Designlab is a completely remote company, with a globally distributed team. Since I joined the company just under a year ago, I’ve been taking the opportunity to travel while working—living that digital nomad life in cities including Cape Town, Mexico City, and a few others!
Here are some of the hacks I’ve discovered over the past 12 months. They’ll help keep your travel manageable, your work portable, and your mind and body healthy!
1. The Roost Stand. $75
This is an absolute must for comfort, neck and back health. I know the price tag seems high, but the build quality is worth it. The knock-offs will break!
2. Keyboard & mouse wrist pads. $8+
Wrist health, hello! We’re likely to be working in front of computers for the rest of our careers, so act now to avoid the pain and injury that can come from using a keyboard and mouse.
3. External mechanical keyboard. $99+
As well as being a joy to type on, mechanical keyboards make for an exciting hobby! Try out cool, brightly colored keycaps, or even swap out the switches for different clickity-clackity sounds. Here’s the one I’ve been traveling with—it’s compact (it’s called a ten-keyless because it doesn’t have the number pad), it has a great keycap profile, and it has customizable layers for macros!
4. Wireless mouse. $5+
The mouse you choose is truly about personal preference, but you have to go for wireless over a wired one. Less wasted time untangling cables each day. No more mouse cable in the way of your keyboard. And it looks cool.
5. Wireless active-noise-canceling headphones. $100+
Although noise canceling technology isn’t perfect, it can make a huge difference when it comes to reducing stress on flights, and getting work done in sub-optimal environments like noisy cafes. And for all your calls, of course. A number of our team have the Sony WH1000-XM3s—they’re not flawless, and voices still cut through, but they’re well worth the investment.
6. Portable speakers. $10+
It’s so important to be able to listen to your own music comfortably at home—wearing headphones all day is exhausting. I happen to bring a pair of Sonos Play:1’s with me everywhere I go. This may seem extra, but it means that much to me. It’s all up to you!
7. Desk mat. $10+
Having one of these with you means you can set up shop no matter where you are.
8. Travel power strip. $16
A power strip to rule them all! This one is travel-friendly, and extends your range and outlet count for both usb cables and normal plugs.
9. Cable organizer. $14+
Even with all your wireless gear, you’ll be carrying a lot of cables for charging and data transfer. Having a kit that help you keep them organized can save you a meaningful amount of time and stress each day.
10. Luggage scale. $10
When you could end up caught between paying $100 to put overweight luggage in the hold, and throwing away some of your precious cargo—you need this small and easily portable luggage scale.
11. Ceptics worldwide adapter set. From $10 for 3
These can be a lifesaver when all your devices are out of juice—and you’ll save a lot by getting your adapters before taking off, rather than purchasing once you land.
12. Mobile clothes steamer. $29
You might be traveling, but you still want to look sharp when you leave the house!
13. Skyroam. $149 + $9 per day used or $99 per month for unlimited data
This is a global data hotspot, meaning you can travel anywhere and know that you’ll still have wifi available. While I was in Cape Town, there were daily blackouts for 8 hours at a time (this is called “loadshedding”). It meant I could still get connected to the internet and do my work.
14. Google-Fi. From $20 per month
This might seem too good to be true but, guess what… it’s not! Google offers an international SIM card plan for your phone.
15. Light luggage
Weight is everything when you’re travelling. You need to be able to pack everything you need into a bag that you can still comfortably carry around all day. I travel light, according to some: one checked bag, one carry-on , and one personal item (backpack of your choice).
I find the two bags linked above are the real deal. The checked bag is the lightest bag you will find on the market. Combine that with its durability, and it’s well worth the hefty price tag. The carry-on is fantastic for day trips, because you want a bag that can pack a lot in, yet still be extremely mobile. This one can be carried, worn as a backpack, or over the shoulder.
Being a “digital nomad” is all about adaptability—I want to be ready and able to do anything I want, and tackle any situation thrown at me!
16. Travel credit card
Travel credit cards truly start to shine for the digital nomad. Consider foreign transaction fees and the bonus rewards for all of your airfare and “travel expenditures” (meaning nearly every purchase), and the benefits really start to rack up!
17. Embrace Airbnb (responsibly)
People often ask me: where do I stay when I’m moving around so much? Honestly, Airbnb has become my best friend in every country and city I’ve visited. As well as being truly global now, their range of accommodation is second-to-none in almost every major city in the world. It does come with a slight premium, because of their service charges, and because of pricing around 5-15% above “market prices”.
However, consider how difficult it is to find a true furnished short-term rental as a foreigner, particularly when you may not even speak the language. Combined with the vetting, reviews, and other protections built into Airbnb, I think this makes the premium well worth it. Pro tip: look out for local Airbnb competitors. They may save you money but offer a similar service.
One caveat: Airbnb is controversial in some cities, because it can vacuum up rental housing supply for locals. This is often about local regulation, and isn’t in our immediate control. But we can still aim to be considerate visitors in every place we travel to.
Thanks for reading!
Everything I’ve listed here is the toolkit I’ve come to build over the last year while learning how to balance kicking butt in the workplace and enjoying my personal life.
It’s all about feeling homey while on the go, having access to all of tech you need, while still being able to pack it all up in the blink of an eye and get going to the next place.
If you’re planning to embark on life as a digital nomad, for a month, a year, or forever, I hope you enjoy putting together your own unique kit. Happy traveling!