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It’s been a whole year since I packed up a suitcase and left the UK and it’s fair to say my decision to become a digital nomad has been met with a lot of different reactions. But no matter whether people are excited, intrigued or confused by my lifestyle – they’re the more positive reactions I get! – the questions they ask are pretty consistent. And, after finding out how I make money online, most people want to know what’s on my digital nomad packing list.
Given the size of most bags on the luggage carousel, it’s hardly surprising. Most people pack more for a two week holiday than I can fit into my house on wheels. And given how much stuff I used to cram into my London apartment, it’s even less surprising.
What should be on the list?
I’ll be completely honest with you: it’s been hard to strip my life back so much. As much as I’ve always liked the idea of minimalism, I never intended to become one. But, as a digital nomad who wants to avoid back injuries, you kind of have to be. It’s a challenge I’ve embraced and now (mostly) love, but it’s been FAR from easy.
The below list isn’t going to be super radical or super generous. It’s going to be realistic.
After three suitcase changes and a 12kg reduction in weight, I’ve sure learned a lesson or two over last year of full-time travel. This digital nomad packing list is based not only on what I still choose to make space for, but also on those very valuable lessons. Basically what I’m saying is: learn from my mistakes and you’ll have a much easier time of it all.
My digital nomad packing list
I’m breaking this packing list down into three categories: things you need, things you don’t need and things you may want to pack even though they’re not strictly necessary. You’ll see why. Even if your list doesn’t look exactly the same as mine, I find this approach a really helpful way to whittle it down to 20kg. It’s a life-saver when you start trying to rationalise packing a third bikini or wondering if you know what, maybe you do need a vegetable peeler.
I should also say that this is what goes in my suitcase right now. Next week, month or year could be different, and my suitcase adapts to my current needs. The beauty of it is that you never have to make space for things you don’t love or need – you simply can’t.
Good luck and happy packing!
Things you absolutely need to pack
Forget hesitating – no matter what sized bag you live out of, these are the things you’ll definitely want to pack.
We’ve got to start with something, so we may as well begin with the obvious. Unless you plan on joining some kind of nudist cult, you’re going to need something to wear. And unless you fancy washing your clothes every single day, you’re going to need at least a few outfits.
After a little (or lot) of trial and error, I now carry enough clothing to last around 7-10 days. I recommend you do the same.
The biggest challenge of all is making sure you have the right clothing to cover every occasion. This will be a lot easier if you’re a summer-chaser who only wants to reside in sunny places. But if you flit between continents as often as I do, you’re going to need gear that covers all grounds. I generally find the following is enough:
- 8-10 tops
- 2 sweaters/hoodies
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 x loose, long-ish trousers
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 long dress for churches/mosques
- 1 playsuit/short dress for evening
- 10 x underwear and socks
- 2 x sets of gym clothes
- Gym trainers
- Other trainers
- Flip flops
Note: I don’t recommend packing anything you can pick up on the road or don’t know if you’ll need. There’s no point dragging things around if you’re not going to use them – especially if they’re heavy or bulky. And remember, you can always pick stuff up along the way!
Work and electronics
Perhaps just important as clothing, you’ll need anything you can’t do your job without. If you only need WiFi and a laptop, that might mean packing a WiFi device so you never get caught out.
If you’re a photographer, you’ll need your camera, filters, lenses and a tripod at the very least.
If you’re a yoga instructor, you might want to pack a portable yoga mat so that you can practice anywhere.
This one will be completely personal to you, so everyone’s list will be different. Hint: If you’re not sure if you need something, you don’t.
Along with shoes, this is the area I’ve cut back most in. When I was new to digital nomad lifestyle, I would try to cram all my toiletries into my suitcase for fear I wouldn’t find them in my next destination.
What I’ve learned is you can get pretty much all toiletries you need everywhere. Some brands might cost more than they would back home, but the difference will be less than the cost of an extra kilo of luggage.
I now tend to pack the following travel beauty essentials with me and buy everything else when I arrive:
- Fake tan and tanning mitt – this one’s hard to get hold of!
- Deodorant – in my hand luggage, because I like having it to freshen up on flights.
- Eye cream – it’s tiny and takes up no room!
- Lip balm.
- Argan oil – I’ve had my current bottle since May and keep it with me because it’s pricey.
- A few small hotel bottles each refilled with enough of everything to keep me going for a couple of days. This is uusally just shampoo (I’m fussy), conditioner and cleanser.
It should go without saying that you’ll need your passport. I still like to add it to my list, though, just so I know that absolutely everything is on there.
I have all my important documents and information backed up at my parents’ house and in the cloud. That means I (or my parents) can access them anytime they’re needed. I also keep copies of the important numbers (passport, national insurance number, company number, etc.) on my phone so I can access them offline.
These are the things you’ll want to have recorded somewhere:
- Passport – pack a hard copy or two if you can, as well as a couple of passport photos.
- Any visas you need for upcoming trips.
- Driving license number and details.
- Bank cards and all associated account information. Calls to banks back home can be long and EXPENSIVE (as I once learned in Bangkok). This includes your business bank, if you have one. P.s. If you’re just starting out on your digital nomad journey, these are the best bank cards and accounts for travel.
- Company registration documents and other info.
- Office details – I have a virtual office in London, where my business is based.
- A copy of a utility bill or bank statement as proof of address. Even though I don’t technically live in the UK, I’ve had to prove my residency a number of times.
- Any prescriptions or details of medication you take, including the contraceptive pill.
This one’s completely personal because everyone’s needs are different, but the emphasis in entirely on that word: needs. Now that I’m writing this, I can’t really think of anything that falls into this category. So I guess the moral of the story, then, is that you probably need less than you think!
Things you can leave behind
These are the things you absolutely do. Not. Need. To. Pack. Ever. If there’s on thing you take away from this packing list, let it be this section. Because y’know, I learned the hard way and don’t want you to make the same mistakes.
The things you can get everywhere
When I first became a digital nomad, I thought I needed to pack everything I would need. But that wasn’t quite true…
Whether you stay in hotels, Airbnb’s or private accommodation, many things will be provided for you. That includes towels, soap and anything that belongs in the kitchen.
In the past I would have packed a beach towel for a holiday by the beach, but now I just use what’s given to me. I pack a small, microfibre towel that doubles as a gym towel at most, and never ever ever carry shower gel. Given how cheap and easy they are to get hold of, it’s just not worth using my weight allowance for either.
I used to travel with a big old pair of hiking boots in my suitcase. Considering that I only really wore them for the hike to Havasu Falls – in my FOURTH country – I guess they weren’t too necessary. That means I took (and paid to take) them on no fewer than SEVEN flights before wearing them. Just think about that for a second. I won’t think for any longer than that because it makes me feel just a teeny bit guilty.
The real kick in the teeth with this one is that they gave me the worst blisters ever on that hike. Safe to say, I would have been better without them. It was a painful lesson all round, and I now use my running trainers for hiking. They’re light, small and I need them anyway for my workouts.
Before you throw anything big, heavy or awkwardly-shaped into your bag, take a few seconds to really think about if you need it. If you do, then fine. But if you’re not 100% sure, it might be best to leave it behind. You can ALWAYS pick up anything you need for a specific destination when you arrive. That means you don’t need to pack hiking boots for one single hike, you don’t need a dry bag on your Philippines packing list and you can leave the fancy evening wear behind if you spend 90% of your time behind a laptop.
Anything you can make digital
As much as I love a good book, paper can be HEAVY. It just doesn’t make sense to load up your luggage with heavy books when you you’re travelling indefinitely.
Getting a Kindle has been a complete game-changer for me. Not only does it take up minimal space in my luggage, the Kindle store on Amazon has thousands of books to choose from and lots of great deals too. Yes, it feels a little weird to convert at first, but the feeling of having a whole book store in your hands is better than the feeling of holding a ‘real’ book. Plus, you’re not harming any trees.
Things you might want to pack
This isn’t a short backpacking trip – this is my life. Is it worth scrimping and going without? Sometimes. But since my suitcase is essentially my portable home, I now treat it as such. That means I pack a few ‘unnecessary’ items that I don’t really want to live without.
Here are a few things you might also want to add to your own packing list.
Even though I could do my job with just a laptop, WiFi and my blogging and vlogging equipment, I still pack a few extras. These are things that make me more productive on the road, so I can get more done and enjoy more travel (which is the whole point, right?). I wouldn’t only have the bare minimum if I worked in a ‘regular’ office, so I don’t want to compromise with my remote office.
These include a notebook or two, wireless mouse, noise cancelling headphones and an external SanDisk SSD – all strictly unnecessary but they can increase my productivity enough to justify their place.
When your home changes often, it helps to have a few familiar things around to make the place feel like yours. For me, those items are the following:
- Silk pillowcase. Not only does it make a new bed feel like home, it also keeps my hair and skin in better shape. Plus, it can be stuffed with random clothes to create a makeshift pillow if I need one.
- Slippers. Something I threw in randomly on that first trip to Kuala Lumpur, but now never travel without. My current pair look a lot like these ones…
- A guinea pig calendar.
- A couple of photos to stick on the wall.
No matter what, health always comes first, which is why I’d argued there’s always room for little health boosting items.
I’m very mildly anaemic, but I sure feel the difference when I don’t get enough iron. Travelling full-time means there’s not so much stability in my diet anymore, so I carry iron tablets just in case. I’ve needed them more than I expected so now I’ll never travel without.
Being self-employed also means I don’t get sick days. I sometimes carry a multi-vitamin when my schedule is super packed so I don’t end up unwell and unable to work (and get paid!).
So that’s it for my digital nomad packing list! I hope you found this helpful and I’d love to know anything else you always pack. Don’t forget to sign up to the digital nomad network for more resources, news and freebies, or join the Facebook community to connect with other digital nomads.