A digital nomad packing list for sustainable travel and minimalism.
A few years after I had quit my full-time job in Singapore and embraced a life of travel, I posted a picture of myself zip-lining above the stunning Indian Ocean. That photo received many comments from friends, one of which startled me. It was from an ex-colleague who tagged my former boss and commented, quite innocently, “Shivya used to wear the same dress in office and look where she’s wearing it now!” At the time, I was a bit embarrassed by her observation of my sparse wardrobe.
But now that I recollect that moment, I can’t help feeling pretty satisfied owning nothing more than a few clothes and essentials that snugly fit into my two bags.
Over five years ago, when I gave up having a home base to go back to, I sold or gifted away most of my belongings. Since then, I’ve attempted to fill my life with experiences and memories, rather than materialistic possessions. As I wrote in my recently released book, I couldn’t help but wonder whether we humans own things, or our things own us.
Many readers have asked me about my digital nomad packing list. So here’s a detailed breakdown of all my current life possessions and some tips on how you can de-clutter your life too:
- My travel gear
- Digital nomad packing list: What’s in my laptop bag
- Digital nomad packing list: What’s in my rucksack
- Reducing single-use plastic in my bags
- Joys and challenges of living out of 2 bags
- Can you downsize your possessions too?
- Do you think you own more things that you need? What would make it to your digital nomad packing list?
My travel gear
Convertible backpack (rucksack)
Back when I still had a corporate job and started travelling during leaves and weekends, I remember picking out a hardy-looking, affordable backpack (rucksack) in a supermarket basement. I had no idea then about the toll that backpack – and others I’ve tried over the years – would take on my back and shoulders over time, as I ran last minute to catch trains, buses and flights.
These days, I think of most backpacks as the equivalent of flying economy class. So a couple of years ago, I decided it was time to upgrade to a first-class Osprey Ozone Convertible 75L, which can be dragged around on wheels, converted within seconds into a bag with straps to carry on my shoulders (looks a bit bulky but the lumbar support is incredible), is seriously waterproof, comes with a small backpack which I use as my laptop bag and offers a lifetime warranty! Since I bought my Osprey, I’ve had to convert it and carry it on my shoulders only a handful of times – while climbing stairs, walking on mucky streets or crossing uneven mountain paths. I love it and highly recommend the investment if you’re serious about a life of long term travel.
I’ve gone through a range of laptop bags over time, including one with a solar panel that I could use to charge my devices when I found myself off-the-grid (similar to this)! It stopped working at some point though and I couldn’t find anyone to fix it. I’ve tried out bags made by Wildcraft and Mountain Warehouse, and had to supplement them with a rain cover when I chased the monsoon.
I’m glad I finally switched to the Osprey day pack as my laptop bag, for it’s entirely waterproof, has great lumbar support (can’t emphasize how important that is when you travel for extended periods of times) and comfortably fits in all my gadgets.
Digital nomad packing list: What’s in my laptop bag
When I began down-sizing my possessions, I wasn’t really sure which things were worth hanging on to. Or which ones I’d miss.
Turns out, those arbitrary decisions on what to keep and what to leave were not life-defining. The components of my bags have evolved with time, as have I.
- Laptop: I’ve been a long-term Macbook Pro user, but when it began dying on me, I accepted an offer to try the first professional laptop by MSI. Even though the switch to Windows is challenging, I love that my new MSI Prestige PS42 is super sleek, ultra-light (1.19 kg) and looks really cool. The battery life can survive a long bus journey and it has never hung. I’ve been using it for over a month now, and it looks like I’m going to stick with it.
- Phone: The first ever smartphone I owned was an iPhone 3GS, and I’ve been a loyal Apple user since. I’m currently using the iPhone 10 XS MAX, and love its portrait mode and photography features so much that I use it as my primary camera.
- Camera: I’ve been a Sony user for a long time, and currently own a Sony RX100 M2 – though I’ve only ever used it for night and astro-photography in 2018, taking all my photos with the iPhone instead.
- Hard disc, pen drives: Ever since I lost a ton of data and photos to a laptop mishap in Gujarat in 2016, I’ve acquired a Seagate 2 TB hard disc to back up my data weekly. I highly recommend doing this if you work online.
- Tripod: I’ve been using a small, flexible Loha tripod, but plan to upgrade to a long but light Amazon Basics tripod based on the recommendation of several friends.
- Headphones: I love my Sony MDR ZX310 headphones – they are light and affordable, look cool and offer great sound quality.
- Portable USB battery pack: I use a Swiss Mobility Universal Powerpack 4000mAh (similar to this), which is small and lightweight, and allows about 2 full recharges of my iPhone on the go.
- Universal travel adapter: My universal travel adapter (plug converter) works pretty much everywhere in the world, so I don’t have to constantly bother checking what kind of plug points I need to be prepared for.
- Books: 1-2 books to read, 1 diary for notes.
- Water bottle: I recently acquired a Vinod steel water bottle, and love that it’s leak proof and not too bulky. Mine’s smaller, but I’d recommend a 1L.
- Bamboo straw: I picked up mine with a cleaner at a resto in Thailand (for the fresh coconut water), but you can easily get it on Amazon or TheEcoTrunk.
- Wellness: Energy bars, emergency medicines – usually paracetamol and a painkiller – and hand sanitizer. I love the alchohol-free sanitizer by Tree Wear.
Digital nomad packing list: What’s in my rucksack
Instead of putting my clothes and shoes directly in my rucksack, I segment them to stay sane by using waterproof Quechua bags for clothes (I picked them up at a Decathlon store; can’t seem to find them on Amazon), reusable hotel laundry bags for shoes, and a pouch for toiletries.
Clothes for all weathers
In the span of a few months, I could go from the freezing German Alps to tropical Thailand – which means I need to be prepared with clothes that work for all weathers at all times. I manage this by ensuring I have many layers that can be added on or removed, and choose clothes which are light weight and easily washable. A summary of my current clothes:
- Shirts: 4 T-shirts and 2 Tops: Of these, two are from No Nasties in Goa and one from TreeWear – both eco-conscious brands that use plant-based, chemical-free ingredients and dyes.
- Pants: 1 Pair of jeans, 1 harem pants, 1 yoga pants and 1 semi-formal pants for when I need to look a bit more presentable.
- Summer wear: 1 skirt, 1 pair of shorts and 2 summer dresses.
- Wind and rain wear: 1 Light sweater and 1 waterproof rain jacket with waterproof pants.
- Winter wear: 1 winter sweater, 2 heat tech thermals and 1 heat tech leggings from the Japanese brand Uniqlo, 1 muffler, 2 winter beanies.
- Jacket: I own an ultra-light, foldable down jacket from Uniqlo that works till 0 degrees Celcius; although the brand states that it sources duck feathers from ethical suppliers, I won’t buy a down jacket again, simply because “ethics” are often relative and I’d rather not wear any animal products. I’m eyeing the Save the Duck jackets, which ensure warmth with recycled plastic and synthetic – my friend Kuntal even climbed the challenging snow-capped Lhotse peak outfitted in one!
- Undergarments and socks: 4 bras, 1 sports bra, 8 underwear, 2 pairs of warm socks, 4 pairs of regular socks.
- Hiking shoes: 1 pair. I highly recommend opting for hiking shoes with no leather or animal by-products (seriously, who wants to wear the skin of dead horses or cows?)
- Casual shoes: 1 pair; I still love Converse!
- Flip-flops: 1 pair.
- Shower bars: 1 bar each for soap, shampoo and conditioner, cut up to fit into a little steel box (and the remaining wrapped up dry in paper). I’m so glad I’ve been able to replace single-use plastic bottles with bars without plastic packaging – they last longer, take up less space and are eco-friendly. I always keep a lookout for handmade, vegan bars, especially at local farmer markets. I’ve been using Lush shampoo and conditioner bars – they come without plastic packaging, many of them are vegan and they’re great for the hair. And I recently stumbled upon Soulflower, an Indian brand which also makes plant-based shampoo and conditioner bars; you can contact them to find out which products will suit your hair and request for the bars to be sent without plastic packaging. Can’t wait to try them!
- Face wash: I like Biotique as well as Body Shop products – and appreciate their commitment against animal testing and animal ingredients. I hope they’ll offer their products as packaging-free bars soon.
- Lip balm: I love the Lush rose lollipop lip balm which comes in a reusable tin box, doesn’t contain beeswax or any animal product and lasts (almost) forever!
- Hygiene: Bamboo toothbrush, toothpaste, hair serum, nail cutter.
- Menstrual stuff: Cloth pads – I like mine from AseSnappy in the US, and have heard great things about EcoFemme in India. Menstrual cup – I’ve finally had a breakthrough, phew! I got myself a Lena Cup in the US, and among Indian brands, I’ve heard good things about the Boondh and Rustic Art cups. Read my guide to menstrual cups.
- I don’t use makeup for I prefer it au natural 😉
- Portable blender: Ever since I turned vegan and fell in love with healthy and tasty smoothies on the go, I acquired a portable blender by Vitamer. It’s small, very light and ensures I can have fresh fruit smoothies wherever in the world I am, often sparking much envy from hosts and fellow travellers.
- LifeStraw water filter: I decided to get a LifeStraw filter over a LifeStraw bottle fitted with a filter because I don’t like the drinking (sucking) mechanism on their bottles – and only need to use the filter while hiking or during the rare times when I’m not able to find filtered drinking water.
- Snack pack: I’m always prepared with energy bars, nuts, seeds, long-lasting vegan goodies and flavored tea bags gathered from around the world.
- Takeaway box: I bought a collapsible silicone box but it broke quickly. I’m currently using a small steel box to pack leftovers and for takeaways – and saying no to a ton of single-use plastic as a result.
- Foldable bags: A handy Mountain Warehouse bag for being outdoors, a foldable 30L Quecha bag when I need to carry extra stuff than fits in my bags (like ferrying a whole lot of vegan goodies, gifts, etc) and a foldable cloth bag for any grocery shopping needs.
- Medical kit: I always have a small set of medicines – Crocin (for fever), Ibugesic Plus (for pain, menstrual cramps), Allegra (for allergies), Burnova Aloe Vera Gel (for sunburns to which I’m so prone), Volini (for muscle pain), Bandaids and Soframycin (for cuts, wounds), Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D3 supplements.
THE EXTRA STUFF
There are some things I need occasionally, that are expensive but just too bulky to fit into my bags long-term. For example, snow boots, a snow jacket and an old faux leather jacket I love but only works for spring / fall weather. I end up leaving these things in the homes of kind hosts, friends and family, hoping to retrieve them as and when needed.
Reducing single-use plastic in my bags
The truth about plastic that’s only good for limited use – like shopping bags, bottles for shampoo and other toiletries, toothbrushes, toothpaste, straws, bottled mineral water etc – is that it harms our environment. Much of it lands up in the ocean, where it enters the body of marine animals or chokes them to death. Some of it goes into landfills and pollutes the soil and groundwater. Some is burnt, releasing harmful toxins, and even the tiny amount that is recycled can only be down-cycled.
So, saying no and reducing our consumption is the only way forward. In my bags, I’ve replaced the following single-use plastic:
- Plastic toothbrush – with a bamboo toothbrush.
- Plastic shopping bags – with a foldable cloth bag.
- Plastic containers for food – with a steel takeaway box.
- Plastic bottled water – with a refillable steel water bottle and Lifestraw filter.
- Plastic bottles of shower gel, shampoo and conditioner – with bars for each.
- Plastic straws – with a reusable bamboo straw and cleaner.
- Non-biodegradable pads – with cloth pads and a menstrual cup.
Things I want to replace but haven’t found plastic-free alternatives for yet:
- Facewash: Replaced it with an organic soap bar from Veganology, which my skin seems to love!
- Hair serum
Joys and challenges of living out of 2 bags
- It’s easy to pack and unpack.
- I never have a hard time deciding what to wear.
- An uncluttered life means using very little mental space worrying about my things.
- I have little to no shopping expenses; all that money saved goes towards travelling.
- This lifestyle is a conversation starter for a minimalist life, wherever in the world I am. We have to fight consumerism, one conversation at a time.
- By owning few things and sourcing plastic-free alternatives, I’m trying to reduce my carbon and environmental footprint.
- Laundry – I have to do it atleast once a week.
- The temptation to buy new things I don’t need; I find the best way is to stay away from malls and fancy stores!
- Sometimes I feel judged for wearing the same stuff all the time, but I’ve grown to not care.
- Physical gifts I receive, for there is no space to fit them in and carry them along. So I end up re-gifting them.
Can you downsize your possessions too?
Absolutely. Whether you travel long term or not, you can make a conscious choice to cut down how much you own. I mean, do you really need 10 pairs of shoes?
Where to begin
Consciously look at everything you own. Things that you haven’t used in the past 3-6 months are probably just extras that you can comfortably live without. Clear out your cupboards and give away things in good condition to people who could use them. Re-purpose what you can, especially plastic stuff you already own. If you’re the organized type, make a list of your belongings. Even writing this post made me feel like I still have way more than I need.
The next time you’re about to buy something, ask yourself, do you really, really need it?
Figure out what works for you
As with anything else in life, competition is futile. Some people can get by on much less, some need to own way more. Experiment and figure out what works for you, what makes you feel mentally at ease.
Choose experiences over possessions
When our possessions occupy less of our mind and wallet space, we can focus on spending our mental energy and money on experiences that have the potential to shape our perspective and sometimes even change our entire life.
I’d like to believe I’m making that choice everyday. You?
Do you think you own more things that you need? What would make it to your digital nomad packing list?
*Note: I wrote this post as part of a campaign with MSI. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine. This post may contain affiliate links; if used, I’ll earn a little off the products I genuinely recommend at no extra cost to you.
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.