Packing Tips for Digital Nomads and Mobile Offices

My sister may never quit teasing me about the $100 ream of paper.

In the spring of 2017, I set out on an adventure that would last 136 days. I gave up my apartment, put my belongings in storage and set out on my journey. Considering I was literally taking my business on the road, I thought I did well packing light: I had my laptop, a portable printer (yes, that’s a thing!), clothing for two very different climates, Tim Ferris’ Tools of Titans book, and a ream of paper. Let’s chat about packing tips for digital nomads!

It’s not surprising that my bag was over the weight limit (by a whopping 18 pounds!). As you might guess, I paid dearly for this privilege, as it cost me an additional $75 in addition to the normal $25 checked bag fee. In all fairness, Tools of Titans probably weighed more than the ream of paper! I should have just given both away. Surely any list of packing tips for digital nomads does not include such heavy things.

That four and a half month escapade was the first of many stateside and Canadian adventures over the past year and a half. I spent at least 2 nights in 10 different states in 2017, and I was away from my bed for 58% of the year. So far in 2018, I’ve already been to 1 Canadian province and 9 states, including Hawaii. There’s still 1 more adventure coming up this year.

All this to say my suitcase wheels have gotten some mileage in the last 18 months! I’ve learned a lot, and since packing tips for digital nomads are in demand lately, I wanted to share mine with you!

I’m not going to focus on tips you already know, or things commonly discussed on the InterWebz, such as packing outfits that serve multiple purposes and using plastic grocery bags for your tennis shoes. We won’t get into a debate about rolling vs. folding, either. You can find those suggestions just about anywhere.

To all the digital nomads out there. I get you. I know that traveling does not equal vacation. You’ve got bills to pay and airline miles to redeem! So let’s focus on handy items geared toward a mobile office. Working while traveling– especially if you frequently have documents to print–can be an extra challenge.

I’m a virtual bookkeeper and accountant who runs on coffee (not Dunkin!) so take note that your needs will vary slightly. My packing tips for digital nomads might not be exactly the same as yours, but that’s okay!

A portable printer: In my case, this was essential. If I run into a reconciliation problem with a client’s bank account, I have to print out statement so I can cross each item off, one by one. I spent a fair amount of time researching the various options and ultimately decided on the HP Office Jet 200 Mobile Printer. It’s lightweight, wireless, and super easy to set up.

A butt-saving-cushion: What can I say? I have a bony butt. The kitchen table becomes my “office” wherever I’m staying, and even with cushions, most kitchen chairs are neither ergonomically correct nor all that comfortable for extended periods of time. Purple Double is my favorite, but weighing in at 5.4 pounds, I quickly realized I needed a more lightweight option for travel, and I ended up buying this. One of the best packing tips for digital nomads is to make sure you’re comfortable wherever you are, and Purple Double fits the bill!

Books: Tools for Titan would have been better on Kindle (and I probably would have finished it already). I prefer the tactile feel of a real book, but clearly a Kindle is a much better option for travel.

Paper, personal care items, and random shit. Stop. Right. Here. People. We. Have. Amazon. And that’s the crux of my mistake with that damn ream of paper! Granted, Amazon won’t be a solution during short trips, but you really can buy most little things you may need along the way. Hell, there’s also a Walgreens on every other corner, and they’re pretty well stocked.

NOTE: A lot of the travel gear mentioned below comes from eBags. New customers can use my referral link to save $10 on your order.

During that first trip, I realized I needed to buy better luggage, so I opted for a three-piece hard-sided set. If I were to do it all again, I would have opted for three separate pieces: a convertible duffle (for shorter trips), a full-sized (not ginormous) hard-sided (handy when you’re in a wet climate) and a full-sized lightweight, soft-sided piece–which is what I’d probably use on about 85% of my trips since most last a month or longer (ebags has lots of fantastic options). Are you taking notes? These may be some of my favorite packing tips for digital nomads.

Because I am often away from home on pet-sitting gigs, I also have a dedicated “go bag” that has all of the stuff I need to work away from home. All I need to do is slip my laptop and mouse inside and I’m out the door. I needed a bit more space than a backpack allows, so I opted for this one.

Ok, it’s time for a short story. Once upon a time, I checked my carry-on at the last minute. My laptop was inside said bag (do you know where this is going?). Yep. Someone else accidentally took it when it came zooming around the carousel. This “go bag” is now my carry on. It’s considerably smaller and easier to squish into the limited overhead bin space, and I don’t have a roller bag trailing me around the airport. I also have two carabiners on it for my cannot-fly-without-blanket and pillow. These packing tips for digital nomads are essential.

Save money on food and beverages. I use a lunch pack as my personal item. I pack plenty of snacks, and I toss my wallet and passport in there (I prefer moseying around town with a purse, so I pack a very thin one in my suitcase.). You can fly with almost any food item within the US, as long as it’s not liquid. Believe it or not, you can even fly with half of an avocado! (Yes, I learned this through experience, but when in doubt, check the TSA site!) Important note: Freezer packs must be frozen solid when going through security.

Obvious packing tips for digital nomads include taking a reusable water bottle, insulated coffee mug and collapsible tea filter, depending on your drink preferences. That way, you’re never without what you need to get through the day with your sanity! Also, water is exorbitantly expensive at airports (PSA for your health: don’t order tea or coffee on a flight).

Other random tips and things to consider:

  • Lightweight 8×10 plastic sleeves. I grabbed two from Dollar Tree, and I use them for printer paper (I don’t use an entire ream a month), a few stamped envelopes and scrap paper.
  • Extra toner cartridges (only if you take a printer, of course)
  • Silicone coasters (avoid water rings on the kitchen table as a result of your staking a claim there)
  • Extra batteries, pens and Post-Its
  • Extra chargers for each device (laptop, phone, tablet)
  • Portable power chargers
  • Clorox wipes (reportedly trays on planes are the most germy!)
  • A foot hammock (your feet will thank me)
  • A daypack (know exactly where it is in your packed luggage in the event you need it to redistribute items)
  • Trackable luggage tags (get one for your carry-on, too)
  • Packing cubes (they really do help!)
  • An inexpensive set of earbuds (I bought my last set at a grocery store for $10)

While these items represent the core of my traveling office, I feel the key to success lies in the items I keep in my go bag (except for the printer). It reduces decision fatigue, and I never forget a key item, whether I’m away from home for a few nights pet sitting, or traveling for weeks on end.

Do you have any additional packing tips for digital nomads? Let me know in the comments!