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The pandemic has transformed nomadism from an idea into a reality for many. And whether you’re just daydreaming about hitting the road full time or already doing it, you might have some questions. Where can you go? How do you pay taxes? And what should you pack?
I’ve been living as a digital nomad for over three years. In that time, I’ve lived overseas, with my friends, in the back of a van and, yes, with my parents (any digital nomad who says otherwise can’t be trusted). I’ve learned a few lessons about what to pack and, more importantly, what to leave behind.
Yet the term “digital nomad” is as vague as it is trendy. Some nomads hop constantly among remote beach towns. Others live in RVs and stay closer to home. And others embrace the “slomad” approach, spending more time and putting down roots in each destination.
So, we'll break down our packing ideas by how you’re planning to travel and also cover some hard truths about what to leave off your list.
All digital nomads
Whether you’re headed to Bali or Birmingham, every digital nomad needs some essentials.
High-quality underwear. It might sound silly, but a pair of merino wool undies can be a game changer.
Good walking shoes. It's a universally acknowledged truth that nomads tend to hit their step goals.
Packing cubes. I almost forgot to include this item, it’s so obvious.
Outfits. You know those shoes you can wear just with certain pants? Don’t bring those. You can pack only so many articles of clothing, so make sure they all go with one another.
Physical books. I love books, but an e-reader is a nomadic necessity.
Almost everything else. If you have a house or apartment full of stuff, you’ll be shocked how little of it you actually need on the road.
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Nomads traveling by car, van or RV
Having a vehicle changes the nomad equation considerably. Not packing everything on your back, you're much less constrained by weight and space. But, you need more to live and work comfortably.
Phone range extender. This device lets you call or video call into meetings from more remote locales, but keep in mind that it won’t work in areas with no cell service at all.
A very warm sleeping bag. Even if you’re not planning to sleep in your vehicle, you might have to at some point. And even if you’re in a warm destination, nights can be very cold.
An E-ZPass. Tollbooths are disappearing faster than office jobs.
A fancy backpack. Most packing lists for digital nomads obsess over getting the right backpack, but this is much less of a concern if you’re traveling by car.
Too much cookware. Camp cooking is fun, but cookware is bulky and cumbersome. Keep it simple.
Light-colored clothing. Don’t be fooled by Instagram influencers and their flowy beige linen tops. Living out of a vehicle is dirty work.
» Learn more: Great RV road trip routes in the United States
Nomads traveling by plane
This is the traditional digital nomad lifestyle. Keep things simple and light, and be willing to make mistakes. Course-correct if you don’t get it right on your first trip.
A good backpack. This is the biggest decision you’ll make, since everything else will have to fit in your pack. Do your research and don’t skimp.
One good power bank. During my first few years of digital nomadism, I packed about four mismatched low-quality power banks every trip, hoping one would have a charge. Learn from my mistakes and just get one good one that includes a charge indicator.
A clothesline. Get a cheap, packable clothesline for when you really need to wash your clothes in the sink.
Cotton. Cotton clothes are heavy, slow to dry and hard to clean. Wool is worth the premium.
More than two of (almost) anything. We’re so used to packing different clothes or gadgets for different occasions, but when you live out of a bag, it’s best to see how little you can make do with.
Bulky electronics. It’s tempting to bring a tablet, wireless speaker or SLR camera; these are not only heavy, but also easy to break.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
The bottom line
This is far from an exhaustive digital nomad packing list. You’ll need more than a backpack and a pair of undies to make it — but not much more. Though potentially hard to swallow, let this serve as a starting place for inventorying your belongings if you’re considering this lifestyle.
The most important thing to remember is to keep it light, not only the physical weight of what you bring, but also your attitude toward packing. It will be much easier to tell what you can ditch — and what you need that you didn’t bring — after your first trip.
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