The concept of work has undergone a massive paradigm shift in the last decade or so. People used to consider work a fixed place – somewhere you would commute to and spend eight hours tucked away at a desk. But that all changed when an increasing number of workplaces permitted employees – both freelance and salaried – to work online.
Suddenly, the “workplace” was a nebulous term. It no longer referred to a physical space; instead, it was wherever you could catch a WIFI signal. And creative people seized on the opportunity to take their work with them on the road.
The first intrepid adherents to this work-anywhere-in-the-world lifestyle were branded with the term "digital nomad," a term we still use today. They sought to take advantage of the relatively low cost of living elsewhere in the world to fund a lifestyle that's part sedentary, part nomadic, and 100% wanderlust-satisfying.
In the wake of the global pandemic, we suspect that digital nomadism will become even more popular. An increasing number of employees have acclimated to working remotely, and, after a couple of years spent in relative domesticity, they probably want to stretch their legs and see the world.
So, for all the “digital-nomad-curious” people out there, we have compiled a list of everything you need for a portable office – from gadgets and creature comforts to Unbound Merino clothing. This list should function both as a checklist for soon-to-be digital nomads and a shopping list for caring loved ones looking to buy the perfect present for the nomad in their life.
In this section, we’ll cover connectivity: Essentially, what you need to power up your work computer and stay connected to the internet. (In the section below titled “Workplace Tools,” we’ll offer a broader list of recommendations for workplace devices).
Where appropriate, we'll offer recommendations for specific products that we like. But mostly, these are general suggestions for items that we (and many others in the digital nomad community) find helpful on the road.
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Is a laptop too obvious a requirement to include on this list? Perhaps. But we wanted to underscore the importance of a reliable, broadly functional laptop. If you're considering globetrotting and working, you need a machine that's light enough to cart around but powerful enough to complete your daily tasks. The MacBook Pro and Air are popular with digital nomads (many of whom work in creative design fields), as are the Dell XPS 13, Asus ZenBook and Lenovo ThinkPad.
Whichever laptop you choose, you'll want to protect it with a sleeve. Find a sleeve made of polyurethane, neoprene or water-resistant polyester. The last thing you want is to get caught in a Chiang Mai rainstorm with nothing to shelter your livelihood.
As you work from coffee shops or city hot spots, you may encounter one of two issues: distant power outlets or no outlets at all.
To tackle the former issue, consider packing long USB charging cables. They are relatively inexpensive (between 15 and 35 dollars) and rescue you when the only seat left at a coffee shop is seven feet from the nearest outlet.
For a universal solution you can use regardless of where/if outlets are present, consider a portable charger. The Anker PowerCore is an excellent choice here, though the ChargeTech also gets good reviews.
Most nomads like to move across national lines in a single stint abroad (it’s one of the perks of nomadism!). But sockets vary from country to country, so it’s wise to bring a universal adapter. For instance, Thailand exclusively uses the Type O socket, whereas neighbouring Malaysia uses Type G. You might come across Type E in Czechia and Type F in neighbouring Hungary.
Most universal travel adapters do the trick, but we like the Epicka; it’s inexpensive, works in over 150 countries, and fits neatly in a backpack side pouch.
There’s some debate in the digital nomad community. Do you spring for a Google Fi (about $10 a gigabyte) and tether your phone when you can't catch any WIFi? Or do you just spring for a local internet connection/data plan/SIM?
Your answer will depend on a few factors: How often are you travelling across national lines, how often do you tether your phone for internet connection, and how often do you use your phone for other purposes?
The best thing about a portable office is that you get to set the dress code. While video conferences may mandate a certain level of put-togetherness, the rest of the time, you can build your wardrobe around comfort, wearability and casual sophistication.
In this section, you will notice a lot of merino wool. We didn’t just include these items because we’re a merino wool clothing company. We did so because merino remains the gold standard clothing among digital nomads, prized for its versatility and repeat wearability.
Whether you’re currently a digital nomad, looking to become a digital nomad, or are crossing off some last-minute holiday gifts for the traveller in your life, check out the following clothing items for your portable workplace.
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Your base layer does a lot of heavy lifting. It shields you from cold weather. It keeps you breezy in warm weather. And – as the layer closest to your body – it dictates whether you spend the day comfortable or uneasy.
Merino wool is the perfect base layer because it’s insulating, breathable and sweat-wicking, making it ideal for a range of climates. Because of its ultrafine fibres, merino wool is incredibly soft and comfy. And since merino wool is antibacterial, you don’t have to worry about frequently washing your base layer; it stays fresh for days, even weeks on end.
For brevity’s sake, let’s group bottoms and sweaters into a single “middle layer” category.
For bottoms, pack whatever you feel most comfortable in – whether it’s denim jeans, clean-cut chinos or merino sweatpants. No one on Zoom will see the lower half of your body, so you can let your best judgment take the wheel here.
Even if you land somewhere warm, like Southeast Asia or Central America, you may still need a sweater or sweatshirt for cool evenings. We recommend packing one reliable item like our 100% merino wool sweater, which you can dress up or down.
It’s wise to pack at least one buttoned shirt. You may need to hop on meetings or client pitches that call for a modicum of formality, or you may find yourself dining at a fancy restaurant to celebrate landing a new contract.
Again, we are partial to merino wool: despite being formal, a merino button-down is still comfortable and uninhibiting. Our merino wool button down shirt walks a fine line between casual charm and formal sophistication.
With a portable office, your footwear is your main mode of commute. You’d be surprised how much walking you accomplish as a digital nomad.
Still, it’s wise to weigh multiple footwear options against luggage size. If you’re travelling around, you want to keep your bag as compact and manageable as possible. We recommend picking one or two footwear sets appropriate for your destination(s) and lifestyle. This may include a combination of runners, flip flops and boots.
You have a reliable internet connection, a steady power source, and a roster of work outfits as sharp as they are comfortable. With those important elements out of the way, we tackle all the items you might want to make your work on the road easier.
Rounding out our list of must-have items for your portable workplace, here are a few workplace tools and creature comforts.
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As any digital nomad can tell you, noise-cancelling headphones are indispensable. You can’t always rely on fellow patrons of a café or restaurant to keep the noise down (nor should you).
The best you can do is block out the distraction. Shell out for a pricey pair of noise-cancelling headphones (like the incredibly effective Bose QuietComfort) or a relatively affordable pair (like Sennheiser’s HD 450BT).
It sounds simple, but Velcro strips are a wise investment in tidiness. Depending on the amount of tech you're carrying around, the chances are that you will contend with tangled wires at some point. Velcro strips allow you to keep your various cords in neat coils, and, unlike zip ties, they are reusable.
When you work from locations that weren’t purpose-built for work, you end up sacrificing ergonomic comfort most of the time. Dedicated offices usually feature ergonomic chairs, laptop rests and other tools that mitigate the physical stress of sedentary work, but no such amenities exist on the road.
That’s why most digital nomads pack a Roost stand. These foldable, portable stands elevate your laptop, turning any surface into a more ergonomic workspace. Roost is the brand name (generally recognized as the best ergonomic laptop stand), but you can find other laptop stands that do the trick.
While not imperative, a pour-over coffee dripper is a nice thing to have on the road. Collapsible drippers fit neatly in a backpack and allow you to brew a clean cup of coffee wherever you are. If you want to save money on coffee shops, preferring instead to work from Airbnb or guesthouse WIFI, a pour-over dripper is a wise investment.
If you splash yourself with coffee by accident (it happens), check out our quick guide on how to hand wash merino wool!
Especially if you’re used to desktop work, you might feel a sense of whiplash transitioning to a laptop. If that’s the case, consider packing a slim Bluetooth keyboard (you can read IGN’s top travel keyboard picks at the link) and a compact Bluetooth mouse.
Let’s say something unthinkable does happen to your laptop while travelling – it gets stolen or waterlogged, for instance. You should not have to lose valuable work (and potentially employment) because of the mishap.
For their slim size, external hard drives offer major peace of mind. You can find multi-terabyte drives for under $100 these days or flash drives for a fraction of the price. Get in the daily habit of backing up your day’s work, and you can spend the evening carelessly enjoying your destination.
Being a digital nomad isn’t all work and travel. You’ll find yourself enjoying long periods of downtime too. For those restful hours between grinding away at a laptop and catching a train to the next place, invest in a few entertainment subscriptions.
Netflix is never a bad choice. Spotify lets you bliss out to music ad-free. And an audiobook subscription through Kobo or Audible comes in handy during downtime and transit time.
This last entry is geared more toward loved ones shopping for a digital nomad this holiday season. While people are generally wary of giving gift cards to loved ones – perhaps deeming it too impersonal – digital nomads really do enjoy them. Digital nomads have limited storage and transport capacity, so lugging around big gifts can be a challenge. Getting them a gift card is an acknowledgement of their lifestyle.
The gift card can be for just about anything: a local restaurant or grocery store chain, a tech store that ships internationally, or, of course, an online clothing store like Unbound Merino. We offer both physical and digital gift cards in various denominations.
If your 2022 resolutions include seeing the world and building your career, digital nomadism might be right for you. Hopefully, the items above can help you get started making the dream a reality. As with any time we build a list on this blog, we welcome suggestions for any items we might have missed.