOA campgrounds are a standardized chain that I’ve found to be pretty reliable for a decent camping experience. You might pay $10 more per night than at a state park, but almost all KOAs have access to Wifi and electric. They also tend to be quieter than campgrounds at public parks, with staff on hand to keep the peace. Small, private campgrounds or hostels can be fantastic as well, but you do take a bit of a gamble with them.
  • If some guy comes up to you while you’re writing on a beach and says, “This is relax time, not work time!” do me a favor and tell him to piss off and mind his own business (yes, this exact scenario has happened to me a number of times). Some people find it impossible to comprehend that different segments of life can occasionally run together. You could have an extremely productive trip that ends up producing half a dozen articles and a completed story manuscript…but you’ll probably still have relatives who think you were loafing around drinking martinis the entire time. Okay, so maybe you were drinking martinis, but that doesn’t matter. The point is, don’t let them get under your skin. Travel, work, loafing— none of those things have to be mutually exclusive.  
Leah Dearborn

Column by Leah Dearborn

Leah Dearborn is a Boston-based writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in international relations from UMass Boston. She started writing for LitReactor in 2013 while paying her way through journalism school and hopping between bookstore jobs (R.I.P. Borders). In the years since, she’s written articles about everything from colonial poisoning plots to city council plans for using owls as pest control. If it’s a little strange, she’s probably interested.

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