Travel Gear for Digital Nomads (Yes, another one of these)

OK, I’m aware there are about 1.2 billion posts on the topic. But I’ve read a most of them and I still have a few gadgets that I haven’t seen too widely spread. Everything here are relatively cheap things I personally carry and use.

Pocket Wifi Router

This is the best one right up front. In much of the world mobile networks are faster and more reliable than wifi. I bought one of these little Huawei pocket wifi routers in Thailand and it’s a lifesaver. You pop in a SIM card with a data plan and the little guy converts that into a wifi signal that can connect to multiple devices. Your laptop, phone, kindle and a friend’s laptop can all use your 3G data plan. The one I is around $50. It’s completely unlocked and has worked with dozens of SIM cards on four continents for me so far.

But aren’t all the real techno-nomads unlocking their iPhones and tethering with a local SIM? Well, yes that is an option. But I prefer this setup for several reasons:

  • Tethering through your phone is just not as reliable. There are all kinds of carrier settings that I don’t understand very well but frequently cause tethering to not work or require excessive fiddling.
  • I use T-mobile which gives me free (slower 3G) data in most countries. I use that for Twitter, email and other stuff, preserving my paid local data plan
  • I use and strongly recommend two-factor authentication for my most important online accounts. If one account needs to SMS me an authentication code, I don’t want to have to fish out my US SIM and switch it out just to login to Gmail.

Aer Duffel Pack

I backed the Aer Duffel Pack on Kickstarter and am very happy with it as my travel daypack. It has a nice padding laptop section and a spacious “duffel” compartment that can actually fit a ton of stuff. It’s reasonably water-proof, looks cool and unobtrusive, and also carries well in hand with the side-handle.

I don’t subscribe to the “One Bag” travel rule that real travelers fit everything they need in one backpack. I prefer to split everything into my daypack and a smallish 40L Osprey backpack. With everything packed and moving through the airport I’ll wear the backpack and hold the Aer in one hand. If not over-stuff, both can be checked on most flights.

Here’s why I’m against One Bag. I travel with a hefty amount of expensive gear/electronics these days. When everything is packed, I put ALL of the valuable/breakable stuff in my smaller daypack and basically just clothes and random crap in my big bag. That way if you show up and the airline says your One Bag has to be checked, or your bus driver wants to throw your bag on top of the vehicle, or the ferry wants to throw your bag in a huuge pile of other bags, it’s not a problem. Toss the big bag and keep your daypack with you. What do you do in those (actually pretty common) situations if you’ve carefully packed your laptop, iPad, passport, backup cash and credit cards and $700 digital camera into your One Bag? Take them all out and hold them? Duffel pack is the way to go.

Juice On The Road

If wifi is the Achilles Heel of the digital nomad, then access to power is the… other heel. Two easy ways to make sure you always have enough power and aren’t that annoying person sniffing around the cafe hunting for a socket.

  1. Mini multi-outlet surge protector. This little guy has 3 regular outlet and two USB ports, so you can probably blow out any third world electrical outlet by plugging in every device you own. The big benefit of this thing is you only need to carry one converter gizmo. This one in particular is the best because the plug folds up so it doesn’t get bent in transit and it actually is a surge protector, not just a multi-outlet.
  2. USB battery pack. This thing charges via USB and has 2 USB output plugs to give the juice back. Mine is cheap, lightweight and holds around six full iPhone charges or functionally unlimited kindle reading time.

Now your iPhone will never run out batteries and force you to stop listening to podcasts and talk to the person next to you on the plane. Hooray!

Road Trip Tunes

I haven’t owned a car for eight years but I increasingly find myself on some awesome road trips (Iceland, Croatia, South Africa… all highly recommended by car). A silent road trip with nothing but your partner can be disastrous. For a few bucks and almost no extra weight you can ensure you have tunes and podcasts for the road.

  1. 1/8-in audio cable. So you can plug your phone or computer into the AUX input. Increasingly I see some cars with USB/bluetooth access but they are unreliable and often require digging out (and possibly translating) the car manual. An audio cable is universal.
  2. Cigarette lighter to USB charger. Turn that useless cigarette lighter outlet into an iPhone charger. You can save money by skipping the SatNav and using Google Maps turn by turn directions but it will destroy your phone battery. This little $5 charger will keep you in business.

Dirty laundry Packing Cube

Everybody knows packing cubes are amazing. But when you pack up your bag and leave home, all your clothes are clean. If you’re a total noob traveler, you have no plan for what to do with your dirty laundry. If you’re a slightly more experience traveler, you have some random laundry bag that you stole from a hotel. But if you’re a real pro, you pack an empty, sealable packing cube for your dirty laundry. At some point in your travels you are going to have dirty laundry that you have to re-pack into your bag. Use another packing cube so you don’t have to change your packing configuration to accommodate whatever percentage dirty laundry you’re working with. This one from Muji closes up and says it’s treated with some kind of anti-odor material so you don’t get your clean clothes all smelly.

My Anti Gear List

For the sake of switching this up, here is a list of things that many people travel with, that I used to travel with but have consciously edited out of my typical kit.

  • iPad Mini. Between Macbook Air, iPhone and Kindle I found almost no use for the iPad. If you have one of these, give it to your Mom instead. My Mom loves hers.
  • Universal travel adapter. These things just feel too clunky. They’re always so huge they fall out of outlets or don’t even fit in the space and just bother me. I buy one or two local ones, which never cost more than a few bucks outside of the airport, and give them away when not needed.
  • Hideous brightly-colored, highly-technical rain jacket. Nothing screams “I am a tourist. Please pester and/or rob me,” than a fancy outdoor gear rain jacket (see also: fancy outdoor cargo pants and backpacks).
  • Hidden travel wallet. Okay I never had one of these, but please don’t buy one. Keep your money in your front pocket and don’t be stupid.
  • Travel scanner. I used to have the Doxie USB-powered scanner in my travel kit. It was indispensable. But then iPhone cameras and scanner software got really really good.
  • A fancy camera. Seriously iPhone cameras are awesome, and it’s amazing what you can do with $10 worth of photo editing apps. Beyond that I’m just not a good enough photographer to justify more advanced gear. I skip the cost and weight of a big digital camera. I don’t think everyone should dump them, but I no longer think a fancy camera is an essential piece of the travel kit and it’s worth questioning.

The one thing I would like to add

I would really like a better travel jacket. I want something is reasonably “technical” — that’s rain proof with a hideable hood, lightweight and warm. But it should also be stylish and cut well enough that I could wear it to a very nice cocktail bar in a big city. Currently I travel with a North Face puffer and an all black Arc’teryx shell. When doubled up the combination is warm and reasonably water proof but still looks a bit like I’m going on a camping trip. Any good suggestions?

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