10 Nomad Essentials

nomad tools

For the longest time I never had a head lamp. I’d use my phone. Whenever I borrowed people’s headlamps I thought, Wow, this is a revelation. Everywhere I look there’s light. But then I saw them wearing the head lamps and I thought, Man this is a revelation. They look so stupid. Plus, I can just use the flashlight on my phone. So I never bought one.

Some of the other things on this list took me a long time to figure out, for example, the Charles Schwab debit card. For years I used Bank of America, and each time I took out money in a foreign country paid a) $5 for each transaction PLUS (!) the fee the local bank charged, and b) 3% on the amount withdrawn. You don’t have to be a master of linear equations to realize this adds up.

This is a list that’s been 14 years in the making. It’s the top 10 nomad essentials, 10 items every nomad must have.

1) Laptop

The value of my laptop has become more apparent lately. It’s where I earn the bulk of my money, whether it be rating Instagram ads for Appen, writing blogs, or teaching English classes online. Which means I should probably buy a case for it, since right now my case consists of wrapping it in a merino wool long-sleeve shirt. But here’s what I figure: A thief sees it and thinks it’s just a tattered shirt, and not actually a MacBook Pro and also the most valuable thing I own.

The cunning.

2) Unblocked Cell Phone w/ good camera

Since since I now work on my phone (Instagram job), it has also become essential. Although it was also essential before, because it was my only means of taking photos and/or videos. The reason I say “unlocked” is because you want to be able to use it in different countries. Another option is some kind of international data plan. Or do like my friend Gilbert does: He uses Project Fi from Google. It works in 135 countries and data costs the same as it does at home. You have free access to over a million Wi-Fi hotspots. I don’t know why I haven’t done this myself, actually. I think it’s because I wish I were a luddite and hate my phone and want it to fall in the toilet.

3) Front Loader Backpack

Unless you’re German or Swiss or living in the bronze age, the days of the top loader backpack are over. The top loader backpack (where you load things through the top as opposed to a front loader which, when horizontal, opens much like a duffle bag), is one of the worst travel decisions you can make. In fact, if you’re going to travel the world with a top loader backpack, you might as well stay at home. Like I said, people with top loader backpacks nowadays are almost invariably German, and almost invariably sunburnt/confused. You see them stroll into some coastal town in Costa Rica where they’ll proceed to instantly pay too much for everything, drink 50 beers, lose their wallets and the next day complain how shitty the town is.

From a cursory glance at Amazon I found this beauty from Gregory Mountain Products. It’s got a 40 liter capacity, which is key: It’s not too big. You don’t want too big. Too big makes you look like a tourist. Too big makes you look German. Too big makes you look like someone it would be good to rob.

4) Head Lamp

Like I said, it took me awhile to realize the beauty and practicality of a head lamp. Mostly, they’re good for reading. I like to read before I go to sleep, and if you’re camping or in a hostel there’s a good chance you won’t have light by which to read. I need my Knausgaard before I go to sleep. I need my Bolaño. I use this one from Black Diamond. It’s cheap, sturdy, and works great.

5) Charles Schwab Debit Card

This is number five, but if the numbers in this post meant anything, it would be number one. This is the single best item any modern-day nomad can have. It’s saved me much money, but more importantly, contributed to much peace of mind. No more having to find a bank that partners with your bank to avoid fees. No more having to worry about how much your fees are eating into your trip budget. No more need to worry about anything (at least when it comes to getting $$$). Not only does this card not have foreign transaction fees or charge ATM fees, THEY WILL REFUND YOU any ATM fee you’re ever charged, anywhere in the world. The importance of this cannot be overstated, but it can be stated. Which is what I’m doing here.

If you want more info on setting up an account check out this girl’s article.

If you decide to open an account email me (whereswetzler@gmail.com) I can email you a referral link so you can get a free $100. There’s no money in it for me but I want you to prosper, faithful readers, like you’ve helped me prosper.

6) No Foreign Transaction Fees Credit Card

Right now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t have a credit card. This is because I’m trying to get a handle on my spending. But usually I have credit cards to get miles, and a feature I look for is no foreign transaction fees. I would mention a few but this article from Nerd Wallet covers it well.

Again, whether it’s 1% or 3%, that’s money thrown down the proverbial garbage disposal.

7) Card Backups

Carry one card in your wallet, and the other card someplace that doesn’t leave the house with you. This is way if you (God forbid) lose one or even more God forbid) get mugged, you’ll have a backup.

8) Extra Passport Pages

A true nomad will at some point need more pages in her passport because the rest of them will be filled with cool visas from Vietnam and Laos and the Kingdom of Bhutan. As of January 1, 2016, you can no longer add pages to your existing passport. You have to get a new one. Which is a bummer.

Here’s an “entertaining” video from the US Passport Service that explains how to do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhynPKimDVM&feature=youtu.be.

9) Book

Every nomad needs a good book. A book talks to you when no one else will. A book doesn’t judge. And books are informative. Even guide books. Though obviously if you want the BEST books, click here.

10) Notebook

Finally, when you’re traveling, you need a notebook to record your thoughts, make to do lists, keep track of things, and take notes. Pictures are a good way to record memories but journal entries, or even just disjointed phrases, are better. Looking at a picture can remind you of how you feel now, but only a journal entry can remind you of how you felt then.

I don’t prefer Moleskin.

I prefer classic composition notebooks, like the kind you can buy at an drugstore. (Or if you’re rich buy one of these “Decomposition notebooks,” which have awesome designs on the cover and are much better for the environment.

Can you think of any other nomad essentials? I’m sure I missed something and if I did let me know in the comments or send me a heartfelt, handwritten letter.


Special thanks to Stefan Peter-Contesse for his contribution to this blog.

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