My 5 Essential Items as a Digital Nomad on Remote Year

Jono Lee
Jono Lee
Dec 2, 2016 · 8 min read

“You want to increase the size of the pockets? To fit your new phone…?”

My tailor looked at me quizzically. He clearly thought this was a weird request despite the fact we see each other so often I’ve become his digitally savvy pseudo nephew that helps manage his Yelp. But no matter: I wasn’t going to allow a few shallow front pockets on my two favorite jeans (if you’re wondering: an A.P.C. and Acne) to ruin the experience of my new, big-screened iPhone 6S Plus.

I mention this story not to imply that I use tailors as father figures, but to convey the extent of my obsession over products and having the “best” experience. I probably spend too much time in this area than I care to admit, but it’s not exactly the hippest answer when people ask me “so what do you do for fun?”

Note: There’s a common saying that millennials value “experiences over things” — but sometimes maximizing the value of the experience is dependent on having the right product with you.

These are not the actual five. It just looks cool.

When I decided to do Remote Year, I had about 3 months to research what to bring. It was an interesting task to find products that fit a few criteria:

  1. High quality and durable: The worst thing that can happen when traveling is for your belongings to break, especially when it’s a product you use often (and what isn’t when living out of a suitcase?). Another reason this is critical is that it’s hard to guarantee you’ll be somewhere with stores that can repair or have similar items in stock. In fact, in my experience this year, most countries don’t have products that are anywhere close to the quality and variety you find in the US.
  2. Travel sized: We don’t have much luggage space, and in general the less you have the better when traveling. For me, I traveled with a 33L backpack and one piece of checked luggage (that on average weighs about 22 to 24kg) for an entire year.
  3. Multipurpose: The best products combined multiple functionalities or simplified some part in my life.

10 months, 50,000 miles, and 20 countries later… some worked out and some didn’t. Below are 5 products that did. I’ve used them consistently and happily recommend them.

1. External battery charger with built in cable

An external battery (or power bank) is probably my #1 recommendation while traveling in general. However, most people don’t realize that many models now have a lightning or micro USB cable built in so you don’t need to bring a separate cable. I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but no one wants to deal with extra cables if they don’t have to.

The model I bought above can be found . I previously had a different model that was smaller, but it died after a few months (annoying af). Now I try to look for certified products as one way to ensure quality, at least when it comes to Apple accessories.

2. Wool&Prince merino wool shirt

Merino wool is a dream material: wrinkle resistant, antibacterial, odor resistant, and more durable compared to cotton. You rarely have to wash it, which might sound disgusting but laundry is the last thing you want to do while traveling.

I own a few merino wool products, but my most prized one of all is . It has all the good looks of a typical collared shirt without any of the annoying drawbacks. I pack it however the hell I want and it comes out looking good and I basically never wash it (don’t tell the ladies 😉) (woops).

The downside is it’s definitely on the expensive side ($128) relative to your typical J.Crew shirt. If you use any item enough though it’s worth it, and when you own so little while traveling that’s not hard to do. I also in general believe in owning a few high quality items over a bunch of mediocre ones.

3. SPIbelt running belt

This may lead you to think I run a lot. That would be false. I do run, but not a lot.

Outside of being used for running, this item is more of a discreet new age fanny pack I use in potentially risky situations like music festivals or touristy areas with large crowds where there’s a high chance of being pick pocketed. By high chance, I mean I’ve seen it happen time and again: at almost every single music festival or large event we’ve attended this year a few people have had their phones stolen (especially in South America).

It hides easily underneath clothes and comfortably fits a phone and wallet. I also attach a small carabiner to the clasp so that no one can unclasp it without me knowing.

While there are many options these days, was one of the originals and I’ve been happy with the quality of it.

Mr. Stock Photo: Why hello Mr. Pickpocket, you may think my phone and wallet and phone are in my pockets but little did you know fanny packs are still a thing

4. Packable backpack and duffel bags

Having the right combo of bags for every travel scenario is like a puzzle. Yeah, I’m going to travel between continents with my big 35L backpack and big checked luggage, but I definitely don’t want to use those for a daily cafe commute or short weekend trips.

That’s where I’ve become enamored with packable bags. They’re not very stylish. In fact, most of them are fucking ugly and scream camping or backpacking, which is not the vibe I want give off. However, the practicality of them can’t be beat. They stuff anywhere and the good ones are made from high quality nylon that can take quite a beating (although these thin bags do need to be replaced consistently when used heavily).

The first packable bag I have is this . I use it multiple times per week to commute to cafes or coworking spaces and am overall happy with it. It’s super light, packs down small, has enough pockets to be flexible for bringing whatever you need that day, and has a plain exterior. I do have to note two downsides: the shape is a bit ugly and droopy but that’s what you get with a structure-less packable bag and and it doesn’t have much padding for a computer.

It seems like Tortuga is no longer selling it on their website, so I’ll have to assume they’ll be releasing a better v2 (which would be awesome and I have many ideas for so Tortuga please talk to me).

The second is this . It’s a simple, light bag that does its job well with one nice additional touch: the main zipper is lockable. Eagle Creek overall is a great brand: high quality and low key designs. I have a few items from them now.

5. Reinforced Lightning cables

How many of your Lightning cables look like this? Frayed, discolored, and sad? Like how you feel after you’ve trekked 20 minutes to Chipotle only to find out they’ve run out of guacamole? Seriously? No guacamole?! Yes. I know it’s $2 extra.

Anyway, when you’re a digital nomad dependent on your devices, this is a common sight due to high usage. Instead of continually buying new standard Lightning cables, it’s better to invest in a reinforced version like the . It’s rated for 6X more bends and after using mine for a few months now, I could see it lasting for years.

Honorable Mentions

Packing cubes

I was skeptical of packing cubes at first, but they really do make packing more organized and it also helps you compact your clothes better. Your inner OCD will thank you.

GoToob travel tubes

When I first bought these years ago, I kind of hated myself for how much I liked them. Travel tubes?! Who the fuck likes travel tubes so much?

However, I have to admit the details all add up: the quality is top notch, the no drip valve makes dispensing shampoo more satisfying than it should be, and the suction cup is a nice touch too. I’ve tried a few of the competitors that have popped up but none have been as good.

UE ROLL bluetooth speaker

UE, a division of Logitech, pumps out some of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market. They’re a bit more expensive, but the sound is amazing, the quality and durability is great, and the designs are sleek. I have the ROLL which is a bit more rugged (I’ve strewn it across many beaches), but many of my friends in Remote Year have the BOOM model and love it as well.

Marmot Precip jacket

I’ve worn this jacket across the world and it’s probably my most versatile piece. It’s extremely well made, packable, easily layered, can be worn both casually and in outdoor situations, and has a lot of other small details like arm vents that make you wonder how it’s only $70.

Plus, if you get the black it doesn’t look too far off from a tech fabric jacket from Acronym or Y-3 so you could probably pull off a bootleg Goth Ninja streetwear outfit if you wanted to. #hypebeast

If you enjoyed this post, check out my new site Wanderprep: It’s filled with similar travel pro tips on the best gear, apps, and gotchas… but more. Like a lot more. Like so many your brain will explode. Okay actually not that many. You get the idea.

Go Remote

Musings from the the global Remote Year community and beyond. Inspiration and resources for location-independent professionals.

Jono Lee

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Jono Lee

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Go Remote

Go Remote

Musings from the the global Remote Year community and beyond. Inspiration and resources for location-independent professionals.

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