Best Gear for Working Remotely

Shawn Forno

Working on the road sounds exotic and adventurous, but the truth is, it’s really hard. Digital nomads get bogged down by so many little snags like looking for wifi, keeping devices charged, managing their international cell phone plan, and finding a good happy hour that it’s hard to, you know, get work done.

Remove all the little barriers that can waste your time and money on the road by preparing ahead of time with the perfect remote work gear. Here’s a list of everything you need to work remotely while not completely breaking the bank (or your carry on bag).

Remote Work Packing List

Essentials

Add-Ons

Remote Work Essentials

The Best Digital Nomad Laptop: 13” MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air

A laptop is essential to running a remote business. That being said, this isn’t a laptop review. Also, I don’t know anything about PCs, so they’re not included here. Sorry, not sorry. Here’s a rundown of the pros and cons of a MacBook Pro vs. a MacBook Air.

The MacBook Pro is as Light as the MacBook Air

It’s worth noting that the base level MacBook ($1299), and the 13” MacBook Pro ($1299) are the same weight as the MacBook Air ($999)—2.02 and 3.02 lbs vs the Air’s 2.96 lbs. So the biggest advantage of the Air—portability—is a moot point. The base level MacBook is actually even a little thinner (12” vs 13”) than the MacBook Air, with similar specs. So there’s that. The Air still has the best battery life (12 hours vs 10).

If you’re setting up a remote office that you plan to work out of for weeks at a time, get the spec’d out MacBook Pro. But if you’re a true digital nomad on the go, working out of coffee shops and co-working spaces every couple of days, the anxiety of taking your shiny laptop everywhere might weigh on you.

Better computers are worth the extra cash, but before you click “add to cart” ask yourself:

  • How am I going use this computer?
  • How long do I want this computer to last? (is it future proof?)
  • Am I willing to travel with this computer?
  • Is the base model good enough for my needs?
  • Does this computer fit in my backpack?

Once you know how you’re going to work and how your computer will help you earn money, then it’s time to invest in the machine that will become closer to you than your family.

MacBook Air ($999): For Bloggers and Remote Workers

If you’re a writer (blogger) or work remotely as a digital assistant, or customer service rep, the Macbook Air is more than enough machine for you. And with the lowest price tag in the entire line of Mac laptops, it’s the obvious budget-friendly choice.

I’ve used a 2011 MacBook Air for a while now, and it gets the job done for any text-based projects. It can even handle some light video editing and heavier loads. But if you’re a videographer or heavy user, the lighter specs will cut your efficiency down to subpar levels. Waiting for a render sucks.

13” MacBook Pro ($1299): For Videographers and Heavy Users

The MacBook Pro is the best computer available in the Apple lineup. (It’s the preferred set up for almost all of these digital nomads). The 13” MacBook Pro weighs the same as the MacBook Air, is actually a little bit slimmer (0.59” vs 0.68”) and has better specs and storage capacity. It’s just a better all around option. The only thing that would keep me from using this computer as my main workspace on the road is budget (the base model MacBook Pro is $300 more than the Air).

You honestly don’t need an overspec’d beast with top-of-the-line processors, graphics cards, and flashy gimmicks like touchpad menus to write blog posts. You just don’t. The functional differences between the two computers are narrow—unless you’re editing photos and video. If you have the budget and want to future proof your computer for the long haul with better storage and specs, opt for the MacBook Pro.

Smartphone

Again, if you’re reading this, you have a smartphone. Everyone does. Phones are easily the most useful travel gadget you can own. They’re your camera, computer, social media hub, GPS, map, hotel booker, guidebook, entertainment, alarm clock, and 1,000 other things. That’s why I recommend investing in the best smartphone you can.

A few years back my buddy balked at the price of a new smartphone. He wasn’t sure it was worth the extra $100 to upgrade to a better model phone with more storage, a better camera, and increased speed. It’s a reasonable thing to be concerned about, and I don’t advocate updating everything just for the sake of getting a shiny new phone. But to help him make his decision I asked him one question:

What else in your life do you use every single day?

You will use your phone everyday when you travel—especially if you’re working. Capturing video and photos of your trip, connecting with friends, driving directions, booking flights, and killing time on those flights with sweet podcasts, as well as taking calls, messaging clients, and playing Pokemon Go. Remember Pokemon Go?

Why wouldn’t you invest in the one thing you’re going to use all the time? When seen in that light, a $100 upgrade is essentially paying $0.27/day for a better do-everything machine. To me, that’s worth every penny.

Upgrade: Make your smartphone the work horse it’s always wanted to be by downloading these 50 Travel Apps for Digital Nomads

Carry On Backpack

Obviously, I’m a big fan of the Tortuga Setout backpack. It’s the perfect size for me, (I’m 6’1”) and has just the right combination of space and organization to keep me lean and organized on the road. You don’t want to waste time every day sifting through a top loading backpack for a spare adapter piece. Trust me.

The Outbreaker is another great option if you crave even more internal organization features. It’s ideal for photographers, videographers, and people who travel with tons of hard drives and cables and SD cards, and whatnot. You know who you are. It’s made of waterproof sail cloth so that a little rain is no big deal for what’s inside your bag.

The Homebase backpack was designed specifically for digital nomads, combining travel and remote work, and light packers. It coverts, in less than ten seconds, from a travel backpack to an office and around town bag. It’s made of waterproof sail cloth, so you won’t have to worry about your office gear getting wet, and it’s really light.

Which one is right for you? Compare them side by side.

Daypack

You need a daypack to live and work on the road. Something small and compact that rolls up into your primary backpack, but you can use in your day to day. I’ve been loving the little Setout packable daypack for trips to the coffee shop to get work done, mostly thanks to the little stash pocket in the front. It’s perfect to keeping snacks separate from my headphones or passport when I’m traveling. It’s also just a sweet day bag to load up and go exploring, because of the lightweight feel, super soft straps, and overall “smashability” of the bag. You can beat it up and it’s fine. But it’s not designed to carry a laptop.

Outbreaker Daypack ($99)

If you’re working remotely, this might be the best $99 you spend.

The Outbreaker day bag is a bit beefier (21L), and features a laptop pocket. Made of waterproof sailcloth, you won’t worry about a rain shower or a splash on the beach with your office gear inside. This isn’t a cheap, flimsy daypack; this bag is built to go the distance, and yet not add pounds to your carry. It’s the perfect bag for heading out to the coworking space or coffee shop to get work done.

One of the best parts is that it’s still packs flat in your backpack, so that’s awesome, and it’s a lot more sturdy for digital nomads with more precious cargo.

Universal Travel Adapter

If you work abroad you need electricity. Obviously. You can wait ’til you land to pick up an adapter, but depending on where you are, how long you’re there, what time you land, your transportation options, currency exchange, and how much work you have to do on the move, getting a teeny tiny adapter just to get recarged can be a huge pain in the ass. Skip the drama and just pack your own.

Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter ($10)

If you want to keep it lean and mean, this is the only travel adapter for you. It works in 150 countries, converts on the fly, and takes up less space than your current iPhone usb charger.

This one is a must for minimalist digital nomads.

Travel Inspira Universal All in One Worldwide Travel Power Plug ($11)

If you need to charge more than one device at a time, and want to combine your adapter with your usb hub (smart move), this is a great adapter. It’s still cheap, relatively small, and works without having to Lego it together. Bonus: It comes with space to charge your laptop, and two USB ports, so you can recharge everything at once.

It works in the US, UK, Europe, Australia (sorry Asia), but remember that it’s just an adapter, not a converter, so don’t plug in anything that runs off the “wrong” current. Although, don’t sweat plugging in your computer (that’s what that heavy cube on your power cable is for).

BESTEK Universal Travel Adapter  ($43)

If you’re traveling with an ungodly number of devices (shame on you), or your partner or friend, the best adapter might be all the adapters. BESTEK is bulky, sure. But it’s got a 5-foot cable, 4 USB ports, and 3 wall outlet sockets. It’s a beast.

Remote Work Add-Ons

You can make a living with just a laptop, a phone, and some grit. But it gets a lot easier with a few simple add-ons that are worth a couple extra bucks and a little space in your backpack. These items just make life—and work—better.

Mophie Juice Pack Air Phone Case Battery Pack ($99)

We used a Mophie battery pack phone case on our trip through India, and it was a life-saver. We used our phones for videos, Whatsapp, GPS, games, and booking rooms, and it never once came close to dying thanks to the extra 2750mAh of power in this compact little case. That’s practically double the battery life of any phone on the market.

The ease of not having to actually hook your phone up to a battery pack is key when you’re actually traveling, let alone using your phone for work on the go. I can’t recommend Mophie cases enough.

Headphones

Planes, trains, (hostels), and even co-working spaces can get super loud. If you can’t hear yourself think—or your conference call with a client—you’re not goint to get any work done.

I honestly don’t have a preference between wireless, noise cancelling, or plain old fashioned regular headphones—as long as you find a pair that fits your ear, has a built-in microphone (for skype), and plays the jams.

Best Wireless Headphones: AirPods ($159)

I know they’re expensive, and they’re cliche, and this gear roundup is looking like an Apple fanboy article, but the AirPods are just plain awesome for digital nomads. They’re compact, sound great, travel well, and the built-in mic just plain works (if you have an iPhone). They cost a pretty penny, but they’re game changers.

Runner-up: Abedi Y2 Bluetooth Earbuds ($11)

Best Noise Cancelling Headphones: Sony WH1000XM2 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones ($298)

If you’re all about getting into the zone, Sony is the way to go. They sound incredible, cost a million dollars, and travel like it. The 30 hour battery life is easily the best around, which lets the dynamic noise cancelling actually work, unlike so many other headphones that have to trade battery life for noise cancelling tech.

If you have the means, go for it.

Best Budget Headphones: Anker Soundbuds Slim ($26)

You can’t do much better than these bluetooth wireless headphones for less than $30. They have a microphone, multiple earbuds (to get the perfect fit), magnetic earbuds that clip together (so you won’t lose them), a microphone, and actual skip buttons (which I love).

They sound great, are made of surprisingly quality material, and travel like a boss with 7 hours of battery life.

Portable Battery Packs

I’ve written about battery packs a lot, and while I think they’re amazing for heavy users, if you’re not crushing through a day of shooting video with your phone or GoPro, or using your device to navigate all day, I hesitate to hard recommend a portable battery pack. 9 times out of 10, I make it through the day without one. If you’re dead set on a portable battery, I’d recommend something small that delivers just enough charge to get you through the day as opposed to a behemoth with 6+ charges. You don’t need that many charges.

Mophie Powerstation Mini ($29)

The Mophie mini under $30, weighs 3 oz, and holds 3000mAh of power, which is about 1 full phone charge on practically any device.

It’s slim, well made, perfectly designed for travel, and even comes in custom color options. So that’s fun.

Chuck this in your bag and you’re good to go.

Mophie Powerboost XXL ($39)

If you really crave MORE POWAH, the Powerboost XXL with 20,800mAh is on sale for just $39.

It weighs a pound (boo), but hey, that’s a lot of juice.

Mophie Powerstation USB-C ($149)

If you’re looking for that beast to charge not just your phone and devices but also your MacBook Pro, snag the Powerstation USB-C. With the same sleek look as other Mophie battery packs, it can extend the life of your MacBook by 14 hours. That’s pretty awesome. Sure, it also weighs 13 ounces, but if you need to keep cranking on your computer, this is for you.

SanDisk 64GB USB Thumb drive ($17)

For less than $20 you can have a hard copy of every single thing you write on the road. 64GB is a shocking amount of space, and a solid little piece of mind for writers and bloggers who travel. Plus, it’s a lot lighter than an external hard drive, doesn’t require an extra power source or charging cable, and can take a beating in your backpack.

I’ve used my thumb drive (or jump drive if you’re one of those) countless times to transfer files, backup stories, or just keep some of my favorite videos and pictures doubly safe while traveling. A worthy inclusion to your remote work gear kit for almost no money and even less space.

ASUMI Braided Charging Cables ($11)

The ASUMI braided charging cables changed how I travel.

No more huddling in front of outlets, or charging things in weird corners of the room. These sturdy, long charging cables let you plug your phone in, while actually using it. I know.

Plus the braided cable doesn’t fray like the crappy plastic ones. Bring the 6ft cord on your next trip and prepare to relax. If you have the extra space, toss in the 10ft cord and prepare to be freaked out.

iClever Boost Cube Dual USB Charger ($9)

If you don’t opt for a travel adaptor that has built-in USB ports (you really should), get a dual USB plug.

Ignore the silly name, and read the 11,000 reviews. It’s small. It works. The prongs fold away. Ta-da.

Sometimes, there’s just no need to go big, or fancy, or spend a lot of money. Sometimes the simplest solution is the path forward. Get one of these.

Anker Dual USB Car Charger ($10)

If you’re going to spend any amount of time in a car (or a rickshaw), get a dual USB charger to keep your phone and other devices topped up for adventure! Huzzah!

Pop one of these babies in your cord bag and forget about it. When you rent a car and there’s a fight over the USB plug… you can win it. Times two. Yes. 

Never be without power on a road trip again. Ever.

TL;DR

If you have the means to upgrade your digital nomad work setup, by all means go for it. Just don’t get something because it’s shiny and new. A lot of “travel” gear is total crap, and the stuff that does work might not be right for your remote business. Invest in yourself, but remember—all you need is a second-hand laptop, a plane ticket, and a good idea to become a digital nomad. Now, go get something done!

  • Your laptop is your business. Invest in the right one
  • A battery pack phone case will relieve so much anxiety
  • Get a long braided charging cable; trust me
  • Headphones are your life-jacket when you’re trying to work in crowded spaces; try before buy for ones that actually fit
  • Get a daypack that you’ll actually use—and one that you can pack inside your travel backpack

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