How to Pack Light for Work and Adventure Travel

I like to think of every trip as the start of a new adventure into the wild. Everything you need to travel with you is already inside – what you take physically should facilitate your journey and not drag you down.

Below are the packing guidelines I have refined over the last decade of world travel and one year as working nomad. This guide covers my general take on traveling light – but can also be used for carry-on only travel (what I currently do). I hope it offers you some insight as you develop, and refine your own travel kit.

Pack light and travel far ~

Traveling light in Serbia's mountains

Establishing Your Needs

Packing seems simple enough, you pick what you need and throw it in a bag. Only we find ourselves torn between what we really need and what we want to take… which might be just about everything in our closet.

I knew at the start of my journey that I wanted items that fit my lifestyle of being a Digital Nomad and an Outdoor Adventurer. I found electronics and gear that would ensure I was productive, efficient and organized. On the adventure side, I needed clothing and gear that would be casual enough or daily (city) use but also enable me to go be active in the outdoors.

To satiate my personal style, I found gear that would look fashionable and functioned well. I also chose items that are sustainable and reduce excess consumption on my part, particularly toiletries.

Georgian church mural
Keep the chain mail and bathrobes at home 😉

Making the Cut

With every item I add to my pack, I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is it ultralight and compact?
  • Is it versatile or dual purpose?
  • Will it maximize workflow?
  • Will I use it?

If the answer is no, then I look for something that does fit each criteria.

A good example of this is Patagonia’s Houdini Jacket. At 6oz, it weighs a tad more than a phone and serves as a light rain jacket, a wind breaker and sunblock. I use it for bike rides, trail runs, chilly airplanes, and windy mountains. The form-fitting cut means I can wear it up for formal occasions, and the parachute like material equates to extensively outdoor wear and tear.

Ultralight backpacking with the Gorilla 40L in the Annapurna

Clothing

I’m a big fan of Prana, IceBreakers, Uniqlo and Patagonia for my clothes selection. These companies offer technical clothing that works well for a lifestyle traveler and look good enough for casual business needs. The variety in these brands allows you to find very technical outdoor gear but also lifestyle clothing that make use of their R&D materials for the outdoors.

Shirts – look for polyester/cotton blends. These work well as decent activewear, are perfect for casual daily wear. Merino wool is also great to have a bit more insulation and is perfect against body odor (the wool fibers don’t allow bacteria to grow and get smelly).

Shorts & Pants – look for durable stretch blends (checkout Prana’s Zion collection) which are great for daily use, but also but durable and comfortable enough for bushwhacking, rock climbing, and yoga. I keep a pair of cuffed yoga pants in my pack, it breathes well in hot humid SE Asia climates and provided enough active insulation for hiking in the Himalayas.

Underwear – I pack 4 pairs, one cotton and 3 polyester/cotton blends. Check out Uniqlo’s Airism collection for a comfortable selection of technical underwear that are anti-bacterial, antifungal and anti-odor backed by one of Japan’s biggest billionaires.

Wind & Rain – a light wind jacket like the Houdini Jacket works well for light rain. I pair this with a trekking umbrella to keep completely dry downpours. I find this more effective than a rain jacket for being sweat-free and works equally well against the sun (umbra in Latin means shadow).

Feet– I roam with a pair of Bedrock Sandals, honestly my favorite investment by far. These have lasted me through 250km of trekking in the Himalayas and work equally well fording rivers and roaming castles. Train your feet to be strong and keep the bulky hiking shoes at home (will touch base on minimal footwear in the future). If you need a pair of closed toe shoes, I’d recommend something simple like a pair of Vans / Toms.

Cold Weather – good enough for snow with a cup of tea: down jacket, a beanie and a single pair of wool socks.

Four seasons digital nomad clothing wardrobe

Electronics

To run my business, I need just an iPhone and my MacBook. With a careful selection of apps, this setup is Zaq HQ for both my business and passion pursuits.

Laptop – I do all my work an old 2010 Macbook. I’d recommend upgrading to a Chromebook or MacBook Air for a lighter load.

Smartphone – just upgrade to a iPhone 7 plus. I find 80% of work can be done from my phone and this will keep me from getting tunnel visioned on the laptop. Finding a slew of good apps (hope to cover this soon) and turning off all but the most necessary notifications is critical to not abusing your smartphone and working on-the-go ALL the time.

Working remotely from Istanbul Airport, Turkey
Working in Istanbul

eReader – love the Kindle Paperwhite for reading. I use to travel with a stash of books and would always end up not finishing them right away, and lugging around lots of extra weight. With the Kindle I keep my library growing but don’t add any bulk.

External HD – these are getting smaller by the day. You can find a 128gb Flash-based hard drive for the size of a quarter. Sell your big external hard drive and go small. Backing up to cloud is also a good alternative or backup option.

Universal Converter – necessary for electronics. Get one with 2 USB plus and you can cut out carrying USB wall plugs for each of your devices.

Earphone w/ Mic – essential for music, movies, podcasts and making calls.

Earplugs – must have for flights, buses and the sound sleeping when it gets loud. Look for silicon plugs, they are much more comfortable and durable for extended use than foam plugs.

Toiletries

Opt for solid cosmetics and 100mL containers that are refillable. You can always pick up a larger container of anything at your destination.

Soap – I prefer bar soap in a tin can which seems to last forever – the trick is to keep it out of the shower! Some airports may count this against the 100mL liquid rule, but in practice, I have never had a problem with this at the airport.

Shampoo & Conditioner – I rinse and massage my scalp regularly and find this sufficient enough to use shampoo 1-2 times week. I usually use shea butter or coconut oil as the conditioner during showering and rinse off before stepping out. This keeps my toiletries to a minimal and I also know exactly what I’m putting in my hair.

Toothpaste & Toothbrush – I like Toms and Himalayan

Sunscreen – opt for organic sunscreen with Titanium or Zinc

Contact Solution – I hate buying small bottles because they are used up quickly. I found that most contact solution bottles can be opened easily with a coin and willalloww you to refill from a larger contact solution bottle.

Shaver – I use a Norelco beard trimmer, one charge keeps for 60 days, and the adjustable gauge works for long and short facial hair

First Aid – I found out the hard way in Thailand what humid air can do to an untreated infection in a matter of hours. Here’s what I keep around: betadine, few band-aid, cloth tape and wet wipes.

Lifestyle

Traveling is about opening yourself up to new possibilities and passions. I’ve made it a requirement to pack 1-2 items that support my personal growth. Whether it’s a drawing pad, snorkeling mask or a hula hoop – finding something outside of work/travel that keeps you growing and inspired. This will allow you to enrich your nomadic experience, and connect with new people with similar passions.

Here’s what I have currently:

Yoga Mat – having an instant space to roll out for creative, spiritual or movement based practices incredible. Whether it’s a short meditation or a light brainstorming session, my mat enables me to keep a portable personal space to listen within and figure out my next step.
Ukelele – this is new for me. I’m learning to play and absorb music. It’s challenging, playful and fun and pretty portable.

Sunset from Lake Toba in Sumatra
Sunset Jam in Sumatra

Organization

I’m a recent convert to pack organization – knowing where all your things are saves a lot of time and mental energy over the long haul. Just like a tool chest contains all the essential tools for a carpenter, I know all my toiletries, travel docs and electronic gear live in their respective bags.

Main Pack – featherweight packs like Gossamer Gear’s Gorilla 40 (1kg) are better suited for adventure. If you prefer a front-loading (suitcase style) packs with easier organization, Gregory’s Savant Pack (1.4 kg) and Minaal’s Carry-on (1.4kg) are both great options.

Daily Pack – cycling/commuter backpacks are great for daily use – they’re light, durable and are suited for carrying electronics. Checkout Timbuk2’s Raider Bike Pack.

Mesh Bags – great for toiletries, first aid and keeping your travel docs in one place
Compression Bags / Packing Cubes – one or two will be plenty. Great for keeping your dirty clothes and smaller or compressible items in check (down jacket, socks, underwear)

Notepad / Ideas – I keep a thin notepad/pocket notebook around for jotting down ideas and journaling. The important ones get digitalized into Evernote.

Pouches and packing for quick gear organization

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