What should I pack? A guide for the Digital Nomad
Deciding what to bring with you is the hardest part of going Nomad, and I know this handbook caters to a wide variety of people from young Millennials to retiring Baby Boomers. I am going to cover the bones; your travel necessities.
Do not worry about forgetting anything, and do not become overly obsessed with your packing list. Despite my own previous fascination with scouring the web for Digital Nomad packing lists, the truth is that most “must-have” travel accessories aren’t, and you could survive just as easily and affordable if you were born yesterday and sent to Thailand without anything but the clothes on your back and your passport.
I’ve been able to travel with nothing but a carry on for years, and I still re-evaluate my belongings before every relocation in a vain attempt to reduce the load.
Those wheeled suitcases don’t bode well in Southeast Asia due to high pedestrian traffic and uneven, obstacle-course like “sidewalks”. Using bulky suitcases obligate you to find a place to check-in right after your arrival, whereas a good backpack will allow you to rove around town and settle in before deciding where to hang your head for the night.
The key to remember is to disregard anything you do not need when you want to move somewhere. Less is more, and spending less on “stuff” (aka “filler”) will free up hard earned cash for select, authentic, quality items that will last longer, can be repaired, carry a lifetime warranty, leave a lasting impression, etc.
As mentioned previously, 7-Eleven carries just about every toiletry, personal care, or hygiene item you may need while in Thailand so I only included items you need during transit in this list.
And if you’re going to bring any “refillable” items –a best example being a razor– don’t. A lot of the products available back home are different from those in Thailand and may not be compatible.
Lastly, carry a nylon dry bag in case you need to carry smelly items or get caught in the rain (or a Songkran soaker parade) and keep all of your papers in an easily accessible place, separate from other belongings.
So let’s recap these packing rules:
- Only use a carry-on, never check your luggage
- Don’t carry items you rarely use and can acquire on the ground for cheap (ie. raincoat, basic medicines)
- Carry a nylon water-proof bag to protect specific items from getting wet
I selected two backpacks for this line item, however I only use (and am in love with) the first option.
The second option is presented because it looks like a great product, and was actually developed by Nomads, for Nomads through a Kickstarter campaign some years ago.
Option 1: Osprey Farpoint 70
The Osprey Farpoint 70 is a little large for my needs, and I keep it 2/3 full at all times, except for when I visit home. That 1/3 of space will be great for gifts for nieces and nephews.
This pack meets several key requirements I think all of you may need to consider when making your backpack purchase(s).
The Osprey Farpoint’s ability to open “clam shell” style allows for non-linear access to your items. Simply put, no first-in-first-out nonsense, digging through your bag at inconvenient times, etc. You can open part of the bag, or you can peel back the entire top flap of the bag for equal access to objects anywhere within it.
Detachable Day Pack
The Osprey Farpoint also comes with a detachable day pack which I use every day, only using the larger portion of the pack for relocations.
The day pack will fit a laptop (from a Mac Air to a bulky Lenovo), assorted electronics, journals, maps, books, change of clothes, shoes, etc.
You can also detach the day pack from the face of the Osprey Farpoint and strap it to the front of your body while still being connected to the central pack on your back. This is great for crowded areas when you don’t want your laptop packed out of your peripheral vision.
Osprey packs a lifetime warranty with each of its backpack models, which to me, says a lot. It’s one less thing to worry about. They sell Osprey bags at Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, too. It’s quite likely you could arrange a swap in an emergency if you call Osprey directly. If not, ship it back and they’ll replace it.
Great Carry On
Technically, the 70 litre Osprey Farpoint shouldn’t be an acceptable carry on. Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone. However, I’ve been able to get away with it on every flight I’ve taken this bag on in over 2 years. The reason? It can transform into a duffel bag.
All of the bulky straps and be tucked away easily behind a giant flap that is hidden at the bottom of the bag. Once the straps are out of the way and you use the side handle with the flap side out, the bag appears much more streamlined and fits easily into the overhead compartment.
Your only obstacle is weight, but I’ve also been lucky in that my bag has never been weighed, and I can squeeze it into the metal cage used to determine carry-on size allowance. The trick is to act like the bag is really light and hide your wincing!
If you’re concerned about not being able to pull off using the Farpoint 70 as a carry-on, you and I could both easily get away with using a Farpoint 55.
Option 2: Minaal Carry On
A bag I do not use, but one I respect. The Minaal 35 litre pack is engineered to be the ultimate carry on and also looks a little more “flash packer” –meaning it’s easy on the eyes is a high quality pack.
It too is a clamshell bag, allows you to zip away straps, fits all major airline carry-on dimensions, and also comes with a slide-on rain cover. Electronics stored within it are also housed in a suspended sleeve, so not matter which way it hits the ground, your gear won’t pay the ultimate price.
No day pack though, so for now, I will stick with my Osprey.
I keep all of my important documents inside a wallet inside a waterproof toiletry style bag. If I required any medications, I’d keep them there with copies made of their prescriptions, too.
Worth mention is that I have two wallets; one for all of my needs on the road, and a light-weight standard wallet for when I go out.
My larger wallet is a “#balla” wallet, also designed by Nomads for Nomads. It can easily store a number of cards, currencies, passport and you can store your Departure Card without folding it.
The #balla wallet is now called the Baller wallet, and you can pick one up at http://ballerleather.com
Some items I keep together in my documents bag include;
- Boarding pass
- Copies: Passport, cards, ID, itinerary
- Thailand Departure card
- Cash in 2 or 3 different currencies (lately Kip, USD, and Thai baht)
- SIM cards for every country I visit
- Extra passport photos
- Bank cards and credit cards Subway tokens for when in Bangkok
- ID from home country such as Driver’s License, Health Card, etc.
Many long-distance flights (on Etihad, for instance) will provide you with sleep masks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and so on. This list is for anyone who doesn’t want to chance it;
- Eye mask
- Inflatable neck pillow
- Gravol (for stomach issues or as a sleep aid)
- Electric beard trimmer (which I tossed after 6 months in favor of a beard)
- Travel towel (microfiber)
- Nail clippers (once had to leave them behind at airport security)
Smart phones free up a lot of space. Travelers can eliminate additional items like a portable WIFI hotspot, MP3 player, and video player with a good smart phone.
Ensure that your smart phone is unlocked to work with any carrier and can tether its data connection to your laptop by cable or wirelessly via WIFI or Bluetooth.
It is now legal to be able to unlock your smartphone in the USA. Unlocking means allowing the phone to work with any carrier, “jail breaking” is something else entirely.
When I came to Thailand, my carrier had a steep cancellation fee so I gave my phone away to a friend and had them resume my contract. I picked up a used phone in Bangkok at MBK, but you can pick one up anywhere. They sell cheap burners at 7-Eleven, although smart phones and all other electronics are generally the same price in Thailand as they are back home.
- Smart phone (Get your phone unlocked by your carrier in advance!)
- Mac Air
- External hard drive
- USB stick
- Portable speaker with built-in battery (also available at 7-Eleven)
- Kindle ebook reader
- GoPro camera with watertight case
- USB rechargeable battery pack
Special Note for Udemy Instructors, Podcasters, and other Media Producers: While there are a handful of recording studios in Chiang Mai, it might be best to pack your own additional recording gear or tablet you use as a teleprompter.
A coworking space called Coffee Monster does have a mic and a recording room that you can use, just add your laptop. I’ll get to Coffee Monster, later.
In hindsight, I learned that when it comes to clothing you could arrive with two sets of clothing and pick up the rest on arrival for the most part. Dress shirts can be custom made for cheap, and t-shirts, flip-flops, shorts, swim shorts, etc can all be purchased after you settle in on a need-to-wear basis.
However if winging it was your thing, you wouldn’t be reading this travel guide! Today, this is what I carry;
1 pair of socks
2 pairs of shorts
1 pair swim shorts for the pool or working out
1 pair pants to travel in
1 pair dress pants
1 dress shirt
3 pairs of underwear
1 leather belt
1 medium weight sweater
I strongly suggest that anything that is normally cotton –make it Merino wool. Merino wool pulls moisture away from the body in ways cotton never could, it reduces or eliminates odours naturally, regulates temperature (warms you in cold, cools you in heat), and it retains its shape much better than cotton. Merino is also stain and UV resistant, so it ages gracefully. Anything you purchase in Merino wool will outlive its cotton competitor by many, many times.
So that means Merino wool is ideal for t-shirts, socks, and underwear. Some popular Merino brands include Icebreaker, ExOfficio, Patagonia, and Ibex.
For stylish pants, I strongly recommend Bluffs by Bluffworks for similar reasons as Merino wool products. They are incredibly durable, wrinkle-free even after being balled up in a bag for 2 weeks, quick-drying, machine washable, and very breathable which makes them ideal for warmer climates. If you choose to only bring one pair of pants, these are ideal for work or pleasure.
You can find your pair of Bluffs here: http://shop.bluffworks.com
5) Other Stuff
- Colored pencils
- Pencil sharpener
- Water canteen (for water refill stations)
I brought shoes with me, however I picked up my sandals in Pai. There’s a really great street vendor that sells flip-flops in Pai that are made completely out of comfortable yet durable rubber. Just about every vendor sells flip-flops, so you could likely skip packing them initially.
I now own three pairs of footwear;
Blundstone boots for travel or inclement weather
Jogging shoes that double as “water shoes”
Quality rubber flip-flop sandals
I love my Blundstone boots because they come with a two-year extended manufacturer’s warranty and they slip on without laces that can wear and break. The road is long and dirty; these boots are easily cleaned and more comfortable than a pair of Doc Martens.