It’s hard to be a Digital Nomad if you’re loaded down with stuff.
Last time, we mused on the downsides of owning too much stuff. During my foray into digital nomadism, I’ve consolidated what I do and don’t need to live at home or on the go. So with the last post’s philosophy adjourned, I’ve put together a list of 24 things I intentionally own and don’t own as a digital nomad.
Don’t got, don’t want.
Here’s what you won’t find in my residence anytime soon.
1. A big closet. Stuff requires storage space, and storage space invites more stuff—it’s a disturbingly recursive relationship.
2. A large wardrobe. If it takes me more than a minute to come up with an outfit in the morning, I either have too many good choices (not the worst predicament) or too many uncoordinated options (more often the case). As a courtesy to myself, I only keep the garments I unreservedly love to wear—then any choice is a surefire winner!
3. A shoe gallery. Shoes take up a lot of space when traveling, so a gaggle of single purpose pairs makes for a lousy packing experience. I pack flip-flops, loafers for business, and waterproof Merrell hiking shoes for everything else. I’m not sold on the look of hiking shoes, but they are definitely my go-to pair for travel and day trips.
4. A loaded dishwasher. The more dishes I own, the less inclined I am to reuse them throughout the day. Thus the Great American
marital argument exclamation: “The dishes are piling up in the sink, Honey!” I’m keeping my dishes pretty and few.
5. A furniture outlet. Furniture has a habit of accumulating and won’t head out the door as easily as I will for my next adventure. If I can’t comfortably move it myself or with a friend’s help, it has no business in my life. I’d rather invest the money, space and time in something more life-changing than a solid oak entertainment center and professional movers.
6. TV service. My family “ditched the dish” when I was 12, and we haven’t looked back. With the rise of services like Netflix, it’s easy to find movies on demand without obscene commercials. So why waste an average of $99/month and 35 hours a week on the tube?
7. TV screen. Since I’ve opted out of television service, I enjoy titles right off my laptop. While it’s difficult to enjoy movies with friends, it’s also a welcome incentive to play games, enjoy conversation or read books together. Old-fashioned? Yessir, and right nice it is.
8. Stereo system. I do love playing background music for guests, so I may opt for a couple Sonos speakers someday, but a 5.1 surround sound system is not in the forecast.
9. Home phone. Mobile phones are ubiquitous, and when I need high quality audio I rely on VoIP solutions. No need to send a change-of-phone-number notice when I move!
10. (Fancy) car. I find a personal vehicle freeing and cheap in the long term, but sitting in traffic and keeping up with maintenance and insurance can be stressful (not to mention costly). Biking is pretty cool if the office is nearby. Do the math: can I carpool? Take public transportation? Uber? Sometimes the stress of using these services outweighs the potential savings, but I know for sure that an expensive car is not in my future.
11. Magazine-cover bed. Sleep is important, but a 300-pound king-sized bed is probably 95% fashion statement and 5% a good night’s sleep. A well arranged bedroom is definitely a “happy place,” but I’d rather take the minimalist approach than splurge on a space I won’t want to leave for a new adventure.
12. Paper records. Nada, zilch. Not even sticky notes stick around for long. Reams of paper are an information crisis waiting to happen—a good 3-2-1 digital backup plan is always a better solution.
Haz, will keep.
With the closet cleared out, here’s what has survived my nomadic lifestyle.
1. Hammock. I ousted the traditional European mattress for an ENO doublenest camping hammock. This makes for a fun table-talk topic! I won’t belabor why hammocks make an awesome bed, as other folks have done a much better job. As for hammock accessories, look no further than $5 worth of paracord: it’s like that irritating guy who earned three degrees and speaks five languages fluently. Paracord just solves everything.
2. Standup desk. My living is made at a desk, so a quality piece of furniture that supports me for 9+ hours a day is worth the space and investment. I use a GeekDesk, but rarely change height since I use a barstool, so it’s cheap to modify an existing desk.
3. A few quality clothes. Why own 25 cotton tees that fit so-so and are miserable in hot weather, instead of owning 5 shirts that look great and are made of materials that perform well in inclement weather? For travel, I follow the three-layer system: 3 Icebreaker merino wool shirts for the base layer, an REI Coop down jacket for the mid-layer, and a North Face rain jacket for the outer layer. Whether I’m headed for 80 degrees or 20 degrees, I’m covered.
I have a dressier wardrobe for extended stays, but I avoid 100% cotton and opt for polyester/nylon blends that can stand the rigors of travel and sink washes. All told, my entire wardrobe (blazer included) fits in a carry-on sized duffel bag.
4. Just enough comforts to welcome friends. I was raised in the South, so hospitality was a big part of growing up. Unfortunately, hospitality seems to strive with my minimalist habits for mastery, so I’ve settled on a few tokens:
- Some good games
- Candles and lighting to set the mood
- A place for friends at the table
5. An exercise routine. Staying healthy on the move is tough, but regular aerobics, weight training and stretching make my body more resilient during back-to-back travel. I have been using the P90X3 workouts for 6 months—about half the exercises require nothing more than a carpeted floor, but the rest need only a pull-up bar and hand weights.
6. A “Third place” other than home or the office where I am a regular, like a coffee shop or coworking space. Especially when traveling alone, this gives me a regular way to connect with people and feed off the collective synergy when I need a productivity boost.
7. Internet connectivity is a non-negotiable for my job and vacations alike. I rely entirely on connectivity to get directions, translations and make reservations. I’m still waiting for satellite internet to become affordable and portable, but meantime I settle for so-so data coverage. If you’re savvy, you can purchase a prepaid SIM card and save on data charges, but be prepared for some homework. I’ve opted to switch to T-Mobile so I don’t need to purchase expensive roaming plans.
8. Smartphone. The smartphone is the single greatest gift to the nomadic lifestyle. Without it and a cornucopia of apps, I’d be too chicken to step off the plane! And with a good data plan, I can tether my laptop to truly work from anywhere. Here’s a smattering of apps on my phone’s home screen:
- Wallet for plane tickets.
- 1Password for secure access to copies of my IDs, credit cards and passwords.
- Google Maps ± Waze for getting places. Offline maps is downright lifesaving.
- Google Translate because it’s fun to use the offline mode to spew out bits of German or Polish!
- Google Calendar because working from anywhere hasn’t made timezones second nature yet.
- TripIt for organizing all my travel reservations in one app for offline access.
- White Noise to block out noisy hotel neighbors without packing a noise maker.
- Cash for fee-free person-to-person payments in the US.
- Slack for real-time chat with my colleagues.
- Gmail because Apple mail doesn’t handle labels well.
- Dropbox for quick backups and file transfers.
- iBooks so I can finish reading Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien.
- Uber for convenient rides throughout the US.
9. A tiny laptop. I’m a fulltime software developer and photographer living off a 13” MacBook Pro. I’m eyeing the 12” MacBook for its weight (the 13” is feeling heavy lately) and form factor once it gets a spec boost—unless I need to do serious video editing, the 12” handles my work and hobby needs.
It doesn’t matter if I’m at home or on the go—the outlets are always in the wrong place. I pack a cheap flathead extension cord so I can squeeze it behind furniture and charge a few other devices simultaneously.
10. Laptop daypack for travel and day trips. I use a 17 liter North Face daypack (discontinued, but here’s a larger one), and thanks to a strict packing regime it holds everything I need for indefinite travel!
11. Car phone charger. A dying smartphone in a new country is a sure-fire way to strain an already stretched day from timezones and layovers. However, setting it on fire with a cheap charger is also ill-advised, so stick with well-reviewed chargers.
12. TSA-friendly sick kit. The immune system hits an all-time low when traveling. Usually I deal with mundane ailments like headaches or cramps, so thankfully the remedies are compact: hand soap under 3 oz., ibuprofen, loratadine, herbal tea bags, and a miracle heating pad that helps with headaches, cramps, aches and chills: a rice bag. Rice bags are trivial to make: double up a couple baseball socks and fill it with cheap rice, then warm it in the microwave for a few minutes.
Oh, and do nab those eye shades from the flight—street lights have a way of seeping through hotel doors and windows. Shades beat wasting time and energy blocking up all the light sources with towels!
That’s it! Other than my violin, camera equipment and a LEGO Wall-E, that’s pretty much everything I own. It’s taken time to recognize some cognitive quirks and consolidate this far, so next time we’ll focus on the mindset and process for clearing out the hobbit hole!