There’s a lot of articles on the internet. There’s an especially high number of packing lists, ensuring in exact detail that you forget nothing on your next upcoming trip.
This supply of lists, of course, is just fulfilling the demand, but I have to say… I find this a little strange for a couple reasons:
- Every person owns different things
- Every trip is different (length, location, weather, etc.)
- What an 18 year old backpacker needs differs from what a middle-aged expat does
- You can and in many cases, want to buy items while abroad, yet this is rarely factored into the packing equation
The commonality I see in most packing lists is way too much shit. To be clear, I can empathize with why. As some background, I was once a serial impulse buyer meets packrat. I also loved to travel and this resulted in me lugging around again, way too much shit.
Luckily, our brains are wired to learn and adapt through the Habit Loop. I slowly but surely broke my routine of bringing way too much shit by learning from the many baggage hauls across a city or breaking luggage wheels on cobblestone roads. I tried my best to remember all of the items that I never used and all of the “sit on your backpack until it zips” moments.
Now, I do recognize that just like I had to do, many need to establish this habit loop themselves and will continue packing as their hearts desire. And that’s okay! I’m not here to tell you how many shirts or undies or pairs of Havaianas to bring. No sir. Instead, I am going to tell you more things to bring!
That’s why this nomad packing list is only minimalistic-ish. :)
After traveling to 50+ countries, making many a packing mistake, and stubbornly avoiding buying a new backpack for far too long, I present to you a checklist of items you didn’t know you needed (or maybe you did). These are things that to some are “so obvious!” or “digital nomad essentials” but took a while to enter my packing rotation but have quantifiably improved my life in some way. :)
Here we go:
- Kindle Paperwhite – the Kindle in many ways transformed me into a reader. The long battery life and lightweight nature are great, but it also allows you to highlight quotes and take notes, making you a better and more efficient reader as well. Plus, it pays for itself via the book discounts. Any friend that borrowed mine while traveling, ended up buying their own so I would put this as #1 on the nomad electronics list.
- Extension cord/power strip/surge protector/USB hub – This admittedly was a purchase I made on Amazon one day when I was stress splurging. Yet, it ended up being the most useful thing in my backpack. Whether I was at a cafe or coworking space and needed extra cord reach, or needed to charge all of my unnecessary devices…I always just, could. What a time to be alive!
- Amazon packing cubes – I had a friend recently tell me that she was so relieved to see that I had packing cubes since “my bag used to stress her out”. I feel the same way. This, combined with a good, nomadic backpack (see 10), enables a new packing experience. I’ve also heard good things about minaal packing cubes, but key takeaway is buy some packing cubes.
- Menstrual cup – Boys, I apologize that I didn’t give you warning, but menstruation is normal. Girls, menstrual cups save you $, lighten your environmental impact, are healthier, and [insert other positive thing here]. I use and would recommend LENA, which has a 100% customer satisfaction guarantee.
- Electronics holder – This baby has turned the massacre which was my electronic cords, SD cards, etc. into something not so disastrous. Do you need this if you’re backpacking for two weeks? No. But if you need more than 1 hand to count the number of electronics you have, this will likely be something you “can’t believe you lived without”.
- Good headphones – Whether it’s a pair of solid Apple headphones or noise cancelling Sony’s, the extra $20 that you didn’t spend on a few Chang beers will be worth it. Good headphones and a good laptop (aka a Mac) should be nomad essentials for all.
- Toiletry holders – Never did I think I’d be recommending toiletry holders to anyone. But then I think about all the times carrying wet soap has ruined my life and I treasure the $ I spent on these simple life savers.
- iPhone SIM stick (or a paper clip) – First of all, if you’re traveling… unlock your phone! Now, I realize some will disagree with this suggestion, but there have been far too many times that I’ve had to switch between SIM cards and did not have the right tool. If you buy 5), you will have no trouble keeping track of this.
- MicroSD reader – This little helper is USB-C, but I encourage the equivalent for other devices.
- Osprey bag – Finally, the most important question of the day: “Did you really travel if you didn’t have an Osprey bag?”. The answer is probably not. As I did for two years because I was a big cheapo, I spent half of my time abroad packing and repacking my bag, to pull out one measly item from the bottom. Buy a bag that zips open and has a detachable daypack, like the Osprey Farpoint. There are many articles that claim to rank the “best digital nomad backpack” but from meeting hundreds of nomads, this is easily the most popular.
To bring us full circle, may I remind you of all of the things you will inevitably bring or buy while abroad (shoes, shirts, makeup, elephant pants, etc.).
Now, I encourage you to do a switcharoo with one of those unnecessary fillers to make space for one of the things you didn’t realize you needed above. Perhaps you can slip one of these in as you’re looking for looking to hit the free shipping threshold on Amazon. As if you don’t have Prime already.