How I Stay Organized While Traveling & Working

I have two brains.

There is my work brain and my travel brain. And the truth is that these two brains are not the best of friends. As much as I have tried over the years, I can’t seem to force these two brains to get along too well.

The way it works is that, at any given time, I can either be 100% focused on enjoying my travels or I can be 100% focused on my work. As a result, I can’t travel and work at the same time.

Of course, I can travel and work in a general sense but what I’m trying to say is that if I were to go outside today, wander around Bucharest or Delhi or Mexico City or Tashkent or wherever I happen to be, my brain would be in its travel mode. So, if I were to sit down at a cafe later in the afternoon and take a one hour break from my wandering, it’s not as if I could just pull out my laptop and get some productive work done.

My brain would still be in travel mode. It takes time to switch to work mode, a great deal of time in fact, because when the excitement of travel occupies my brain, I can’t just ignore that excitement in an instant and concentrate on work instead. When I’m focused on travel, my brain wants more travel! It doesn’t want to give way to my work brain at all.

And when I spend a good chunk of my day, or even an entire day, working hard on my projects, it is also difficult to suddenly stop thinking about the emails, about the blog, about the websites, about everything and anything related to work and just allow my travel brain to take over. I need time, maybe a few hours, maybe a day, to wind down so that I can make that switch.

This is why, when I travel, I travel hard and when I work, I work hard. I’ve been in Romania for the past two months working very hard on a new project that I’ll be launching in a couple of weeks all so that I can travel to India in March and to some other destinations in April with my travel brain in complete control, not having to worry too much about work.

The point? Yes, it is possible to ‘work and travel’ but if you really want to enjoy your travels to the fullest and you really want to be productive with your work, you need to learn how to separate the two.

I personally feel that it all comes down to organization, or, better yet, finding your own organizational comfort zone so that you can get the most out of each brain. And to give you an idea of how I stay organized with both travel and work (and why I often act like a fool) here’s a breakdown of my two brains…

Travel Brain

My travel brain is quite organized. I generally don’t need many tools or apps or websites to help me stay organized while traveling or when it comes to keeping track of flights, accommodation, destination research, etc. For me, simplicity is best and I often find that concentrating too much on systems designed to help us stay organized, only complicates things in the end. For my travel brain, all I need is a system of email folders and folders on my laptop. Everything has it’s place (flight bookings go into the “Upcoming Flights” folder, completed flights go into the “Past flights” folder and so on), it’s all very clear and simple and I have no trouble staying fully organized with this simple system.

It also probably helps that when I travel, I don’t necessarily have any travel-related deadlines or anything that requires immediate attention, something that my work brain must constantly deal with. My travels are almost always flexible and open to change and I am free to travel how I wish, when I wish and to wherever I wish. As a result, there’s not too much I really need to keep organized while traveling, which is why my travel brain is always relaxed and in a healthy state.

But then, there’s my…

Work Brain

I need to work. Most people do. And one of the major challenges of working while traveling is trying to avoid being stuck in front of the computer all the time. There is always more work to be done it seems!

Once again, for me, it all comes down to organization. My work brain is a bit more of a mess than my travel brain and definitely not as relaxed. My work brain runs at speeds I never thought possible at times and it must constantly adapt to a hundred different tasks, all while trying to complete these tasks from ever-changing surroundings. Let’s just say, it ain’t easy.

When it comes to staying organized with work, I still feel that most organizational systems lead to more hassle than benefit, which is why I prefer my own system for the most part. I know what needs to be done, I do it and that’s it. I don’t like to spend too much time prioritizing tasks, filing things away for later or trying to maximize every minute of my working day. I just prefer to sit down and get my stuff done.

To better illustrate how I take care of my work, the following is what a typical work day involves for me, the kind of day when my travel brain is ignored in order to fully concentrate on the blog and my other projects…

A Typical Day Online

Emails: 3-4 hours to answer an average of 100 – 150 blog-related emails per day

  • The 10 email addresses I have for my various projects all lead to one Gmail account, making it very easy to access and reply to all emails from one location.

Facebook: 1 hour answering messages, replying to comments and putting up a new post

  • Between the normal Facebook website and the FB app on my new phone, I’m able to reply to messages and comments and put up new posts with relative ease, from almost anywhere.

Twitter: 3-5 minutes to reply to questions, promote others’ posts/tweets and say hello to a few people

  • With Tweetdeck, both the desktop version and the phone app, doing everything I need to do on Twitter is quite easy

Blog post: 4-5 hours to write a draft, edit, complete the post, find photos and prepare it all for the blog

  • My posts are written in Open Office, saved as a raw text file and copied and pasted into my blog. I then upload any photos for the post to my SmugMug account, place the SmugMug links into the post, add some other code so that the post looks exactly how I want and everything is set to go.

Blog comments: 30–60 minutes to reply to any new comments left on any of my posts

  • Normally, I check the WordPress app on my phone whenever I have a minute or two so that I can just approve any comments that are being held in moderation as quickly as I can (comments from first time commenters are always held in moderation). Then, when I have more time, I just log into my blog and respond properly to all the most recent comments.

Wandering Earl Tours: up to 4 hours depending on when the next tour will take place

  • Organizing these tours involves research, communicating with my contacts in each country, creating PDF documents with information about the trip for all participants and communicating in general with those who have signed up for the tours. I simply use a series of spreadsheets to keep everything organized and this has worked perfectly.

Other projects: 1-8 hours per day depending on what needs to be done

  • At the moment, I’m working on three other projects, the new website I will launch in two weeks, a new destination website and blog consulting. Sometimes they don’t require much work at all and other times they require a great deal of attention.
  • To keep track of these other projects, I do use Trello, an online organizational platform that is simple and very easy to use, which is why I like it. It’s actually extremely basic and all it really does is help me see everything I need to do on one screen.

In between all of the above, I also tend to eat on occasion, brush my teeth, take several breaks that usually involve going for a walk outside, I reply to my personal emails, have Skype conversations (both personal and business related), answer interview questions, participate in podcasts and read, and sleep.

And usually, I accomplish everything I need to get done, right on time.

But as you see, there’s not much to how I stay organized. Perhaps it has more to do with discipline and knowing that if I don’t sit down and get to work, I won’t earn any money in the end and my travels won’t be able to continue. That thought alone is enough to ensure that I do switch to my work brain whenever I need to, no matter how much I want to be in travel mode.

Being a Fool

Of course, after a solid few hours or full day of work is over, and before I can switch back to my travel brain, I do need to go through a stage where I act like a complete, silly fool.

Some of my friends, and others I meet during my travels, have a tendency to stare at me in confusion when I enter my ‘fool’ state, which I think is the no man’s land between my travel and work brains. Acting like a fool – juggling my socks while singing reggaeton songs, clapping my hands and bowing to chairs and tables, sitting on the floor and pretending to paddle a canoe, for example – seems to help me make a successful transition between those two brains. It allows me to ease out of one brain in a safe manner without immediately having to embrace the other. It’s a decompression zone of sorts, a way to empty my brain fully before changing gears. And for some reason, acting like a fool is the method I settled on and that’s the method that seems to work best for me. Go figure.

So, with that said, it’s time to hit the “publish” button on this post, reply to a couple of more emails, close my laptop, take off my socks and sing me some reggaeton.

Do you have two brains – work/travel, work/life, etc.? How do you handle the two and stay organized? Do you use certain systems? Any other fools out there?