So far, in this series, we’ve discussed a range of topics from visas to accommodation, and communities to travel. Today we are going to focus on a very important part of the nomad side of life – how to pack when you head off travelling. You don’t want to be that hot, sweaty mess every time you’re on the move, struggling with three bags, one with a broken wheel and another with a failing handle. So here’s a run down of how to pack.
How to pack as a nomad
Packing for a long term travel sounds like you need to bring your entire life with you. You’re tempted to fit all your wardrobe in one suitcase. Actually it is easier to pack for a month’s stay (or more) than for a 10 day trip, if you get your preparations right.
Why? When you go on a 10-day trip you might need to bring 10 different combinations to wear. A few pajamas, bunch of underwear, a few pairs of shoes and before you know it, you can’t close your suitcase. Especially if it’s winter and we’re talking about extra leggings, sweaters, jackets, hoodies etc! When you are going on a 10 or even 15 days vacation, you might not want to think about using the laundry service. That extra day for them to deliver it back to you is too long. Moving from one place to another as much as you can in the set timeframe you have, limits you even further. If the accommodation you booked provides a laundry service then you feel like you’ve hit the lottery. If not, then researching it on your own and wondering if they will do it properly and how much it’s going to cost might just give you headache. So you decide to pack for all those days individually and end up carrying a lot of stuff.
When you plan for longer term travel, you know that you are going to stay in one place long enough to wash your clothes. Either the accommodation will have a washing machine that you can use yourself or there will be enough time for you to research on the laundry service in the neighborhood. You know that you will not be on the go constantly. So you won’t need to have a clean shirt every day or an impeccable Insta-loving combination on a daily basis.
It’s not all wining and dining
You also know that you will be spending a lot of time at home. Now you can pack light on your “fine” clothes, since you will be able to wash them several times while you’re there. You can also find time to go shopping for some stuff you realize you need for weather conditions or special occasions. Take that as an opportunity to buy something nice to add to your international set of clothing options.
You should however think about packing comfortable clothes you will wear at home and some slippers. Add a set of basic casual daily clothes like jeans, T-shirts and sweatpants. You might end up spending a lot of your week days at home, or going for a coffee or taking a casual walk around that doesn’t require you to dress up.
Definitely pack a swimsuit, cause you never know, and bring one jacket – for the same reason. Since you don’t have to book a return ticket, the whole world is open for you. You might decide to go to a warmer or cooler destination and you want to be prepared. Again it’s not about bringing everything with you, but packing at least one clothing combination. This’ll get you so far until you figure something out or buy a few items that will fit the new weather conditions. You can always donate, sell or exchange clothes that you no longer need.
Packing shoes – how many do I need?
In addition to clothes, you want to think about shoes – my tip is one pair of flip-flops, even if you are not going to a beach destination. You might want to use them at your accommodation, especially if you are booking a shared housing. You might end up using them to walk around the house and use the bathroom and showers, especially if those are shared. Then, one pair of sneakers that you can combine with your jeans or shorts especially if you will be hiking or walking a lot, you want to be comfy. Add a pair of shoes that you can wear if it’s raining (could be the same sneakers if they are ok for rainy days).
Finally one pair of nice shoes that you can combine with a nice top or dress if you are going out or somewhere fancy. If you are going out a lot and you have space in your luggage, then bring another pair of comfy shoes for casual daily rounds. You might not want to be in your sneakers all the time and they can get smelly! If it’s summer and you go to the beach, make sure your sandals are waterproof (so if you get soaked or the sands get in, you don’t mind just wiping them off).
Cosmetics and toiletries
Packing the cosmetics is a grey area because we all have different routines. If you need a specific cleanser or toner or something for your skin care, there is a chance you will not find that product in all places. Research it in advance and calculate how much more or less you should bring with you. You can google if the product is available in that country or ask if anyone in the FB group had issues finding it.
In terms of general hygiene you don’t have to pack much. You will be able to buy a lot of things there like shower gels, soaps, shampoos and conditioners, toothpaste and brushes, creams, gels, lotions, etc. In Central and Latin America you can get your general cosmetics products in pharmacies. It is a bit of a different system and those stores operate as pharmacies (for you to pick up pills and stuff) but also as cosmetics stores.
You might want to pack a mini hairdryer in case the accommodation doesn’t provide one, so you avoid having your hair wet for hours, especially if it’s cold.
You can also get some mini packages suitable for travel in case you don’t want to carry whole packs. This covers you for the first week and then you go and buy other products locally when you need them. This is especially good if you plan to travel lightweight and not have a checked suitcase, so all your liquid is in travel size. Remember for airplanes up to 100 ml for each container, put in a transparent plastic bag, like a mini freezer bags.
Packing your meds
Also, if you are taking any medication, let your doctor know you will be gone for a while. Check if they can prescribe you some more before you go. It might be hard to get the exact same one once you’re in another country. Even more so when it’s further away or on another continent, but with your medical insurance you can go see a local doctor and show them what you are taking. Once you run out ask if they can prescribe you a local equivalent. They should know what the ingredients are and how much you will need to take to cover your needs.
For the medication that is available without prescriptions, you don’t have to bring anything with you. You will be able to get it (or a local equivalent) at the pharmacy almost everywhere you go. If you get sick you go see a doctor and they will help you out. Having that medical insurance is therefore really helpful. If you don’t want to risk it and want to have something with you just in case, you can bring something basic to help yourself. This could be useful on a weekend when everything is closed or you are in a remote village and can’t get to a doctor or a pharmacy right away.
This could include:
- a box of painkillers (so you cover headache, toothache, menstrual pain etc.),
- a box of paracetamol to lower your temperature in case you get a fever
- a thermometer helps you check your progress
- some aspirin for light muscle pain and headache
- some pills that stop diarrhea in case you end up eating or drinking something that makes you sick
- some throat spray or pastilles if you end up with a sore throat
Jet lag can be tricky sometimes so you might want to check your options for that – melatonin helps but is not always efficient – consult with a pharmacist on that. For all the other options mentioned above, you might not be able to bring all that with you or prefer using other options. Take my tips only as a guidance to then check with a health professional on what would work for you and your situation individually!
Plugging in as you go along
Another thing to think about is having adapters for power sockets. You will need to charge your electronic devices (phone, laptop, etc.) after all! Depending on where you go, the power sockets might have different plugs than your chargers from back home. Make sure you buy one that allows conversions for multiple options. If you need more you can get some locally at your destination.
Once you get there, I suggest getting a local SIM card for your phone so you can have a local number in case you need to call any of the local services. I would recommend buying data plans too so you don’t depend solely on Wi-Fi but have internet connection on your phone wherever you go. Sometimes you will need to approve a payment through your bank’s mobile app or check what your pin is for the credit card you’re using and without an Internet connection you won’t be able to do it.
Packing your online life
As for the bank and credit cards, you should check the expiry dates on the ones you have so you don’t end up without your card once you’re in your destination. You can also tell your bank you will be going abroad and spend some longer time travelling and changing destinations. They might block your cards if they see movements in a different location. You should also check if you will be able to use your cards abroad and what the fees will be when you do that, for payments and for ATM withdrawals.
It would be good if you can set up a virtual bank account that comes with a VISA or MasterCard that you can use abroad without additional fees. The most well-known ones are Wise (previously Transferwise) and Revolut. They can be linked to your existing bank accounts from your local bank. They work like PayPal in terms of transferring the money to your friends or family, or receiving from people who you did some projects for, for example. That way you can receive the money on your Wise account and use it with the debit card you can order from them. It can sometimes take up to 2 weeks before the card arrives so get it before you leave.
Check if you will be able to use these options and apps in your destination. For example, in Cuba you can’t use the PayPal app, it is banned by the national authorities so you might want to have an option that works. Check it all on time.
Check if the internet connection is stable and secure, fast enough for you. Some national authorities have bans or restrictions – so you might want to upgrade your options with a VPN network. For example, in case you need to use a banned app or site for your work. Some opt for a portable Wi-Fi or Hotspot device to make your Internet connection stronger and faster; you can check your options with other nomads in the FB groups.
Make sure you bring all the documents you need, I mentioned that in the last blog post, and you can also make a list of things you want to pack to make sure you have everything you need.
It is important to know yourself and your needs so you make sure you take care of that. Sometimes it happens that we romanticize the idea of travel. We imagine ourselves being a completely different person once we get somewhere and thinking how suddenly our habits will change. Every morning will start with a healthy breakfast, we’ll do yoga, read a new book every week, start wearing different kind of clothes, so we might pack in accordance to the romanticized idea but in reality it is not that easy.
You will definitely experience different things. As a result you will change as a person and adopt some new habits but that will not happen overnight. If you will also be working at the same time, you might not really have time to create a new version of yourself as soon as you land. So pack at least 50% of your bag for the person you are right now, your future self will be grateful to you for that!
That’s enough information for one blogpost, join us for the final post next week. We hope you find this all useful when becoming a new digital nomad. If you have any questions, hit us up on Facebook or Instagram and you can always reach out to me directly as well.
by Antonija Bosanac
Antonija was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Now a restless traveller gone digital nomad in 2019, she’s passionate about building communities, volunteer work, education and human & civil rights. Currently working as a coach in the field of interpersonal communication and self development, she’s promoting change through individual work with clients; as well as being en route to getting a degree in psychotherapy. For her current location, check her Instagram profile.