Staying creative while traveling can be a challenge. You might want to use your time commuting to work or take advantage of your new-found zen-state whilst on vacation. You could also be lucky enough to live a nomad lifestyle and travel the world. So how can you achieve mobile creativity?
To create digital art or designs while traveling you will need either a laptop or tablet in a portable size, a drawing tablet or apple pencil, external storage, power bank and an equipment bag. Creative apps for tablets include Procreate and Photoshop iOS. For outdoors consider weatherproof cases and screen protectors.
In this post we’ll take a look at hardware and software best suited for traveling, along with advice for creating in popular environments. If you enjoy this post then also take a look at Taking a Drawing Tablet on a Plane: 5 Things to Know and Essential Gear for Digital Creatives: Complete Guide.
- Traveling with a Laptop or Tablet – Which is Best?
- Productivity Mouse for Creative Travelers
- Drawing Tablets for Those On-The-Move
- External Storage to Back Up Your Creations
- Power Banks to Keep Your Creativity Flowing
- Equipment Bags
- Headphones and Earbuds to Keep You Focused
- Digital Painting Away From Home
- Image Manipulation and Compositing
- Photography: Edit Images On-The-Move
- Video Editing On Location
- Stay Creative Even When Using Transport
- Get Outdoors: Create in Any Environment
- How to Stay Creative in the Sun
- Cope with Screen Reflection and Glare
- Dust, Sand and Rain Get Everywhere! Protect Your Tech
- Safety: Don't Let Crime End Your Creative Streak
- Bad Ergonomics: The Enemy of Digital Creatives Everywhere
- Creativity in a Public Building, Cafe, Hotel or Bar
Best Hardware for Traveling Creatives
Probably the most important thing to consider is the tech or hardware you’ll need. The tools you use at home won’t always be suitable to take with you on your travels so it make sense to purchase something that satisfies the specific needs of a traveling creative that we’ll talk about now.
Traveling with a Laptop or Tablet – Which is Best?
Whether you opt for a laptop or tablet depends heavily on what you will be creating with it, more-so than anything else on the list.
Tablets Win at Portability for Creatives
Tablets such as the iPad win hands-down on portability but they are more limited on functions than a laptop. If you’ll only be traveling for a short amount of time and can get away with the lighter app versions of your chosen software then a tablet is a good choice. You’ll also struggle to connect accessories such as external storage but you can easily pick up a Bluetooth keyboard if you’ll be doing more typing.
A fully-featured tablet such as the iPad Pro is a really good choice if tablets are the direction you think makes sense for you since it has a lot of processing power. However, they are going to set you back a bit financially. Get the up-to-date price for the 2021 Apple 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Wi‑Fi + Cellular, 2TB) on Amazon here (paid link).
Choose Laptops for Resource-Hungry Creative Software
There are a lot of benefits to traveling with a laptop instead of a tablet, especially if you are on the road for an extended period and need full versions of software packages such as Adobe Creative Cloud.
The ability to connect accessories such as external storage, mouse and drawing tablet provide the maximum performance.
Choose a smaller screen size to increase portability but since you’ll need to pack your drawing tablet too, you’ll still need a bigger bag for your troubles. Alternatively you have the option on compromising on portability with a larger screen size – something that a tablet cannot compete with.
Watch out for the hardware specification as smaller laptops can pack light-weight processing and GPU power that might not run your creative software as smooth as you may want if you aren’t careful.
Great examples of smaller laptops that pack the punch designers and artists need are:
2021 Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch – click here for the latest prices on Amazon (paid link).
Dell 9310 XPS 2 in 1 Convertible, 13.4 Inch FHD+ Touchscreen Laptop – check out the latest price on Amazon (paid link). The Dell XPS is a 2-in-1 touch screen laptop so you can also use it as a drawing tablet. Keep in mind that you will always get the best results with dedicated devices but a combo device like this maximizes portability.
These both have great screens and the processing power required to run Adobe Creative Cloud apps.
Another topic to consider is power bank compatibility. Opt for a laptop that can charge through a USB-C port as this makes getting a power bank to keep you running for longer a lot easier. Both of my picks above can be charged via USB-C.
Productivity Mouse for Creative Travelers
Choosing a smaller mouse makes a lot of sense for travelers but creatives still need to consider packing in the extra functions to keep your workflow streamlined.
The Logitech MX Anywhere 3 achieves a great balance between portability and including a lot of the functions of the larger MX Master 3 although, it does miss out on the thumbwheel. It also works on almost any surface, including glass, which when traveling can be a real bonus where you might need this flexibility.
Head over to Amazon to see customer reviews for two PC/Mac versions:
- PC version of the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 (paid link)
- Mac/iPad version of the Logitech MX Anywhere 3 (paid link).
Take a look at Logitech’s video for a breakdown of its features…
Drawing Tablets for Those On-The-Move
If you’re going to be taking a non-touchscreen laptop then you will need a standalone drawing tablet. Unfortunately, these aren’t really built for portability so there will be a compromise when using one on the road.
My personal belief is that you should choose a drawing tablet that has high-end functions but compromise on the drawing area size.
Therefore my recommendation is the Wacom Intuos Pro Small – see the price on Amazon here (paid link). Since it has no display it helps to keep costs lower and is less easily damaged on the road.
If you prefer drawing on your display then you could opt for a Wacom One 13.3 inch Pen Display – see the price on Amazon here (paid link) but these still require a laptop to drive the display. You also risk damage while traveling.
Keep in mind that using a tablet outside of your home can leave it open to damage. For a deeper look, have a look at my post Scratches on a Drawing Tablet: Do They Matter?
External Storage to Back Up Your Creations
You might not always have adequate access to Wifi on the road so you may find yourself short on storage. Opting for an external drive will not only remove this headache but also allows you to backup your work in case of theft or damage of your laptop. Just make sure to keep it in a different bag or leave it in your hotel room when out and about.
The Western Digital My Passport 5TB (see Amazon for details here – paid link) is a great example of a portable high-capacity drive that won’t break the bank.
Power Banks to Keep Your Creativity Flowing
Power banks are an indispensable accessory for using a laptop or tablet on the move. Make sure you check compatibility of the power bank with your laptop or tablet. Charging a laptop that has a USB-C port makes this much easier however.
If your laptop has a very large battery then make sure you opt for a larger power bank if you want to charge it fully.
If you intend to take your power bank on a flight you’ll also need to conform to the TSA’s limit of 100Wh (if flying to/from the US). A lot of countries outside of the US also have similar rules so do your research before purchasing.
OmniCharge make a variety of great power banks with the OmniCharge 20+ 20000mAh – see Amazon here (paid link), having a variety of ports including USB-C and AC. This allows laptop charging whilst still being under the TSA 100Wh capacity limit.
Having a good equipment bag will keep all of your tech organized but more importantly protected from damage during your travels.
For obvious reasons the size of bag you need will depend on what you’re going to carry and you don’t want to choose a bigger bag than necessary.
If you’ve opted for a smaller laptop and tablet for portability then an excellent choice is the EVERKI Atlas Travel Friendly Laptop Backpack, 11-Inch to 15.6-Inch – see Amazon here (paid link). This bag is great because it’s main space opens up 180 degrees, has great capacity and compartments for everything you need.
Headphones and Earbuds to Keep You Focused
If you’re working with audio or just want help in concentrating while traveling then you’ll need a good pair of headphones or earbuds that are also compact.
Earbuds are a good choice if you want the most portable option and don’t need the extra fidelity that headphones can offer.
My advice is to opt for noise canceling products as these will make working in noisy public places such as airports cafes much more comfortable.
The best noise cancelling earbuds, perfect for traveling creatives are the Bose QuietComfort Noise Canceling Earbuds – see customer reviews and prices on Amazon (paid link). I’ve included a video of their features below, because I’m helpful like that…
Whilst not as portable as earbuds, arguably the best choice for noise canceling over ear headphones are the Sony WH-1000XM4 – see customer reviews and prices on Amazon (paid link).
Best Software and Apps for Traveling Creatives
If you’re taking a laptop on your travels then you can use your software of choice. The only compromises compared to working at your desk setup will be your reduced screen real estate and potential reduction in processing power if this is your second laptop and you’re on a budget.
Software for your tablet is more of a compromise however since, the processing power is typically less and the touchscreen interface requires a more simplified GUI and set of features. Things have improved greatly in recent years to close this gap meaning you can now be more productive than you’ve ever been while traveling.
Digital Painting Away From Home
The most choice comes from using a Windows/MacOS device so check out the options below:
- Adobe Photoshop – best in class digital art program (head to Adobe – paid link).
- Clip Studio Paint – developed for manga and comic books and available on most devices.
- Rebelle – highly realistic mimicking of watercolour, oils and pastels.
- Corel Painter – accomplished painting software available to buy or via a subscription.
- Krita – Free open source painting program. You heard me. Free!
Painting on a tablet may well be your preferred format. Software is more limited than on Windows/MacOS but there are some excellent apps only available on tablet that makes that a non-issue.
- Adobe Photoshop – also available for iPad for a fully featured painting experience (head to Adobe – paid link).
- Procreate – excellent and intuitive painting app at a low price point. Highly popular as a result.
- Clip Studio Paint – highly accomplished painting app originally aimed at comics and manga.
- Adobe Fresco – dedicated painting app with free and premium versions (head to Adobe – paid link).
Image Manipulation and Compositing
Compositing images together and manipulating them to make some mind-bending art is something unique to the digital medium and my personal favorite.
Laptops have the edge here since you won’t have your hand covering your work and the hardware accessories and better ergonomics make for an easier ride. If this is your art form then do yourself a favor and bring a laptop.
- Adobe Photoshop (paid link) is the king here and one I strongly recommend.
- Affinity Photo – Excellent budget alternative to Photoshop.
Don’t use a tablet for this, just don’t! Not listening huh? Fine! Then use Adobe Photoshop (paid link).
Affinity Photo is also available on iPad so that’s my budget suggestion here too.
Photography: Edit Images On-The-Move
Processing photos on the move or simply just on a job, Adobe offers the best options here in my opinion.
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – industry standard for photographers (paid link)
- Adobe Bridge with Camera Raw plugin – batch process images easily and organize all your assets (paid link)
- Adobe Photoshop Lightroom – available on iOS and Android
Video Editing On Location
The need to edit videos on the move is a very likely usage case but the options available to you will depend on the depth of editing you need to conduct. As you no doubt know already, video editing takes a lot of computing power so for larger projects you’ll need a laptop.
Simpler on-the-fly edits or content for social media are perfect for tablet-based apps.
- Adobe Premiere Pro – it’s one of the big boys of video editing and favorite of many for complex projects (paid link).
- Final Cut Pro (Mac only) – optimized for Mac and very fast to render. Not available for Windows.
- LumaFusion – fully featured video editing app with an accessible interface.
- Adobe Premiere Rush – simple video and audio editor aimed at social sharing (paid link).
How to Create Anywhere
Having thought about the tech and software that you are bringing with you will hopefully mean that you are now able to create in the most likely working environments that you will find yourself in during your travels.
Let’s talk about how to give you the best chance to be productive in your changing locations on the road…
Stay Creative Even When Using Transport
Whether it be a commute by train to work or a 12hr flight across the globe, creating while you’re in some kind of transport presents the most cramped conditions you’re likely to encounter over an extended period of time.
Sketching whilst in a moving vehicle is a skill as it involves you anticipating the movements of the vehicle and working with its momentum to carry on creating. It might seem hard at first but it is possible.
Tablets come into their own here due to their smaller size and lack of keyboard. Consider opting for one if you’re going to spend significant time working while in a vehicle. You’re unlikely to have space for a mouse and using a laptop trackpad for anything more than a few minutes will not be something your wrists will thank you for.
Get Outdoors: Create in Any Environment
Being creative outdoors is the whole point of working while traveling or owning a lifestyle business. You can trek off to some idyllic corner of the globe and break out your laptop on a beach somewhere or by the pool. Working outdoors comes with it’s own set of challenges however.
How to Stay Creative in the Sun
Newsflash! The sun is bright! That means that backlit devices such as tablets and laptops are going to struggle.
Firstly, you’re going to have to turn up the brightness to even see what’s going on. You’re going to want to choose a device that has a high brightness and contrast levels so you can see what you’re actually working on.
Unfortunately this means that you’re going to drain battery life fast. Now you’ll be glad you bought that power bank I mentioned earlier. If you can try and work in the shade sometimes to conserve battery.
You can also try using a laptop hood or cover that provides some portable shade in a collapsible form. A good example is the TECH SHADE TO GO – see reviews on Amazon (paid link).
Cope with Screen Reflection and Glare
Laptops typically have a matte finish to their screens but tablets like the iPad are like a mirror. That makes using them outdoors difficult so you want want to consider a matte screen protector.
These can also have the added benefit of making the surface feel more like paper to give a more “old-skool” sketching experience.
Check out my article How To Make a Drawing Tablet Feel Like Paper if that’s something that interests you for your home set-up too.
Great examples of iPad screen protectors are those made by Paperlike which provide a matte anti-glare surface and as the name suggests, they feel like drawing on paper. Check out the price of the Paperlike (2 Pieces) for iPad Pro 12.9 Inch on Amazon here (paid link).
Dust, Sand and Rain Get Everywhere! Protect Your Tech
Tech and sand or water don’t mix! One gust of wind or dropped laptop and you’ve got sand in a USB port or water under your keyboard.
The key here is to use your common sense and don’t take your MacBook Pro onto the sand or out in the rain! Added protection would come from using a ruggedized case for you iPad which can plug the ports and protect it from particles and light rain.
The OtterBox Defender range protects from dust, debris, drops and also has a built-in screen protector. See the OTTERBOX DEFENDER SERIES Case for iPad Pro 12.9-inch can be found on Amazon here (paid link).
If you’ve ended up getting sand or dirt on your drawing tablet and scratched it then have a look at my post Scratches on a Drawing Tablet: Do They Matter?
Safety: Don’t Let Crime End Your Creative Streak
Safety of your tech is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. There will likely be passers-by that you may not notice swipe your tech when you’re deep in concentration getting that linework exactly right.
Take the obvious precautions of not taking more than you need for your day’s work. Leave what you don’t need in your hotel safe or locker.
Padlock your equipment bag shut, even though it’s a pain. You can also get anti-theft alarms that you can fit to your bag.
Bad Ergonomics: The Enemy of Digital Creatives Everywhere
Working outside rarely comes with a desk and fully adjustable chair. Still pay attention to your posture and if you can, nab that table and chair by the pool.
Make sure you change your position often and don’t sit for too long staring at your screen – you won’t be able to go the same amount of time as you might at home.
Creativity in a Public Building, Cafe, Hotel or Bar
Finding a comfortable refuge in your travels where you can grab a coffee and get some creativity done is going to be one of your main focuses. Whilst not as challenging as perching on a rock outdoors, digital creativity in a public building comes with it’s own set of issues.
Beware of Public Wifi
Even though you might have invested in that external storage, you’re still going to need to connect to the internet at some point. This means you’ll be needing to use public Wifi a lot.
Make sure you only connect to with a VPN or use your cell phone as a mobile hotspot instead and investigate a plan that includes unlimited data. Do not use any apps or websites that access your personal data if you aren’t taking one of these steps.
Don’t Let Noise Interrupt Your Creative Flow
You might not have a choice of locations so if the cafe you’ve found is too noisy, you’re going to have to make the best of it. This is where noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are a game-changer. Whilst they can be pricey you’ll use them a lot on transport and public places to maintain your concentration and keep you in your creative flow-state.
As mentioned in the hardware section of this post my picks are the Bose QuietComfort Noise Canceling Earbuds – see Amazon (paid link) and Sony WH-1000XM4 Noise Canceling Wireless Headphones – see Amazon (paid link).
Not Enough Light? Avoid Eyestrain
You won’t have control over the lighting in your chosen location so at least try not to sit in the darkest corner of the room even though it might be the most secluded.
Using bright displays in dark rooms will cause eye strain and likely give you a headache. Change your display brightness to match the lighting and don’t sit there for hours.
Working while traveling can be a dream or a nightmare so it pays to be prepared. Do your research and take the right gear for your trip. Take the advice we’ve covered and you’ll be a happier and more creative digital artist wherever your journey takes you whether it be Thailand or just your daily commute to the office.
If you enjoyed this post then you might want to check out:
- Taking a Drawing Tablet on a Plane: 5 Things to Know
- Essential Gear for Digital Creatives: Complete Guide
- Recommended Gear Page.
Featured image: Farknot Architect / stock.adobe.com
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