Finding Work/Life Balance as a Remote Worker

Remote Work “Gear List” and video from my WordCamp Orange County talk on Finding Work/Life Balance as a Remote Worker.

A bunch of people asked about the remote work gear I shared at the end of the talk and asked for links. So here is the Remote Work Gear List (yes these are Amazon affiliate links… I’m a horrible affiliate marketer, but I try a little).

Just to be clear my criteria for recommending things here is simple.
1) Have I used it day in and day out?
2) Would I instantly replace it if it was lost?
If the answer to both of those is yes, then I recommend it. All 4 of the below items absolutely meet both those requirements:

ASUS MB MB168B+ 15.6-Inch Screen LED-Lit Monitor
I strongly recommend hunting for and finding the MB168b+ rather than settling for the much easier to find in stock MB168b. The 168b+ is 1920×1080 (1080p HD) whereas the 168b is just 1366×768 (VGA). It makes a big difference in image quality and effective screen real estate.

HooToo® TripMate Wireless N Portable Travel Router with 6000mAh Battery Charger (USB Storage Wi-Fi Media Sharing, Access Point, Wi-Fi Mini Router & Bridge)
This comes in handy frequently when the WiFi at a guest house or hotel is strong to the door, but not inside the room, or when there is no wifi and I just want to network my iPad/iPhone to my laptop for syncing or streaming a movie. The battery powered option also means you get infinite placement options, some places I’ve even left it hidden outside the room at night.

Crumpler THE SINKING BARGE Laptop Camera Backpack
This is an old model, but it’s the one I love. I’ve looked at the newer replacements, but I’m not a fan of them. I love it because: it’s “just the right size” for me, it swings under my arm for easy access, it has a double laptop sleeve so it fits both my 15″ rMBP and my Asus MB168b+ and the lower portion is big enough for my dSLR.

Energizer XP18000AB Universal Power Adapter with External Battery for Tablets/Laptops/Netbooks/Smartphones – Black (XP18000AB)
This pretty much doubles the battery life of my rMBP. However, to get it to work with MagSafe I had to 1) get this free (with purchase of battery) tip 2) get ahold of a now discountinued Apple Airline Adapter, 3) get a magsafe 1 to magsafe 2 adapter. Then accept the fact the the airline adapter setup will only power the laptop, not charge it, so reach for this when you’re battery is at 50%, not 5%.
(note: I’ve tried using that tip with an non-apple magsafe auto adapter and it didn’t work for me, the tip puts out ~19V and auto expects 12-14V so the auto adapter trips a protection circuit and turns off)

Finally, one bonus I didn’t share in the talk
Audio-Technica – QuietPoint Earbud Headphones ATH-ANC33iS
These are great active noise canceling earbuds. They’re not quite as good as the big bulky over the ear kind, but they do wonders for canceling out low frequency noises (airplanes, traffic, background noise). They aren’t wonderful at cutting out the noise from people talking around you though. They win in my book because they’re tiny and light.


  1. I’m so glad you included this video. I vividly remember your words, about your ‘kit’–stuff you use to work remotely–but didn’t copy it down. This is great. Now, my definition of ‘remote’ is an airport, or a hotel room (both coming up soon), but I’ll move that along until it’s ‘beach’ or better.

    Thanks for your ideas, Jon.

  2. I work those places too… In fact it’d be fun to blog about all the places I’ve remote worked from the waiting area at the DMV a few weeks ago, through cars, trains, boats, airports, airplanes, cafés, hotels, restaurants, co-working spaces, friends houses and that idyllic beach side hammock… Sadly in spite of Chris Lema’s stellar example of daily blogging I repeated fail at even a monthly schedule. Look forward to reading about your experiences maybe someday I’ll write more and we can compare notes.

  3. This was great, Jon. I’ve had this video sitting in Pocket for a month, and finally got the chance to watch it from a cafe in Arcata.

    One CON to add: time zones. It can often result in the challenging delays where one person asks a question, the other responds 12 hours later, and so forth. Scheduling calls is often tricky too.

    I am highly transparent with my clients about my travels. They love it, and ask me where I am. They’re blown away when I say “hi from Chiang Mai.” But at the same time, any time zone or internet issues are MY problem, not theirs. I can’t ask them to take a call at 7am or 7pm. That responsibility rests solely on my shoulders based on the lifestyle I’ve chosen.

    PS – that second monitor is ridiculously cool. I want one now.

    • Thanks Tyler! I totally agree time zones can be a big issue with remote work. In the Q&A after the talk someone asked me “What do you say when a client wants to meet?” and my half-joking response was simply “No”.

      I definitely view time zones as my problem, not anyone else’s and if I really need to speak to a client I’ll be the one up at 3am to make sure it happens. That’s exceedingly rare, but it happens.

      I also view the time differences as a benefit though. It’s a motivator to be better organized and more well planned about everything and it greatly reduces the frequency of mid-work interruptions that might seem urgent in the moment but when view 6-12 hours later really aren’t. Sure I could just not check my email/twitter/etc… all day, but in practice that doesn’t happen for me.

      I used to somewhat hide that I lived in Hawaii when I wasn’t traveling. Mostly because it triggers a repetitive conversation about why I live in Hawaii, what’s it like, etc… It’s similar with travel. I definitely don’t hide it, but I also don’t advertise it. I need to think about ways to be more transparent about it, but keep it as a background non-issue.

  4. Love it! Thanks for the tips. Any insight into getting a decent wifi signal in more remote areas? The HooToo TripMate looks good for extending an existing signal or converting wired access to wifi. But what about when you simply have really slow internet access? Or non-existent internet, such as in some more remote areas? Any gear suggestions for that?

    • Weak Wifi – use a repeater like the HooToo. No Wifi – I always get local sim cards for my iPhone with data I can tether to. 3G is pretty common and in some places better than WiFi. I tend to use that as “backup” since depending on the country it can get expensive.

      I thought about talking about tools I use for offline web development, just didn’t have time.

      Teaser: Dash ( awesome offline code reference libraries) and obviously a local server (DesktopServer/MAMP/XAMPP/Vagrant/Docker/Whatever you like). I generally avoid web apps as much as possible, but I do use a few, like Harvest for time tracking and invoicing. I just can’t find anything desktop based that works well for me.

  5. Another John says

    Hi Jon – do you recommend a travel bag (laptop bag, any style) that will hold a 14-15″ laptop AND that Asus 2nd monitor? Getting that monitor myself soon and trying to find a good bag to hold both things along with their power supplies and external usb drive (small) and hopefully some papers as well.

    • The monitor in it’s case is thinner than my 15″ Retina MBP, but a little longer. I can squeeze both of them together into the laptop sleeve of my Crumper Sinking Barge backpack. The pack actually has a double sleeve with one padded (2″) and one not (3/4″.

      I can slip the laptop AND the screen both in the padded sleeve. Usually though I put them in separate sleeves.

      In fact when Elena and I prefer to carry one bag (often when riding a scooter) we can squeeze her 15″ MBP, my 15″ rMBP _and_ the Asus MB 168b+ all in there across the two sleeves.

      2016-01-11 at 11.48 AM

      2016-01-11 at 11.49 AM

Speak Your Mind