Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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July 22, 2019

Digital Nomad - How to Write while Traveling

Lainey Cameron

Do you dream of escaping on holiday to finish your current draft? Or wonder how some writers churn out thousands of words while on vacation?

I’m an author and digital nomad (meaning a person with no fixed abode who lives in different locations). The most frequent question writer friends ask me is How exactly do you travel while writing?

As it’s vacation season, I’d love to share a few tips based on three years of full-time travel.

1. Set a goal for each trip: generate inspiration or buckle down and get words out?

In writing world we revere the concept of butt in chair and with good reason. But that isn’t the only way for travel be productive. 

One writer friend generated the idea for every book she’s written while on family vacation. For her, travel means “taking my brain to new places to spark my imagination”. Once she escapes her regular packed schedule, then new food, overheard conversations in airports, travel difficulties all become fodder to ask What if…?

On the other hand, perhaps you have a serious word goal to achieve. An Aussie writer friend took a two-month sabbatical in France and with this view from her desk, she completed a 90,000 word first draft. Her approach is similar to mine; use tourist adventures as the reward for achieving your goal. 

Clarity on your goal is the foundation for self-compassion.If your dream is for new ideas to flow during this time, don’t punish your brain for not achieving word count.

2. Build in white space (aka boredom)

If vacations are supposed to free up cycles for idea generation, then why doesn’t that work for everyone? 

In Laura Drake’s article Ideation: Where Ideas Come From, she concludes that creativity happens in the white space in-between, when we’re being still and have nothing else to occupy our minds.

We want to believe that staring at the Mediterranean as we hurtle around cliff corners on the Amalfi coast road will inspire us, but the reality is half our brain will be occupied with new planning functions. Where will we eat? What’s Italian for bathroom? Is little Tommy’s upset stomach a day bug or something worse? 

The solution is to build true downtime into your itinerary. Daily walks in the forest. A moment in the garden to write after breakfast. Two hours at the pool with the family and a notepad in your lap.

Pro Tip: For maximum writing potential, don’t move around too much.

Travel is, by its nature, disruptive, and I’ve measured it. I write the most on days I wake up and go to bed in the same location. And the least on days I need to move from point A to point B.

I’ve learned that the ramp period in every location (finding the nearest supermarket, understanding the city layout, getting connected to Wi-Fi) eats the most into creative time. 

3. Travel workspace. Are you a ‘zone-out’ or a ‘get in the zone’ kind of person?

You probably know this about yourself. Are you the type who can work at the kitchen table and zone out the mayhem around you? Or do you need a separate quiet space and a closed door? 

It may seem obvious, but whatever your most productive writing environment at home, that isn’t going to change just because you’re traveling. 

For example, my partner and I tried and failed at traveling and working in an RV. Turns out I’m the type who needs to not hear his delightful singing voice. Now, we always seek rentals with two separated spaces. 

Pro Tip:Hotel rooms are hard. Rentals are your friend. 

With rental sites like AirBnb or HomeExchange you can afford more space and inspect photos of the room setup and furniture configuration. We often write to the owner before booking to inquire about the quality of the Wi-Fi, and sometimes they can even secure an extra desk for you. 

4. Ergonomics matter

Have you seen the articles that say sitting is the new smoking? Well, if that’s true, then hunching over a laptop is the equivalent of inhaling six packs a day.  

Ideally, your screen needs to be at eye level.  The easiest way is to invest in a cheap Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and place your laptop on a box or a stack of books, so the screen is in front of your face, and the keyboard and your hands rest on the desk.

I use a solution called the Roost, a stand which folds out on a table to hold your computer at the correct height. This is perfect for working in coffee shops, although I will warn that it can be a conversation starter!

5.  Backup Online or Take Photos of Your Notepad

You may think I’m paranoid here, but if your ideas are in a notepad and you leave it on the Spanish steps, or your handbag gets snatched, you’re going to wish you had a copy in the cloud.

The easiest solution is to take a photo of your notes at day’s end and email it to yourself. One better is phone apps like Genius Scan, which do a great job of rapidly scanning a lot of hand-written pages (just be sure you send the file off your phone).

For laptop backup, you need a cloud backup service like Backblaze or Carbonite. I plan to write a longer article on writer backup next month, but the short version is your backup cannot be in the same location as your computer (which means when traveling, it cannot be traveling with you).

By this point, I’ll bet you’ve noticed many of my tips could apply to writing in general? 

The same goes the biggest writing rule of all. Even if travel serves up inspiration,butt in chair is still what ultimately gets the book written, whether you’re in Mexico, Milan or Milwaukee.

What’s your Experience with travel and writing? Have you managed to be productive writing away from home? Any other tips you’ve learned?

About Lainey:

Lainey Cameron is a digital nomad and author of women’s fiction. A tech industry dropout, her first book was inspired by a decade of being the only woman in the corporate board room. The novel won 2ndplace in the Rising Star Award for unpublished Women’s Fiction and tells the story of a Silicon Valley investor who, when faced with her husband’s mistress across the negotiating table, must learn to work with her or jeopardize both their careers. 

An avid travel instagrammer, Lainey finds inspiration everywhere. She is currently working on her second novel, a tale of an instagrammer who witnesses a murder and is pursued around the world.

She’s an active volunteer with Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and is on a mission to obliterate the term aspiring writer, which she believes saps writers’ ownership and creative confidence.

Find her online at www.laineycameron.com where she posts progress of her books and tech tips for writersor InstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

** Header photo is on the Mekong river near Luang Prabang in Northern Laos. 

24 comments on “Digital Nomad - How to Write while Traveling”

  1. You're the expert, Lainey! I've followed your travels with pride and envy. I love writing while traveling - something about the different environment sparks my creativity.

    It's easy for me, because I get up earlier than anyone else, and by the time they get moving, I've got my word count in for the day, and I can go play. Win-win!

    1. Laura, I aspire to move your early bird schedule as I've always been more of a night bird myself.

      I'm afraid it may require more discipline on enjoying the French wine (or Mexican margaritas) the night before, though, in order to get into the 5am writing club!

    2. Lainey, I'm jealous of Laura's early bird ways too. But I just don't have it in me. I'd rather stay up late and write while the sun comes up...before I go take a nap. 🙂

  2. Thank you for your brilliant ideas! I'm in the middle of a relocation and spending time in both places until we're settled - your article shows you can keep your writing up-to-date while you wander around.

    1. Kristi, good luck with the relocation!

      It seems like working from more than one location takes a bit more organization in general, I'd say? I've learned to always carry the essentials with me in my backpack, even If I'm not intending to have time to write. That way when you have free time (especially during waiting/wasted time) you can make the best of it !

  3. Lainey, I have loved following your travels around the globe. And your pictures...OMG. You make it look easy, but I know it is not. Especially fitting your life into a suitcase.

    1. The funny thing is the items you end up deciding to travel with, despite the extra space.

      We actually pack marmite spread (It's a Brit thing!), and I always have a paper copy of Bird by Bird for when I need inspiration. And although we travel with 2 full size monitors, I'm really missing my printer this time around!

  4. The Hubster and I will be taking a 50th anniversary trip to tour the British Isles in September. Not sure there will be much dedicated writing time, as we're going to be with an organized tour group--if it's Tuesday, it must be Loch Ness--but definitely will be taking notes and pictures. Because ... if you come up with a book connected to your travels, it's a tax writeoff, at least in part.

    1. 50th anniversary Terry, congrats!!

      I hope you truly get to visit Loch Ness, I'm originally from Scotland and actually headed there for the next 2 weeks.

      I always recommend to also visit at least one distillery, if only for the fun tour and memories, whether you like whisky or not.

  5. Great tips! I've tried to write while traveling, and it has taken some trial-and-error to figure out what works for me. Especially since I'm that person who needs alone/quiet time.

  6. LOVE this article! Both because I enjoy the chance to live vicariously through your travels for a moment, and because it's such good, practical advice for writing on the road. (My only complaint--I would love more pics of your travels...!) 🙂

  7. My experience with traveling involves visiting family. Family (parents) is not appreciative of pulling out a computer. Family doesn't understand the digital age.

    I don't have "real" vacations. Visiting family and taking kids to college are my trips. I long for a week at the beach. Alone.


    1. Denise this gave me an intake of breath, remembering our attempts as nomads to work while staying with family.

      Gosh it's impossible ! (in my experience). In the end, what I did was claim I "need to run a couple of hours of errands" and found a go-to coffee shop to get my writing work done!

  8. Your article sparks a new level to the word “fun”! It’s also very inspiring. I am planning to go on vacation in the next couple of weeks—and thanks to you, Lainey—I am definitely bringing my laptop. I am going to challenge myself to tap in to new levels of creativity as I enjoy my time away from home. Who knows? If I am pleased with the results, I will have to make travel-writing a new hobby. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful article.

    1. Oh Derrick you are so welcome! You just made my day that you found the article helpful.

  9. Thank you, Lainey! Great ideas for writing & travel. Maintaining writing time on family trips is a challenge. I like your idea of "running errands" and hiding out in a coffee shop. 🙂
    Happy travels & writing!

  10. I'll have to look into getting a laptop stand like the Roost! I do most of my writing while traveling on my lap because I don't usually have access to a table (like in buses, trains or hostels).

    I never really thought about how that's affecting my posture so I'll definitely be more conscious about it now. Thanks for the tips!

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