They call you the wanderer yeah the wanderer
You roam around around around…
With all the things you need neatly packed away in your bag.
It’s one the first major decisions every digital nomad is faced with and in, my opinion, probably the hardest. What do you need to take? You basically have 3 options. Option 1, you travel light, the bare essentials, a few tops, a couple of pairs of trousers and some underwear. You’ll have no problem carrying your bag but if you struggle to find somewhere to wash your clothes you may well earn a moniker like ‘that smelly digital nomad’ or ‘digital no-mates’ (because you smell). Option 2, take everything you own, down to the smallest tin of lip balm. You’ll be popular with fellow travelers for a while, well, at least until the supplies run out. Lets see how many stick around to help you run in the rain to catch the last bus out-of-town then. Finally option 3, somewhere in between. It’s fairly obvious to me that there really is only 1 option, 3.
What’s it going in?
The first thing you need to do is take stock of your bag, it needs to be up to the challenge. There are a few things you should be aware of before choosing your bag and fortunately, you can read all about them here. An unsuitable bag is no good to anyone, make sure you give it some serious thought before committing. Nine times out of ten you will get what you pay for, I once bought an incredibly cheap bag for a week-long trip, the strap broke just as I got where I was going, that was not a fun week for my shoulder. From my shoulder to yours, try to get the best quality that you can afford, it’s worth it in the long run.
What needs to be first on the list?
I can cope with t-shirts that haven’t been washed for a few wears (my personal hygiene is good, I don’t smell), my jeans often don’t get washed for a while (again, I’m clean) but I rather abhor the thought of not having clean underwear and socks. The thought of having been walking for 10 km the day before and having to wear the same pair of socks (and pants/boxers/briefs) again the next day makes me a little queasy. I may be being a touch melodramatic but only a touch, it really is a monstrous proposition. That’s why I always make sure the first thing in my bag is a solid selection of pants and socks. I like to aim for 7 of each, they don’t take up much room if you roll and fold them right and can be a little source of comfort on a rainy day. Quality is King/Queen. Spending a little bit extra on socks may seem quite silly (I’m not sure why, they are incredibly important) but it’s well worth it for good ones. If you are going hiking, get hiking socks, for long flights, get compression socks, if you are going running, get running socks. I think it’s obvious where I am going with this. Get good socks, ditto pants.
What shall I wear?
Sorry, I got a little carried away there, I’m just passionate about socks. Anyway, onwards with the packing. When it comes to outer garments you’d be wise to consider your environments. You probably don’t need the duffel coat, wooly hat and scarf if you are headed on a tour of South East Asia for the summer, likewise, you almost certainly won’t be needing a vest top for a Scandinavian jolly in the winter. If you know roughly what weather to expect you can save yourself some vital space in your bag. What type of clothes you take is really up to you, I don’t know what you wear and I’m certainly not in a position to tell you what to wear*. As a rule of thumb you should be aiming to take between 5 and 8 items of top half clothing making sure you get a good mix of shirts/blouses/t-shirts/jumpers/cardigans/camisoles/sweaters/long sleeves/short sleeves or whatever it is that you wear. You should make sure you have a blend of casual and non casual clothing for all occasions, just in case you get invited to the ambassadors ball, or the football. If you are a little wary about finding places to wash your clothes you should know that dark colours will hide stains easier and that you should stick to a strict rotation system to avoid soiling your clothes too quickly. Seriously though, just wash your clothes, you’ll be doing everyone a favour!
*my idea of fashion is jeans, a t-shirt and a shirt. Original and on trend I know. I have recently branched out into a new look that involves a plus-sized ladies jumper from Lidl’s but I’m not sure about it.
For your lower half again, it depends on what you wear, some items will take up more space than others but may be more practical. Jeans, for instance, can go for a few weeks without the need to be washed, within reason of course** but are bulkier to pack than a skirt. If you are headed for sunny climes consider a lightweight linen trouser (watch how you pack, they’re a bugger for getting creases) or those hybrid trouser short combinations that were huge in the 00’s. Anyway, whatever you decide you should be looking at 3-4 pairs.
**Before my digital nomad days I once worked in a horrible betting shop in Moseley, Birmingham. There was a regular customer who wore the same pair of jeans every day for a year. I can honestly say that they were green with mould. It was disgusting and he smelt like toilet. Don’t be that guy. Also, he looked exactly like jigsaw from those films.
If you want to get it all covered in one fell swoop you should consider dresses or dungarees. I personally don’t have the legs for dresses and I’m not sure I could carry the dungarees look off, however, I am sure that you can do both.
Wait, my feet are bare?
Shoes, one pair is enough right? Wrong! Well, maybe wrong. If you don’t plan on doing much walking or having sweaty feet and have the most versatile pair of shoes ever invented you might get away with one pair. If you are like the rest of us you’ll probably need a back up pair. You can save packing space by wearing your bulkiest shoes for travel and either cramming one shoe inside another and then into your bag or by using the laces to tie the shoes to the outside of the bag. Alternatively, you could just buy small, floppy shoes.
I’m looking good and ready to go but it looks cold outside.
Everywhere gets cold once in a while, there’s a fair chance that you will need a coat of sorts at some point. A water proof one would be a safe bet but they don’t always look the best and they’re not always the warmest. Personally I always travel with my current ‘favourite’ coat of the moment (navy blue, short trench coat since you asked) and if it’s not waterproof I carry an umbrella (full size, black and white check, I never said I was fashionable). It’s easier for me that way but you might not like umbrellas. If you are not fussed with the style and think you’ll be warm enough with the clothes you are taking you should look at a roll up waterproof jacket or a rain proof poncho.
My outfit needs a kick, I need some accessories.
Everyone likes a little fashionable flair in their lives and it’s easy to do in a practical way whilst travelling, sunglasses are usually a must, as should be a hat or head scarf of sorts. It’s worth taking them with you and can easily be worn whilst travelling or crammed into a dark recess of your bag.
I like personal hygiene, do I need to take it with me?
No. Given the limits on liquids in hand luggage and the fear you face of opening your bag to a splattered mess of moisturizer, toothpaste and tears I don’t really think it is worth it. Unless you are travelling to an extremely 3rd, third world country you are likely to be able to find everything you need, maybe even at a lower cost. If you must travel with specific products you should definitely invest in a suitable toiletries bag to avoid any accidents.
Is that it then?
In a word no. Each digital nomad that packs their first bag will have their own ideas and opinions, this list is based on mine. You may want to take more or less items of clothing, you may want to take some home comforts along with you, don’t let anyone tell you that’s wrong. I spent several months traipsing around Europe with a hard back book that never left my bag, I’m still glad I took it. Don’t fill all of your extra space up with junk but if you think it’ll really make you happy or cheer you up if you are down, take it. Some miscellaneous items you might want to consider taking that are a little bit more practical than ‘Come Home Charlie and Face Them‘ (great book by the way) might include the following:
- A quick drying towel, ideal for drying on the move.
- A flexible water bottle.
- A travel sleep kit.
- A note pad and pen set, for when inspiration strikes
I’m all packed, is it safe?
There are many locks available for bags these days, there are also many scissors available to cut bags these days. If someone really wants the contents of your bag I’m not convinced a lock is going to stop them. I mean, you can get one if it will provide you with peace of mind but personally I’d rather just look after my things. Keep your bag out of harms way and it won’t leave you!