Packing as a Digital Nomad: What to Pack to Travel

A lot of people have asked me for packing tips since I've been traveling now for almost 10 years straight and have lived mainly out of my suitcase or backpack for most of it. Now that I've been a digital nomad for the past 4 years my needs have changed as I'm now living and working out of my bag and not just traveling to sightsee. This post has been updated for 2018 with some new tips and tricks that I've picked up along the way.

In this post, I'm going to share how my packing has changed and evolved over the years, the things I realized I didn't need, and what is currently in my bag now. I'm also going to share my thoughts on being a minimalist when it comes to travel and how minimalism has made my life a million times easier when it comes to travel and carrying around everything I own. It's crazy to think that in a former life, living in Los Angeles in a 3 bedroom house, I had a full kitchen, 2 cars, a house full of furniture, and now I live out of a 80L bag full time. Here's what's in it and how it's changed over the years.

2008 - First Trip to Thailand

I wish I had a video of what I brought with me to Thailand that first trip, but whatever it was, it was too big. It was whatever the maximum allowance was for the airline, and in fact, I think I had actually packed two suitcases as I was allowed to check in both without an additional charge. Things that I wish I never brought with me include, 7-10 hardcover books, a bunch of clothes and shoes that I'd never wear as I ended up buying all new shorts and t-shirts there anyways, and some other things I don't remember.

The biggest lesson learned was, just because the airline allows you to check it in, don't feel like you need to pack the maximum weight allowance. Even if you are going to bring a giant suitcase, leave half of it empty as you're bound to buy things while you're there.

2010 Packing for Muay Thai and Scuba Diving

It's funny how excited I was about the Kindle first coming out and how I didn't have to to carry physical books with me. It's also crazy that back then we had to have a separate Mp3 player that wasn't built into our phones. It's also crazy that my passport was completely new and empty back then and now it's almost completely full. I'm also so glad I no longer have to travel with two check in luggages and full sets of scuba gear including wetsuits and boxing gloves. It's also crazy that back in 2010 you couldn't buy protein anywhere in Thailand, and now it's all over. It's almost amazing how much better synthetic shirts have gotten since then. They used feel terrible compared to the quality now.

I'm still a fan of minimalist shoes but no longer wear five fingers as they are annoying to wear and now wear Luna Mono sandals instead.

2012 - Muay Thai and Travel Tips

This is when I was super into nutrition and supplements as I was training Muay Thai and competing full time. It's funny to look back and see how much food, supplements and snacks I had to bring with me as most of it wasn't available in Thailand back in 2012. But things like dark chocolate are now easy to find everywhere. 

My favorite thing about this video is how much more comfortable and myself I seem on camera compared to the years before. 

2013 - Packing as a Digital Nomad

It's nice to see my first year traveling to Thailand after I started actually working online and made enough money to upgrade from my old 15" Windows Laptop to a 2013 Macbook Air. The audio quality of the video was terrible the first few minutes when I was at the the airport, but then it got good when I arrived in my hotel room. I was still taking a lot of vitamins then, but have since stopped taking both vitamin c and the multi-vitamins.

It was nice to rewatch this video and see how much things had started to change for me. It's also funny that I genuinely thought that 2013 was going to be my last trip out to Thailand. =)

2014:  Bulletproof Coffee

This was the year I was in the best shape of my life, or at least the leanest. Part of it was bringing with me 6 bottles of MCT oil and really dedicating to eating super healthy, just having bulletproof coffee for breakfast, and working out a ton. 

2017: Summer in Europe

It's been a pretty epic look back at my life these past 10 years and what I've packed and brought along with me as well as how my priorities have changed. The biggest change would be the fact that I just have a lot less stuff now in general. Since I'm no longer training Muay Thai or Scuba Diving professionally, I no longer have to carry equipment with me. I've also stopped carrying a BJJ Gi as even though I still do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu decently often in certain places such as here in Ukraine, I've just been renting or borrowing Gi's so I don't have to travel with one. In Thailand, I bought a Gi for a bit less than $100 and donated it to the gym to let others borrow it when I'm away.

It's also the first year I've changed my luggage from a backpack to a Northface rolling duffel which I talked about why in Episode 171 of Travel Like a Boss so listen to that episode of the podcast if you want to know more about my thoughts on minimalist, packing, and to hear my travel tips which include using packing cubes.

It's now 2018 and I'm back in Europe. The longing for a home base and the comforts of everyday living have weighed down my luggage and I now have both the Northface duffle filled to 23kg (50lbs) that I check in and a medium sized backpack that I fill with clothes along with my day pack that I carry on. I've realized that having two carry ons are permitted, but it's honestly making me hate moving. The hack i've found is keeping a home base in a city and leaving my main luggage at a hostel by staying there a night or two, then booking another night or two on the way back. For example, I did this is Athens, Greece when I left my luggage in their storage and went down to the island of Santorini for a week. I'm now doing it again in Odessa, Ukraine while I go to Italy and Spain for a few weeks, on my 2018 Summer Trip. This time I'm asking my Airbnb host who i'm staying with for a month now, and 3 weeks when I get back to keep it for me.

Watch the video below and listen to the podcast for the full details of what's in my suitcase. The only thing that has been added is a bit more clothes, and an SNES Classic. =)

2018: Carry On Only

My goal for this year is to travel with carry on only luggage. As airlines get cheaper and cheaper by cutting costs and making things like check in luggage more expensive, it just makes sense to travel carry on only. Especially when you factor in the headaches of actually checking in luggage and the amount of time you waste waiting around for it afterwards, and how much headache it is lugging around so much stuff, you realize that the minimalist travelers have it right.

So this year, I've left my big Northface Roller duffel behind in Chiang Mai and started experimenting with different types of carry on luggage designed for digital nomads and minimalist packers. And now I'm testing the Eagle Creek 60L Duffel as my carry on only luggage.

 I also tried out the Hypath 2 in 1 backpack/roller luggage, which is similar to the Tortuga or Minaal backpacks but comes with rollers. Check out the video below for details.

The Wrap Up

It was actually pretty fun looking back on the past 10 years and going through old videos to see how much my priorities have changed. I've realized that my latest video is actually a lot less exciting than my previous ones as it's so much more basic. Part of it was just figuring out what I actually needed and how little that actually is, but the other part is definitely figuring out the items that are most efficient and leaving the ones that aren't behind.

Now a days I generally have better quality stuff, but a lot less of it. If I had to break it down, my travel checklist would be as follows.

My Current Packing List:

1x Backpack or Rolling Duffel: 75L-80L
1x Day Backpack 25L Like my Pacsafe
5x Various Sized Packing Cubes
1x Laundry Bag

1x Rain coat
1x Hoodie/Jumper
1x Buff Scarf
1x Running Hat 
1x UV Sunglasses

5x Quick Dry T-shirts
1x Long Sleeve T-Shirt
3x Quick dry Shorts (or less if you're not somewhere hot)
4x Exofficio Boxers
7x Pairs of ankle socks

1x All Purpose Shoes (my current favorites)
1x Luna Sandals

1x Laptop (13" Macbook Air or Chromebook)
1x Mini-Display to HDMI cable (connects the macbook to TVs)
1x USB Microphone (for videos and podcasts)
1x Smartphone (iPhone 7Plus)
1x Roost Laptop Stand
1x Wireless Keyboard/Mouse
1x Bluetooth Noise-Canceling Headphones (Bose QC35)

1x ZMA 180caps
1x Liquid Vitamin D/K2

1x Toiletries Bag, Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss, etc.

And that's it for now! I'll update this list and this post as I think of more things, but just take a listen to Travel Like a Boss Episode 171 if you haven't already as I talk a lot about how becoming a minimalist has helped me travel more, with less stuff, and become happier along the way.

Let me know your packing list and your favorite things you've brought with you!

2019 Update:

As of 2019, I've been traveling carry on only and love it! It took a while to get to this point, and maybe I needed to get comfortable with slowly downsizing as I did on my luggage journey above, but now that I'm carry on only, I love it and would never go back.

Read the post on How I Travel Carry On Only here.

Read the Carry On Only Post

Warm Regards and Happy Travels!

Johnny FD

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  1. Great post.

    Quick question... so how do you order these from Thailand (or Ukraine)? Do you just stock up when you're in the States or is there a way to get these sent from Amazon to Thailand without breaking the bank?

    1. Hey glad you enjoyed the post. I normally stock on on things when I'm back in the U.S. which is good as it forces me to really think about what I actually need and not buy too much 11 months of the year. =)

      There's Amazon in Europe, but not Asia currently.

    2. The other option, which I do, is to buy from Amazon, ship it to a relative or friend in the US, and once you have 2-4 items at least, have it all put into a box (prolly one of the Amazon boxes from before. Sure, it does add to the costs, but it's the price you pay to have the items to you that wouldn't be available otherwise. Having said that, Amazon now seems to ship some items to Thailand, and there's local options such as Lazada or Aliexpress.

  2. REALLY good stuff Johnny. I pack like a hermit. Or Buddhist monk, being Thai appropriate :) My first trip to Bali 6 years ago I brought a storage station masked as a BIG suitcase. Now my suitcase is a wee more than a carry on.

    I was in CM last March-May and missed ya. May be back this Feb-April so if you are there we definitely gotta meet up.

    1. Hey thanks RB, glad you liked the post. And really glad you downsided your giant suitcase into something small. I'll be in CM all of January. Nomad Summit is Jan 20th! Come by!

  3. Very entertaining to see these old videos :D

    1. Haha I thought so as well when I posted and rewatched them!

  4. Nice post, it's awesome that you've been documenting your packing for so long to really see the evolution. I'm surprised that the items on your list fill the whole 60L duffel + 25L daypack though. Do they, or do you have a bit of extra room?
    No matter how ruthless I am with my toiletries bag, it practically takes up more room than my clothes ... but I've been hesitant to go up from my current 40L that can pass as a carry-on, so I wear lots of clothes on travel days : P

    1. Hey Veadra, I just double checked and it turns out my duffle is actually 80L, I updated the post. It's normally close to 95% full and I almost always end up throwing things away whenever I move countries. My day pack I try to keep at 75% full just so it's easier to carry.

      As for toiletries, I try to buy and leave behind most things like shampoo, soap, etc when I travel so free up room.

  5. I love packing cubes too! I am not sure why I only got them last year with as much as I travel.

    1. I love mine too. It's the one thing I wish I would have heard about sooner.

  6. I laughed at your comment about backpacks vs your change to rolling duffels. I personally have a Minaal which is a backpack but without the garrid colors or the straps and could pass for a carry on. I'm past my 20's as well and backpacks just look out of place for myself now. Plus I usually travel 'point to point', finding a home base right away from which to work from, and do the events around out from there.

    Also, you mentioned you rolled your duffel in Komodo, I gotta call you out on that, why on earth did you take it out of the boat to Komodo? or, even why bring it on the boat with you?:) - Was in CM for 2 weeks for Muay Thai, but been thinking about Europe as well.

    1. Hey Rio, I like the Minaal as a carryon, but I actually like checking in a bag and not limiting myself to just the backpack as I only go home maybe once a year now a days. For Komodo, I stayed 5 nights at a small scuba diving resort there so I had to bring my gear. =) Here's the info:

      Have fun in Europe if you go! I'm sure you enjoyed CM.

  7. Hey Johnny, what do you do about laundry with so few clothes while traveling? Do you just dedicate one afternoon at a local laundromat?

  8. Also, do you carry a camera? If so, which kind? I’m in the market and trying to learn what’s good for traveling.

    1. Hey Nathan, yup, it's in my gear list on the left here:

      I'm also writing up a blog post about travel photography and cameras soon. =)


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