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nomad packing list

I recently wrapped up 18 months of being a nomad. During that time, I lived primarily out of two carry-on bags. Here’s what was in them.

My fully packed Red Oxx Airboss ($275.00) bag weighed in at 22 pounds.

Everything in Red Oxx

It included the following (pictured in the featured image):

  • Homage Zip Hoodie. One of the softest hoodies I’ve ever worn and a main part of my wardrobe. It’s great for fall and spring temperatures, plus air-conditioned summers, and is a nice added layer for really cold winters. $65.00
  • Next Mileskin Jacket. It took me going to Scotland to find a coat that looked good on my slender frame. This is a great winter coat that layers nicely and isn’t too heavy when carrying it. £90.00
  • Tommy Hilfiger Rainwear Jacket (now discontinued?). A very lightweight jacket that repels the rain and can easily be folded or scrunched into a bag. Also makes a decent make-shift pillow.
  • Clarks Leather Sandals. A casual pair of sandals for beach days, laundry days, and quick errands. $29.99
  • Nike Downshifter 6 Running Shoe. $49.94
  • Aldo Men’s Boot (similar to these). The first pair of boots I owned were great but started to fall apart with all of the walking I did, so I switched to a pair of Aldo Men’s boots that are comfortable for most of the day and look nicer than gym shows. $109.95
  • Aldo Edoewin Oxford Dress Shoes. A nice looking pair of dress shoes to go with the navy suit I have for events. $79.95
  • Going in Style Travel Laundry Clothesline. A must-have for drying out clothes in hotels and AirBNBs. $12.95
  • Metolius Carabiner. A carabiner I used for attaching said clothesline to things. $9.95
  • Travelon Inflatable Hanger. For hanging up clothes when a hanger isn’t available; I never used it. $10.00
  • Microfiber Travel Towel. A compact towel that dries quickly. It doesn’t feel nearly as nice as a real towel and can start to smell quickly, but is a must for when you’re crashing somewhere that doesn’t have an extra towel for you. $14.95
  • Parachord Bracelet. A combo chord and whistle; luckily I never had to use it. $8.99
  • Inflatable Neck Pillow. Always better in theory than in practice, I tried using it periodically and never really enjoyed it. I still travel with it just in case. $13.99
  • Bounce Dryer Sheets. These served more than one purpose, including their intended use when drying clothes, but also to prevent shoes from smelling, and to (supposedly) prevent mosquito bites. $15.99 for a big pack you don’t need.
  • Small Lint Roller. Useful for cleaning off hairs and fuzz from your clothes, particularly helpful when you crash at someone’s place who has a cat or dog. $7.99 for 4
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech V Neck T Shirt Long Sleeve. A long sleeve shirt that is thick enough to provide extra warmth but thin enough to be used with other layers. $14.90
  • Woolly Men’s Merino Wool Short Sleeve V-Neck. A staple of any nomad wardrobe is merino wool and this is a cheaper alternative than a lot of other brands. I replaced an Icebreaker shirt that started gaining holes with this one and was happy with it’s performance. It’s odor resistant, easy to wash in the sink, and quick drying. $39.99
  • Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Short Sleeve V. The second merino wool shirt I bought and worked great in alternating with the other shirt. By switching between the two daily, I could go at least a week between washing if I wanted to. $51.99
  • Uniqlo Men Heattech Tights. Uniqlo calls them tights, I think of them as long underwear, but either way they provide a nice base layer for the legs when the temperature drops below freezing. $14.90
  • Ex-Officio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief (x3). Another staple of a nomad’s packing list is the underoos. These boxers are odor resistant and quick-drying. With three pairs, you have flexibility and can do your washing every other night. Hang them up while you sleep and you’re good to go in the morning. $14.99 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Merino Wool No Show Socks (x2). The final staple of the nomad’s wardrobe is socks. These Darn Tough socks work great while wearing tennis shoes. Also odor resistant and quick drying. $15.95 each
  • Darn Tough Men’s Warlock Crew Light Cushion Hiking Socks (x2). A long version of the Darn Tough Merino Wool socks that go great with boots or dress shoes. $19.95 each
  • Suitsupply Sienna Blue Suit. An incredible well-made suit with a tailored fit and a professional look, perfect for the presentations I give and more formal affairs. $599.00
  • Olivers All Over Shorts. Multipurpose shorts that can be used for casual attire, workout shorts, or swim trunks. They’re probably more expensive than what they provide, but nice to cut down on space. $65
  • Uniqlo Slim Fit Straight Leg Jeans. Fashionable jeans that fit well but also stretch when moving around. They aren’t the most rugged–I went through 2.5 pairs during my trip–but there may not be a jean that exists that can survive the wear and tear of nomadic living. The plus is that these are cheaper than alternatives from places like Bonobos. $49.90
  • Adidas Performance Training Pants. Comfortable pants for lounging around or working out in colder temperatures with the added benefit that they are part of the ComedySportz uniform. $29.99
  • J.Crew Slim Washed Shirt (x2). A slim fitting button-down shirt that works great for business casual situations and is part of my standard jeans+button+hoodie look. $19.95 each
  • J.Crew Thompson Dress Shirt (x2). A nicer quality button-front shirt that goes well with a suit. $34.50 each
  • American Apparel 50/50 Crewneck T-Shirt. A casual t-shirt for summer days. $20.00
  • Ohio State Buckeyes Shirt. A casual t-shirt for rooting on the Buckeyes (or showing off Ohio pride). I’m not sure of the price because my mom got it for me.
  • Various Toiletries (see below).

In the Red Oxx Bag was a Tom Bihn Clear Quarter Packing Cube ($32.00).

My Toiletries

I used to used toiletries, including:

  • Travel sizes of: toothpaste, hair gel, shampoo, lotion, sunscreen, body spray, and cortizone.
  • Regular sizes of: bar soap, deodorant, fingernail clippers, cuticle scissors (surprisingly TSA compliant), thermometer, and beard trimmer.
  • A “switchblade” style toothbrush (much better than the ones you put into the long tube).
  • A small plastic soap holder and a small empty spray bottle.

On my back was a Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200.00) that carried my electronics along with a few other tools (and snacks!).

Everything in the Backpack

It had:

Check out pictures all of my gear in this Flickr album.

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leather sofa

One of the questions that people first ask when they find out about my nomadic adventure is, “Are you crazy?” The second question is “What are you doing with all of your stuff?”

This always reminds me of George Carlin’s bit on stuff (warning NSFW language):

The Stuff I Own

To determine how much stuff I had, and what to donate / give away / put in storage / take with me, I created an Excel spreadsheet that represented pretty much everything that I owned.

stuff i owned

The total number of items: 197. The breakdown went:

  • Put in Storage: 30% (59 items)
  • Given Away on Craigslist: 29% (57 items)
  • Dumped in the Trash: 19% (37 items)
  • Donated to Goodwill: 16% (31 items)
  • Taken with Me in Travel: 6% (13 items)

It’s somewhat liberating and moreso terrifying that I boiled the necessities of life down to 6% of what I owned, but then again I am only taking two bags with me.

Donations and Giveaways

Nearly half of my belongings were given away or donated (29% + 16% = 45%). These were mostly things I either wanted to get rid of anyway or were cheap enough that it didn’t make sense for me to hang onto (e.g. IKEA furniture). It was either donated to Goodwill or given away on Craigslist for free (where “free” means come and get it out of my apartment before my lease is up).

Had I planned better and not procrastinated I probably could have sold many of the things on Craigslist. In particular, I gave away a $1,000+ leather recliner sofa that I got from a friend of mine when she moved to London.

I will say that I had fun writing the descriptions of my belongings, which you can find below (you can see that I had prices on the items which was before I got desperate and just gave things away):

Putting Things in Storage

The next largest bucket of stuff was put in “storage” and by “storage” I mean my Mom’s spare room in her condo in Ohio.

For that stuff, I rented a large van, packed up the items, and made the 10-hour drive (one way). I did this twice over the course of 2 weeks, though the main reason for multiple trips was an event I was leading in Ohio in late February.

Because of the two trips, I was ecstatic to learn I could keep my leather recliner chair (sadly not the sofa, but more on that in a moment). The leather chair was one that me and my first roommate got when we graduated college. We got a matching set like Joey and Chandler on Friends because we were, in fact, friends.

The leather couch still hurts a little bit, mostly because when the nice family came to pick it up, they asked if it could be taken apart. I told them, unfortunately, it could not. They disagreed… and were correct. On the underside of the couch was a long beam and a couple of screws–screws that when removed allowed you take the couch in three easier-to-carry sections that would have fit in the van I had rented…

Oh well, a nice Latino family in the Bronx is now enjoying a couch that would have been sitting at my brother’s place.

And that is what I did with my stuff.

my empty apartment

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For my travels, I’ve decided to go with a two-bag approach. This isn’t surprising: three bags would be inconvenient with constantly checking it when flying and I don’t want to completely destroy my shoulders.

Many nomadic travelers go with only one-bag, but I don’t think I can or want to drop that low. I have just enough stuff that two bags is more convenient.

The first bag is the Red Oxx AirBoss, and the second is this new bad boy from Tom Bihn (yes I just referred to a backpack as a “bad boy”).

tom bihn synapse 25

The Synapse 25 is a nice step up from the Synapse 19 (Joel McLaughin has a great writeup of both here). It also happens to be available in a shade of my favorite color (that’s Orange for the colorblind among you; if you have synthesia, let me know what it tastes like).

The role of this bag is arguably more important than that of the AirBoss. This bag houses my electronics (computer, external hard drive, iPod, chargers, converter, surge protector, remote clicker, cables), papers (passport, external driver’s license, comedy notebook), and snacks (varies but often includes Pop Tarts and Goldfish crackers).

The large pocket is divided by a thin flap. I put my computer, cords, chargers, and gorilla camera stand on one side. The other side gets a tightly-packed raincoat, first aid kit, and thank you cards. And on the top go the snacks.

tom bihn synapse 25 open

There are two side poaches, one side for health-type items (Advil, diarrhea pills, hand sanitizer), the other side for accessories (mini-display cables, remote clicker). The larger front pocket contains important documents (it’s surprisingly deep and tough to reach into) and the smaller front pocket gets business cards, gift cards, public transportation cards, and Game of Thrones (kinda, it is on a thumb drive).

There’s a separate pouch for my water bottle, which is water proof to the other parts of the bag, and it has little spandex straps that I’m not entirely sure what they’re used for.

The bag is still new, so we’ll see how it goes, but I am pretty excited to travel the world with this sexy thing.

tom bihn on my back

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The first major purchase for my nomadic travels was my primary travel bag, the Red Oxx Air Boss carry on bag, co-developed by Doug Dyment of OneBag.com.

red oxx air boss bag

There are number of things that I like about the bag, in no particular order:

  1. The bag is really small when you don’t have anything in it, meaning it packs up nicely when not in use.
  2. It’s designed specifically for traveling on extended trips without checking your bag.
  3. It’s well built (if I were ever being chased by an assassin, I feel like I could throw the bag at him, knocking both the would-be assassin and bag into the street where they both got ran over by a bus, and the bag would be fine).

The bulk of your clothing goes in two large side pockets, which is convenient for me since I can use one side for business apparel (a suit, 3 dress shirts, a belt, two ties, and dress shoes). I use the other side for more casual clothing, including sweatpants, a couple of T-shirts, a pair of shorts, gym shorts, tennis shoes, and a couple of casual button up shirts. The middle section houses a pair of flip flops, undershirts, underwear, socks, and my toiletries bag, which right now is just a plastic zip lock bag sitting in a Gristedes plastic bag.

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage is also what it was designed for: bundle wrap packing. This is great for minimizing wrinkles and maximizing space, but the biggest disadvantage is that it requires you to take everything out of your bag just access one article of clothing.

Doug says this isn’t too much of a problem because it can be nice to actually unpack your bag while traveling so you don’t feel like you’re living out of a suitcase. While I agree with that when you’re staying at a hotel, the problem is that when you are crashing on someone’s couch (e.g. your brother’s place in College Station) you don’t want to take the liberty to just strew your clothing everywhere in the living room (it’s a love seat, not a glove seat).

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