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Picture this: You’re wandering around a 2,000 year-old European city in the morning, sipping coffee and eating pastries. By night, you’re responding to emails and getting your work done. A few months later, you’re spending your day at a cafe in Buenos Aires and spending your nights connecting with other remote workers who happen to be in the same city as you. Lucky for me, this has been my life for the past two and a half years. I’m a full-time digital nomad who has learned a lifetime's worth of travel lessons in the past few years—especially when it comes to packing.
There are many different types of travelers; when planning where to go for extended stays, I avoid cold weather at all costs. This does make things slightly more manageable when it comes to packing. I typically have one sweatshirt, just in case it gets chilly, but that’s it—no bulky coats or winter accessories to worry about. I prefer to spend summers in the Northern Hemisphere, like Mexico and Europe, and when it starts turning cold, I return to the Southern Hemisphere to enjoy the summer there. In 2023, I spent January through the middle of June in Argentina, Uruguay, and Mexico. Then, I went to Europe and country-hopped all summer until I went to the US at the end of September to visit family. After a month at home, I spent the rest of the year in Colombia.
Looking ahead to 2024, I’m back in Argentina through the middle of March, and then I head to Peru through the end of May. From there, I expect to be in Europe through at least September before finding warmth in South America or Southeast Asia. Even though I only go home once a year, I take just one large checked bag, a personal item, and my cat, Isabelle, who counts as my carry-on. It might seem impossible to fit your entire life and your pet into such a small space, but it’s more doable than you think.
If the thought of never-ending travel feels a little intimidating, I'd suggest setting some parameters around it—six months or a year, as a test run. This makes it easier to pack, budget, and wrap your head around full-time travel. Whether you're in planning mode or are just curious as to how to squeeze your life into a suitcase, here are my top tips for how to pack for an entire year of travel.
My packing list for full-time travel:
- Reliable luggage
- Clothing basics
- Comfortable shoes
- Toiletry essentials
- Tech accessories
- More travel must-haves
If you’re going to travel for any prolonged period with multiple destinations on the itinerary, sturdy, reliable luggage is a must. I’ve previously been loyal to Away, but I branched out slightly after my Away weekender bag broke while I was in transit. However, I still swear by the brand's The Large Suitcase. I prefer hard-sided luggage to help protect my items, and I like that the suitcase is split evenly down the middle. I pack all my clothes on the right side of my suitcase and all my work and travel accessories on the left side. I like to know exactly where everything is, so I use a lot of different organizers—packing cubes, shoe cubes, toiletry bags, a tech bag, and a jewelry box. Organization is the most important part of packing, so any accessories that help sort your essentials are worth the investment. If you want to ensure your bag never gets lost, I also highly recommend AirTags or another mobile tag.
My clothes take up half of my suitcase. When packing, I start from the base of an outfit and end with the accessories. Because I’m only packing for warm weather, I can fit more options than I would if I were trying to pack for multiple seasons. I find it helpful to pack neutral clothes that can all work together to maximize the number of outfits you can create. This helps prevent the feeling that you’re wearing the same outfit over and over again. Here are the clothes I pack:
- 10 pairs of socks and underwear
- Two pairs of lightweight shorts
- A pair of athletic shorts
- A pair of sweatpants
- A pair of linen pants
- A formal pant
- A pair of jeans
- Seven T-shirts
- Six button-up short-sleeve shirts
- Two button-up long-sleeve shirts
- A tank top
- A black jumpsuit for more formal events
- A sweatshirt for chilly days or airplanes
- A scarf just in case it’s extra cold in a destination
- Two bathing suits
In total, I have six pairs of shoes while traveling. This might sound like a lot, but there’s a reason for each pair. I bring a pair of house slippers, sandals for the pool or the beach, Converse for day-to-day, Allbirds sneakers for hikes or long travel days, a dressy pair of loafers, and platform sandals that can be casual or formal. This way, I have all my bases covered.
I have two toiletry bags for all my skincare, haircare essentials, and other products. If you have a checked bag, I recommend packing full-size bottles of your favorite products, as they might be more difficult to find in other countries.
My travel and work accessories take up a large portion of my luggage, but each item holds enough value to secure a coveted spot in my suitcase. Here are the tech essentials worth bringing along, especially if you'll be working remotely.
More travel must-haves
What you want on hand for an entire year is different than what's deemed a packing essential for a weeklong vacation. Ultimately, all of my accessories take up more space than my clothes, but when traveling long-term, I appreciate having each one of these items with me. These accessories might not be crucial, but they've significantly enhanced my trips and make me feel more comfortable on the road. Most of these items were purchased out of necessity once I was already traveling, and they've been worth the weight they add to my luggage.
With that said, I’ve accepted the fact that my luggage will always be overweight. If you want to avoid paying for heavy luggage, go for a smaller suitcase and leave some of the “nice to have” items out. Everything in my suitcase is intentional and has a purpose, so I don’t mind incurring a fee. When traveling for a year, you will have to make a lot of sacrifices, but you learn how to do more with less.