Tag Archives: freelance travel

The Zen of Writing From The Road

Freelance travel writingby Joe Wallace

A week ago today, I set out on the road to blog and write a tour diary about indie record stores between Chicago, Illinois and San Antonio, Texas. One thing that I’ve learned about writing from the road is that no matter how well you plan, how carefully you coordinate, there is always an unknown out there that will skew all your plans.

Earlier in my writing career, when I wrote for radio and television, I’d go on assignment to Grand Forks Air Force Base to do stories on missile silos or to the U.S.S. Constellation to write and shoot video on air craft carrier life.

In every case, the unexpected forced me to deviate from the internal script I had in my head and improvise around some cancellation, problem or bad circumstance.

Learning the zen of that sort of flexibility wasn’t easy for me until I realized that I could write all my on-location problems into my stories and reports and make them assets instead of liabilities.

That skill works well no matter what kind of writing I’ve done–whether it’s web copy, scripts for public service announcements, or the latest draft of the book I’m writing about bizarre vinyl records. Embracing the chaos wasn’t something I learned overnight, but now that I know, I’ve used it practically as a personal writing cliche for many years.

Nowadays, instead of trying to be an expert on something, I’ll write my ignorance of a topic into the narrative and let myself–and the reader–discover new things rather than try to sound like I know something I don’t. When a writing assignment gets confusing or frustrating, I let the reader share my misery until it all gets worked out in the end.

Or doesn’t. Some writing assignments are like that, and I have no problem at all these days bringing the reader with me to whatever dead end or happy ending I discovered while tracking down the story.

Joe Wallace is the founding maniac behind Turntabling.net, a blog for people who love vinyl records. He is hard at work on two book projects at once, including WTF Records: The Turntabling Guide To Weird and Wonderful Vinyl. He has up to now avoided working with agents, but is making noises that an agent might just be a good idea after all. You can contact him for a variety of reasons at jwallace (at) turntabling (dot) net.

Freelancing On The Road: Preparing for Disaster Using Gmail

Vinyl Road Rage 2 on the roadby Joe Wallace

I’ve been posting a series of lessons learned from my travels as part of the Vinyl Road Rage series I’m writing over at Turntabling.net, and wanted to include a simple trick I’ve been using for several years now as a way to avoid disaster as a hard-core road warrior and writer.

It’s bound to happen to you eventually–a laptop crashes to the floor of a coffee shop, your hard drive fails, files get corrupted, viruses, you name it. The bottom line is that as a writer, you depend a hell of a lot on these often-fragile things called computers.

What happens when you’re freelancing on the road, and suddenly the contents of your hard drive are unavailable?

A lot of people back everything up to flash drives and thumb drives. It’s a good idea, but I have been burned more than once in an emergency where I was forced to deal with outdated computer gear  in a hotel lobby, airport, public library or other space where you might not be able to hook up a portable USB drive to a computer you need to use due to equipment or security limitations.

My solution? I compose everything in Gmail as a rich text e-mail and send it to myself. From Gmail I can copy/paste into Word or open up Google Documents and paste there, then download as a Word file and e-mail it on.

With Gmail, I always have my work with me, no matter what phone or computer I need to access. Unless you are limited to an old Sinclair or are trying to access the Internet using an Apple IIe, the Gmail solution is pretty useful.

It’s not the most elegant one to be sure, but it has really saved me in cases where I needed to make a deadline but couldn’t access my hard drive. You can get to Gmail from any computer, iPhone, Android, etc. make your modifications and send along. Yes, tweaking a document using an iPhone can be a major ordeal, but if it means the difference between staying on deadline or not, answering a client question or providing examples of your work in a pinch, there are much worse things that could happen.

Freelance Road Warriors: Lessons Learned While Working on the Road

Vinyl-Road-Rage-Record-Storby Joe Wallace

I’ve been working from the road as part of my cross-country blogging journey writing about indie record stores for my site Turntabling.net. The trip, called Vinyl Road Rage, isn’t a vacation–I kept working my regular freelance clients while out and about.

On this trip there was plenty to learn about the joys of extended time away from the office, using coffee shops as your office, and how to survive on the road as a freelancer.

A lot of what I filed away for future reference on this trip hasn’t been about the business of freelancing per se, but rather how to keep yourself ready to DO business as a freelancer while on the road.

One of the best investments I made in preparation for the journey? A 12-pack of bottled water that cost me $2.50. That’s the price of two gas station bottled water purchases, more or less. Every little bit counts in this economy.

Another excellent frugal traveling thing I’ve done this year was to take full advantage of the hotel continental breakfast. And I do mean “take advantage of”, as I stashed plenty of extra free fruit, oatmeal packets and other sundries to eat while on driving, sparing me a stop and a lunch bill.

Add to that a little trick I’ve learned to do over the years; one of my favorite kinds of food is Thai cuisine. Thai is extremely portable, especially if you have a cooler or ice chest with you. One Thai lunch is usually enough to split into two meals anyway (or at least it is if you eat like me) so I found myself getting double mileage out of my lunches when I did shell out for them.

Neglecting food is a bad idea for a freelancer–I try not to skip meals when I’m doing these cross-country drives, but I do like to make good time, too. From experience I’ve learned that a skipped meal equals poor productivity, reduced concentration and a higher potential for errors when working online. So I pack a lot of portable goodies like nuts, yogurt, low-fat cheese and organic peanut butter to tide me over when I’m trying to get some good driving time in.

When you’re in our line of work, it’s important to be healthy so you can perform in any required high-stress situation that needs your attention, whether that’s in the middle of a road trip or sitting in your pajamas in the living room. Find ways to stay fed, keep from getting sick, and still meet your road trip goals and you’ll have little problem making them habitual–the rewards are well worth the effort.

One last tip for a road tripping freelancer–the farther outside your destination city the hotel room is, the better the prices seem to be. Just sayin’.

Travel Tips For Writers: Bring Toilet Paper

Travel Tips for Writersby Joe Wallace

Classy picture, eh? But it grabs your attention and I definitely want to turn your attention to this most delicate of all travel writing and traveling writer tips–ye olde “necessary room”.

The experienced world traveler knows that bathroom facilities around the world vary wildly from our western comforts; from the squat-style privvies of Japan to the “go in the alley” free-for-all in some other places.

One of the most important travel tips I can offer–and not just one handy for overseas travel, mind you–is to carry your own toilet paper. You NEVER know when it will come in handy and it has uses beyond the obvious. Continue reading Travel Tips For Writers: Bring Toilet Paper

Freelance Travel and the Perils of Being a Road Warrior

IndieWax Youngstown Ohio record storesI’m sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania watching a news report about a situation I just missed–the bomb squad was called out in Pittsburgh after a suspicious package was discovered somewhere in the city. I shudder to think of what might have happened to my deadlines if I had gotten caught in a horrific traffic snarl that probably followed. But that’s not among the perils of being a freelance road warrior I’m thinking of…

I knew this week that the second I pulled out of the driveway to go on my Chicago to New York City road trip, I’d get hit six ways from Sunday with things I had hoped to avoid dealing with until I got back. Freelance-Zone.com got several requests from potential sponsors for rate cards and other information, an interview I’d been waiting on finally came in from the cold, and I even got an offer for some additional freelance work writing copy for one of my previous clients.

Naturally all this stuff came in when I was in no-signal areas, doing my travel reviews of record stores and restaurants, or trying to write up material to make deadline for the clients that I did NOT put on hold during all of this travel and discovery.

23 record stores later, I am still trying to catch up with all the e-mails and requests for my time. And I’m STILL on the road!

The perils of freelancing from the road range from the mundane–trying to get a seat in a coffee shop next to an outlet so you can deal with a dying laptop battery and make deadline…to the serious–trying to avoid having my travel budget dinged by gotcha charges, excessive fees and highway tolls and other expenses.

Lessons learned?

Essential road warrior gear for freelancers should include a wireless headset for your cell phone, a spare battery for your laptop, and a cell phone capable of using Google Maps with the Location Services feature. I can’t tell you how many times I would have gotten hopelessly lost without the Location Services function of the iPhone displaying the little blue dot telling me exactly where I was on both my route AND in terms of the directions I had gotten from Google Maps. On or off track, the little blue dot tells all and it shows you in SECONDS whether you’ve zigged when you should have zagged.

I’ll do a complete post on essential freelance travel gear later, but for now, suffice it to say that you should always expect your battery to die when you need it most, you should always count on getting lost just when you NEED to be in a certain town on time, and never make plans to stay longer than absolutely necessary—you’ll find a way to need to be someplace else on that day you were planning to sleep in. Continue reading Freelance Travel and the Perils of Being a Road Warrior

Freelance Travel–Beware The “Gotcha” Clause

Vinyl Road Rage 2 on the road

by Joe Wallace

I am still freelancing on the road–I’m filing reports this week from all over the place. Yesterday was New York, today it’s Pittsburgh, tomorrow, who knows? It all depends on the road and how good it is to me. Today I had trouble getting my clients their daily dose of freelance deliverables because of another unexpected wrinkle–did you know Starbucks in those truck driver rest stop areas don’t always carry wi-fi? I thought the whole idea behind the success of Starbucks was standardization…but apparently not.

All was well that ended well, as I managed to meet my deadlines by stopping off in a local bar and grill in Pittsburgh before time ran out, but there’s another assumption that’s not safe to make as a road warrior–even the most (recently) dependable sources of free wi-fi can’t be depended upon for one reason or another.

But there’s a much more important issue I want to discuss today–the detestable business practice known as the “gotcha” fee. What’s a gotcha fee? Glad you asked… Continue reading Freelance Travel–Beware The “Gotcha” Clause