Sometimes, it can feel like your packing list grows with every digital nomad gear list you read.
“Here are the best external hard drives! Quick dry towels! Padlocks on padlocks! Oh, and don’t forget that you absolutely need a portable wifi hotspot and a phone and a kindle and, and, and –”
Stop. Breathe. Put down the credit card.
Chances are, you don’t need more stuff. Chances are, you need less. Even if you’re a digital nomad whose entire life possessions amount to one bag, minimalist packing is still relevant. Ditch that hairdryer that’s taking up just as much space as a week’s worth of underwear. Get scrappy, creative, and stay true to your light-packing roots.
So, instead of telling you what to pack, lets talk about what not to pack as a digital nomad.
“Pound for pound, hiking boots are the least useful item in any backpack,” writes Shawn Forno in Why I Hate Hiking Boots. They’re expensive, heavy, and single use.
Instead, opt for more versatile shoes, like boat shoes, and cap yourself at two pairs — three max (if we’re counting sports-specific shoes or those cheap plastic shower flip-flops).
“I don’t wear travel clothing when I’m at home, so why would I when I travel?” says Laura Lopuch in Travel Clothing Sucks: What to Wear Instead. Although they seem practical, in reality they’re often ugly, uncomfortable, and no one truly feels like themselves in them.
This is even more of a problem when the road is your home. The lines are blurred and there’s no separation between travel and life. So why would your wardrobe pretend like there is? Especially when travel is home, stick to clothes that you love and make you feel like yourself. Check these out if you’re looking for pants or skirts that travel well, for men and women.
Too Many Devices
“Do you need your phone, laptop, tablet, and Kindle? Only bring one or two devices. Even your phone is powerful enough to accomplish most tasks,” Fred Perrota advises in What Not to Pack.
I know, I know, you’re thinking, “But that advice was for regular ol’ travelers — I’m a digital nomad and I need all of these things to work!” That may be so, but at least take stock of your electronics:
- What do you have?
- How essential is each of them?
- Why do you need it?
- Is there another device that can do the same job?
- Are you even using it?
- Just how terrible would your life be without it?
If I was able to travel and work for 3 months (in 2013) without a phone (right!? I still don’t know how I made it around Tokyo), I’m sure you’ll do just fine if you ditch the tablet.
An External Hard Drive
“I backup everything on the cloud at Google Drive, including all of my podcast episodes, websites, photos, and files. The best thing about having everything in the cloud is being able to access it from anywhere, and being able to get back to business within minutes even if you lose everything.” — Johnny Fd in the Realities of Digital Nomad Life.
Even though just about every digital nomad packing list (including ones I’ve written) will recommend bringing a good external hard drive, they’re not 100% necessary.
So long as you’re able to access wifi regularly (and, as a digital nomad, you probably are), rely on cloud storage — like Dropbox or Google Drive — and a miniature thumb drive for the in-betweens. Get one of the little ones, the size of your thumbnail, with 64GB of storage, thereby freeing up a little more space.
Items Used Less Than Once a Week
“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,” I once said in a list of Digital Nomad Packing Tips.
If it’s non-essential, cut it. If you find yourself thinking, “This could come in handy, I’ll pack it… just in case,” cut it. If you don’t even use it in your normal day to day life and aren’t sure if you’ll need it on the road, cut it.
Take Taylor Coil’s experience with her own digital nomad packing fail: “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.”
If you’ve invested in waterproof luggage, like the Outbreaker then lucky you! You can leave the dry sacs at home. Just make sure your toiletries are in a separate, waterproof toiletry bag to avoid any exploded-shampoo-all-over-my-bag incidents.
Physical Maps & Guidebooks
If you’re a digital nomad, then I have full confidence in your ability to Google the sh*t out of anything. This includes figuring out where to go, how to get there, and what to do once you’re there. Especially since you change locations frequently, getting a guidebook for each destination would just be cumbersome.
Instead, digitize this information. Take, for example, Shawn Forno’s tips in Digital Packing: Carry on the Cloud on how to replace paper maps with Google Offline Maps:
Here’s a quick Google Maps hack to replace those hard to fold paper maps on your next trip:
- Open Google Maps
- Type a city
- Tap the city name on the bottom of the screen
- Tap the three dots menu icon in the right hand corner of the screen
- Select “save to offline maps”
- Scale and save the map
Lots of Cash
Again, from Digital Packing: Carry on the Cloud: “Keep your money safer by only withdrawing small amounts of money at a time, and avoid leftover currency and exchange fees if you miscalculated your expenses,” by using a bank account that waives or reimburses ATM fees.
Having a lot of cash on you at one time is risky, but, on the other hand, if you don’t have a fee-free bank, fees can add up. Solve this problem by keeping your money in a checking account like Charles Schwab’s High Yield Investor Checking Account that reimburses ATM fees. Shawn also recommends stashing a small emergency fund — $100 or so — in PayPal in case all else fails.
“I use my headphones pretty much every day whether I am working, at the gym, or just wandering the city. You will want to invest in a good pair that can block out the noise while you’re working at cafes or co-working spaces. If you are going to be taking regular client calls you might want to get over ear headphones with a dedicated microphone so you don’t have to worry about noise in public areas,” says Ben Granas of TripHappy in A Startup Founder’s Packing List for Long Term Travel.
I won’t debate that headphones are an essential item for digital nomads. However, it seems that most packing lists recommend traveling with a giant pair of over-ear headphones — when earbuds work just fine for many travelers (myself included).
So, don’t bring over-ear headphones just because everyone else says that’s what’s best. If you’re fine with earbuds, save yourself that extra bit of space and weight by packing your earbuds. Check out Bose Quiet Comfort 20‘s a solid noise canceling option that’s earbud style.
When you carry your home on your back, it can be easy to justify packing items you wouldn’t normally bring on a quick vacation and overpack. But don’t do it! Resist! Keep up those minimalist packing values and leave the following off your digital nomad packing list:
- Hiking boots
- Travel clothing
- Too many devices
- An external hard drive
- Items you won’t use at least once a week
- Dry sacs or waterproof bags
- Physical maps and guidebooks
- Lots of cash
- Over-ear headphones (unless they make you really, really happy)
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