Digital Nomad Packing Tips from the Pros

Jessie Beck

Did you know that the team here at Tortuga Backpacks is 100% remote? That most of us either currently are, or have been, digital nomads at some point or another? Personally, I think that’s pretty cool.

Though we aren’t worrying about getting our communal kitchen cleaned, or complaining to maintenance that the lightbulb in the bathroom has gone out (again) we, as digital nomads, do have some other considerations that stationary workers don’t have. Namely: how do we take our offices with us on the road?

What do you pack when you travel as a digital nomad?

Whether you’re already one, or still thinking of becoming a digital nomad, these packing tips will help you be a productive and happy remote worker — from anywhere!

Homebase: Luggage for Digital Nomads

Let’s start with what you’re putting everything in: your backpack. As a frequent — in fact, constant — traveler, you don’t want to waste time rummaging around your bag, or waiting for one at luggage carousels, but it’s more than that.

As a digital nomad your needs are specific, you need a system that:

  • Is lightweight
  • Converts from travel bag to office bag seamlessly
  • Is agile, for your short trips from your home base
  • And also accommodates the larger quantity of important stuff you occasionally move forward to a new base
  • Is carry-on sized
  • Is tough enough to stand up to the rigors of lifestyle travel
  • Is well organized and modular

The Homebase Collection is all of that and more. Designed by digital nomads, for digital nomads, made from cutting edge, lightweight, waterproof sailcloth fabric that takes you from looking sleek in upscale cities to weathering Southeast Asia’s monsoon season, seamlessly.

Homebase Travel Backpack

The Homebase backpack system includes a double sided, packing cube that is perfect for separating clean laundry from dirty without requiring another bag and accommodating the realities of life on the road.

When you get where you’re going, simply pull the cube and your office bag is ready to go. Complete with organized space for your office supplies. No need to carry a daypack any more. 

Homebase Duffle Case

The Homebase duffle case is big enough to carry all of the stuff makes your bases feel like home. And, best of all, it’s still carry on sized. Side opening, like a suitcase, for ease of packing, with a padded shoulder strap in addition to handles, so the carry experience is comfortable. And, of course, it’s made out of the same LiteSkin waterproof sailcloth as the backpack. Seriously, you’re going to love this bag.

Electronics

Electronics are perhaps the biggest consideration and the most carefully selected items that remote workers will bring with them. As a digital nomad, you may be traveling with more electronics than others. From those I’ve talked to, most will carry all, or most, of the following:

  • Laptop + case
  • Mouse
  • Kindle
  • Smartphone
  • Camera + extra batteries + case (optional if you’re OK with an iPhone only)
  • GoPro (highly optional)
  • External battery
  • Universal adaptor, like the Loop all-in-one.
  • Headphones
  • Chargers
  • External hard drive, or thumb drive (there are thumb drives with up to 1TB of space, but I was fine with 32GB in between Dropbox uploads)
  • A lock to keep it all safe in your bag or hostel locker

Before we move on, there are a couple more considerations for digital nomads and their electronics:

Which Laptop?

I love my Macbook Air, but some digital nomads will want a computer that they can get repaired anywhere in the world (Apple doesn’t have stores in a lot of the more popular destinations). For them, a netbook is a good option. Dell and HP are popular brands for this.

I’ve also tested out traveling with an Android tablet + keyboard combo. Though light, I found that I was a little slower working on it. So, it’s fine for a month or two, but probably not a full year of travel, and it would be especially terrible if you’re doing something like, say, design.

Camera, or Smartphone?

Depending on the scope of your work, a smartphone camera might suffice. For something with a higher photo quality, a mirrorless camera is the way to go. They’re point-and-shoot size, but DSLR quality. For more info, read the full debate on traveling with an iPhone, or DSLR.

Insurance for Electronics?

Honestly, I’ve never purchased travel insurance, but after sharing an office with the folks at WorldNomads and getting an iPad swiped in Hawaii (*sadface*) I think that was a poor decision on my part — especially for those longer trips where I carried more electronics than usual.

So, yes, if you’re traveling with a lot of electronics, get travel insurance. Be sure to look at the fine print, however, since not all of them have your electronics covered in the base fee. Sometimes, it’s an add-on.

Worth noting, “claims for lost, stolen, or destroyed laptops and tablets fall under the travel insurance coverage for baggage,” according to TravelInsuranceReview.net.

Clothing

For clothes, digital nomads — who are usually longer term travelers as well — should still stick to the seven day rule. I’ll often allow myself a couple of extra pairs of undies and one nicer outfit when I’m on the road for months at a time, however, since I want to feel like myself (even if I’m working outside of my comfort zone). For clothes, I usually go with:

  • 10 Undies
  • 5 Socks
  • 3 bras (one is a sports bra, one I wear)
  • 4 T-shirts
  • 2 Tank tops
  • 1-2 Sweater/sweatshirts (I get cold a lot)
  • 1 Wind/waterproof jacket
  • 2 Pants
  • 1 Long skirt
  • 1 Pair of leggings
  • 1 Scarf

I’ll also make sure that I can work out in at least one of these outfit combos, usually basic colored leggings and a t-shirt I don’t mind getting dirty, since staying healthy on the road is so important.

Toiletries

Traveling for months at a time with only a 3oz bottle of shampoo is rough. While I won’t detail every little toiletry you should bring, a few of my best tips include:

  • A bar of soap, rather than body wash.
  • Collapsible bottles
  • Chapstick, tweezers, nail clippers, & basic medications
  • Travel sized deodorantlasts for freaking ever
  • A comb, not a brush
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste

For travel beauty, keep it simple and versatile (more tips in our travel beauty tips article). Bar soaps last longer and do double duty as laundry soap, collapsible bottles allow you to refill, travel sized deodorant lasts for freaking ever, and a comb is more compact than a brush.

Ladies, forget tampons. It’s all about the Diva cup.

Personally, I like to keep my every day items in one bag, and the items I don’t cart to the shower every day in a separate, smaller bag to keep things organized.

Extras

The following items didn’t fit nicely in our other categories, but they’re no less important for digital nomads on the road:

  • Passport
  • Travel towel (or sarong)
  • Travel flashlight or headlamp (especially if you’re headed somewhere developing)
  • Eye mask & earplugs
  • Pen
  • Small notebook
  • A daybag
  • A laundry line, or Rope (I don’t carry this, but a lot of long term travelers do)
  • Duct tape (it just fixes everything)
  • One piece of non-digital entertainment — like a book or pack of cards.

Lifestyle Items

Bring the items that make you happy, since, even when you’re thousands of miles from home, you’re not on vacation. This is your life, and you’ll want the things that make you you. A few “comforts of home” to pack:

Coffeemaker: Home Sweet Globe always travels with an Aeropress. Similarly, I traveled with a Bodum coffee press thermos (the plastic, not the glass, one). I loved it, since, a surprising amount of hostels don’t have anything to make coffee with.

Tupperware & Sporks: Charlie of Charlie On Travel always travels with tupperware, and sporks “to reduce plastic waste and do my best to be eco-friendly.” Hey, you’ve gotta carry those yummy airplane snacks in something, right? Her sporks are from Light My Fire and come with a case to keep your bag clean.

Collapsible Water Bottle: Charlie and I both agree on this one — bring a water bottle, but make sure it’s collapsible. That way, it doesn’t take up a ton of room in your backpack when it’s not in use.

Sleeping Bag & Tent: Bring the freedom to sleep anywhere and everywhere… if that’s your thing.

Running Shoes: I hate running, but I’ve got to admit, it really is the most portable exercise. Stay active, and put those shoes to use on the trail too (because hiking boots are a pain anyway, am I right?)

Travel yoga mat: Like I said, running’s a pain, but I love yoga. The Giam travel mat works well while on the road.

Skateboard?Shoin.wf travels with a skateboard and still manages to get it all in just one carry-on. Way to be.

Tips for Packing

  • Limit your “just in case” items to the things that you know you absolutely won’t be able to get on the road (which isn’t much, really) or would be in a huge pickle without (like a luggage lock).
  • At the same time, bring the things that make you you. Whether it’s a coffee maker or your running shoes, you’ll want to adapt, not ditch, your stationary life for your nomadic one.
  • Roll clothes and stay organized — especially with cords.
  • Keep electronics and important papers in a waterproof bag. Rain covers for your bag help too.

If you want to see how a couple of other digital nomads pack, I’d highly recommend looking at Shoin.wf and Finding the Universe. Packing’s a pretty personal thing, and I’m sure you’ll find something that works for you that I didn’t mention!

TL;DR

For digital nomads trying to craft the perfect packing list, a lot of what you bring will be very personal to you, your lifestyle, and your line of work.

Make sure you choose the right backpack (Tortuga, Osprey, and Gregory are recommended) and one that has great organizational components to keep you put together on the road.

For electronics, a Dell or HP netbook is a great option for those of you concerned about getting repairs abroad. Travel insurance and a lock are always good ideas.

For clothing, bring things that you feel like yourself in, but don’t pack for longer than seven days. Same for toiletries.

Pack the things that support your lifestyle. You’re traveling for a long time, and if you’re a coffee drinker, don’t give up coffee. If you want to stay fit, bring your jogging shoes.

Images: Dave Meier (Picography.co)