Since 2008, I’ve more or less been living out of a day bag and a laptop bag. I pick up stuff along the way– like guitars, Xboxes, and sports equipment. When it’s time to hit the road to my next destination, I leave those things behind.
A lot of things have changed about the way I pack, but the biggest things are:
- Smartphones have replaced what used to be an entire compartment in my backpack for me, freeing up a ton of space for other items.
- Because of this, my list might be getting more boring. I no longer have so many gadgets, and I don’t need high tech travel clothing to fit in limited space. In 2008 I was running around with high tech digs. In 2014 I basically dress like I did when I lived in California.
- I stopped staying in budget places. I used to spend a ton of time dealing with logistics, it’s now a better investment for me to just pay more for better places and save time.
- I stopped doing my own laundry and started traveling with more clothes.
Other trends have popped up too:
- A ton of people are becoming full time digital nomads.
- There is a rise in style consciousness on the road. The Minaal guys are onto something.
- More managed apartments and living situations throughout Asia.
- Sites like Booking, Agoda, and AirBnB (founded in August 2008!) make it possible to find affordable accommodation at the last minute.
- Two words: clamshell backpacks.
- Hyper slim laptops make it possible to pack lighter than ever.
The most interesting parts of 2013+ gear posts has been seeing what people are doing with all their extra space!
Some of my basic packing rules:
- I’ve gotten good at leaving stuff behind or giving things away– even expensive stuff. If I want an Xbox or a guitar, I’ll consider the value of the item over the period of time I plan to stay somewhere and purchase it if it makes sense. I don’t have a problem with leaving it behind. I want to avoid letting my things make decisions for me.
- I never check bags.
- I won’t roll my bag. I want to be able to walk around town without checking into a hotel.
- I don’t carry things that have rare usages, especially when they can be found on the ground at a cheap price. This includes stuff like raincoats, universal adapters, medicines, etc.
- I carry a thin nylon dry bag to secure things that are liable to leak or that smell bad.
It’s a ton of fun to pack up your entire existence in one bag. Doing so gives me a feeling of clarity and purpose. I’m going somewhere. I know it’s not changing the world or anything, but it helps keep me off the Youtubes.
I’ve made these items look cooler than they actually are by tossing them in the “transfer” filter in the Camera+ app, which has reduced my reliance on apps like ProHDR to make my awful photography look decent. As always, I would love to hear your suggestions and feedback.
15″ Macbook Pro i7. Despite the great screen resolution on Macbook Airs, I’m unwilling to go down to a 13″ screen. I just spend too much time on my computer to give up the real estate. I also use Garageband and iMovie, for which the extra processing power comes in handy. If this machine weren’t so new, I’d have a 15″ Retina.
The thinness of the Macbook Airs and Retinas is a form factor revolution for digital nomads. It allows them to downgrade from a standard laptop bag to a lighter purse-like bag or a light messenger bag. I’m looking forward to the day that I get one, but I’m gonna ride out another year (if possible) with this fine machine.
I wrote on my last post about “Mac fanboyism” and the quality of these machines. I’m often accused of being a Mac fanboy, but I just want to work with the best laptop, and over the past few years PC manufacturers haven’t seem to made many inroads. I still wonder why people bother with PCs.
Miscellaneous wires and cables. When will wires go away? Hopefully soon. I still have much less than I did in 2008. R-L, kindle connector, USB stick, guitar picks (you never know when you’ll come across a spare axe), external hard drive, laptop charger, iPhone connector (I don’t carry an iPhone charger), iPhone earbuds. iPhone 5. What can I say about this little contraption? I currently carry and unlocked iPhone 5. This device is worth to me many times what I paid for it (which if you buy without a plan and unlocked is over $1,000). When I first hit the road, I had an entire section of my backpack dedicated to electronics. I even carried a few books!
Specific things that I used to carry (in 2008), that have basically been replaced by this one elegant device: small flashlight, books, video camera, point and shoot camera, 3G fob, audio recorder, guidebooks, language guides, mp3 player, local texting phone. My must-have apps include: Camera +, Audible, iTunes Radio (bye bye Pandora), Feedly, Twitter, Facebook, Kindle, TripIt, Trip Advisor, Speedtest.net, Pzizz, SleepStream 2.0, Currency Go.
Blue Yetti podcasting microphone without base. This mic actually travels pretty well without the cast iron base. To prop it up, I use coffee mugs or tea makers that I find in hotels or apartments. I’ve never had a problem finding something that works. The actual mic is light and easy to pack. Its multiple settings make it ideal for interviews, group settings, or solo podcasts. It also makes for a fun conversation at the security line.Kindle and notepads. I’ve traditionally used notepads for GTD to-do tasks. However, this year I’m experimenting with a day planner to track personal key performance indicators, including my business, writing, and fitness goals. My kindle is well worn and a must-have for travelers. Bose 15C headphones. I recently upgraded from the Dr. Dre beats to the Bose 15C noise canceling headphones. They are much more comfortable, have excellent noise canceling capabilities (so much so that you’ll even find yourself using them in your own house!), and rock harder than they look. Clear and powerful sound. Jewelry. I started wearing a watch this year, and have enjoyed learning about their lore and designs. For a digital nomad, it’s a nice piece of flare and is highly portable. I’ve got my eyes on some higher end watches, and when I upgrade I’ll donate this one. On the right is my DC bracelet (given out to attendees of DC events).The “financial football.” Inside this small case I cary SIM cards, credit cards, extra cash, bank tokens, batteries, and other miscellaneous items. Random stuff. In 2013 I started taking training more seriously, so I picked up a roller for muscle therapy. I also started sleeping like a baby on planes– turns out all I needed was an inflatable neck pillow and eye cover. Before I bothered to buy a neck pillow, I had trouble sleeping even on long haul flights. Tumi tech laptop bag. I still love the satchel style and require a top-loading laptop zipper. It’s got a great accordion feature that allows me to pack extra clothes for a weekend trip (although I’d use my Minaal bag for that purpose nowadays), or more relevant– to stash a bunch of heavy extras in here in order to ensure my carry on backpack meets weight requirements (they never check your laptop bag for weight). I’d love to upgrade to a smaller more stylish bag, but my laptop is currently too big. Toiletries. Still rocking the flexible nylon Eagle creek toiletry bag. I’ve continued to carry my personal electric razor despite it’s weight, and have upgraded to an electric toothbrush which is good times (I hear they are good for you?). I travel with a few supplements now, notably creatine, which my friend Jesse Lawler noted is one of the biggest bangs for your bucks in terms of smart drugs. It promotes brain health and alertness, and accelerates muscle recovery after a workout. Last year I started traveling with cologne. It’s such a small thing– just a little bottle and a couple squirts a day– but I find people really like it and I’m glad I started investing in it. Snazzy training shoes. I’ve been doing a lot more running since I last made a list, so I started getting a little more serious about my shoes. I try to buy somewhat fancy running shoes, and now travel with two pairs. One for training, and one for going out (more time in cites). I find a stylish set of kickers works even at high end clubs in Asia. Plus, when they get scuffed up, they can graduate out to become your primary trainers. Because of this new strategy, my friend James Clark recently dubbed me “the Imedelda Marcos of Saigon.” Lolz. The Minaal carry on bag. I’m sure the Minaal guys would have preferred a nicer pic, but I couldn’t produce nicer words. I’m so happy I invested in the Minaal carry on backpack (find my review here), and I will most certainly buy one off the rack when their production is shipped. I’ve taken this thing to a handful of countries already and it makes travel more fun. I’ve also used it for shorter trips as my only bag (not carrying my laptop bag), and it’s worked great as for “one bag, one world” application as well. Bravo guys!
Some decent shirts. So what do I do with all that extra space the iPhone saved me? I basically started ramping up my clothing. I think this is also a symptom of living the last year in a city. I spend a lot more time at nicer restaurants where they don’t look so kindly on my tank tops.
Normal person underwear. I used to wear fancy underwear, but they are hard to get your hands on, and frankly not as comfortable as good old fashioned cotton ones. I like boxer briefs and have 8 pairs. Living out of business hotels and managed apartments makes it unnecessary to try and get by on 4 pairs. In terms of volume to utility, underwear performs quite well, so there’s no point in skimping here.
Wallet and advantages card. I’m a bi-fold wallet guy. I also included a shot of our American Express Business card. If you are out of debt, and make large purchases for your business, it’s worth getting on a points program. With this card, I can access tons of lounges all around the world (FYI, you have to apply for this service, they don’t automatically give it to you). Also, because we put our business expenses on it, we can basically upgrade to business class on all of our long hauls. There’s very little overhead here and it’s easy to get tons of benefits. I heard the Chase card is also good, we are looking into that.
Pants. 3 stylish cotton shorts, one pair of jeans, and one not-so-stylish belt. Decent t-shirts. 5 cotton printed tees.
Workout gear. 3 tri-blend t-shirts, 1 basketball jersey, 2 shorts.
On a final note, I was recently having a conversation recently with some of the Tropical MBA team members about packing techniques. Personally, I use the traditional folding method for my shirts and pants. I like to have easy access to my clothes and this does that for me. Elisa rolls her clothes and says that works well with her top loading duffle back. Our new content guy, Alex, swears by “bundle wrapping.” If you want to check out more on that, the guys over at OneBag have a pretty easy to understand explanation here. It’s an interesting technique that I haven’t gotten the chance to try out yet.
I’m always interested to hear other digital nomad’s packing strategies, so feel free to leave any thoughts or suggestions!
Cheers and happy travels,