10 Things Every Digital Nomad Needs... and 15 They Might Want

By Ryan

Have you ever wanted to work and travel? Obviously, people have been combining the two for a long time. However, the Internet and all the mobile technology available makes it much easier for people to be Digital Nomads.

What is a Digital Nomad?

Digital Nomads are fans of the ultimate in mobility. They take a mobile lifestyle to the maximum, working while traveling long-term, and staying connected to the Internet to complete their web-based work or run a web business.

Why So Many Converts to This Lifestyle?

There are a number of current workplace conditions that might be contributing to the increasing number of Digital Nomads – namely the ability to work from anywhere and the technology to stay connected. Throw in the fact that humans are probably adventurers by nature, so integrating work and travel just suits so many of us.

The point is, people are becoming bored with their complacent lifestyles, and with the widespread availability of the Internet, we’re becoming more consciously aware of other parts of the world. Technology now enables us to satisfy our curiosity, to go and “wander” while maintaining a means to work and pay the bills.

Digital Nomad Toolbox: 10 Gadgets or Technologies or Services You Probably Want

1. GSM cell phone and service. Most of the world use GSM. So if you’re traveling, chances are very good that you’ll need a GSM phone to match the local service. (Of course, if you’re staying longer-term in a country, you might decide to go for a land line. Then again, a VoIP phone and service is another option instead of GSM.)

2. Netbooks/ notebooks/ laptops. It’s obvious these are your most important tools – your means of staying connected and productive. You could occasionally use one of the newest breed of smartphones to run an application or two, but getting a day’s web work done on one seems out of the question – not to mention, probably expensive in terms of data bandwidth costs… and eyestrain. One of the coolest new Netbooks, in my opinion is the Dell Mini (though it’s not without its faults, and isn’t really meant for ultra-high daily production).

3. Webmail. Sure, you’ll have your laptop computer with you when you travel, but there’ll be times you don’t have access to it. If you use a desktop email reader, you’d have to wait until you have your laptop again. With webmail like GMail, you can read your email messages wherever you can find Internet access. E.g., a cell phone with data plan, a friend’s computer, or an Internet cafe.

4. Cloud technology and other computing applications + services.

  1. Access to productivity/ office applications. E.g., Google Docs + Spreadsheets or the equivalent, Calendars/ to-do lists.
  2. Travel planners. Not strictly necessary but certainly helpful. Especially useful is Schmap, which has mobile options.
  3. Supplemental communications. E.g., Chat/IM apps or even micro-messaging with Twitter.
  4. Team management. If you’re both a digital nomad and a webpreneur, it’s possible that you have either colleagues or a team of employees whom you need to communicate with regularly. Or you might need interaction with clients that goes beyond email and voice communications. Team management applications such as Campfire or even a customized install of BuddyPress will be valuable to your remote operations.
  5. Music. Some people just can’t get through a day without music. So having access to the music you like means supplementing your MP3 collection with web services such as iLike, Last.fm and Pandora (though the latter is unfortunately unavailable to users outside of the U.S., at the time of this writing, due to copyright issues).

5. Digital camera. Also strictly a necessity, although few people would travel the world and not take pictures. Sure, you could go for a non-digital camera, but exactly how will you upload your pics to your Flickr account or website in short order? You can use your cell phone for pics, though upload cost of your cellular data plan might get prohibitive, especially in certain regions.

6. Gadget charging devices. Imagine traveling some where with all your tech gear and leaving behind the chargers. Not only not fun, but it might be impossible to get replacements quickly without buying new gadgets.

7. Universal converters. If you’re traveling close to your home country, this might not be a necessity. However if you’re traveling between North America and most of the rest of the world (or vice versa), you will need electrical converters for your gadget chargers.

8. Convenient gadget bag(s). If you’re going to be traveling with a few gadgets, you’re going to need a good bag for your tech, accessories and converters. For those who can afford it, gadget bags are getting increasingly more sophisticated.

9. Online banking. Unless you have a trustworthy friend back home taking care of this for you, you’ll need access to online banking to take care of expenses. Even if you have online banking, it still pays sometimes to have a friend who’s willing to deal with financial emergencies like making sure a check gets cashed properly.

10. WiFi locator services or device/ card. Depending on the duration of each stay, you might need to find WiFi. A service locator website will give you a rough idea, but for accurate sniffing, a WiFi locator device for your laptop will help. If you’re staying long-term, you might be able to subscribe to local paid service. A couple of options are gWiFi and OpenWiFiSpots.

… and 15 You Don’t Always Need But Might Want

1. Online payments processors. E.g., PayPal. This option is a matter of choice, depending on the kind of work you do. If you get paid directly into your bank account, then you don’t need PayPal. If you don’t, then an online payments processor such as PayPal is a necessity while you travel. If you’re in a country where you cannot access PayPal, you might need for a friend back home to transfer money into your bank account for you or use a widely accepted credit card.

2. Money apps: Personal finance, business invoicing applications. While you could use desktop-based money management software, using Web-based versions of this software give you more freedom. If for any reason you don’t have access to your regular laptop, you’ll still be able to access your personal finance records. If you’re not running your own web-based business, you could simply use a web spreadsheet to track finances.

3. Specialized web apps. E.g., web conferencing, remote login (to a PC), file sharing, VoIP.

4. Website or blog or Twitter. Keep your friends and family updated en masse about your travels and daily goings on. Many digital nomads prefer the convenience of Twitter. Not only can you easily post updates via SMS, but Twitter is also maintenance free (no webserver to maintain, no fees to keep up with).

5. GPS device. These will come in handy if you plan to go adventuring while you’re traveling – possibly to do some travel photography or video. There’s also a type of digital adventure game where GPS coordinates are posted on a website and participants make there way to each destination using their GPS device.

6. Video camera. While not strictly necessary if you have a typical digital camera (which often can take a few minutes of video), if you want to do any video blogging, you’ll want a reasonable video camera. Or maybe you want to produce a web video series about your travels and how others can do it too.

7. Extra memory cards, especially for still and video cameras. If you’re using DV tape for video, the alternative is a video capture device for transfer content to your computer.

8. Video editing software. With the cost of producing web video so low compared to even a few years ago, an increasing number of Digital Nomads are producing webisodes for their websites/ blogs. Editing software such as Apple iMovie (Mac) or Windows Moviemaker (PC) or Sony Vegas Pro (PC) becomes a necessity.

9. Cloud storage. Video sharing sites tend to have limits on file size and hence video quality. If you have a business need for high-quality web video (or images or other large files), consider a cloud storage option such as Amazon S3.

10. Photosharing account. For travel photos to share with friends and family, maybe you can’t justify the cost of cloud storage. There are free photo sharing options such as Flickr, which also has premium plans.

11. Additional cellular services. Increase your overall connectivity with some extra cellular provider services.

  1. Global text messaging plan. There are a lot of things you can do with SMS/ text messaging services, including tracking expenses and paying bills.
  2. Cellular data plan. For Internet access via your sexy smartphone.

12. Specialized PCDs. Get even more wired with additional Personal Communication Devices.

  1. iPhone or iPod Touch. Both are WiFi-enabled, so if you use a mobile VoIP service such as Truphone, you have an additional free or low-cost communication channel. An iPhone combined with AIM even lets you send free SMS/ text messages.
  2. NFS-enabled phone. NFS phones use electronic chips similar to RFiD that allows a type of shortwave wireless communication between devices. These phones are being tested mostly in parts of Europe, Korea, Japan and select other places. They allow cell phone users to make payments (public transit, movies, parking) and even download a hotel “key” code.

13. Specialized gear.

  1. Headset. Headsets are great for productivity if you’re on a lot of mobile or VoIP calls, since they allow you to keep working while talking.
  2. Solar cells. If you lose a gadget charger, a portable solar panel is a relatively compact way to be mobile and continue to use your gadget. Solar cells are also available on gadget bags and specialized outerwear.

14. Specialized Outerwear.  For more serious mobility.

  1. Clothing + nomad fashion.
    1. Secret compartments. The more you travel, the more likely you’ll find that it’s sometimes worthwhile being able to hide your gear in your clothing.
    2. Solar cell jackets and vests. If you opt for wearable solar cells, these are especially handy for people out in the field who need to power cameras and other gadgets, while staying hands-free.
  2. Hardshell backpack. Boblbee backpacks have an award-winning hardshell case designed to protect the contents (hint: laptop, gear), with a modular system to add other carrying components. Meanwhile, your back is made comfortable for extended backpack use thanks to the form-fitting, lumbar-supporting padding. (Author’s note: Boblbee Metropolis is the best backpack I’ve ever used, and worth every expensive cent.) Main drawbacks: it’s rigid (i.e., not collapsible when empty) and draws attention.

15. Post office box. If you are planning to return to your home country but have decided to let go of your place of residence, it’s a good idea to have somewhere that mail can be sent. That’s especially important if you’re planning to move around a lot. Just make sure that someone will be picking up mail.

Thanks to Cell Phones.org for the inspiration behind this post.

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