This month I’m diverging a bit from the topic I normally write about, which is intercultural learning in higher education. In the course of my work, readers and colleagues often ask me about things such as the software I use to run my business or clothing I’m wearing at a conference. Since I’m someone who often researches (some might say over-researches) my purchases, I decided to write a post sharing some of my “favorite things” related to work and travel to answer these types of frequently-asked-questions and share my “research” findings with anyone who might find it useful. I also think many of these things could potentially make nice holiday or end-of-year gift ideas for colleagues or loved ones.
Note that I receive no compensation for most of these recommendations. Exceptions are noted with an asterisk (*), in which case I may receive a small percentage of anything you purchase. However, everything listed here is included only because it’s a personal favorite.
Technology & Productivity Favorites
I’m a life-long learner and student of productivity—although not in the do-more sense of the word, but in a less-is-more kind of way. For me, productivity is about working smarter, not harder. It’s not about doing more, but focusing on doing the right things—things that move me toward my goals and are in alignment with my values—and doing less of anything that doesn’t.
Some things I found especially useful early in my productivity journey include the book The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller*, as well as the Full-Focus Planner, a quarterly planner that encourages intentionality. Both have helped me identify and prioritize those tasks that are most important.
I don’t consider myself very tech savvy (my teens would wholeheartedly agree), but good tech is required to run a business and is something I highly value and am willing to learn when the end result is that it saves me time and energy. My top software favorites are Zoom, Google Calendar, and Acuity for scheduling. I have all three of these integrated so that people can schedule a meeting with me during time I’ve allotted for that purpose (without back-and-forth emailing). The meeting immediately goes on my calendar and they get a calendar invite and reminder with a Zoom link.
Another software I started using this past year to up-level my productivity is Notion. Notion refers to itself as “a single space where you can think, write, and plan (…) exactly the way you want.” Essentially, it’s a highly-customizable project management software that I’m starting to use to augment (and perhaps eventually replace) the Full-Focus Planner I mentioned earlier, as well as to manage other parts of my business and life. While the learning curve with Notion is steep, it’s great for those who want to manage a lot of different things in one place and customize the way they do so.
Since starting a book-writing project, I’ve been focusing on becoming more productive in my writing habits as well. While I’m still working on implementing what I learned from them, I found the following books very helpful in that regard: Building a Second Brain, by Tiago Forte*, and How to Take Smart Notes, by Sönke Ahrens*.
Software I’ve found particularly useful in the writing process include Zotero, a free software for managing references, and Roam Research, which I use for note-taking (and retrieving those notes when needed).
People often ask what LMS (Learning Management Software) I use for the online courses and programs I offer. The answer is Kajabi*, which is actually an “all-in-one” software for online businesses that we use to host True North Intercultural’s website, email list, and online courses.
Oftentimes when I’m on Zoom calls, people ask if I’m using a virtual background. The answer is no. But I did design my home office—including what you see in the background on Zoom calls—very intentionally.
Prior to COVID, my office was in the front room on the main floor of our house. The office furniture was purchased ages ago—long before I started True North Intercultural. The space functioned well enough when my spouse was working outside the home and our kids were at school. Several years ago, though, my spouse started working part-time from home. Then COVID began and suddenly our two kids were schooling from home as well. I decided to give the main floor office to my spouse and convert a spare bedroom into my dream office, which I designed with an understanding of my current needs and desires. The following are a few of the components that make it a space where I love to work.
Two bamboo desks from Uplift, one of which converts to a standing desk. I have these situated in an “L” shape so I can sit facing the large window while working on my laptop, or turn to face the wall and my multiple screens, and stand up while facilitating online trainings. The opposite wall was designed to be a visually-appealing background. The focal point is a True North Intercultural customized sign from Skyline Laser on Etsy. My other favorite things in that background include a bookshelf full of books, and several plants (succulents because they’re harder to kill). Books, plants, and natural light—along with all the practical stuff—are what make my office a place where I want to spend time. And what would books be without a comfortable spot to read? That’s why I also invested in the Lysa chair and ottoman from Fjords, which I have right between the window and desk with this fun reading lamp from Adesso.
Another, very practical, thing in my office that I love is the Microsoft Sculpt ergonomic Keyboard. While it took a little getting used to at first, with all the typing I do, I doubt I will ever go back to using a regular keyboard! Two other pieces of equipment I use regularly and am very happy with are an Audio-Technica ATR2100 microphone* and Logitech C920e webcam*.
Clothing + Footwear
I’ve also been asked about some of my clothing and footwear choices for work and travel. This category is obviously very based on personal preference and body type. So, to provide some context, I should explain that comfort and practicality are my top priorities when it choosing what I wear. Whether I’m working from my home office, traveling to conferences and client work, or facilitating in-person trainings, I want to feel comfortable, yet look put together.
Also, please note that all recommendations here are what work for my body type, which I’d describe as medium height (5 ft 5 in), athletic/slim, and essentially curve-less.
While choosing tops is relatively easy for me, finding pants that fit my body and criteria is definitely harder. I could live in joggers if permitted, and have come to expect that kind of comfort of other pants. As a result, all of the pants recommended here have elastic waistbands (the jeans have a button and zipper, but elastic on the inside of the waistband, whereas the rest just pull-on).
The Endless Pant from Athleta is super comfortable, yet dressy enough for most office environments. It’s made of a material with an athletic feel, which is wrinkle-resistant and quick-drying, making it a great option for travel. For equal comfort in more of a traditional work-pant material, I recommend Banana Republic’s Hayden Taper (most of my blazers are also from Banana Republic). For warm-weather travel, I like the Brooklyn Ankle Pant by Athleta, which is made of a light-weight (easily packable) material and can be dressed up or down. All of the pants mentioned here are available in multiple lengths.
My go-to brand for jeans is Democracy—specifically their "Ab"solution line. I used to have trouble finding jeans that fit well. Then I went to an event with a very diverse group of women and Democracy offered us each a free pair of jeans. The company claim is that it “celebrates women of all shapes and sizes by designing size-inclusive, body-positive fashion.” As far as I know, every person there found a pair of jeans that fit their body! I went home and used the discount they gave us to buy several more pairs in various colors and it’s pretty much the only jean I’ve worn since.
My favorite source for t-shirts with a social justice message is Live Inclusively, which is an arm of the Black, Woman-owned DEI consulting company, The Winters Group.
Training and traveling requires a lot of time on my feet—which are pretty sensitive—so I really prioritize comfort when it comes to footwear. While I admire women who love heels, I will never be among them. My work footwear leans casual; I love sneakers and will often wear dressier clothing just to be able to pull off sneakers on my feet. For example, I have a casual black Asics sneaker* I love that I’ll often pair with a suit or blazer.
In addition, I have a few flats I like for work. I recently did a bit of research in this department, starting by looking at the Rothy’s flats I’ve seen many colleagues wearing, and ultimately ended up purchasing a pair of Allbirds Tree Breezers (in Navy Night, which is really more of a dark gray/blue) instead, which I’ve found quite comfortable so far. Allbirds shoes are also sustainably-made and machine-washable. (My research also led me to the Everlane Day Glove, which I hope to purchase when they go on sale to replace my aging black flats.)
For everyday wear and travel, I love the “unisex” boots by Blundstone, an Australian company. And in summer, I live in my black Chaco Classic Flip Flops*—which I’ve had forever and find way more supportive than any other flip flop I’ve owned—and a pair of light brown Birkenstock Franca sandals.
Additional Work & Travel Essentials
One of my top work and travel essentials across all categories is my Kindle E-Reader*. I used to believe I didn’t have time to read. But years ago, I decided to prioritize reading since it’s something I enjoy so much. The Kindle has made it much easier to do so! Now I’m usually reading several books at a time—including books for work, for personal growth/development, and just for fun. While I purchase hard copies of books I want to mark up, keep on my shelf, and refer back to, I use the Kindle for everything else.
The Kindle model I have is so old that Amazon informed me about a year ago it will stop being serviced. Somehow, it keeps working for me, but I soon plan to replace it with a newer model to ensure I don’t go a day without my Kindle. What I love most about it is that I can conveniently check out books from the library, bring many books with me when traveling without taking up space in a suitcase, and easily read hands-free while I’m eating alone at home or when traveling.
Another important must-have for me is a versatile, good-looking, just-right sized cross-body bag. For years I carried a small black Timbuktu bag that I found very practical but too casual for work. I wanted to replace it with something I could use for work, travel, and every day. After much research, I purchased the Tumi Troy Crossbody bag in black on a great sale, apparently because the model was being discontinued. I love everything about the bag (small yet roomy, with very practical pockets and a top handle in addition to the cross-body strap), although I would have preferred silver hardware instead of gold. Coincidentally, I recently came across what looks like the exact same bag from Quince, but with silver hardware, available in multiple colors, at a fraction of the price.
For casual travel, I often pack (or wear) my Lululemon Everyday Belt Bag. It seems like everyone has this bag, but for good reason. It’s very practical and surprisingly well-priced, especially compared to everything else by the brand (and it’s available in a variety of colors). It’s just big enough to hold the necessities (there’s also a larger version), so you don’t take more than you need, and can be worn as a belt bag (“fanny pack,” as my generation called it) or a sling. It’s great for travel, hiking, etc.
Another must-have item when I travel is a Turkish towel or similar—essentially a multi-purpose item that can be used as a scarf, towel, light blanket, or even a wrap or swimsuit cover-up. In general, I love wearing scarves because they can really bring an outfit together, while also providing warmth (much more practical than a necklace!). When I’m traveling alone for work, I typically just take a favorite scarf that will match multiple outfits. But if I’m traveling with the family or on vacation, I pack a few Turkish towels to use as blankets on the plane, towels at the beach or pool, as well as to sit on outdoors. We purchased a "bundle" of Turkish towels from Sand Cloud, a company that dedicates 10% of profits to marine conservation. We really like our Sand Cloud towels, although they’re a bit thicker/bigger than I’d probably use for a scarf.
If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed this divergence from my typical posts about intercultural teaching and learning. I’d love to hear from you about your own must-haves for work and travel! Please share your recommendations below.
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