- Buyer's Guide
Packing List of a Digital Nomad
There's something undeniably alluring about a road trip - the freedom of the open road, embracing the unknown round each bend, being awestruck by stunning landscapes and meeting amazing people along the way. But it's one thing to enjoy a fun weekend road trip and another entirely to commit to it as a way of life for a significant period of time. For Jon Gaffney, that was a commitment worth making. Living as a digital nomad has equipped Jon - aka the Van Man - with a host of useful skills and experience, not least of which is impressive packing skills. So we asked him to share his packing list for life on the road...
For the majority of the last 18 months I’ve lived nomadically. In the spring of 2014, my girlfriend and I resigned from our office jobs, built a camper van, and hit the road traveling the US. Along the way we freelanced, worked on projects, and shot an absurd amount of photos. Our lives were a case study in efficient packing. Whether packing our belongings into a storage unit, our gear into the van, or enough food in the fridge for a few days off the grid. In addition we spent a lot of time working here, there and everywhere as we embraced being digital nomads. Here’s my packing list refined by 18 months as a nomad.
I’m a backpack guy. I’ve tried other bags, but I always prefer to have the weight on my back and evenly distributed. My go-to for daily work is the GORUCK 15L Bullet Ruck. Made of slightly lighter weight Cordura than the original GORUCK bags and with a narrower profile it’s great for fitting everything you need for work and nothing you don’t. The pockets are easily accessible, and the external MOLLE strapping allows for additional pockets if you like. Most importantly it’s built to GORUCK’s exacting standards so it can take whatever abuse living on the go throws its way.
Being on the go, an organizational system isn’t just nice to have, it’s a necessity. Every pocket in my GORUCK bags is used for specific things, but in addition I have a few pouches/pockets that I use inside the bag for further organization.
- GR1 Pocket: I use one of the GORUCK GR1 pockets for all my digital accessories. It has external padding and three internal pockets to keep my external hard drives, charging cords, and batteries safe and in order. Five years on and mine looks brand new.
- Topo Designs Medium Accessory Bag: This simple pocket made from 1000D Cordura holds all my analog correspondence material. Postcards, stationery, and stamps all get tucked away in here to send thank-you notes and surprise friends and family.
- Nock Co. Brasstown: Analog correspondence demands a proper writing implement, something I take seriously. Nock makes the best pen case I’ve found to store my ever-growing collection of pens.
Obviously to work as a digital nomad, electronics are a huge part of the equation. All of this gets carried in my GORUCK.
- Grado SR225 Headphones: I’ve had these for over a decade and they still are the best headphones I’ve ever used. The sound is fantastic and they’re made in Brooklyn, NY by the Grado family. I bought them to drown out an obnoxious college roommate and they’ve yet to let me down.
- Goal Zero Venture 30 Recharger: Keeping a full charge is a constant battle on the go. Spare batteries and rechargers are a life saver and the Venture 30 from Goal Zero was the best of the bunch. I can get multiple iPhone charges and camera battery charges out of it.
- Sony A7: Being able to document the places I go to, the people I meet, and the random moments in life is a must for me. The Sony A7 has been my favorite camera to date. It’s full frame, but small with excellent Zeiss Primes available. Mine has got quite a patina at this point.
- iPhone 5s: It’s not the newest, but it keeps doing everything I need it to do. When you’re working nomadically your smartphone is your lifeline. It’s a wifi hotspot, phone, conference line, radio, navigation, notepad, the list goes on. It’s the definition of necessity.
Here’s a few apps I’ve found incredibly helpful:
- Audible: Great for books on “tape”. Driving or riding long distances goes by a lot quicker with entertainment and music only cuts it so long.
- Yelp: Knowing the best place to get wifi, coffee, and solid baked goods is key.
- Uber: Getting around cheaply and quickly is always a plus.
- Hotel Tonight: For the night when you just need a nice room and a hot shower.
- Magpul iPhone Case: Rugged, affordable, and it looks great.
- MacBook Air 13″: Where the smartphone is the lifeline of the Digital Nomad, the laptop is the workhorse. The Air is great as it’s light and powerful enough to do all but the heaviest computing. Its only downfall is small hard drive options…
- Western Digital My Passport External 2TB Hard Drives: Always, always backup. Traveling leaves you open to far more mishaps with your data, so having more than one backup is imperative. Can’t stress this enough. Because of the MacBook Air’s tiny internal HD I run one of these as my main hard drive and a second one as a backup copy.
While most Digital Nomad work is done on electronics, a pen and paper is still indispensable for ideas, to-do’s, letters home, and for when the cell service is nowhere to be seen. For me physically writing is fun, therapeutic, and a welcome break from all things digital.
Notebooks: I usually carry more notebooks than I need, but each one serves a purpose. Journal, to-do’s, brainstorming, quotes, etc.
- Field Notes: I’m a huge fan of Aaron Draplin and the classic notebooks he designs. It’s hard not to buy way more than I need.
- Rite in the Rain: These are weatherproof notebooks. With a Fisher Space Pen or a pencil you can write on them and get them soaked and the writing won’t run or disappear. They’re perfect for keeping notes legible whether on the trail or under the errant spilled coffee. The only bummer from my perspective is that fountain pens don’t work on them.
- Nock Co.: These guys are new to the game, but their notebooks are a great complement to their pen cases. They’re my ideal to-do list notebook with their memo book construction.
- Schon DSGN Pen: A pocket pen is something I always make sure to carry. Digital Nomad or not, it’s an EDC must. With a Fisher Space Pen ink cartridge and machined aluminum body it’s a piece of design and a rugged pen that will last forever. Mine is dinged up from drops and knocking into a challenge coin given to me by a friend.
- Kaweco AC Sport Fountain Pen: Traveling gives ample opportunity for written correspondence. Doing so with a fountain pen makes it seem even more poignant. The Kaweco also has a very nice flow to it and is my favorite pen to write with.
- Personalized stationery: A quick note to a friend, a thank you, or a congratulations. Handwritten notes are a tradition I try to carry on. I had a letterpress friend make me some simple ones years ago and I always keep a stack on hand.
- Postcards: While the personal stationery is great, going to new places means getting local postcards and surprising the people at home. It’s always worth seeing it on a friend’s fridge when you return for the holidays.
Optimally it’s not all work while you’re traveling so my bag has a few things to pass the time, hang out, and unplug.
- Deck of cards: The options are endless, solo games, two people, you name it. I play a lot of Cribbage, Wist, and Spades. I really never get tired of cards. Plastic ones are a must because they can’t be wrecked by an errant spilled beer.
- Dice: Six of them actually. You need five to play Yahtzee and six to play Farkle. Both are great with two or more people.
- Cribbage board: I bought this one for my girlfriend at an antique shop in Colorado. It’s a Yellowstone souvenir from the 70’s.
- Kindle: I try to read every day for at least a little while. While I love the tactile feel of a paperback, it’s tough to beat having a library in such a small package.