How to build the ultimate workspace as a digital nomad

Alex Goldman
Nov 18 · 4 min read

I absolutely love to travel. Anyone that knows me will confirm that I can’t seem to stay in one place for more than a month at a time. Luckily enough, my first full-time job required me to travel every week. While constant work travel isn’t ideal for everyone, it let me scratch my perpetual itch to explore while starting my career in software development.

In the summer of 2018, I got a job at Ro. For the first time in ~4 years, I had to actually stay put in one city to collaborate with my small (but mighty) team. As I’m sure many of you can attest, a deep love of travel and desk job don’t always mix well. Then, the pandemic happened.

While the pandemic has been overwhelmingly challenging, one of the positive outcomes (in my opinion) was how it allowed employees to identify what type of workplace format worked best for them to optimize their productivity. For some people, being productive may mean taking off portions of the “traditional” 9-to-5 work day to support their families or working in a quiet space away to promote deep thought and focus. For me, it meant finding a healthy balance between my responsibilities at work and spending time with my loved ones across the country and doing plenty of outdoor activities to support my mental health.

I embraced the life of a digital nomad and felt more fulfilled bopping around from city to city, but realized that I lost one of the biggest benefits of staying in one place–having a personalized and efficient workspace to optimize productivity.

This, my friends, is why I’m writing this piece. After a year and a half of “setup hacking”, I have developed a fully functional and nomad-friendly work setup. To top it off, all of it fits within an everyday backpack (!!). I was grateful that Ro had benefits in place to support my building out of an effective work from home set-up with stipends for remote work and wellbeing.

Here are the things that I’ve identified as key components to work-from-home success while traveling:

  1. Portable monitor. If you are a developer, product manager, designer, or even in finance, I guarantee that you have a disproportionate amount of love for your second monitor. Whether you’re reviewing intricate designs for a feature update, trying to debug some code, or thinking through an end-to-end user journey, having some extra screen real estate makes these tasks SO much easier. That being said, I’m sure the idea of traveling with your monitor makes you cringe. Fear not! There are slim, portable monitors available that are a similar size to your laptop and have decent screen resolution, to boot.
  2. Stands to help you MacGyver your screens. One of the toughest things about working on the go is that you likely won’t have an adjustable desk or chair. After working at a variety of janky kitchen tables, I came to realize that this caused tons of neck and shoulder strain and was terrible for my posture. To make your on-the-go work setup as ergonomically friendly as possible, you need to find creative ways to adjust your laptop/monitor so that they’re in your eyeline. I use a collapsible stand that elevates my laptop to my desired height/angle and align that with a stand that props up my portable monitor. I place the portable monitor + stand on top of whatever books I’m reading while I travel for more customized height 🙂. As an added bonus, both of these stands collapse to a super small size when not in use, making them perfect for a mobile working station.
  3. Noise cancelling headphones for golden silence. I will inevitably get some heat about this from audiophiles in my life, but there are plenty of decent noise cancelling headphones out there that won’t break the bank. A set of good headphones (over-the-ear headphones, ideally) do an amazing job at filtering out chattering family members, loud airplane engines, or coffee shop noise so that you can focus on work with minimal distractions. If you’re tight on space, there are plenty of noise cancelling earbuds that will take up less room in your bag and still do the job, though they may cost a bit more 😬.
  4. Cords, cords, and more cords. Whether you’re a digital nomad or just taking a few days to work remotely on a trip, a set of spare adaptors and cords can be a lifesaver. I’ve even connected my laptop to a hotel’s big screen TV and used that as a second monitor…the world is your oyster with extra cords! I always try to travel with an adaptor, HDMI <> USB-C cord and a standard HDMI cable, a few lightning cables and micro-USB cables to charge your phone, headphones, e-reader, etc., a “quick charge” charging blocks and/or a portable charger for digital accessories (phone, headphones, etc.), and an extra laptop charger. To prevent a tangled mess in your bag, it’s always good to use an organizer.
  5. Don’t forget the accessories! While the four items above should cover most of your work needs, having a portable trackpad (or mouse) and portable keyboard gives you even more flexibility to customize your workspace. When you’re reliant on your laptop for typing and clicking, you have less control over the location of your screen, which will likely result in you sitting with a hunched gremlin position at your workspace instead of something more relaxed and ergonomically friendly.