It’s hard to be a Digital Nomad if you’re loaded down with stuff.
Last time, we mused on the downsides of owning too much stuff. During my foray into digital nomadism, I’ve consolidated what I do and don’t need to live at home or on the go.
Update: Here’s my up-to-date one bag packing list for digital nomads.
Here are 24 things I intentionally own and don’t own as a digital nomad.
12 things to keep
1. Quality clothes. Why own 25 cotton tees that fit so-so and are miserable in hot weather, instead of owning 5 shirts that look great and are made of materials that perform well in inclement weather? For travel, I follow the three-layer system: 3 Icebreaker merino wool shirts for the base layer, a Patagonia down jacket for the mid layer, and an Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket for the outer layer. Whether I’m headed for 80 degrees or 20 degrees, I’m covered.
I have a dressier wardrobe for business trips, but I avoid 100% cotton and opt for polyester/nylon blends that can survive the rigors of travel and sink washes. All told, my entire closet (blazer included) fits in a carry-on sized duffel bag.
2. Tiny laptop. I’m a fulltime software developer and photographer living off a 12” MacBook. Unless I need to do serious video editing, the 12” handles my work and hobby needs with a form factor and weight that are simply unbeatable.
It doesn’t matter if I’m at home or on the go—the outlets are always in the wrong place. I pack a cheap flathead extension cord so I can squeeze it behind furniture and charge a few other devices simultaneously.
3. Laptop daypack for travel and day trips. I use a 17 liter North Face daypack (discontinued, but here’s a larger one), and thanks to a strict packing regime it holds everything I need for indefinite travel!
4. Hammock. I ousted the traditional European mattress for an ENO doublenest camping hammock. This makes for a fun table-talk topic! I won’t belabor why hammocks make an awesome bed, as other folks have done a much better job.
5. Standup desk. My living is made at a desk, so a quality piece of furniture that supports me for 9+ hours a day is worth the space and investment. I owned a GeekDesk for a few years, but since I rarely changed height I’ve replaced it with a cheaper handcrank desk.
6. Car phone charger. A dying smartphone in a new country is a sure-fire way to strain an already stretched day from timezones and layovers. However, setting it on fire with a cheap charger is also ill-advised, so stick with well-reviewed chargers.
7. Smartphone. Without it and a cornucopia of apps, I’d be too chicken to step off the plane! Paired with a good data plan, I can tether my laptop to truly work from anywhere. Here’s a smattering of apps on my phone’s home screen:
- Wallet for plane tickets.
- 1Password for secure access to copies of my IDs, credit cards and passwords.
- Google Maps ± Waze for getting places. Offline maps is downright lifesaving.
- Google Translate because it’s fun to use the offline mode to spew out bits of German or Polish!
- Google Calendar because working from anywhere hasn’t made timezones second nature yet.
- TripIt for organizing all my travel reservations in one app for offline access.
- White Noise to block out noisy hotel neighbors without packing a noise maker.
- Cash for fee-free person-to-person payments in the US.
- Slack for real-time chat with my colleagues.
- Gmail because Apple mail doesn’t handle labels well.
- Dropbox for quick backups and file transfers.
- iBooks so I can finish reading Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien.
- Uber for convenient rides throughout the US.
8. Internet connectivity is a non-negotiable for my job and vacations alike. I rely on connectivity to get directions, translations and make reservations. I’m still waiting for satellite internet to become affordable and portable, but meantime I settle for so-so data coverage. If you’re savvy, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card to save on data charges, but be prepared for some homework. For now, I make due with T-Mobile’s included roaming.
9. Exercise routine. Staying healthy on the move is tough, but regular aerobics, weight training and stretching make my body more resilient during back-to-back travel. I have been using the P90X3 workouts for 6 months—about half the exercises require nothing more than a carpeted floor, but the rest need only a pull-up bar and hand weights.
10. Just enough comforts to welcome friends. I was raised in the South, so hospitality was a big part of growing up. Unfortunately, hospitality seems to clash with my minimalist habits, so I’ve settled on a few tokens:
- Some good games
- Candles and lighting to set the mood
- A place for friends at the table
11. “Third place” other than home or the office where I am a regular, like a coffee shop or coworking space. Especially when traveling alone, this gives me a regular way to connect with people and feed off the collective synergy when I need a productivity boost.
12. TSA-friendly sick kit. The immune system hits an all-time low when traveling. Mundane ailments like headaches and allergies have compact remedies: hand soap under 3 oz., ibuprofen, loratadine, herbal tea bags, and a miracle heating pad that helps with headaches, cramps, aches and chills: a rice bag. Rice bags are trivial to make: double up a couple baseball socks and fill it with cheap rice, then warm it in the microwave for a few minutes.
12 things to ditch
1. Big closets. Stuff requires storage space, and storage space invites more stuff—it’s a disturbingly recursive relationship.
2. Large wardrobe. If it takes more than a minute to pick an outfit in the morning, I either have too many good choices or—more often the case—too many uncoordinated options. As a courtesy to myself, I only keep the clothes I unreservedly love to wear: then any choice is a surefire winner!
3. Shoe gallery. Shoes take up a lot of space, so a gaggle of single purpose pairs makes for a lousy packing experience. I pack loafers for business, and waterproof Merrell hiking shoes for everything else. I’m not sold on the look, but hiking shoes are definitely my go-to travel shoes.
4. Loaded dishwasher. “The dishes are piling up in the sink, Honey!” The more dishes I own, the longer I spend washing them. Instead, I prefer to own just a few (nice) dishes that double as decor—who needs cabinets?
5. Furniture outlet. Furniture won’t head move out as easily as I will for my next adventure. If I can’t comfortably move it myself or with a friend’s help, it has no business in my life; I’d rather invest the money and time in my next trip!
6. TV service. With the rise of services like Netflix, it’s easy to find movies on demand without obscene commercials. So why waste an average of $99/month and 35 hours a week on the tube?
7. TV screen. Since I’ve opted out of television service, I enjoy titles right off my laptop. It’s also a welcome incentive to play games, enjoy conversation or read books together when friends are over. Old-fashioned? Yessir, and right nice it is.
8. Stereo system. I do love playing background music for guests, so I may opt for a Sonos speaker someday, but a 5.1 surround sound system is not in the forecast.
9. Home phone. Mobile phones are ubiquitous, and when I need high quality audio I rely on VoIP solutions like Google Voice. No need to send change-of-phone-number notices!
10. (Fancy) car. Sitting in traffic and keeping up with maintenance can be stressful—not to mention costly. Can you carpool? Bike to the office? Take public transit? For now, a personal vehicle is my cheapest option, but I know that an expensive car is not in my future.
11. Magazine-cover bed. Sleep is important, but a 300-pound king-sized bed is probably 95% fashion statement and 5% a good night’s sleep. I’d rather take a minimalist approach for my “happy place” than splurge on a space I won’t want to leave for a new adventure.
12. Paper records. Not even sticky notes. Reams of paper are an information crisis waiting to happen—a good 3-2-1 digital backup plan is always a better solution.
That’s it! Other than my violin and camera equipment, that’s pretty much everything I own. It’s taken time to recognize some cognitive quirks and consolidate this far, so next time we’ll focus on the mindset and process for clearing out the hobbit hole!
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