Traveling can get really annoying when you realize that you’ve left important items at home or that you’ve brought stuff with you that you are never going to use. I can’t even remember how often that happened to me. Especially, when you travel as a digital nomad. Your hand luggage will very likely look different than the one of a normal backpacker. When you are about to pack for your next trip have a look at this carry-on packing list and get ideas and inspiration what you need to bring.
My carry-on packing list is structured in the following categories:
Who is This List For?
Before we jump right into the carry-on packing list, let’s clarify who can profit from it most. This is a hand luggage list which works great when you have another check-in bag. So you when have two pieces of luggage. It is also great for digital nomads or anyone, who plans to work while traveling. A normal backpacker probably wouldn’t need all the electronics.
If you need a packing list for your entire luggage, check out the linked article to find all items you will need.
Carry-On Packing List for Digital Nomads
Let’s start with the most essential part: the bag itself.
When you have a check-in bag, you don’t need to have a huge bag for hand luggage. But it still needs to fit quite a few items, especially electronics, so it shouldn’t be too small and fairly robust, too.
Over the years I have used a few different kinds of carry-on bags and also read tons of reviews about them. It is often a matter of personal preference as well as travel style. I think it’s best if I show you my two current favorites, plus a great recommendation of a friend of mine.
You probably can’t go wrong with any Osprey bag. They have such a great quality that many travelers swear by them. I have the Osprey Quasar Bag, which has the perfect size for all my stuff AND is super light at the same time (only 1.7 pounds).
It has a padded sleeve to keep your laptop and tablet secured and a heat embossed scratch-free slack pocket which is great for keeping your sunglasses safe. If needed, you can use the removable webbing hip belt. What I also like about it is that it has side stretch mesh pockets for your water bottle.
To me, this is a great way to carry my hand luggage items during a flight but also a perfect backpack for day tours or even hikes. So two in one, a great combination!
On some trips, I don’t need a second backpack and prefer to have a bigger handbag with me. In those cases, I go for this regular handbag, which I’ve only found recently. It is made of canvas, which makes it super robust.
Moreover, it can easily fit a 15.6-inch laptop and has surprisingly plenty of space for your other carry-on items. This bag is big, fashionable, super affordable and weighs only 1.5 pounds. I’m in love with this bag!
3. Shoulder Bag
In case you don’t want to go for a handbag and look for an alternative to a backpack, I would recommend this shoulder bag. I haven’t used this one before but I friend of mine is traveling with it for a while now and loves it. So it might be a good choice for you, too.
It can fit a 17.3-inch laptop, is made of water-resistant canvas and has much space and many compartments to fit all of your hand luggage items.
Pssst…Don’t forget to get a travel insurance. Check out this article about the insurance company that I highly recommend.
Electronics – the heart of every digital nomad’s luggage. Here are the ones that are always on my carry-on packing list:
A laptop is probably the most important tool for every digital nomad. When you travel a lot, you might want to bring something powerful, light and not too big. That’s why I’ve been using ultrabooks for years now.
The classical choice would be a MacBook Air. In case you prefer Windows and are on a smaller budget, I can recommend the Asus ZenBook and Acer Swift. I have used both in the past and were very happy with their performance.
What kind of software and features you need depends on your kind of remote job. If you work as a translator, you need different things than a video editor. Luckily, I only need the basics: office package and online communication and that’s more or less it. That’s why the size (13.3 inches), weight (not more than 2.6 lbs) and battery duration (at least 10 hours) is most important to me.
Again, what kind of smartphone you should bring depends on your needs (and maybe preferences). Many digital nomads go for an iPhone 7 or Samsung Galaxy S8. But if you only need the usual apps for traveling and working online, maybe some minor photo and video jobs, you can easily go for one of the Chinese competitors, such as the Xiaomi or Huawei. Great quality but much cheaper!
Extra Tip: Before you leave, make sure your smartphone is unlocked. Just in case you want to use a local SIM card somewhere.
Many digital nomads don’t bring a camera with them but simply use their smartphone cameras. All cool. In case you need to take decent photos for your remote job or simply because you want something better than your phone, you could go for the Sony Alpha a5000. It’s a compact camera without a mirror, which makes it smaller and lighter. I have been using it for quite a while now and I’m very happy with the results.
4. Action Camera
Maybe you are vlogging or want to document your exciting life for your family and friends. Then an action cam would be a nice little gadget. The most popular one is probably the GoPro Hero 5. In case you don’t want to spend that much money, go for an Apeman 4K. It’s a great value for money.
5. Ebook Reader
It was hard to say goodbye to my beloved paper-based books. But I have to admit that an ebook reader has much more advantages when traveling (smaller, lighter, hundreds of books in one). That’s why I always carry my Kindle Paperwhite with me.
Need some new books to read? Check out this readinglist with the best books and ebooks for digital nomads. Some of them are truly life-changing!
Want to do a quick call with your client from the airport or listen to music on your flight? Don’t forget your headphones. I recommend noise-canceling headphones with a good-quality integrated microphone just like this one.
7. Global Hotspot
Most airports will have free WIFI. But an open airport network is not necessarily the safest connection and it is often limited or doesn’t work properly. That’s why I always have my Skyroam global hotspot with me. It gives me secure and unlimited WIFI anywhere in the world, without the hassle of changing SIM cards all the time.
If you want to find out more about the Skyroam hotspot, I wrote a review about it, which shows you all the benefits (and downsides) of it.
8. Charging Cables
Don’t forget your charging cables! Before you leave, test if some devices share the same ones, for instance, your eBook reader and your camera, so you don’t have to bring them twice.
In case you go on a long flight with transit and everything and want to use your electronics much, you should bring a power bank. I’m using this battery charger and it does a great job.
Extra Tip: Of course, you could also squeeze some of your electronics, like your camera or ebook reader, in your check-in luggage. However, if your luggage is delayed or even worse, the airline loses it, it’s going to be very annoying and expensive to reorganize everything. That’s why I prefer to keep it close to me in my carry-on luggage.
Of course, don’t forget to bring the following documents:
- (Flight) Tickets, incl. Flight-Onward or Return Tickets if your destination country requires to see them
- Health Care Insurance Policy
- Vaccination Card (e.g. some countries require you to have a Yellow Fever vaccination)
- International Driving License
Extra Tip: It’s always a great idea to take pictures of these documents and keep them in your email inbox or in Google Drive, so you can access them from anywhere anytime.
You will also find a few items of toiletries on my carry-on packing list.
- Hand lotion
- Lip balm
- Toothbrush and paste
- Facial wet wipes
- Hairbrush & hair ties
Especially on long-haul flights with transits, it’s nice when you can refresh.
Extra Tip: Don’t forget that liquids have to be in containers of maximum 100 ml. All of these containers need to fit in a 1 quart-size resealable see-through bag.
There are also a few other items on my carry-on packing list that I always bring with me.
Money & Credit cards. I always bring a few USD with me wherever I go. Simply because it’s widely accepted and in case I’m not able to get cash from an ATM at the destination airport, I can still exchange my USD and have enough for the taxi and hotel.
Compression Socks. Due to medical reasons, I have to wear them on any long-haul flight or bus or train ride. But even if you don’t necessarily have to use them, I highly suggest you to. It makes a big difference in terms of swollen legs, trust me. You can find great (and cheap) compression socks on Amazon.
Jumper or Scarf. Depends on what you wear on the flight. But I often find airplanes super cold. Additionally, they make comfy pillows when you want to rest your head on the window.
Pen. Many countries require you to fill out arrival cards, which you often get from the cabin crew and should fill-out straight away.
Water Bottle. I’m not going anywhere without water. Ever. I always bring my empty hydro flask water bottle with me and fill it up on water dispensers after the security check. Stay hydrated, friends!
Snacks & Chewing Gum. I try to bring some healthy snacks with me, like different nuts, an apple, or a banana. In case you have to wait for ages at an isolated gate because your flight is delayed, you can keep your blood sugar up without buying unhealthy sweets (which I would usually do). And chewing gum to help balance the pressure during takeoffs and landings.
Medication. Pain killers for headache are always a good idea to bring. In case you have to take any medications on a regular basis, I highly recommend you to pack it in your carry-on luggage, too. If your checked-in bag is delayed or lost, you still have it with you.
Extra Tip: If you bring large amounts of medications with you, get a doctor’s certificate for it, so you will have an explanation for the airport security.
In case you still have enough space in your hand luggage, you could also bring along some of the following items if you wish:
Ear Plugs & Sleeping Mask. If you want to sleep and are a super light sleeper.
Flight Ear Plugs. If you struggle a lot with the pressure while flying, these earplugs will relieve the discomfort, clogging and popping. I have never tried them but according to my mom, they do wonders.
Neck Pillow. Personally, I’m fine without a neck pillow and just use a scarf. But in case you sleep better with one, go for it.
Makeup. Mascara and eyebrow pencil do the job for me. Pack whatever you feel not comfortable without ;)
Eye Care. Any glasses, lenses or eye drops needed? Don’t forget to pack them.
Ready for Take-Off?
I know, I know, this carry-on packing list for digital nomads sounds massive. But it really isn’t! I can easily fit all of the mentioned items in a small backpack or big handbag. And it’s definitely below 7 kg, which is the hand luggage limit of most airlines. If you stick to this list, you will be prepared even for a super long-haul flight with stop-overs.
In case you are looking for a complete packing list for digital nomads, that is including check-in bag, check out the linked article. There is everything you need to bring with you.
What do you think? Any item you cannot go anywhere without and you need to bring on a flight with you?
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