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So you’ve decided to take your remote career on the road and are preparing for traveling long-term internationally as a digital nomad. The remote work lifestyle opens up opportunities to visit all the places on your bucket list. But how do you prepare, and what do you pack?
I am a digital nomad, and until the pandemic began, I was traveling full time for three years. I’ve been to 49 countries, and because I work remotely, I’ve been able to incorporate working into my travel lifestyle. Living out of my suitcase has made it easier for me to prepare what I do and don’t need when I’m on the road.
Here are some pre-trip tips to help prepare you for long-term travel as a digital nomad abroad.
1. Decide between checked luggage and carry-on
Get real with yourself about what kind of a packer you are. Are you a heavy packer? Do you just need the bare minimum and can buy whatever you need on the road?
When you’re in a foreign country and away from home for a long period of time, you may not be able to find all the products you’re used to. Or you may find yourself needing clothing for various kinds of weather. Factors like this may lead you to consider checking luggage so you can have more space to pack.
Some people like to travel with just a large quality travel backpack that can be carried on to airplanes. It can be convenient, especially if you don’t like paying and waiting for checked luggage. However, with a backpack, what you can take is going to be limited by airlines' overhead bin size restrictions.
The more stuff you have, the heavier the backpack will be. If you take checked luggage with you, you don’t have to worry about carrying it around the airport if it gets heavy, but you’ll need to check it, which adds time (and potentially cost) to each flight.
There’s no right or wrong answer. The most important thing is that you’re comfortable when you’re traveling.
» Learn more: 5 tips to succeed at carry-on only travel
2. Pack for multiple climates
Are you going on a long trip that covers multiple climates? Even in the same country, you may run into varying climates if you’re exploring different types of locations while there.
Pack for the weather you’re going to spend the majority of your time in, and throw in a few key pieces that you can take for random excursions.
Some important items, regardless of where you travel to, include:
Flip flops: These are useful and versatile for more than just pool-centric activities. They are thin and lightweight, and also function as at-home slippers when you don’t want to walk barefoot in your hotel or apartment.
Swimsuit: If you’re on the road for a while, your hotel or apartment might have a pool or hot tub. Or you may find yourself on weekend trips to a place where you can swim.
Packable, versatile light jacket: This is key for a multitude of uses, including wind and rain repellent, but also sun protection. Plus, when you’re traveling for a while, you may experience different weather, so having an easily packable jacket is key.
Moisture wicking items: Think workout pants and tops that could double for hiking clothes or casual wear.
Quick dry towel: A quick dry towel is great for day excursions, working out, the beach or any other number of activities. These towels are lightweight and, in many instances, sand repellent. Also, if you stay in a hostel, you’ll notice that they may not provide towels. Have your own towel just in case.
If you get overwhelmed because you have too much stuff, it may be more efficient to pack outfits so that you’re not bringing random pieces of clothing that don’t go well together.
3. Bring your prescription (and regular) medicine
Before you depart for your international voyage, refill any prescriptions that you may need and take them with you. You may also ask your doctor about extending prescriptions or getting an early filling due to your travels. Your everyday medication may not be easily available in the country to which you’re traveling, or you may need to go to a doctor to get it, which could be expensive since most U.S.-based health insurance plans do not provide coverage abroad.
A small thermometer and other important medicine to bring with you include cold medicine, acetaminophen, ibuprofen and antacids. Although these medicines are widely available, they are some basics that could be useful if you find yourself suddenly not feeling well and don’t want to worry about finding the nearest drugstore. You should be able to pack small travel-friendly quantities for your kit.
4. Think about international appliance compatibility and pack accordingly
Voltage and plug outlets vary by country, so it could seem that all you need to do is bring a converter or adapter to use with all your small appliances from home. However, the allowable voltage matters, and if you’re not paying attention, plugging your U.S. appliances into a converter and then into a wall could overheat (and break) your appliances and/or blow a fuse.
For example, the majority of U.S. hair dryers operate on 120 volts. When traveling internationally, you'll likely need one that operates at 230-240 volts. Even if you have a converter, you will not get full power out of your U.S. hair dryer because it's not intended to operate at the higher voltage. Instead, purchase a dual voltage hair dryer or buy one when you arrive at your destination.
Always check the voltage of the appliances you want to bring with you to ensure that they are usable. If not, that’s extra weight you’re carrying around in your luggage. Some items to think about include electric toothbrushes, electric shavers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, hair dryers and curling irons.
5. Bring the right debit and credit cards
Before you take off on your international digital nomad journey, get your finances buttoned up. First, open a bank account that refunds ATM fees internationally. Don’t get stuck paying these fees on your debit card.
Second, get a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. These fees can be as high as 3% on every purchase you make in foreign currency. There are plenty of credit cards that have no annual fee and also don’t charge foreign transaction fees. These cards won't have too many perks, but at least you’ll avoid any fees.
If you want to take things up a notch, get a premium travel rewards credit card. Not only do these cards waive foreign transaction fees, they also offer rewards on bonus categories even when you’re traveling internationally.
6. Get some travel insurance
While not truly a packing item, consider long-term travel insurance plans that will cover medical care abroad. Many travel insurance policies, including the ones provided by a premium travel card, have limits on how long you can be away. These policies will also often help protect you against lost, stolen or damaged baggage and can come in handy if you need to replace certain items.
» Learn more: 5 key credit card strategies for international travelers
Strategic pre-trip basics for international digital nomad travel
With smart preplanning and packing, you can set yourself up for successful travel abroad whether you’re looking to live the digital nomad life or simply become a long-term traveler who intends to return to a home base every so often.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card