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The Nomadic Work Setup of Chris Gonzales

All photos by Chris Gonzales

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Hi! Hello there. Hey. Name’s Chris. This is me:

This is my family:

And this is what we live in:

We named her Rhoda Vanderbuilt — you know, because ROAD-a, and she was BUILT on a VAN chassis…you know what, forget I brought it up.

Anyway, you may know me from various things I’ve written around here or for the neat stuff I post about daily over on Tools & Toys. I kinda hang around in the background most of the time, quietly doing my thing — not in the “creepy lurker” sense, I hope 🥴 — and occasionally jumping in to help the rest of the Blanc Media team with projects.

The biggest difference between me and the others is that I do this job almost entirely on the road.

…or sometimes in the desert:

…or sometimes with a ludicrously pretty view:

…or, uh, at a rest stop where a semi literally catches fire? Right next to your home?? And you have to move away immediately before it potentially explodes???

Okay, so to make a long story short, my family and I have been living and traveling all over the United States in some form of RV for over six years now (gosh, time flies), and I’ve become so used to this lifestyle that I sometimes forget how strange/fascinating it looks on the outside. During a recent Zoom meeting, my own curious colleagues here at TSS asked me to do a writeup about how I get my work done while traveling — what my setup looks like, how I stay connected, how I find things to write about, that sort of thing.

So, here we are. I can’t promise it will blow any minds, but I’ve put together the details of my mobile work setup below. Hope you enjoy it and/or get something out of it.

Don’t bother clicking away, you’re stuck with me now. {maniacal laugh}

My Nomadic iPad Setup

To kick things off, I should note that my work setup is an iPad-centric one. The iPad has been my primary device of choice for about a decade now, and I haven’t owned a laptop or desktop computer of any kind in that time. It offers everything I need for my mobile blogging and article-editing duties, and very easily switches to an entertainment device when the work is done.

Right now I have the 8th-gen iPad from 2020, paired with the Logitech Slim Folio keyboard case. The iPad lives in this case all the time, so in a sense it does function like a laptop.

Staying Connected

While I had a cellular-compatible iPad prior to this one, my current model is Wi-Fi only. I still need to stay connected everywhere I go though, as do my wife and kids, so our primary means of internet access comes via a Verizon 5G Jetpack hotspot. This is our alternative to maintaining a cable internet account or some such, and for the most part it works fine.

There are times when either my wife or I will escape into town for a day to get work done away from the kids — we are with them 24/7/365, so this is a necessity, you understand — and depending on where we are in the country, that’s often easier said than done:

If we’re ever closer to civilization than in that photo, we often look for places with free Wi-Fi where we can sit and work for a few hours. Panera Bread is typically a decent place to go, and even a McDonald’s will do in a pinch (they often have surprisingly fast internet!).

Local libraries all over the place have been helpful as well on this front, especially on those rare occasions when we need to print things off.

The Apps I Can’t Live Without

Next up is what my writing workflow consists of. These are the apps that keep the machine running, so to speak:

  • 1Writer — This is my writing app of choice at the moment. I write in Markdown almost exclusively, and while there are plenty of other apps that are good for that sort of thing, having a built-in web browser for research purposes suits the way I like to work. It’s also compatible with TextExpander, which is integral to my workflow.
  • Shortcuts — I use this for so many little work-related tasks, such as resizing images for the web, converting rich text to Markdown, grabbing screenshots and album covers from Apple, and beyond.
  • Pixelmator — My image editor of choice. Well, more like image creator. A lot of the products I write about on Tools & Toys don’t have images in the right size/orientation, or they don’t offer hi-res images that are composed the way I like (I’m a bit persnickety that way), so I use Pixelmator to create usable images of my own. It’s just so simple and easy to work with, rather than having a billion functions I’ll never use — yet still powerful enough to handle all the layer work I throw at it.
  • Instapaper — Whenever I come across something on the web I think would be interesting to write about, I toss it into a folder in Instapaper so I can easily find it later. These days I use the app for this one purpose far more than I do for reading long articles.
  • Universal Search (aka Spotlight) — Not an app per se, but at least on an iPad with a keyboard, this utility is so useful for launching home screen shortcuts, doing currency conversions and quick calculations, looking up info, finding apps that are tucked away in folders, and more. And being a mere keyboard shortcut away (CMD+Space) makes it easily accessible no matter whatever else I’m doing.

As far as finding ideas and turning them into published posts (at least on T&T), I’ve accumulated a number of sources over the years that I can check on if my Instapaper well ever runs too dry. I’m subscribed to a number of email newsletters and RSS feeds that I can glean product ideas from, along with some bookmarked pages I can check for inspiration.

Sometimes I’ll stumble across something on Reddit or YouTube that seems cool to let readers know about, so my eyes and ears are always open for that sort of thing. I can’t really even turn off that part of my brain anymore. It can be a bit of a problem, as my wife can attest — like when we’re watching YouTube videos together and I suddenly have to pause and bookmark a thing for later research.

Of course, like any blogger who’s been at this for a while, I’ll often receive direct pitches from small companies asking for a bit of press for whatever their thing is. If it’s legit and high enough quality for our readers’ attention, I’m happy to oblige. I do filter out WAY more of that stuff than I actually end up writing about, for what it’s worth.

Other Fun Stuff

The last couple of things I’d like to mention are ones that I feel sustain me in my work but aren’t actually part of the “workflow,” per se.

  1. For me, music is an essential part of life, whether I’m working, driving, or doing whatever else. On the work front in particular, I rely on my modest noise-cancelling headphones and a bunch of chill music to keep me focused and in the writing zone.
  2. You better believe my work process is powered by caffeine, and I’ve assembled a nice little espresso setup to keep the stuff flowing no matter where we go in the country. The thing about traveling all over the place is that there’s not always a good coffee shop around to depend on (Starbucks, local, or otherwise), so we had to create our own.