There are a lot of things to consider when preparing to become a digital nomad, from finding sustainable work to choosing the perfect location. Don’t wait until the last minute to build a travel wardrobe; it’s a vital consideration before planning your trip. Consider your personality and lifestyle and ask: “Can I live with almost no belongings?”
I used to hoard clothes, especially from thrift stores. But as a nomad with limited space, I had to cram everything into one suitcase and a small backpack. I needed a travel wardrobe that could take me everywhere I wanted to go.
Don’t make the same mistake as me. Here are some tips to curate a perfect travel wardrobe for your digital nomad life.
8. Choose Your Bag Wisely
Choosing the right suitcase to hold your travel wardrobe can make or break your trip. Don’t skimp on it as cutting corners might come at a heavy cost. Your suitcase also doubles up as your personal belonging storage, so a wise purchase is well worth it. Prioritize the following elements while selecting a suitcase:
A robust hard shell to safeguard your belongings during rough handling at the airport.
As lightweight as possible to maximize luggage capacity within the weight limit.
Wheeled with four fully-rotational wheels to enable 360-degree upright rolling, giving you a free hand to carry your hand luggage.
TSA lock equipped to ensure that you have minimum trouble in case baggage handlers have to inspect your suitcase.
Also, remember to choose a suitcase with a warranty, register the product, and safe-keep the receipt. Warranties help against manufacturing faults and not airline mishandling. Keeping the receipt helps with any claim if an airline damages or loses your suitcase.
7. Dress for Your Destination(s)
Your choice of travel wear will depend on your destination. My thick, fleece hoodie and Sorel boots came in handy in the arctic circle, but proved redundant in Melbourne. Be mindful of the weather as you plan your route across hemispheres and seasons––it may require additional packing.
If you’re bound for a place vastly different from home, prepare for culture shock. Dress appropriately not only for the weather, but also for the cultural standards of your destination. For instance, showing bare shoulders in rural India is deemed impolite, while short skirts are expected in Japan and Korea. Before you jet off, reach out to fellow globetrotters and locals on platforms like Reddit or Globuzzer to get insights on custom clothing or accessories.
Remember: genuine interest in respecting local customs is key to informed decision-making as you pack for your next adventure. Proud disregard for tradition is often greeted with frowns from both locals and nomads alike.
6. Figure Out Your Lifestyle
As a nomad, both the environment and your activities will dictate your travel wardrobe. For instance, face-to-face client meetings require donning at least one smart shirt or dress. Good-quality walking shoes may be difficult to find abroad if trekking or hiking is on the cards. Temples and churches may require head-to-shoulder coverage, so a shawl or scarf will come in handy.
Remember: swimwear, formal wear, workout gear, and sleepwear must all be accounted for. Personally, I never hit the road (even for a visit back home) without my running gear to remain in shape, and a light blazer for meetings or elevating an outfit for a night out.
5. Think Multi-functionality
Creating a travel wardrobe that fits in a small space is a smart move. Get more out of your clothes by choosing items that can serve multiple functions. Leggings, for instance, work well in various settings – pair them with a dress, use them as yoga pants, wear them as a base layer under trousers, or even as sleepwear in an emergency. Similarly, a stylish shirt-and-jeans combo, when combined with the right footwear and accessories, can easily transition from work to the beach bar to a fancy restaurant.
To develop a multifunctional wardrobe, start with a simple color palette and select items that showcase your body shape and personal style. Follow the fashion world’s lead by dressing in uncomplicated, understated clothing that still looks polished. For instance, by sticking with a combination of denim, white, pale blue, and black, I’ve been able to mix and match outfits suitable for everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to forest hikes.
My top multi-functional item is a Turkish towel – it serves as a scarf, shawl, sarong, towel, extra blanket on chilly flights, and picnic mat. By putting some thought into your travel wardrobe, you can save space while still having plenty of options to look and feel amazing on your next adventure.
4. Choose That Low-Maintenance Life
As you’ll have fewer clothes with you, keeping them clean and fresh becomes all the more important. Opt for clothing that is easy to wash and doesn’t require special care. High-end hotels may offer dry cleaning services, but lower-budget accommodations like hostels and Airbnbs may not even provide basic laundry facilities. In such cases, you’ll need to find local laundromats or resort to hand-washing. And while separating colors is a chore, it’s best to stick to your color palette for easy laundry management. That said, in case of an emergency, washing colored and light clothes together is alright as long as none of them are new. Use cold water and preferably colorfast items to avoid any dye-transfer incidents.
3. Buy For Life or Buy To Leave
When tight budget for travel, it’s tempting to skimp on your clothing. But don’t sacrifice quality for the sake of saving pennies! That “totally amazing” off-brand sneaker is only gonna last until its soles give out. Then you’re left with just your winter boots.
As with anything essential for travel, invest in quality. A smaller wardrobe means more wear-and-tear, so opt for durable materials when making your purchases. I recommend renowned brands like Dr. Martens, L.L. Bean, and Eddie Bauer. Their products come with warranties that guarantee repairs or replacements if something goes awry.
At a minimum, the items you must put research and money into are:
- wet/cold weather gear
Well chosen, these items will last you for years and protect you against the elements.
Low-cost items should be purchased if you’re planning on leaving them behind (because your next location has radically different requirements) or if you’re likely to lose them. These might include:
- non-prescription sunglasses
- beanies/sun hats
2. Keep a Few Cherished Items
After assembling a simple, pared-down travel wardrobe, consider adding a personal touch with treasured accessories. While it’s advised to never pack anything you cannot afford to lose on your travels, a select few items such as a watch, scarf, bracelet, tie, necklace, or statement earrings can elevate a basic outfit from day to night in a snap. Items which bring comfort, like a favorite T-shirt or sweater, can be set aside until space allows.
As a nomadic lifestyle can lead to loneliness and homesickness, it’s important to choose items that boost your confidence and make you feel connected to home. With the right personal touches, feeling at home on the go can be a breeze.
1. The Essential Checklist
All of the previous steps should have helped you formulate your personalized travel wardrobe. If you’re still feeling unsure, here’s my essential checklist:
- 2 pairs of everyday jeans
- 1 pair of formal trousers or smart jeans
- One plain black skirt
- 1 plain black dress
- 1 black long-sleeved top (ideally made of thermal or wick-away material)
- 3 black T-shirts
- 1 white T-shirt
- 2 lightweight shirts (one white, one pale blue)
- 1 sleeveless top
- 2 pairs leggings (substitute one for yoga pants or sweatpants if preferred)
- 2 pairs of thin tights
- 1 – 2 sets of sleepwear
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 2 regular bras
- 1 sports bra
- 7 pairs of socks (a mix of hot and cold weather socks depending on your location)
- 1 set of swimwear
- 1 good-quality wool sweater
- At least 1 lightweight sweater, hoodie or cardigan
- 1 lightweight running sweater
- 1 jacket (waterproof or water-resistant)
- A pair of sunglasses
- 1 pair of everyday shoes
- 1 pair of formal shoes
- One pair of running shoes
- 1 pair of cheap flip-flops
- 1 Turkish towel
- 2 necklaces
- 1 watch
- 3 pairs of earrings
- 2 rings
- 1 thick winter coat
- 1 scarf
- A pair of gloves
- 1 hat
Hot weather additions:
- 1 sun hat
- 1 pair of denim shorts
- A sundress
- 1 pair of sandals