Organization & Productivity While Traveling : High Impact Tips for Maximum ROI

Written By Laura Kavinski,
Organizing & Productivity Consultant; Owner at Crux Organizing – Problem Solver + Customer Service Wizard, NAPO Member since 2011

Editor’s note: Some of the information in this post was previously seen in a article. Unfortunately not all of it was appropriately credited to Laura Kavinski, whose words and ideas were a major contribution to the article. We apologize for the oversight and are grateful for Laura’s contributions to the piece. Fortunately for us all, Laura decided to sit down and expand upon her original content and share even more nuggets of her knowledge and wisdom. Thanks Laura! Without further ado… 

As a professional organizer and productivity professional, I often speak to my clients about how systems and processes will help them to regain their time and energy, and enable them to cross things off their to-do lists. But what happens when your schedule is interrupted? When we travel, for work or otherwise, our systems need to travel with us. Only when there is continuity in our processes can we keep continuity in our productivity levels. Otherwise, when we return there is the dreaded vacation/work travel hangover: emails upon emails to get through and an uphill battle getting back into the rhythm that was paused.

There are many times when I find myself undergoing back-to-back work travel. Last year, for instance, heading into the NAPO Conference, I had already been on the road for about a month straight. I had work in Dallas, then San Francisco, back to Dallas, off to Amsterdam, then to the NAPO17 conference in Pittsburgh, finishing out my travel with another work trip to Chicago and a personal vacation. Spending about 5-7 days in each location meant it was a long stretch of not being home. I was, however, able to go straight on to a vacation at the end, because I was on top of my work. You see, I had done a fair amount of preplanning and all my systems were properly functioning.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that I did all of this with just my laptop bag and 1 ultra-small carry-on?

Below I will share some of my own secrets to successfully maintaining productivity while on the road, and some key points for you to turn into action for your own travel, work or otherwise!


“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

  • Take time to think through your daily personal routines and your workplace systems and processes. Identify tasks you will need to do and the items that you will need while away from home. There are often times when you don’t need to bring everything you use at home. It’s easy to end up overpacking, so be careful to curate.
  • Think through your time on site. What will your day look like? When will you sleep, when will you work, when will you recharge? When you have a plan in place you’ll be able to make sure your time is going to the items where it does the most good.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What tools do I need to complete the tasks that occur when I’m in the office?
    For example, do you often have to print items? Perhaps a portable printer is needed. When an unexpected layover in Charlotte, NC kept me from arriving on site early enough to print out deliverables which were late from my client, it wasn’t a panic. It was no problem! I was able to spring into action and complete the printing task in the middle of the airport. Alternatively, I could have sent the files to be printed at a local office supply store and picked them up, but that would have added time and another task to tackle. By thinking through my needs in advance, I was able to save myself the time and emotional impact of stressing about the late files.
  2. What items can I delegate while on the road, or what items can be completed before or after my travel?
  3. What clothing do I need to wear to best complete the tasks on site?
  4. Will I be in an office setting or a worksite?
  5. Will I be taking clients out to lunch or dinner?
  6. Will there be any team-building activities where I’ll need specific attire?
  7. What items or activities do I need to feel a sense of normalcy, so I’m not homesick?
    Do you watch a certain TV show at home? Perhaps download some episodes to your mobile device.
  8. Where am I traveling and how does that impact my needs?

Health: Mental and Physical

  • Schedule – When I was bouncing between time zones in the U.S. and then Europe, I combatted the long days and the time changes by staying as close to my home schedule as possible. This included using binder clips to keep the shades together so I could go to bed at 6:15PM and wake up at 2:00AM — in California!
  • Watch What You Eat and Drink – Working to stay on your “home” diet is essential. When I’m traveling I do not drink wine or coffee and aim to limit sugar intake. These items can dehydrate you and lead to a false sense of energy. For me, it’s better to have a good grasp on my capabilities and meter my energy. Of course, if you’re drinking a pot of coffee a day at home, work travel is probably not the time to go cold turkey!
  • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! – A blender bottle is my go to. I have a carabiner on my laptop bag and my blender bottle has a loop. This keeps my hands free when walking and keeps me from losing it! I make sure I drink the last bit before airport security and refill once I’m through.
  • Protein – I travel with protein powder packets. These are great in a pinch for a meal/snack, and often times I’m out of the hotel before their breakfast even starts. Since introducing protein into my work travel diet (in addition to these other tools), I have noticed a reduction in my illnesses.
  • Avoid Germs – Nothing dampens productivity quite like being sick. And getting sick while traveling is its own horrible time. Hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and saline nasal spray are key – airplanes are dry and a cesspool of germs. Tray tables are one of the dirtiest items you’ll encounter during your travel. If you can, wipe them off, or at least use hand sanitizer before touching your face or eating. After I land, I use saline nasal spray to help rinse my nose. “Flushing the nose with water or saline washes away allergens, and fungal and viral pathogens.  Rinsing the nasal cavity before flight can clear away anything harmful before you sit in dry air for hours.  Rinsing after your flight can remove anything you might have inhaled.” More information from the source here.
  • Workout Gear/Time – Do you work out at home? Be sure to add activity into your travel schedule, but don’t discount the importance of sleep!
  • Sleep! – Yes, Sleep! Whenever you can! I love this travel pillow; it’s only $20 and it keeps your neck from falling while you’re catching some much needed zzz’s on the plane.
  • Connect With Home – Schedule time to check in with loved ones, even if it’s only a quality two minutes at lunch time. Pro tip: If you make a plan to connect earlier in the day it’s more likely to happen, especially when you’re in different time zones.

Packing List

  • Use a separate packing list for work travel. You need different things than if you’re on vacation. Edit this list to include only the essentials, but be sure you don’t under pack (buying things as needed gets expensive!) If you travel frequently, go digital so you can reuse your list and you’re not starting from zero each time.
  • Create a supply “go bag” – Especially if you are on the road a lot or with little notice, a go bag is a time saver. My supplies are contained (see below for a more in-depth list of the items in my bag), and I can easily slide it in and out of my laptop bag when I go through security. (Yes, I have TSA precheck, but with the extra electronics, I still have to take things out, or they pull my bag out for closer inspection.) I don’t want to waste time getting through security. By having these items readily available, I am always able to be plugged in and productive despite being away from the office. I have a similar “go bag” set up for my toiletries and personal care. I could pack my work bag for a week of travel within five minutes of hearing the weather report!

Above all, I always say “Self-Care is not a luxury!” Meaning that taking care of yourself can feel like you’re being selfish or luxurious, but you will not be able to be who you need to be and do what you need to do if you don’t put yourself first. This can mean saying no to that glass of wine, going for a walk, or even staying three more minutes in a quiet bathroom stall before heading back out and onto the next thing.

It is my sincere hope these tips will inspire you to be more organized and thus ensure you’re more productive on your next trip!

For further reading, here is a list of items that I have personally found to be a huge help. Disclaimer: I may receive payment for items purchased through the links below.

  1. Travel with a mobile office – I travel with the following in my “go bag”:
  2. Computer privacy screen (mine’s removable with magnets) – helpful for getting work done in public places
    1. Laptop
    2. Second computer monitor – it’s portable, lightweight, durable, and only reasonably priced. Hello, productivity!
    3. Portable printer with battery backup
    4. Rechargeable battery packs for cell phone
    5. Two sets of headphones – one for backup!
    6. Extra charging cables (for the client and for myself)
    7. Corresponding cords for all of the above wrangled with VELCRO One Wrap Thin Ties, and stored in my GRIDit inside a medium size packing cube
    8. Small Surge Protector Hub – the cord winds up around itself! I had been searching for one of these for a while, and someone finally made it!
    9. Mini stapler (with extra staples)
    10. Two flash drives
    11. Tiny scissors and tape (thanks, Office Candy giveaway from a million NAPO conferences ago!)
    12. Small, brightly colored, sticky note lined notepad
    13. Smead Poly Pocket Folders – Folders help keep all my client paperwork looking the best, and they’re ultra durable
    14. Computer Paper – a small amount
    15. And a couple more items that are specific to my job/client needs
  3. These are all packed expertly in my Briggs and Riley Laptop Bag, which I love!
  4. Compact Carry-on Roller Bag – All clothing fits into a smaller than usual carry-on roller bag – it will fit under a seat! Travelpro Maxlite Compact Carry Spinner  Because it’s so small I am able to get this small bag on the plane even when they’re telling everyone the overhead is full. This saves time because I can just walk right off the plane and head to my destination.
  5. Lightweight Jacket – I bought mine on eBay, but here is a similar jacket on Amazon.  A jacket like this smooshes into a washable bag. When I’m not wearing it, I can clip it onto my carabiner, or even use it rolled up as lumbar support on the plane. When I am wearing it, the bag goes right in the pocket. I even used this when I accidentally ended up with floor seats at the Lady Gaga concert! But that’s a story for another post..

Reach out to CRUX for more guidance on productivity while traveling. 

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