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7 Essential Tools for Working on the Road

The modern office is wherever you happen to be. Here's how to take your work with you and seven tools to help you get it done.
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Chefs call it mise en place. It's their setup, their office, their workspace. Knives are laid out, vegetables pre-chopped, spices pulled from the rack. When the orders start coming in, they're ready to cook.

Sitting beside an open window in the bar of Phoenix's Royal Palms hotel one afternoon, luxuriating in the gentle breeze filled with the aroma of orange blossoms, I realized that my own mise en place was right in front of me: the tools of my trade. I had a black Piccadilly notebook (a poor man's Moleskine) and a good pen (a Pilot Precise V5). My new laptop, a Dell Latitude E6430, was positioned beside my iPhone, giving me just as much communication with the outside world as I get in my home office.

From that idyllic spot, I could e-mail, call, fax, tweet, text, read a contract, conduct an interview, write a speech or book dinner reservations. I could also--if I felt like procrastinating--check my stocks, watch satellite TV, get the weather forecast and read most of the newspapers printed in America and beyond. All while sipping a rather extraordinary margarita.

"I used to rule my world from a pay phone," Jimmy Buffett sings in "One Particular Harbour." But he didn't really. Before the turn of the 21st century, one's world had to be compact to be presided over with nothing more than an occasional call.

These days we have communication capabilities beyond our wildest aspirations. I negotiated the terms of a business project from a South African safari camp earlier this month. The executive on the far end of the e-mails, eight time zones away, never guessed that had we been talking on the phone, she might have heard hyenas in the background.

Your own mise en place depends on what you do--and how you like to do it. One peripatetic entrepreneur I know believes he can't afford to be out of touch with his clients, not even for a few hours. So he carries two mobile phones--one pegged to AT&T signals, the other to Verizon. For me word processing is crucial, so I need a big screen and a responsive keyboard (which I'm willing to pay more to get). Good notebooks are a necessity, so I maintain a constant supply in various shapes and sizes, and choose carefully for each trip. Sometimes I'll bring my trusty Sony MP3 IC recorder to tape interviews and idea sessions, and occasionally I need a camera to capture images, but usually my phone will suffice.

The trick is to keep evolving, as new technologies and applications emerge and your needs shift. If you're still traveling the same way you were even a year ago, you're probably not optimizing your experience. The free Expensify app tracks everything I spend. The fax software that was once so important to me is irrelevant now that I send documents to the cloud. For years I didn't leave home without photos of my wife and a favorite poetry book. Now they're on my phone, along with videos of my kids.

Our generation of business professionals has more freedom to work from wherever we want than any that has come before. Take full advantage and you can, indeed, rule your world.

On-the-go Gadgets

For Road Trips

The slim, voice-activated Garmin nüvi 3597 GPS device ($380) offers easy-to-follow directions, live-action lane guidance, traffic info and Bluetooth compatibility. The Cobra iRadar 200 ($130) connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth to detect and share real-time alert information--such as speed traps and red-light cameras--with other users. For emergencies, stock the Etón FRX3 ($60) in your trunk: Powered by a hand crank, it's a combo phone charger, AM/FM and NOAA weather radio and LED flashlight.

For Flights

Load your gear into the Timbuk2 Power Commute Laptop Messenger Bag ($199), a TSA-compliant carry-on with a Joey T1 portable battery to keep gadgets charged. Create an in-flight sound cocoon with the Apple iPad mini ($329) and folding Beats Executive headphones ($300).

International Travel

Before you go, rent a pocket Wi-Fi hotspot from Tep Wireless (from $12.50 per day) to stay connected with mobile data and avoid roaming charges. The Google Nexus 7 tablet ($199) offers excellent translation apps that even work offline.

--John Patrick Pullen