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We have now been on the road as digital nomads for two months. Digital nomads are essentially people who are location independent and perform their jobs using technology. That’s definitely us!
Our summer road trip was essentially been our dry run of traveling full time. It has really helped us fine-tune our digital nomad minimalist approach to travel and packing before we leave the continent.
So far, at every house sit we’ve done, we’ve gotten rid of certain items. We’ve also made some changes to our final packing list based on our experiences.
Obviously, necessities like toiletries are available everywhere. However, other items, like electronics, may not be as accessible or may cost more.
Even Amazon Prime members can’t get items within two days anymore. Their global delivery program takes at least a week, and doesn’t apply to everything.
1. Carry On Only Travel
As digital nomad minimalists, we have the freedom to go wherever we want, assuming there’s decent WiFi. However, more stuff ends up being more to juggle as we rush through airports or huddle into a ride share car.
Our travel situation is unique because I have insisted that my family travel carry on only. We’ve actually traveled this way since before our son was born. These days, though, almost every airline charges for checked luggage which increases travel costs substantially. Especially for a family of three. To remain budget travelers, we need to ensure that money spent is on essentials like housing, food, and entertainment. After all, why travel the world if we can’t enjoy some of it?
That said, carry on only travel does require a fair amount of sacrifice. Packing extra clothes or shoes ‘just in case’ isn’t really possible. In addition, carrying full size versions of favorite toiletries is out of the question. The latter is especially concerning because I’ve been told quality skincare is hard to find in Asia. Apparently, almost everything has skin lighteners in it. Thankfully, my favorite skincare all comes in containers under 3 oz!
2. Teaching Supplies
Before we left Chicago, we had a dedicated office with shelves upon shelves of teaching supplies. Props for teaching were everywhere, and several were quite large. Although he knew it was coming and loves his props, David didn’t really alter his teaching style.
It’s been an interesting learning curve substituting different props in lessons. Instead of stuffies for different animal words, we have a set of magnets to attach to a small magnetic dry-erase board. We gave away the giant Dino that David won at Journey in April, and are just going to keep a regular and a puppet Dino for travel.
David has started drawing more. When we spent a night at my dad’s house, we didn’t want to get out all our teaching supplies for one morning of teaching. So David drew a picture for his student as the reward system during each class. Students earn up to five rewards during classes for their performance. This encourages them to participate.
We have been sourcing small, travel friendly reward systems. In addition to the popular felt ice creams, we also repurposed some of our son’s toys such as his Hot Wheels race cars and LEGO Figurines. After all, while some kids want ice cream every time others enjoy variety in the rewards they can earn.
3. Get Creative
Everywhere we go, we have to create a teaching space with an educational background. Not all tables or desks easily back up to a wall for us to hang a background. Some houses have so much of their own artwork that we don’t need to hang it.
We use what’s available. Sometimes that means sitting on a sleeping pillow to teach. Kitchen chairs need padding after sitting in them for five hours! Other times, it means sitting on a futon with a balance board for a laptop stand. Or teaching in a garage with a fence remnant background.
We are committed to being able to work anywhere there’s good WiFi. This means our students get to see a variety of backgrounds that non-traveling teachers don’t offer. Unless they want to buy new supplies and redo their backgrounds every few weeks. Most online teachers we know don’t do that more than quarterly, at most. We certainly didn’t make many big changes before we hit the road as digital nomad minimalists!
4. Less is More
When we started our packing list, we thought we’d take two weeks worth of clothes. We didn’t want to have to do laundry every week. As we’ve traveled, we found that we’re still doing laundry every week. Certain clothing items don’t get worn. Having two weeks worth of clothes doesn’t make sense if we don’t wear them.
Having time to assess our clothing rotation has been helpful as the reality of our baggage limit has set in. We can wear some things more than once it they don’t look or smell dirty. If we cut down our clothes to 7-10 days, then we can fit more of other items. Like a first aid kit, or small VIPKid swag for teachers we meet.
Just as we’ve monitored our clothing usage, we’ve done the same for our son’s toys. Items he swore he wanted to take with us aren’t getting touched. Some of them we’ve sold along the way and given him the money to use on our cruise. At first, he was sad but over time he’s gotten more excited for what’s to come.
We’ve found that although some of the toys are used less, our son really enjoys games. Some we are just keeping on the road with us. When we leave we will store them at my dad’s until we return. My sister’s kids can enjoy them while we’re gone.
5. Downsize Technology
This sounds a bit counter-intuitive since as digital nomad minimalists we depend on technology for income. We aren’t bringing less technology. We are just changing the type of technology we own to accommodate our luggage space. Or lack thereof.
Originally, we had a 10 TB external hard drive to store photos, movies, etc. It was full size, required a power plug to run, and was very large. Now we’ve changed to two passport portable drives that hold 7 TB combined.
We found that as Amazon Prime members, we have access to unlimited photo storage. The Prime membership costs less annually than it costs for monthly photo storage on other popular sites. Amazon also does not force us to downgrade the photo size or quality. Our phones allow us to automatically store the photos there instead of on them, which is really helpful.
I also traded in my 17″ laptop for a 10.5″ iPad Pro and Bluetooth keyboard. I got them both on a super sale during Prime Day. It’s nice because I can write and do all the same blog work on a device that is less than half the size and weight. The keyboard doesn’t even feel odd. Although the keys are smaller, they are spaced to be the same as a standard size keyboard. This allows me to type at a faster speed because the muscle memory is the same. And I can work from anywhere, including the car!
6. Make Good Choices
Ultimately, this summer road trip around the US has helped us realize that we need to make good choices. Several times already, we have sat down to discuss needs versus wants. And it’s tough.
Our son is really getting into reading. His favorites are comic books, like Dog Man and Captain Underpants. We’ve been looking for his favorite books in e-reader format. Those take up no extra space and no extra weight. Originally, he thought he was going to be able to take all of those books with him. There were some tears when we sold the books, until he remembered he gets to keep all the money!
7. A Fresh Perspective
We’re still working on our final packing list. As we approach our departure date, it seems more things we originally thought were essential aren’t actually necessary. Going through the process of downsizing, especially at the end, we thought we knew what we needed. To some extent, that’s true. We just didn’t realize everything we wouldn’t need.
Having a few months on the road while also being moderately close to home has been helpful. We have a more informed perspective from actually living our new life as digital nomad minimalists. We’re also figuring out what we need to buy while paring down more of what we can live without.
We still have about a few more weeks to travel and figure out what else we don’t really need. After that, we plan to finalize our packing list while staying with my dad.
8. Be Open-Minded
I’m sure once we leave for Asia, we’ll have more changes to our packing list. There’s bound to be something we forgot. There may even be some things we have to buy when we arrive, other than toiletries and food. Staying flexible throughout this adventure will help us all not get too stressed.
After all, although life-changing decisions like this can be stressful they are also meant to be fun and exciting. We plan to keep an open mind about wants versus needs. This will ensure we can enjoy the ride regardless of what happens!