There are a lot of things to consider when preparing to become a digital nomad, from finding sustainable work to choosing the perfect location. Building a travel wardrobe is often overlooked until the last minute, but it’s something that’s vital to consider before you start planning everything else. You need to take time to look at your personality and your lifestyle and decide: “Can I really live with almost no belongings?”
Before I became a nomad, I was a total hoarder, especially when it came to clothes. I loved going to thrift stores to pick out gorgeous and unusual items that would inevitably be worn once and then tossed in the back of my closet. Most of all, I hated to throw anything away just in case I needed it in the future. As my travels drew closer, I realized that I was going to have to make do with one suitcase and one small backpack. How was I ever going to create a suitable travel wardrobe that would take me everywhere I wanted to go?
Don’t fall into the situation I was in; here are some tips to help curate a perfect travel wardrobe for your digital nomad life.
8.) Choose Your Bag Wisely
The suitcase or bag that holds your travel wardrobe will probably also be used to carry everything you own, so cutting costs is not a great idea. Priorities for choosing a suitcase include making it/them:
- Strong with a hard shell to protect it from rough handling at the airport.
- As light as possible so that you maximize the amount of luggage you can fit inside the weight limit.
- Wheeled – preferably four fully-rotational wheels that will allow you to pull the suitcase fully upright, as this will allow you to place your cabin bag on top of it, leaving you with a hand free.
- Equipped with a TSA lock so it won’t get damaged in the unlikely case that baggage handlers need to open it.
Always choose a suitcase that is covered by a warranty and make sure you register it and keep the receipt somewhere safe. Warranties won’t cover you for mishandling by airlines but will protect against any faults. Keeping your receipt will also help if you need to make a claim to an airline that damages your luggage.
7.) Dress for Your Destination(s)
Of course, the nature of your travel wardrobe will depend on where you’re going. My thick, fleece hoodie and Sorel boots were pretty redundant in Melbourne but were vital in the arctic circle.
Hopefully you’ve been keeping the weather in mind when planning your locations and route. Swapping hemispheres and seasons is a lot of fun,but it does mean you have to prepare to pack a lot more.
If you’re going somewhere very different from home, don’t underestimate how much of a shock this might be. What I thought was a thick winter coat in the UK was pathetically thin against mid-winter in Lapland. Reach out to other travellers, nomads and locals via sites like Globuzzer or Reddit to get advice on specific locations.
Dressing appropriately doesn’t just mean dressing for the elements. Different cultures have different ideas of what is acceptable. For example, in Japan and Korea, short skirts are normal but showing a lot of cleavage is not. In rural India, politeness requires that you cover your knees, upper arms, shoulders, cleavage and midriff. While honest mistakes do happen, travellers who proudly flout cultural standards are frowned upon by locals and other nomads.
6.) Figure Out Your Lifestyle
As well as the elements and the culture, what you do as a nomad will shape your travel wardrobe.
Will your work require you to meet clients face-to-face? If so, be sure to include at least one smart shirt or dress. Will you be hiking or trekking? Good-quality walking shoes might be difficult to find abroad. If you’re planning on visiting temples or churches, it’s wise to bring a shawl or scarf that you can use to cover your head and shoulders.
Swimwear, formal wear, workout gear, sleepwear; everything will have to be accounted for. I personally never travel anywhere (even trips back home) withoutmy running gear for staying fit and a light blazer for meetings and dressing up an outfit for a night out.
5.) Think Multi-functionality
To save on space, items in your travel wardrobe should be pulling double duty wherever possible. Leggings, for example, can be paired with a dress or shorts, used as yoga pants, worn under trousers in icy weather; and even used as sleepwear in a pinch. A stylish shirt-and-jeans combo (with the right shoes and accessories) can take you from work, to beach bar, to smart restaurant with little trouble.
The easiest way to build a multifunctional wardrobe is to choose a simple palette and only select items that you know look good on you. Take inspiration from the fashion world; models on casting calls and go-sees dress in simple, plain clothing that suits their body shape and isn’t overly showy. By sticking to a combination of denim, white, pale blue and black, I was able to mix and match outfits suitable for everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to forest hikes.
My ultimate multi-functional item is my Turkish towel which does duty as:
- a scarf
- a shawl
- a sarong
- a towel
- an extra blanket for cold airplanes
- a picnic mat
4.) Choose That Low-Maintenance Life
Because you’ll have fewer clothes, your laundry turnover is likely to be high. Make sure you choose clothing that is easy to clean. Unless you’re staying in high-end hotels, you may struggle to find dry cleaning services. Some hotels, hostels and Airbnbs don’t even have basic laundry facilities, so you’ll have to venture out to find local laundromats. Be prepared to wash things by hand in an emergency. When you’re only washing a handful of items, separating colors can be a real drag, so stick to your color palette wherever possible. This means if 80% of your outfits are white or light, you’ll probably want to ditch that one bright red shirt.
In an emergency, you can wash colored clothes and light clothes together. Just make sure none of the items are new and that you use cold water. Try to buy colorfast items to reduce the risk of dying all of your clothes pink.
3.) Buy For Life or Buy To Leave
If you’re already facing big travel costs and a potential reduction in income, it can be tempting to save pennies by skimping on your travel wardrobe. However, when the soles fall off of your “totally amazing” off-brand sneakers and your only other shoes are winter boots, you’ll wish you’d invested in quality. Of course, a smaller wardrobe means more wear and tear, so ensure you purchase items made of durable materials. Brands such as Dr Martens, L.L. Bean and Eddie Bauer even offer warranties on their products so that they can be fixed or replaced if they are faulty or wear out.
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
Once you’ve picked your simple, pared-down travel wardrobe you can personalize it again using treasured items and accessories. The old adage for travellers is to never pack anything you’re not willing to lose, but a few well chosen items like a watch, scarf, bracelet, tie, necklace and statement earrings can help take a simple outfit from day to night quickly. Other comfort items, such as favorite T-shirts or sweaters, should be put aside to be packed if you have space.
Select items that boost your confidence and make you feel more connected to home, as this is crucial to ward off the loneliness and homesickness that can come from living a nomadic life.
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
- 1 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
- 1 lightweight sweater, hoodie or cardigan
- 1 lightweight running sweater
- 1 jacket (waterproof or water-resistant)
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- 1 pair of everyday shoes
- 1 pair of formal shoes
- 1 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
- 1 pair of gloves
- 1 hat
Hot weather additions:
- 1 sun hat
- 1 pair of denim shorts
- 1 sundress
- 1 pair of sandals