If you’re already invested in the digital nomad lifestyle for some time, you’ve likely come across the age-old luggage problem at least once before—backpack, suitcase, or both? When you’re working remotely as a digital nomad, environments, people, and deskspace constantly change—gear is the only thing that remains constant. Your laptop, laptop stand, keyboard, and mouse are the vital accessories in any digital nomad's luggage—but the luggage itself is just as important as what's packed. A good luggage solution can be the difference between a pleasant travel day and a miserable one.
Wheeling two suitcases is a recipe for a stressful airport experience, just as three backpacks will lead to future visits to the chiropractor. Sure, there’s a happy middle ground that makes for the smoothest travel day, but getting there isn’t always an easy process. So what are the best options available for digital nomads and which luggage solution should you choose for the illusive enjoyable airport experience?
Digital Nomad Suitcases
The humble suitcase is a good choice for digital nomads that have a lot of luggage that they’re needing to pack. For example, a wheeled suitcase is wonderful when traveling between cities, but if your itinerary includes some national parks or locations off the beaten track, the bag may become cumbersome. Some suitcases are better than others, but until someone invents a true-offroader, a backpack is best in the remote nomad world.
The size of your luggage is the main difference between models and every nomad will have a different preference for suitcase size. For most, a 24-inch or 60-liter suitcase will be plenty large enough for the majority of trips, but if you’re a remote worker with an equipment obsession—or you’re heading out to a colder destination—a larger 28-inch or 90-liter case may be a sensible choice. On the other end of the spectrum, minimalistic travelers will find plenty of space in a smaller 20-inch or 40-liter suitcase on their remote working trip.
Nurall’s Managing Editor Jamie Ditaranto recommends choosing a hardsided suitcase for checked luggage like her sturdy Samsonite Expandable Luggage, which is great at withstanding bumps and stains and has held up wonderfully after three years on the road. At the end of the day, suitcases are simple, bags, but can be great for some travelers if the suitcase ticks all the right boxes. Digital nomads should search for a strong, well-made, and hard-shelled suitcase that’s perfect for taking a beating in airports around the world.
Digital Nomad Backpacks
Backpacks come in all different shapes, but most importantly, sizes. It’s the size, or rather the volume, of the backpack that separates the pack into two main groups—daypacks and travel backpacks.
Daypacks for Remote Workers
By far the most common backpacks chosen by digital nomads are those designed for single-day use—known as a daypack. These are your standard run-of-the-mill backpack, usually sitting between 15-liter and 25-liter, and can hold everything you may need during the working day. There are plenty of great daypacks on the market, but there are some nomad-friendly features that will come in handy on the road. A dedicated padded laptop sleeve is the key feature that all digital nomads should be looking out for in a daypack. That little extra protection is great for your PC or Mac, especially when traveling frequently between accommodation and workspace.
Some dedicated digital nomad packs also offer a hidden laptop or document sleeve, deterring the theft of high-value items. These often use a separate opening on the back panel of a backpack to store laptops, passports, or mobile phones away from the prying fingers of pickpockets or bag thieves. The PacSafe’s Venturesafe Travel Backpack even comes with anti-theft features like interlocking zippers and cut-resistant fabric. I personally use the Osprey Arcane XL Day when traveling with a daypack. A hidden laptop sleeve on the back panel and quick-release security hook makes for a pair of safety features that I rely on every day. Combined with the handy organization pockets, a large 30-liter volume, and the signature Osprey quality, it’s a fantastic all-rounder.
Internal organization options are also great and help sort your possessions from the daily essentials to the barely used ones. If you’re able to find a well-made pack with all three features, you’re on to a winner. Daypacks are typically used alongside a suitcase, allowing clothes and toiletries to be checked and the high-value laptops, tablets, cameras, etc. to be carried on to the flight.
Travel Backpacks for Remote Workers
If your digital nomad travel itinerary includes a handful of hard-to-reach places or a common theme of dirt roads or cobblestones, a large travel backpack is likely the best choice. A large travel backpack typically starts at around 35-40-liter and can go all the way up to an 80-liter pack for equipment-heavy travelers. A good sweet spot for the majority of digital nomads is around the 50-60-liter range and offers plenty of space for everything needed. There is a huge range of good-quality large backpacks suitable for travel with major brands including Osprey, Peak Design, Tortuga, and The North Face all offering solutions for pro globetrotters. These backpacks can be feature-rich, offering hideable harnesses, internal organization, and compression straps for securing as many possessions as possible. Typically, a large travel backpack is also used with a smaller daypack as a complete luggage solution.
Daypack and Travel Backpack Combinations
Travel backpacks are great for moving between destinations with everything that you need for a trip—but aren’t so good on a day-to-day basis. Carting your work set-up to the office in a 60-liter pack is seriously overkill and once these are unloaded in the hotel, Airbnb, or apartment, the travel packs are stored until the next big destination change. This means that a separate daypack is needed, throwing a second backpack into the mix—but luggage brands have caught on to this new way of travel. To solve the problem of lugging two separate bags around an airport, forward-thinking brands have launched a daypack/travel backpack combination. Made up of a smaller daypack and larger travel backpack, the pair can either be used separately or zipped/clipped together to use a single large backpack. Nurall’s Managing Editor Jamie Ditaranto’s trusty steed is the Osprey Ozone Duplex Backpack, because it is specially designed to fit comfortably for women and is easy to pack and organize.
The dual front/back backpack is a thing of the past and instead of loading up like a tourist mule, digital nomads can simply combine their packs, zipping the two together to form a larger backpack. Once you’ve arrived at the check-in desk, the packs can be unzipped, allowing the daypack to be used as a carry-on and the travel pack to be checked in. It’s a win-win.
Backpacks for One-Bag Travel
Another solution to preventing the double pack luggage problem is by using a single carry-on backpack when traveling the world. There’s a huge community of digital nomads out there passionate about one-bag travel, using this single backpack method as their go-to luggage solution. This avoids the uncertainty that comes with checking luggage at the airport and minimizes luggage size for a streamlined travel experience.
A one-bag backpack for a digital nomad is typically in the 40-liter range with this being the carry-on limit for the majority of airlines. It may not sound like a lot, but digital nomad-focused brands including Tortuga, Peak Design, Aer, and Eagle Creek create clever designs to maximize the available space. However, the most popular 40-liter bag on the r/onebag Reddit community is the Osprey Farpoint. These packs are seriously feature-heavy, offering near-unlimited organization solutions, smart clamshell designs, laptop sleeves, and hidden pockets for maximum security. In the nomad world, these are the gold standard.
Finding a Luggage Solution that Works for You
All digital nomads have different preferences on exactly which luggage solutions are right for them. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here, just like in every other facet of the digital nomad lifestyle, and nomads must decide how they want to travel. Ultimately, there are four main luggage options for digital nomads, offering maximum flexibility when traveling the world with their laptops:
- Suitcase + daypack
- Travel backpack + daypack
- Daypack + travel backpack combination
- One-bag nomad backpack
For some, a single travel backpack is totally unthinkable whereas, for others, it may prove the perfect solution. The amount of gear, destination itinerary, and personal preferences all come into play. Regardless of the constraints and the restrictions, all digital nomads are going to have to choose one of the four.
Luggage Accessories for Digital Nomads
Backpacks and suitcases are great, but there are countless luggage accessories that can boost performance and help with the everyday tasks of the digital nomad.
Organizing a suitcase or backpack can be, at the best of times, controlled chaos. Everything slung into one tightly cramped space is a recipe for an unorganized disaster. But there’s a better solution to losing socks, crushing toiletries, and being totally unable to locate your swimsuit—packing cubes.
Packing cubes are simple fabric cubes, often opened with a zipper and secured with a compression strap, used to organize your belongings. How these are organized is totally personal preference. One may be used for clothing, another for toiletries, and one more for souvenirs. However you choose to organize may be entirely up to you—but one thing is for sure—once you’ve used packing cubes, there’s absolutely no going back.
Taking care of your technology when working away from home should be a priority for every remote worker. A groggy laptop, malfunctioning mobile, or damaged keyboard can throw a serious wrench in the works when working as a digital nomad. Unexpected repair fees, downtime from work, and limited tech stores can quickly become a nightmare situation, but prevention is always better than cure. To look after your technology in the best possible way, gear protectors should become your new best friends. Laptop sleeves, camera cases, and dedicated hardshell technology bags are all fantastic additions to the digital nomad packing list.
The Apple AirTag is one of the best insurance policies for your luggage when traveling as a digital nomad. In the unfortunate occurrence that luggage is lost along the way, whether that be due to an airport problem, a forgetful taxi ride, or even theft—the Apple AirTag can be a saving grace. An AirTag makes it super easy to keep track of your luggage. By slipping one into your backpack and/or suitcase, your belongings can be tracked on the Find My app in exactly the same way that other Apple devices can be tracked. If you’ve flown into Lisbon but have a hunch that your bags didn’t quite make it, you can now check exactly where they’ve ended up.
To Wrap Things Up
Before heading out on their next remote working adventure, digital nomads have to make a decision on their luggage solutions. At the end of the day, there are four main choices for globetrotters to decide on—a suitcase + daypack, travel backpack + daypack, daypack, and travel backpack combination, or the one-bag nomad backpack. Each solution offers a range of pros and cons, but it’s down to the nomad to decide. Whether you’re trekking mountains between zoom calls or setting up a long-term office in a Miami Airbnb, there’s a perfect luggage solution out there for everyone.
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Adam Mace is Nurall's Lead Contributing Writer and a full-time digital nomad in search of the best hikes, unique stays, and local delicacies. When he’s not exploring far-flung places he can..
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