This week, authors J Thorn and Crys Cain talk about their tips, tricks and challenges working while on the road. From visiting family to living in a van, we writers can get the words down no matter where we are.

Tickets are still on sale for the Career Author Summit, September 18-19. Come join J, Zach Bohannon, Crys, and a whole lot of other awesome writers geeking out about craft and business.


Crys: Welcome to the TASM podcast. I’m Crys Cain with my cohost… 

J: J Thorn!  

Crys: And we are in person recording live for the first time!  

J: Sitting around my dining room table, podcasting.  

Crys: Ah, so it’s been three weeks since we’ve last recorded. It feels like a confession. What’s been happening for you?  

J: I’m just a little crazy with house stuff right now. We both have summer of chaos going on and my closing was pushed back a bit and we’re just in limbo right now. We can’t wrap up house stuff until we know that this thing’s going to go through.  

It’s fine. Luckily the weather has been great. That’s been a slight consolation.  

Crys: Yeah. And you’ve had the opportunity because of the craziness to travel a little bit while working still.  

J: Yes! I visited my brother in the Outer Banks in Kill Devil Hills. He and his wife bought a house down there and my daughter and I went down for a week. It wasn’t exactly a vacation, but it was not all work either. 

That was my first taste of okay, can I take this thing on the road? And it honestly was not too bad. I had a bedroom to myself in the house and so I could do my podcast interviews there. And the time that I wasn’t working, instead of sitting in my backyard, I was sitting on the beach. 

Crys: Excellent.  

J: What’s up with you?  

Crys: We officially started our road trip yesterday. I worked eight hour plus days getting the van ready. To be fair, most of the things that I was getting ready were completely cosmetic. I repainted all of the, not all of it, but most of the cupboard slash wood space cause it was very old varnish got that orangy color that it gets after 27 years because that’s how old she is. 

I painted it white and we put sparkly door knobs on. Now it definitely feels brighter, lighter, more space. And it’s just a delight to be in. And I am learning about solar systems, which is super exciting. I’ve always wanted to learn like how to set up a solar system. And now I’m learning firsthand because I have a bad battery, found that out yesterday. 

And it’s just been… it’s been one thing after another, in delightful chaos and excitement and learning. And I’m enjoying the hell out of it.  

J: The van’s super cool. I get to see it today. And it’s pretty awesome.  

Crys: We’re excited about that. This is our first stop and then we are going “west, young man.” 

I don’t think we’ve had any comments over our past few episodes, which makes it super easy to move on into our question, which we’re gonna cover what does working while traveling look like for you since that is what is on top of our minds right now.  

You said you were able to do some podcasts interviews, but that working looked different. So what was different for you?  

J: Mindset is definitely different. Boundaries are different. And luckily, both my brother and his wife were also, they have a therapy agency and they were doing some client work. So I didn’t have to explain to them.  

My mom was a little different story. She’s 72 and she’s like, “well, vacations vacation, and you do vacation things.” So the mindset was a little bit different. But I found for me, once I had my laptop open and I was kind of into whatever it is, whether it was writing or preparing for a podcast, then I was just in another room. It didn’t quite matter.  

A little bit on the tactical side. I ended up buying this M audio box that we’re recording on now, because I wanted a really simple, portable audio rig that would still have the same quality of audio as my big rig. I call it my big rig. So I bought this little box and I was able to take my microphone and I have a couple lav mics. 

And there’s not even any power. It’s just USB. You just plug it in, and you’ve got multiple tracks. That was very reassuring to me because I don’t want to sacrifice the quality of the podcast just because I’m away. Cause I don’t think that’s a good excuse. The listener doesn’t care where you happen to be recording. 

Crys: I have a techie question. When you’ve done away from home recordings before, have you carried your big rig with you or have you just done whatever you guys had?  

J: I have and it’s a pain, cause it is bulky. It’s really designed for a recording of band. It’s not really like a podcasting thing. And I don’t have a podcasting mic like a Yeti or a Blu Snowball or one of those things. 

The reason I use my Shore SM 58 is because it’s a stage mic that’s been used for 40 years and it’s industry standard because you have to get right up on it and it doesn’t pick up a lot of the rooms.  

It’s a bit of a paradox because the good podcasting mics pick up the room, but if you’re in a noisier place, you don’t necessarily want that.  

So yeah, it was a little, it was a little tricky and I experimented with some things and this time I was like, you know what, I’m going to spend the additional $85 and get the box. And that peace of mind made a big difference. 

If you’re thinking about how do I write on the road? And you don’t already have a portable device, either a dedicated one, even like an old, Alphasmart, or a tablet, a cheap tablet, something that will make your. Environment easier, even if you don’t want to take like your laptop or your Mac book or something. 

I think that’s something to think about. I think that makes a difference.  

Crys: Yeah, I loved my Alphasmart when I had it. The only problem I’ve had with them is that they are simple machines that they seem to fall apart a little easily, especially when you are traveling roughly with them. And they’re not super easy to get ahold of anymore that they’re not in production anymore. That’s problematic.  

And then the dedicated writing devices that are coming up currently are super expensive.  

J: They’re great, but  

they’re not cheap.  

Crys: So maybe in 10tenyears we’ll have, or maybe only five. I don’t know. And for people who are wondering how big J’s set up is it’s literally as big as my Yeti mic. And I don’t recommend the Yeti.  

Everyone recommends it. In general, they’re like, oh, this is really easy plug and play. Yes, it is plug and play. But especially if you are in outdoor environments, which Costa Rica is basically an outdoor environment. Travel is an outdoor environment. It does pick up every sound. 

So I have had to use a tool called which is wonderful and it does a pass. It doesn’t automatic stuff to do what you can do post production to clear out a lot of that background noise. But it cuts down on quality. So you’re much better suited finding a microphone that is something that you can get right up on like J said his Shure is but that isn’t necessarily like that kind of quality, unless you’re a music audio file, like J is.  

J: Yeah. And it’s weird because ,the SM 58 has been around for so long. It’s less than a hundred dollars. Like it’s not a $500 microphone. And they’re built to take all kinds of abuse. 

Mine’s all banged up and scratched up from being like thrown in guitar cases and knocked around the stage and they’ll last forever. It’s not the podcasting mic of choice, and if you’re not even podcasting, if you’re just doing like zoom calls, it’s probably way more than you need, but it’s a great all around inexpensive mic, in my opinion.  

Crys: There’s one that Tim Ferriss recommends. If you Google Tim Ferriss podcast recommendations, there’s one that he orders for all of his guests and mails to them. That’s under a hundred dollars and that’s when I’ve been interested in getting it is a handheld mic. I’m sure you can get a stand. 

But it’s one that I’ve looked at. There’s a few others that I’ve been looking at to, to downsize what I carry with me, but I haven’t committed yet.  

J: Also wanted to ask you, because I think you are more in this situation now: when you’re traveling. What’s it like managing time zone changes?  

Crys: So this’ll be the most challenging time zone change because normally I go from one time zone to the other and that’s really it. I’m not going multiple time zones.  

And so the number one thing I do is on my Google calendar, I do not set anything to my time zone. I set everything else, if I’m with anyone else, I said it to the other person’s time zone so that when I moved from place to place, I don’t want to make them have to remember what time zones I’m changing. 

I want to meet at the time that I agreed with them, even though it changes for me. I’m in charge of that. That’s my responsibility, my flexibility. So when I changed time zones, my Google calendar will ask me. Do you want to update to the current, to the local time zone? I say, yes. It changes everything on my calendar to be consistent with whatever time zone I’m in. 

That’s the number one thing I do.  

My initial goal was to try and stay on Costa Rica time for most of this trip, because it is such a longer trip going over multiple times zones. If we were staying in one time zone we’d adjust to that time zone. And we do that. It’s a two hour time difference right now. We do that.  

But the main thing that smalls and I have trouble with is we wake up with the sun, and especially up in the north where we currently have 14 to 16 hours of sunlight, that screws up our sleep schedules a lot. So we are getting a little less sleep. I’m still trying to get naps in for both of us. 

Naps are key.  

And… I dunno. The main thing is just keeping the schedule, whatever my meeting people’s local time is. And then I adjust. And trying to keep to a good sleep schedule as much as possible. Those are my two keys. Yeah.  

J: Good. I got one little tip and it’s not necessarily specific to, writing remotely, but just traveling in general, is I realized that the credit card fraud alerts are much more sensitive than they were even a few years ago.  

So if you’re planning on traveling outside of your zip code, calling your credit card company and letting them know ahead of time will prevent any sort of flagged transactions or potential risks that they think is happening on their end. 

And that was something that happened to me. We drove from Cleveland to North Carolina through four states and gas and convenience stores. And there’s just a lot of opportunity for the credit card company, they’d be like, oh, wait, there’s, someone stole your card. So that might be helpful.  

Crys: I agree with that. I have a little bit different way of dealing with that. And I think my credit card company has just assumed that I can be anywhere and everywhere within Central and North America, because I rarely get flagged anymore. And that is generally that I will wait for them to flag me and then I will call and do it. 

The differences is if I don’t think I’ll have cell service. So before I figured out having, like having cell coverage, going back and forth without switching out multiple SIM cards, before I figured that out, which was only like in the last month, I would give the bank alerts so that I knew that as soon as I got into my new country, I would be good. 

But that was only because I wasn’t sure if I’d had cell coverage. As far as wifi, so if you’re traveling on the road like me, I really am liking Google FI’s unlimited plan for data. You get up to 22 gigabytes not slowed down after 22 gigabytes, they do slow you down, in a month. And that’s per phone. 

So we’ve got two phones in our car on this plan. So technically I have 44 gigabytes cause I can use Priscilla’s phone as well. And then you can pay $10 a gigabyte after that to get back up to normal speeds as needed. But also stopping at truck stops. They generally have wifi free wifi, Starbucks, all that. 

That’s my plan going forward. We haven’t had to put it into use yet because the phone coverage has been pretty good. I don’t know how that will look once we get out west and there it’s less populated.  

J: That’s interesting. I didn’t realize there was Google Fi. Is that in addition to your cellular data plan?  

Crys: Google Fi is… what do they call them? MVNOs. 

Basically they lease with, I think they’re currently released with AT and T Sprint, T-Mobile… like the non Verizon companies, to use their towers. So you can get a SIM card from Google Fi and it works just like normal, but you can also get calls over Wifi. 

So if you turn off your data or you’re somewhere that there is no data and you are on Wifi you can send and receive calls and texts, which is what I use in Costa Rica now to receive texts from my bank.  

It’s super important when you’re doing any kind of banking back home. It’s been really complicated the last few years with having to have a family member be the phone number on my bank and be like, Hey, are you awake? Can you send me the text that you’re about to get? It’s been just a pain in the butt. Google Fi has been like top notch for me.  

J: Awesome. That’s a pro tip for sure.  

Crys: I love it. Yeah.  

And as far as my schedule… yeah, the balance between work time and not work time is really difficult, particularly when you are all up in one space. 

So what I did this morning is I got up early, climbed into the front seat of the van, and I started working, hooked up to my phone and I got probably about an hour in before anybody else woke up. We all slept in this morning. So I woke up at seven o’clock. And, I don’t know. Like this is a little, the part that I’m really interested to see how it plays out. 

Long-term, we’ve talked about getting a tent and that tent is the isolation tent. So if somebody just needs some time and space, we pop the tent up and we go crawl in it. And you’re not allowed to be bothered when you’re in the tent. So that’s a possibility.  

I need to find a lap desk. I don’t have one currently, and that will help a lot with the sitting and the arm posture so I don’t screw myself up. And my goal is to get a couple hours of work done in the morning and then an hour or two in the afternoon as needed.  

This morning only got one hour. So at some point I’m going to have to throw in another couple of hours this afternoon. And… just trying to find that without making it all about the work is really difficult.  

Once you start feeling like you’re always scrambling for time it gets into a really negative cycle. That’s why I try and get the work done. First thing in the morning.  

What did your, you had podcasts calls, so those were set aside, but you have those scheduled ahead of time. So you’ll be able to let everybody know, Hey, these are my times a night and I also have that. For our town hall meetings with TASM. Once a month, we have a call generally in the evening.  

We’re probably going to be switch up the times as we get more international people now. So we all know ahead of time that time is set up, but other times with that daily in and out work. That’s the scramble. So what did schedule look like? 

J: I’m a little different circumstance because my daughter’s almost 16. She’s not all up in my face early in the morning. But like you I would always, whether I’m home or not the road I take advantage of early morning. And I think that’s the advantage to being a morning person or training yourself to be a morning person is I get an hour, sometimes two hours to myself before everyone else is stirring. 

The mission critical stuff gets done. And I think it’s an important point too, if you’re worrying too much about when that work is getting done, you’re defeating the whole purpose of working on the road.  

So, uh, good reminders of okay, I got an hour and I’m shutting the laptop and that’s that. 

Crys: Yeah. If you’re out hiking and you’re like, oh, but I gotta get two hours in. Like, we got to rush back and you’re having a great time, having to cut that short. That’s just not fun.  

Well, I guess my question for our listeners this week is. Do you work while you travel and what’s your top tip if so?  

J: Great one.  

Crys: If you would like to join this conversation in real time, we’d love for you to pop over and check out what The Author Success Mastermind is all about.