Digital nomads are burdened with packing more often than usual. Without an effective way of packing, it could become a hard and time consuming process.
Since starting my life as a digital nomad in 2016, I have managed to keep my packing as simple and light as possible. With a 70L backpack and 20L day pack, it never took me more than an hour to put everything in place and be ready to go. Even after deciding to have a homebase in Vietnam & reducing my traveling to 1-2 destinations per year instead of always being on the move, I kept the same packing style.
I consider this list a minimalist packing list because it is based on the idea of having what I need to sustain a comfortable and convenient nomadic lifestyle.
I use a Quechua Forclaz 70L for clothes, toiletries, check-in baggage items & bigger items that don’t fit in the day pack. I have had this backpack for more than 4 years and I was never disappointed. For daily activities & on-board items while flying, I have a Quechua 20L Nature backpack which I got to replace my Nike Air backpack that I have had for a bit more than 9 years.
For most digital nomads, a laptop is the number one necessary item to pack since it is the main source of income. Laptops can vary in size and weight based on your preferred specifications, so make sure it will fit comfortably inside the day pack.
The second necessary piece of technology or sometimes it is as important to have as a laptop. Luckily, you don’t have to pack it in any of your backpacks. It will just fit in your pocket all the time. 😉
For various reasons, you may need to have a tablet, a second phone or a reader such as Amazon Kindle. Any of these items can fit perfectly in the day pack. Just make sure that you have it in a protective case to avoid any damage.
Noise canceling Earphones/Headphones
I have never traveled with over-ear headphones. I see it as an unnecessary waste of space. Many travelers won’t agree with me but I prefer having a good in-ear earphones that does the job and saves me much space. I use Plextone G20 earphones which I have had for a bit over a year.
Chargers and cables
Don’t forget to pack a charger for each piece of electronics that you have. Having spare cables could be a good idea but you can buy them from almost anywhere.
This is one of the necessities when you are traveling. Even for a short trip, you can find yourself with unusable electric sockets.
Most of the modern smartphones have cameras that will eliminate the need for having a digital camera. I currently use a Samsung A51 which has 4 cameras (+ front camera) that does the job and take amazing pictures. However, if you are a professional photographer, you will need extra space to pack your DSLR and maybe extra gear like lenses, portable lighting, etc so make sure that you have the space for it.
Optional: Portable Speakers
If you like spending time outdoor at nights or by day while listening to music, then a portable Bluetooth speaker could be an important companion. The mobile phone can replace the need for it in most cases unless you care about the sound quality and volume.
Other Tech item
Then comes some utility items that you may need based on your lifestyle, destination or the type of work you do remotely.
By taking your laptop on board, you will have to either place it in the overhead luggage compartments or under the seat. Either way, the laptop is at risk of being damaged in many ways. I can tell because I once had my laptop casing fractured and a damaged screen on another occasion. I wasn’t sure that the latter was because of the way I placed the laptop in my luggage but it is still a possible risk.
Optional: Battery Pack (A.K.A Power Bank)
The risk of having a dead phone battery is common. The problem is that it is one of the items that can be easily forgotten about. I have lost 2 battery packs in 2 years & I still have no idea where or how it ever happened. So, be careful if you decide to have one!
Optional: Spare Laptop Battery
Having a spare battery is a good idea in case you happen to be in a place with no enough electricity plugs around.
Optional: Selfie stick & Tripod
If you are a solo traveler, into selfies, making videos, have a blog or an Instagram account that you wanna grow, then you will definitely need some of these.
Unless you are a professional photographer, you can find cheap & basic tripods online that you can fit in your backpack. Same goes for selfie sticks.
Optional: Bluetooth Shutter Remote
For a solo traveler with a tripod, a shutter remote tiny piece of technology can make life much easier.
Optional: Laptop stand
It has been useful for people with back and neck pain. If you need one, it shouldn’t take extra space. It can either be packed in the backpack or the day pack.
Optional: Portable Hard Drive
There is less need for such hard drives nowadays while having cloud storage services but what will you do if you went offline or happened to be in a place with slow connection?
Personally, I didn’t have to buy one. I converted my old laptop HDD into a portable hard drive after replacing it with an SSD.
Optional: Multi-socket extension
It is something that you can buy from anywhere. So if you think it will take unnecessary space, you can just buy it after landing at your destination.
When it comes to clothes, I always pack what can last me for at least 2 weeks so I can do laundry once every 2 weeks or more. I kinda turned the 70L backpack into a portable wardrobe . While choosing which backpack to buy, I made sure to get one with multiple zippers that allows me to access any part of it without having to take all its contents out.
Choosing what clothes to pack depends on the temperature of the places where you spend the most of your time and of course on your personal preference. I prefer to spend most of my time in tropical areas or at least areas with warm temperatures so the space that winter clothes take isn’t a big problem for me. Please note that this clothes packing list mostly applies to men.
10 t-shirts and 3 tank tops. You can reduce that number if you spend more time in cold areas.
Long sleeve T-shirts
Just 2 are more than enough. Again, you can have more for cold places.
Half sleeve shirts
2 half sleeve shirts will do in order to have a smart casual look while living in a hot temperature environment.
2 of these are more than enough. A sweater or a hoodie will really help in Air Conditioned environments such as airplanes and buses. If you you plan to spend time in a cold place for a long time, you can pack 3 or 4.
3 pairs of pants for different occasions. You can take more if you will be in colder temperature.
6 pairs of shorts. They take less space than pants & are worn more than pants in hot environments.
5 pairs for everyday use plus 2 pairs of formal socks.
A good light rain coat or a poncho, one heavy jacket (only if you are gonna be in cold places) and one nice blazer for a fancy night out. They can fit in the backpack if folded carefully and put in a protective storage bag.
5-10 will be enough. They don’t take that much space anyway so I usually pack around 10 or even more :D.
When it comes to footwear, I recommend having a pair of every type. 4 pairs at max and flip-flops.
The types of footwear that you can choose from based on your needs:
- Formal shoes
- Sports shoes
- Hiking shoes
Because shoes take more space than foldable clothes, always wear your biggest shoes when you take a flight. If a pair of shoes takes extra space, you can tie it to the backpack from outside, then cover the backpack with the rain cover. This helped me many times when I didn’t have much space left in my backpack.
These are the items that you may not need or you will need no more than one of:
- A dry towel.
You can have a toiletries hanging bag that will keep everything organized & you can simply hang it in your short-term or even long-term accommodation. Another way is to organize toiletries in separate small ziplock bags so you can keep them separated and organized.
Some of the essentials are:
- Hair care including shampoo, conditioner, oil, cream, etc.
- Body wash.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste.
- Nail clipper.
- Skin care lotion and/or sunscreen.
- Sun screen.
- Ladies, don’t forget to pack some of your make-up items.
Here are some extra handy items that you can pack depedning on your needs:
Packing Cubes or Zipper bags
Packing cubes are better used with suitcases. However, zipper bags are reusable & can hold many of the small items in both backpacks like personal hygiene items, shampoo, conditioner, electric shaver & more. I found this to be the perfect replacement to group the small items together.
Most backpacks come with just zippers. If you want your backpack to be more secure, then having a padlock is a necessity. Also, if you stay in a hostel that doesn’t have built in locks to their lockers, then you will need one or two to secure your valuables.
If you don’t wanna carry around all your cards, home country ID or driver’s license and risk losing any of them, a card holder is a good item to have. I usually keep it in a safe place & use it to put a mix of currency bills and coins from the countries I have been to in addition to the cards that I don’t use on a daily basis.
First Aid kit
Just bandages, antiseptic, painkillers , antibiotics and any extra medications that you may be taking. Although you can find these in local pharmacies pretty much everywhere, you don’t know when you will ever need to use any of them.
Just an eye mask, ear-plugs and a neck pillow.
While traveling or spending some time doing outdoor activities, a quality reusable water bottle will save time, money and help reduce plastic use. I recommend either LifeStraw Go Water Filter Bottle which has 2-stage integrated filter or Hydro Flask water bottle if you prefer a smaller size bottle that can keep the temperature for long periods of time.
You will often need to separate your laundry from the clean clothes. A reusable laundry bag is a good choice for that purpose.
The motivation to write this article was to share my packing list that helped me save much time. I have tried to cover the necessities for every digital nomad during a long journey. If you think that I have missed any important item, please let me know in the comments.