I have been on the road for 6 months now, more or less. My luggage consists of a carry on backpack and a messenger bag. I like to think that I keep it light for a first time, long-term traveller.
My style of travel is slow and (relatively) cheap. I’ve spent most of the past 6 months in 3 significant locations: the island of Bali in Indonesia, the tropical paradise of Puerto Galera on Mindoro, Philippines and the mellow student city of Dumaguete, PH.
A lot of my time is spent geeking out on my laptop. I make my living online through e-commerce marketing and development so I rely on my tech heavily. Over the past few months I’ve taken mental notes on the essential items that someone who travels like I do needs. This is more out of necessity then anything else.
The thing about combining travel and work is that your living costs become intertwined with your ‘business expenses.’ If my laptop crashes and wont restart, I’m in trouble! (good thing I saw the Apple light and got away from Winowze eh… eh ;-D) And when you’re on a tight budget and something goes wrong with the vehicle that pretty much generates your income, you better believe I’m forfeiting a few days worth of solid meals to get it fixed, all while cursing myself for not being prepared.
So to save you the hassles.. and missed dinners.. that I’ve experienced as a ‘digital nomad’, here’s my list of travel essentials for the online worker on the go:
A Spare Charger Cable For Your Laptop
This is one of those “aw maaaaan… do I have to?” items that you shouldn’t think twice about making room for in your luggage. The other day the mag-safe connection for my Macbook committed suicide and stopped working due to being bent at strange angles over a couple of years.
The one Apple reseller in Dumaguete (I was lucky that there even was one in my city) had a replacement charger unit for $100+ (5500 pesos) but was out of stock. My friend Damian came to the rescue, lending me his spare charger to keep me going for the time being. Save yourself the hassle and stress, buy yourself a cheap spare charger for $20 on eBay or Amazon before hitting the road!
A once a week backup (the pre-installed Time Machine mac facility works well for this) will stop you from waking up sweating every few days from that nightmare where you had a hard drive failure.
I have lost data before and had no backup, the most annoying part was looking for a PSD file or document a few months later and remembering that it was on your old computer that self-destructed and left you heart-broken.
A Messenger Bag
I know that they’re hipster flags, and you haven’t worn one since your college days; but a messenger bag has been the best compromise for me between a laptop bag that can stick out while traveling and a normal backpack that can be a bit clunky for day-to-day use, hopping on and off your scooter and taking impromptu walks with your laptop in toe.
You will need a decent laptop sleeve to protect your laptop from other loose items in the bag. I suggest having one of these anyways, regardless of how you carry your laptop, for an extra level of protection.
As Much Underwear As You Can Fit In Your Luggage
Not tech related, doesn’t increase productivity and in no way relates to working online, but packing as close to 7 pairs of decent underwear as you can will save you a bunch of hassle.
Case in point: you go for a mid afternoon walk, perhaps trying to shake off the hangover from the night before ;-D. You get lost and end up walking 3k in clear skies, mid afternoon heat. You WILL need a shower once you find your way home, and I promise you will not want to put those soaking wet boxers back on once your done. If you’re Tynan style minimalist and don’t mind the hassle of washing your clothes in the shower everyday, go ahead and bring 3 pairs of those tighty whities. I prefer to take my showers starkers (that’s naked for the non-cockneys), have my laundry done once a week and pack a few extra pairs of undies instead.
I know ex-officio underwear is highly regarded by many long-term travelers. If you’re in the UK I highly recommend Rohan underwear @ http://www.rohan.co.uk/ (in fact all of their clothing is awesome: durable but still maintains a small element of style).
A Quality Notepad
I bought two moleskine notepads, one ruled and one plain, with me and I can’t recommend them enough. When you are sitting on a bus or plane and want to jot down a note or idea without whooping out the laptop and starting up evernote, notepads are invaluable.
My friend David Hehenberger uses a pocket-sized notepad to track his expenses and Damian Thompson has a nice leather-covered journalist pad that he uses to note down pretty much everything – ideas, names & phone numbers, to-do’s, etc – tying into his Getting Things Done (GTD) system.
Tip for the Scrooges: combine a notepad with a webcam and you will never have to buy another birthday card again:
Good Sounding Headphones
I had a decent sounding pair of headphones that blew up on me just the other day, and I spent a day or so walking around the shopping mall looking for a pair of noise canceling headphones, with no success. While you might be able to pick up some ‘beats by Dre’ or similar form-over-function headphones if you are in a major city, finding a quality pair of noise canceling headphones can be a difficult task while on the road.
It’s amazing how much use my headphones get, come to think of it. I wear them when I go out for a walk, when I hit the gym (aka once a decade), when working, browsing and even when I go to sleep to block out the sound of crowing Filipino roosters (trust me… there’s always roosters).
Take advantage of your local Richer Sounds or Circuit City and invest in some quality headphones.
Multi-Use Trainers (‘Sneakers’ If You’re Nasty)
If you’re into the whole Vibram thing and have figured out a way to keep the stank off them, I hear they are a good trainer for travelers. The invisible shoes are recommended as a good mix between trainer and sandals as well.
I recently bought a pair of black FILA running trainers that are inconspicuous enough to wear on a night out (then again so are my $2 sandals here in the Philippines), but sporty and functional enough to wear for a run or to the gym if you’re into all that ‘keeping healthy’
I had a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor’s before with a big superman ‘S’ on the side. While I got a lot of “cool trainers bro” comments walking down the street, the laughing and blatant name-calling in tagalog that followed was just not worth the embarrassment of wearing them.
When you’re packing to leave on a big trip, you can spend hours going over every last item, trying to find the best deal on a backpack or the smallest packing towel. The best litmus test for any item you pack is whether it’s still around after a month on the road. After unpacking and repacking that headlamp that you never use a few times, it will find its way into the nearest trash can.
If you plan to work while you travel, save yourself much hassle and splurge on the items above, even if it means skimping on other items. They will come in handy and there is a good chance that they will become your most used/useful items.
If you have any other suggestions for travel essentials for the ‘entrepreneur on the go’ please leave them in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Dan and crew were staring at us wide-eyed when after showing up in PG with large luggage bags, lol. I just don’t think I can wrap my head around the minimalist thing…definitely agree with you on the extra underwear!
My thoughts on ‘going minimalist’ is that you should just go with what works for you. I would just fill more space up with unnecessary items if I had it: an extra book that I one day plan to read, or toiletries that I use once every couple of months. Keeping smaller luggage just stops my insatiable desire to acquire more crap lol 😉
A larger duffle bag that you can carry on your back seems to be a good middle ground that I’ve seen a couple of people use.
I started with 4 pairs of undies, I now have 6 – I’ll buy 2 more as soon as I can find somewhere that stocks quality travel underwear
I think that a main consideration would be for how many pieces of electrical equipment to bring. You can’t just bundle that stuff into your backpack as the inevitable chargers that go with it (think Cameras/tablets etc.) can be just as bulky to package.
I found that having that crap – which seldom gets used – and is used for a short while anyway is a real pain in the lower back – those plug pins always find a way to point at you when wearing your backpack and are uncomfortable to say the least.
Ideally you should look for a singular USB travel adapter and get USB charging connections for those (e.g. here is an iOS device version http://store.apple.com/uk/product/MD099ZM/A?mco=MTM3NTI1MDE ).
That would have been great to have.
Otherwise, spot on. Good post.
Good call on not bringing too many chargers Age!
A good solution is to find USB chargers for all your tech and use your laptop as a charging station of sorts. Most mobile phones can be charged via USB these days. As can tablets, cameras, kindle’s & most other portable items.
Those mini-usb cables can usually be used with different devices as well, killing multiple birds with one tiny stone
Just re-read your comment and realized I was echoing your suggestion for USB chargers, whoops 😉
Thanks for the comment
Great post Lewis, I just love these packing post. I don’t think I would be able to pack as light as Tynan is doing.
I mean how can I fit my diving gear in the small backpack 😉 It is going to be exciting later this gear when everything has to fit in our backpacks.
Do you recommend any special sleve for the laptop ?
I agree Kristian, you dont want to bring items that you wont use, so there is a certain element of ‘minimalism’ involved in that you strive to cut down – but don’t feel obligated to go the Tynan route if you don’t need to. I reckon not having items vital to your trip, just so you can be a one-bagger, can make you miserable!
I just use a basic incase sleeve, I bought it with my laptop nearly 3 1/2 years ago and it’s soaked up drinks that have spilled in my bag, a few light drops and plenty of rough and tumble in my messenger bag. Having a hard sleeve might be more durable and you could rest your laptop on it to allow some air flow, however.
I haven’t done too much travelling to be honest but I echo your thoughts on making a backup of your key data. Could you not also use Dropbox and/or Google Drive to backup your most precious files?
After a recent failure of my external hard drive here in Thailand, taking with it a bunch of projects I was working on – using the cloud is probabbly safer and smarter then a HD alone.
I just got myself a snazzy ipad too, so having all my files accessable on there instantly is a major plus!