By John Forde in Paris, France

The more you travel, the more you realize it pays to travel light. The good news for travel writers is that you don’t need much equipment to get by.

(And of course, you’re most important writing tool resides between your ears!)

Just the same, I get asked all the time about the equipment I use as a writer. So I’ve put together a list of a few items that might make your writing more efficient… and maybe even a little more fun.

Take a look…

    • The Good Old Pad and Pen – This seems so basic, why even mention it? Let me ask you this — how many times have you found yourself scrambling for something to write on? And how many crumpled napkins full of notes have you pulled out of your pockets after doing the wash?

      I like legal pads and cheap ballpoints. Jen Stevens likes those steno pads with cardboard covers (and the same cheap ballpoints). Go with your preference. Just don’t find yourself out on the road with nowhere to jot down ideas.

    • Computing Power – I’m devoted to laptops. Mine goes with me everywhere. Of course, desktops are fine. And you don’t need to spend top dollar. Look for “refurbished” or “refreshed” machines — they come cheap and usually with warranties.

      A 40 gig hard drive is plenty large. RAM in the 512 mb range is fine. The main thing to go for is the most current processing speed you can afford. But really, as long as you’ve got enough power to surf the Internet, open picture files, and work the word processor, that’s everything you need. Price shop on sites like to get the best deal.

    • Your Word Processor – Microsoft Office is the pervasive favorite. However, there are alternatives. For instance, at this site – – you’ll find a productivity suite you can use free. Or you could try any of the programs here:

      Your computer might even come with a simple text editor. That should be more than enough. The key to compatibility is to always save your files as “RTF” or “Rich Text Format.” It’s an option in all the “Save As…” menus. Almost all word processing software, on any machine, can open RTF files.

    • Tools For Web Access – You can find convenient self-winding telephone chords that can plug into the sides of most hotel phones… but it might also be a good idea to carry a short Ethernet cord, for those hotels with broadband access (of course, you can usually ask for one at the desk as well).

      These days, it’s getting a lot easier to find “hotspots” for wireless Internet connections too. All of the high-end Macs and many of the high-end PC laptops come with what’s called a “wifi card.” If your machine doesn’t have one, you can pick one up for not too much.

      “WiFi” is short for “wireless fidelity.” It’s really a reference to “wireless networking”… which just means you can pick up the Internet signal broadcast in many airports, hotels, cafes, and elsewhere (all of Manhattan, for instance, is a wireless network). You often have to pay for access, but in most places can choose to pay by the day. You can also find thousands of free hotspots. Just search the term in and you’ll find sites that let you know where to go in almost every city worldwide.

    • A Handheld Recorder – A cheap handheld recorder (around $15-$20) can be great for interviews. Just don’t let it become a crutch. I recommend you also scribble notes while you’re recording.

      Try office supply stores for deals. Just make sure you’ve got plenty of long-playing micro cassette tapes and batteries. Better yet, get rechargeables. Nickel-cadmium batteries are good.

      See here:

    • Here’s an even more modern solution. If you’ve got a laptop, use it to record interviews instead.   I record meetings straight to MP3s — the compressed musical file format — and then listen to them on my iPod as I walk to the office.

      Many computers have a built-in mic that you can use. I prefer to use USB mic, just to cut out the sound of my own typing and computer fan. I slide the mic to the middle of the table and let it run for hours. No tape changing necessary.

    • A Long-distance Calling Solution – When you’re traveling, you need to stay in touch with home. You may even need to stay in touch with editors. Email isn’t always the best option.

      Fortunately, there are new ways to call long distance almost without charge. One is to use a call back service. I live in Europe but call family in the U.S. frequently, and it costs me less than 5 cents per minute. 

      A completely free option, though, is to use your laptop to make the call over the Internet. A program that works across platform is “Skype.” Find it here:

What else?

    • Peace of Mind — If you’re traveling with a laptop, you’ve got a security issue. Laptops are targets for savvy thieves. One way to protect yourself is to get a spare hard drive and backup all your files before you leave. If you have files you’re creating while you travel, you might want to set up an online email account and email the new files to the address. Save the download for when you get home.

      Another option is to get laptop lock:

    • Spare Power – Carrying a spare laptop battery for your model is a good idea, if you have a laptop. So is investing in one of those plug adapters that let you tap into the new computer outlets on some airplanes.

      You can buy spare computer batteries here:

    • Other Goodies – Need a traveling fax line? Try a service like “efax”:

      How about a global cell phone?:

      Need to send big pictures or files to your editor?:

That should be plenty to weigh you down! You won’t need all the things on this list, naturally. One last tip — and this one is about packing, since I feel guilty about giving you so many choices above.

Ready? This will save you much agony during your travels ahead — you never, ever have to pack more than a 5-day supply of clothes. You’ll find a Laundromat or laundry service wherever you go. Really. And who’s going to know if you wear a few things twice?

Best of luck and happy trails!

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]

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