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Quick refresher: We’re launching a backpack and a duffle case for digital nomads in the coming months. Team Tortuga has spent the past year researching, testing, and iterating the development of this collection.
Why did it take us a whole year? Since digital nomads are a niche group with highly specific needs, market research and our team’s nomadic experiences wouldn’t be enough. We needed full-time nomads to test our luggage on-the-ground and help us iterate.
Since late 2016, our testers have been traveling with Homebase prototypes, sending us updates on how they travel and giving us valuable insight into changes we needed to make. If you’ve seen a grey bag with the Tortuga logo somewhere in Guatemala, Southeast Asia, or Europe – congratulations! You’ve spotted a Homebase prototype.
Here are some of the key insights we learned from our digital nomad testers, and how those insights contributed to the Homebase collection’s design.
“Usually I travel with a little, but sometimes I travel with a lot.”
This is an insight that initially came from the market research stage. During our interviews with seasoned digital nomads, we found that “usually a little, sometimes a lot” was a resounding trend.
Minimalism is a necessity for nomads in order to live an agile life. However, full-time travel isn’t like other travel. It isn’t a vacation, and it isn’t even an “adventure.” It’s your life. And a few extra possessions can make life a little more comfortable. Many nomads have come to this notion. They’ll store some extra comfort items in their homebases around the world. They might move those possessions infrequently, but they do own a little extra and that makes full-time travel easier.
This idea was the start of our realization that one bag might not cut it – at least not always. Nomads needed a bag that could serve as their one piece of luggage, and also needed mobile storage space for the extra contents of their lives.
In order to solve this luggage challenge, we originally tested two bags:
- A travel backpack, similar to the one we’re producing
- A 55L duffle, meant to be checked (not carried on).
Stop gasping, everyone, it’s true: Tortuga tested a bag larger than a carry on. You’ll notice, however, that the duffle case we’re producing is a 45L carry on, not a 55L checked bag.
Our user testers appreciated the concept of a larger “trunk” for their extra possessions… but none of them actually checked the 55L prototype when traveling. They always bent the rules and carried it on, despite its too-big-to-be-strictly-allowed dimensions.
Thank you, user testers, lesson learned. You wanted lightweight, mobile storage space, but you’re still a carry-on-only kind of traveler. Since everyone was rejecting the idea of checking a bag, we changed the duffle’s design accordingly. The production model is rectangular for more packing space (like a trunk) but smaller to qualify as a carry on. This bag still incredibly roomy.
“I started out traveling fast. After I burned out, I switched to traveling slow.”
There are a couple of factors to unpack (PUN INTENTED) here.
The first relates to the motivations behind a nomad’s decision to travel and the cadence that follows suit. Motivation is less directly relevant to product design, (still relevant – but I’m not the person to tell you why, ask Patrick about that) but extremely relevant to product positioning (which is my job). Nomads start a life of travel because travel is a major priority in their lives. One byproduct? A long wish list of adventures.
Changing your life is exciting. Especially when your life change revolves around your hopes and dreams: Exploring the world. When your wish list is long, and you have excitement fueling you, fast travel seems like the way to go. You’ve spent years in purgatory, working in a soulless office, and you cannot wait to live on your terms. Travelling slow sounds counterintuitive at first. I didn’t set out to be stagnant! I set out to explore!
Personally, I started my nomadic adventure by changing countries every 4-5 weeks. I’d take a side trip once a month. It was great for about two months… and then I was exhausted. Because full time travel isn’t a vacation, as I mentioned earlier, and therefore the fast pace of a vacation doesn’t make sense when travel is the cornerstone of life. That notion is hard to apply at first.
The second factor to unpack relates to the “stuff” of a fast traveler versus a slow traveler. We found that traveling fast, then burning out, then traveling slow had a significant impact on a nomad’s packing list at every stage. Most people started their nomadic journey by packing too much and packing the wrong things. For instance, I brought my wilderness first aid kit to Buenos Aires. What a newbie move, right? I never used that thing. I think I ditched it in Bolivia.
The above grin brought to you by Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, and also the satisfaction of ditching extraneous gear.
Minimalists tend to be more savvy than I was and therefore pack the bare minimum. Their packing list functions very well, as they’ve packed the right things, but often decide that they haven’t brought enough to feel comfortable long-term. Living out of a backpack can be freeing for a month or two, but can feel suffocating for a year.
Here’s how we noticed nomads’ packing lists changing by stage:
- Traveling too fast: Packing too much of the wrong things, or packing minimally (akin to a two-week vacation)
- Burning out: Purging possessions to trim the fat
- Traveling slowly: Acquiring a few, meaningful items
The third stage was interesting to us, and further contributed to our idea of a duffle as a modern trunk. Your backpack is the place for your essentials, and the duffle is a place to store the extra contents of your life.
“Slow travel doesn’t mean I’m not agile.”
In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
For a digital nomad, agility means waking up in the morning and deciding to change countries later that afternoon. Maybe I’ve been in Berlin for two months and am thirsty for some quality time by the sea. Plus, my Schengen visa is only good for 90 days, so I’d need to move soon regardless.
I sip my espresso, because every Airbnb in Europe seems to come with a Nespresso machine, and check transportation to Croatia. I settle on the 7:00pm EasyJet flight out of Berlin Schöenefeld. I’ll be in Split at 9:00pm tonight for the low price of $75. I log on to Airbnb and book a decent-looking room for a couple of nights. I’ll find a more permanent solution once I arrive and get the lay of the land.
Once my key logistics are settled, I go about the rest of my day per usual. My Berlin Airbnb is booked for the next few days, but I’ll eat the cost. I don’t mind, since I paid for the month and got a significant discount accordingly. I’ll work from the apartment today, making sure to leave a little time in the afternoon to pack and get to the airport.
I’ll stay in Croatia for a few months, I think. Or maybe not. We’ll see.
Changing locations on a whim calls for luggage that is quick and easy to pack. We chose waterproof sailcloth for the Homebase collection partially for the obvious weather resistance, but also because it’s a rigid fabric. The backpack and duffle case both retain their shape when empty, allowing for easier packing. A bag that collapses in on itself when you’re trying to stuff your possessions inside is annoying. Waterproof sailcloth eliminates that pain point. This may seem like a small detail, but our product testers helped us realize that rigid fabric can make a big difference. The little things are what diffentiates “okay” luggage from “great” luggage. Our goal, as always, is “great.”
We learned a lot from our product testers, far more than the above three points. We’re forever grateful to the digital nomads that gave us valuable feedback, insight, and critique. The Homebase collection is stronger because of it.