After 5+ years abroad I’ve distilled my digital nomad packing list down to what’s absolutely important, and updated it for 2018.
This is a chapter from Digital Nomad Escape Plan. If you have anything to add, readers would benefit from your thoughts in the comment section so please don’t hesitate to leave one.
What to Pack for Digital Nomad Life
Deciding what to put down on your digital nomad packing list is the hardest part of going nomad, and I know this handbook caters to a wide variety of people from young Millennials to retiring Baby Boomers. I am going to cover the bones; your travel necessities.
Do not worry about forgetting anything, and do not become overly obsessed with your digital packing list. Do not pack for eventualities or “just in case” situations. Easier said than done, I apologise.
Despite my own previous fascination with scouring the web for digital nomad packing lists, the truth is that most “must-have” travel accessories aren’t, and you could survive just as easily and affordably if you were born yesterday and sent to Thailand without anything but the clothes on your back and your passport.
Just Pack for a Week, That’s It.
I’ve been able to travel with nothing but a carry on for years with this digital nomad packing list, and I still re-evaluate my belongings before every relocation in a vain attempt to reduce the load to a one bag packing list during my nomad travels. With a few exceptions, you can pack for a week of travel and work it out after the fact –although my list covers things for all walks of life so you might want to omit some items.
Those wheeled suitcases don’t bode well in Southeast Asia due to high pedestrian traffic and uneven, obstacle-course like “sidewalks”. Using bulky suitcases obligate you to find a place to check-in right after your arrival, whereas a good backpack will allow you to rove around town and settle in before deciding where to hang your head for the night.
The key to remember is to disregard anything you do not need when you want to move somewhere. We have a group on Facebook to trade goods between those arriving and those leaving Chiang Mai which are great for this. Some buildings I have lived in also have private Facebook groups specifically for digital nomads for this purpose, so be sure to search for your apartment building name on Facebook Groups.
Less is more, and spending less on “stuff” (aka “filler”) will free up hard earned cash for select, authentic, quality items that will last longer, can be repaired, carry a lifetime warranty, leave a lasting impression, etc.
As mentioned previously, 7-Eleven carries just about every toiletry, personal care, or hygiene item you may need while in Thailand so I only included items you need during transit in this list.
And if you’re going to put any “refillable” items on your digital nomad packing list –a best example being a razor– don’t. A lot of the products available back home are different from those in Thailand and may not be compatible.
Lastly, carry a nylon dry bag in case you need to carry smelly items or get caught in the rain (or a Songkran soaker parade) and keep all of your papers in an easily accessible place, separate from other belongings.
So, how about we recap these digital nomad packing list rules:
- Only use a carry-on, never check your luggage (unless you brought a blender!)
- Don’t carry items you rarely use and can acquire on the ground for cheap (i.e. raincoat, basic medicines)
- Carry a nylon water-proof bag to protect specific items from getting wet
Digital Nomad Packing List
Below you’ll find everything you need for your digital nomad packing list, and then some. I’ve used affiliate links, but please don’t think for one minute that I added anything to this list for the sake of a commission. It takes years to build a reputation, and only one wrong product placement to lose it forever.
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I selected two backpacks for this line item on my digital nomad packing list, however I only use (and am in love with) the first option.
The second option is presented because it looks like a great product, and was actually developed by Nomads, for Nomads through a Kickstarter campaign some years ago.
Option 1: Osprey Farpoint 70 –the Best Digital Nomad Backpack
The Osprey Farpoint 70 is a little large for my needs, and I keep it 2/3 full at all times, except for when I visit home. That 1/3 of space will be great for gifts for nieces and nephews.
This pack meets several key requirements I think all of you may need to consider when making your backpack purchase(s).
The Osprey Farpoint’s ability to open “clam shell” style allows for non-linear access to your items. Simply put, no first-in-first-out nonsense, digging through your bag at inconvenient times, etc. You can open part of the bag, or you can peel back the entire top flap of the bag for equal access to objects anywhere within it.
Detachable Day Pack
The Osprey Farpoint also comes with a detachable day pack which I use every day, only using the larger portion of the pack for relocations.
The day pack will fit a laptop, assorted electronics, journals, maps, books, change of clothes, shoes, etc.
You can also detach the day pack from the face of the Osprey Farpoint and strap it to the front of your body while still being connected to the central pack on your back. This is great for crowded areas when you don’t want your laptop packed out of your peripheral vision.
Osprey packs a lifetime warranty with each of its backpack models, which to me, says a lot. It’s one less thing to worry about. They sell Osprey bags at Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, too. It’s quite likely you could arrange a swap in an emergency if you call Osprey directly. If not, ship it back and they’ll replace it.
Great Carry On
Technically, the 70-liter Osprey Farpoint shouldn’t be an acceptable carry on. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. However, I’ve been able to get away with it on every flight I’ve taken this bag on in over 2 years. The reason? It can transform into a duffel bag.
All of the bulky straps and be tucked away easily behind a giant flap that is hidden at the bottom of the bag. Once the straps are out of the way and you use the side handle with the flap side out, the bag appears much more streamlined and fits easily into the overhead compartment.
Your only obstacle is weight, but I’ve also been lucky in that my bag has never been weighed, and I can squeeze it into the metal cage used to determine carry-on size allowance. The trick is to act like the bag is really light and hide your wincing!
Option 2: Minaal Carry On
A bag I do not use, but is still worthy of this digital nomad packing list.
The Minaal 35 liter pack is engineered to be the ultimate carry on and also looks a little more “flash packer” –meaning it’s easy on the eyes, and is a high quality pack.
It too is a clamshell bag, allows you to zip away straps, fits all major airline carry-on dimensions, and also comes with a slide-on rain cover. Electronics stored within it are also housed in a suspended sleeve, so not matter which way it hits the ground, your gear won’t pay the ultimate price.
No day pack though, so for now, I will stick with my Osprey.
Wallet and Paperwork
I keep all of my important documents inside a wallet inside a waterproof toiletry style bag. If I required any medications, I’d keep them there with copies made of their prescriptions, too.
Worth mention is that I have two wallets; one for all of my needs on the road, and a light-weight RFID-blocking front pocket id wallet for when I go out.
When RFID cloners are available for as low as five bucks on the internet, having an RFID blocker wallet might be a good idea.
My larger wallet is a “#balla” wallet, also designed by Nomads for Nomads (Terry Lin). It can easily store a number of cards, currencies, passport and you can store your Departure Card without folding it.
The #balla wallet is now called the Baller wallet, and you can pick one up here.
Some digital nomad packing list items I keep together in my documents bag include;
- Boarding pass
- Copies: Passport, cards, ID, itinerary
- Thailand Departure card
- Cash in 2 or 3 different currencies (lately Kip, USD, and Thai baht)
- SIM cards for every country I visit
- Extra passport photos
- Bank cards and credit cards
- Rabbit subway pass for when in Bangkok
- ID from home country such as Driver’s License, Health Card, etc.
- 2 pieces of mail to my home address in Canada; utility bill and bank statement for new account verification purposes (i.e. Transferwise signup)
Many long-distance flights (on Etihad, for instance) will provide you with sleep masks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and so on. This list is for anyone who doesn’t want to chance it;
- Eye mask
- Inflatable neck pillow
- Gravol (for stomach issues or as a sleep aid)
- Wahl electric beard trimmer
- Travel towel (microfiber)
- Nail clippers (once had to leave them behind at airport security)
The Essential SteriPen
While living in Ao Nang Beach area of Krabi, Thailand, I made friends with a hostel owner. He found a strange “flashlight” left behind by a backpacker and he didn’t know what it was for, so he gave it to me. And I am so happy he did.
I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but later it would become the most important travel accessory on my digital nomad packing list: The SteriPen. It uses ultraviolet light to purify water to destroy (or render unable to reproduce) 99.9% of harmful bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. In other words, it prevents traveler’s diarrhoea. This is a big deal if you ever need to drink tap water in a jam, or go trekking. Do a little research yourself, but you’ll find that I lucked out and ended up with the best one on the market.
A Note on Smart Phones
Smart phones free up a lot of space. Travelers can eliminate additional items like a portable WIFI hotspot, MP3 player, and video player with a good smart phone.
Ensure that your smart phone is unlocked to work with any carrier and can tether its data connection to your laptop by cable or wirelessly via WIFI or Bluetooth.
It is now legal to be able to unlock your smartphone in the USA and Canada. Unlocking means allowing the phone to work with any carrier, “jail breaking” is something else entirely.
When I came to Thailand, my Canadian carrier had a steep cancellation fee so I gave my phone away to a friend and had them resume my contract. I picked up a used phone in Bangkok at MBK, but you can pick one up anywhere.
They sell cheap burners at 7-Eleven, although smart phones and all other electronics are generally the same price in Thailand as they are back home –sometimes more. This caught me off guard, I figured they’d be cheaper; only the knock-offs are, unfortunately.
- Smart phone (Get your phone unlocked by your carrier in advance!)
- Mac Air (with sleek protective skin) or a Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition with Ubuntu (pictured above)
- Additional portable LCD monitor and/or laptop-to-TV HDMI cable (for hotel TVs)
- Ledger Nano S cryptocurrency wallet (related: 5 Types of Crypto Wallets, Explained)
- External hard drive
- 3x 128 GB USB stick, 1 with my operating system on it for quick reformats
- Portable speaker with built-in battery (also available at 7-Eleven)
- Kindle ebook reader
- GoPro Hero 5 with watertight case
- USB rechargeable battery pack / power bank
- SteriPen for (tap) water purification, make water drinkable
- Next purchase: DJI Spark Drone (the very best ultra-portable drone on the market according to reviews)
Special Note for Udemy Instructors, Podcasters, and other Media Producers: While there are a handful of recording studios in Chiang Mai, it might be best to pack your own additional recording gear or tablet you use as a teleprompter.
In hindsight, I learned that when it comes to what clothing items to put on your digital nomad packing list; you could happily arrive with two sets of clothing and pick up the rest on arrival for the most part.
Dress shirts can be custom made for cheap, and t-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, swim shorts, etc. can all be purchased after you settle in on a need-to-wear basis. Big C has some pretty alright leather sandals with great support for $10.
However, if winging it was your thing, you wouldn’t be reading this travel guide! Today, this is what I carry and it’s a bit excessive;
- 1 pair of socks
- 3 pairs of shorts
- 3 pair swim shorts for the pool or working out
- 1 pair pants/jeans to travel in
- 5 t-shirts
- 7 underwear
- 1 belt
- 1 medium weight sweater
I strongly suggest that anything which is normally cotton –make it Merino wool when you’re researching items to put on your digital nomad packing list. Merino wool pulls moisture away from the body in ways cotton never could, it reduces or eliminates odors naturally, regulates temperature (warms you in cold, cools you in heat), and it retains its shape much better than cotton. Merino is also stain and UV resistant, so it ages gracefully. Anything you purchase in Merino wool will outlive its cotton competitor by many years.
For stylish pants, I strongly recommend Bluffs. They are incredibly durable, wrinkle-free even after being balled up in a bag for 2 weeks, quick-drying, machine washable, and very breathable which makes them ideal for warmer climates. If you choose to only bring one pair of pants, these are ideal for work or pleasure.
Suggestion: ICONSPEAK T-Shirt
The ICONSPEAK t-shirt simplifies communication when there’s a language barrier.
From their website: “When were you the last time in a situation where no language or hand gesture that you master was sufficient to get you what you wanted? Imagine you are abroad – in a foreign country, in a foreign culture, maybe while travelling the world. That’s what we did, travelling the world – partially, well the three of us combined almost completely. In the furthest and deepest corners of our world we were repeatedly left with no words, either in breathtaking awe due to the sceneries or in empty silence, due to our lacking linguistic talents. Such situations got us thinking about how to bridge language barriers with utmost simplicity, on a global level. The answer came to us after a remarkable experience in the depths of Vietnamese backcountry. .. With ICONs, you can SPEAK, you can SPEAK to the world.”
Just be wary of Amazon knock-offs, where buyers complained of smaller, misaligned, fuzzy-looking icons.
- Dry-erase marker for windows and the fridge
- Colored pencils
- Pencil sharpener
- Water canteen (for water refill stations)
I brought shoes with me, however I picked up my sandals in Pai. There’s a really great street vendor that sells flip-flops in Pai that are made completely out of comfortable yet durable rubber.
Just about every vendor sells flip-flops, so you could likely skip packing them initially. Rubber is the way to go for your day-to-day sandals, foam simply won’t do.
I now own three pairs of footwear;
- Blundstone boots for travel, inclement weather, and travel in dangerous places
- Jogging shoes that double as “water shoes“
- Quality rubber/leather flip-flop sandals
I love my Blundstone boots because they come with a two-year extended manufacturer’s warranty and they slip on without laces that can wear and break. The road is long and dirty; these boots are easily cleaned and more comfortable than a pair of Doc Martens.
Looking for a digital nomad packing list for Solo Female Travellers? My wife made her own, and you can find it here.
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