The ultimate digital nomad packing list – downsizing to a better life

Cats are well-renowned experts when it comes to packing. We like to watch our human’s every move and occasionally climb into the suitcase to protest certain decisions. In fact, as a slow-traveling cat, nothing excites me more than the sight of an empty suitcase! Over the years me and my human companion have learned a thing or two about packing for long-term travel. Read on to learn how to design your personalized digital nomad packing list. 

Clothing, the most essential part of your digital nomad packing list

Typically the most difficult category for travelers, picking the right clothing can free up a lot of space and bring comfort to a range of living conditions. 

The Ultimate Digital Nomad Packing List - visiting Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park

When packing for my digital nomad adventure, I had to thin out my pile of clothing at least 3 times. One thing I got right, however, was leaving my fancy clothes behind. Once I left LA, I quickly realized that true nomad adventures involve hiking boots and a fleece middle layer – not heels and a dry clean-only dress. Another thing I got right was bringing substantially less than I thought I needed. It turned out to be just the perfect amount. 

Something I wish I would have known beforehand, though, was that traveling will wreak havoc on your clothing. If wearing them over and over again does do them in, then the subpar, public laundry facilities surely will.

My advice: bring clothes that you are happy to replace throughout your trip. Additionally, I made the mistake of bringing my favorite winter jacket, even though I would not need it for at least 6 months. When winter finally came, I realized that my “winter” coat, originally purchased for use in Southern California, did not come close to providing the warmth needed for my nomadic adventures in the mountain states. I ended up replacing one of my favorite clothing items without even using it once. 

Things to keep in mind: 

  • Bring way less than you think you need
  • Leave your favorites at home
  • Dress for adventure (not fancy dinners with your friend group)
  • Only bring what you need for the near future (you can buy more along the way)

Your kit for working from home

Assuming you will be working while traveling, this is one category where you can afford a little luxury. Remember that you will be spending 40 hours a week (or more!) working on your computer. You might as well make it as easy and comfortable as you possibly can. 

Nomading in America - Glass Beach in California
Glass Beach, California

Over the last 18 months, I have made no adjustments to my home office setup. I brought along my laptop, laptop stand, keyboard, mouse, Bluetooth speaker, earphones, and extra-long charging cable.

Sometimes I’ve had to get creative on where I set up my home office, however. While in South Dakota I ended up working on a loveseat with busted springs for 4 weeks. It was definitely not the most ergonomically correct way to do my job, but that is the price of adventure. The way I see it is that while you can’t always control your environment but at least you can control your equipment.

In addition to the items I use every day for work, I also brought a Nighthawk wifi extender and a Verizon Jetpack mobile hotspot. On several occasions, the wifi extender has been a lifesaver. I simply connect it to the main wifi source to amplify the signal to my own housing. While I consistently use the mobile hotspot on my phone, I have yet to activate and use the Verizon Jetpack. With that said, I do not regret the purchase at all. It provides a sense of security in a very important aspect of my life. 

Packing tips for your home office:

  • Don’t be too lean – aim for comfort 
  • Be prepared to encounter a weak wifi signal or no signal at all

Don’t forget personal care items on your digital nomad packing list

Another major category of items for personal care. This includes products for hair and skin, as well as, workout gear and supplements. This is a particularly sneaky category as it’s very easy to acquire more products while on the road. I started out with the basic set of toiletries that I would bring on an overnight trip. But as I moved through different environments, I found myself acquiring more and more specialty items until I finally had to pare down and throw out items that I did not use.

Nomading in America - ice fishing in Alaska
Ice fishing in Alaska

One of my favorite items that I bought on the road is my heavy-weight workout band and door mount. This relatively small piece of equipment provided many challenging workouts when I was 100s of miles from the nearest gym.

Another favorite has been my handheld steamer, which is particularly useful for reviving deeply wrinkled clothing after traveling between destinations. The only item I regret bringing is my curling iron – it takes up too much space and I can mostly achieve the same effect with a hairdryer and hairspray. 

What you need to know about personal items: 

  • Be strict with yourself about adding new items 
  • A workout band is a very efficient use of space for the value brings
  • Leave behind unnecessary styling tools 

Upleveling the kitchen

Welcome to another category that can get out of control very quickly. When packing for the kitchen, keep in mind that most housing situations will provide enough for you to get by. If you are the kind of person who finds joy in this kind of challenge, you may forego this category altogether.

Personally speaking, I care deeply about my morning coffee. So I travel with a coffee grinder, french press, handheld frother, and Yeti tumbler. It’s true, I do not technically “need” these items, but having my perfect cup of coffee each morning brings me so much joy that it outweighs the cost of carrying these extra items. 

Are there specific kitchen items that bring you great joy? I know of one traveler that brings their own knives and another that carries glass Tupperware. One of the coolest parts of long-term travel is the opportunity to learn what really matters. 

What to remember: 

  • You can technically get by with bringing nothing
  • Decide what items will make you the happiest     

Packing for your pet

Cal the cat overlooks the San Francisco Bay
Cal overlooks the San Francisco Bay

If you are lucky enough to travel with a pet, make sure to leave space for their items. As a nomad with a cat, sometimes I feel like his stuff takes up more space than mine!

With that said, I do not recommend giving up your pet’s essentials in order to save space. Each time we move, I carry Cal’s food, toys, personal food and water dishes, favorite blanket, and full-size litter box. I also keep a smaller litterbox for long car rides. 

A constantly changing environment can be difficult for pets. You should try to keep your pet’s items as consistent as possible.

Last but not least, luxury items

This is perhaps the most fun category to plan for. After having pushed myself to the limit in all of the categories above, I was rewarded with just enough space to bring a few “luxury” items. It took some deep thought, but I finally decided to bring my soda stream and meditation pillow. These items are truly personal and a reflection of the traveler’s truest self. What will you bring? 

Conclusion on building your digital nomad packing list

While starting out on the right foot can be extremely beneficial, it’s important to remember that your travel kit can always be modified. You can always donate (or sell) unwanted items. And most of what you may add is only a quick Amazon order away.

The most important part of packing for a nomadic adventure is that you take the opportunity to really examine what matters. This is only the first step in a whole series of opportunities for true self-discovery.

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