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15 Butt-Saving Tech Essentials for Digital Nomads & Tropical Freelancers

There is a ton of digital nomad gear out there, but few true essentials. Here’s our road-tested list of tech essentials — #3 & #11 saved our butts many times.

Maybe you’ve been traveling for a while and are looking for tech gear essentials to add to your digital nomad packing list?

Or, perhaps you’ve just accepted an assignment or volunteer post in a developing country for the first time?

Or, maybe it’s your third or fourth year traveling full time and doing freelance work, and you’re looking for compact and durable tech gear to add to your packing list that can boost your productivity and peace of mind overseas?

Living and working while constantly on the move presents an array of challenges anywhere—and those challenges often multiply the farther you get from major cities.

Here are just some of the technology-related challenges I’ve frequently encountered over the years working on the go in various parts of the globe:

  • Unforgiving heat, humidity and rainfall;
  • Frequent [and lengthy!] power cuts;
  • Scarcity of power outlets for charging devices;
  • Poor (or nonexistent) WiFi;
  • Poor cellular signal or expensive roaming charges for foreign carriers;
  • Lack of decent quality (or, simply lack of) electronics or replacement accessories;
  • Lack of bookshops with books in my native language;
  • And countless others…

Personally, I often find that the added hardship and lack of certain modern conveniences we take for granted in places like North America and Western Europe can set the stage for deeper, more satisfying overseas experiences.

Often traveling in rural and under-industrialized corners of the globe means less time spent with machines, more meaningful interactions with actual people, and more time and space for mindful single-tasking.

With that said, a little 21st century technology can go a long way in cutting out a lot of the crap that can easily suck up hours of your day, especially for a digital nomad whose livelihood depends on it.

15 Butt-Saving Tech Gadgets For Your Digital Nomad Packing List

What Makes AwayGoWe Gear Guides Different

Why trust our travel gear recommendations? All of the gear on this list has been personally road-tested by us (unless otherwise noted).

While this page contains some affiliate links, we don't do sponsored content here on AwayGoWe and we don't accept requests to peddle anyone's product.

That means that our opinions and recommendations are 100% independent and unbiased (though we will admit we have a strong bias towards useful gear that's built to last!).

Earbay Headset w/Mic

Simply a must in the age of ZOOM and beyond.

No software to install, plugs straight into the headphone/ mic combo jack of your phone or Mac, or use the included adapter for PCs and everything else with 2 ports. 

We think this one’s the best out there for the money.

TIP: Want wireless and noise-cancelling? Then you’ll want to for sure check out this one.

SanDisk 1TB Ultra Dual Drive

Forget bulky external hard drives! If you don’t work with a ton of media (i.e. video) this little puppy may be all you’ll need.

Flips between old-fashioned USB and newer USB-C ports, so you’re covered wherever you go.

32GB, 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and even 1TB capacity!

We have the 256GB version. While transfer rates won’t blow your socks off, the ultra portability and huge capacity makes this drive an essential piece of gear for any digital nomad.

TIP: If you’re transferring a lot of files, plugging in your laptop to power helps speed things up!

Nekteck 21w Outdoor Portable Solar Charger

There are so many reasons you might want to pack one of these, whether you plan to work in urban or remote areas with abundant sunshine.

A solar charger can be a critical piece of gear in urban areas, where you experience power cuts, work all day on a Tablet PC with no nearby power source, or use 4G/LTE on your phone for several hours on the go.

We especially love these for keeping our phone/ GPS device charged on multi-day treks.

Alfa USB Wifi Dongle

You grab that perfect spot with a stunning view to catch up on email only to find the wifi signal doesn’t reach.

Plug this puppy in and stop banging your head against the hammock post.

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gsm unlocked 4g wifi hotspot digital nomad gear

Alcatel LINKZONE Mobile Wifi

Digital nomads and freelancers overseas quickly discover that picking up a 4G SIM for internet is a must.

If you stick around long enough, sharing your mobile phone network gets old quick.

A well-built unlocked 4G mobile hotspot is a headache-free way to share one connection with all your devices on the road.

Nomak Adjustable Aluminum Travel Stand

Let’s face it, digital nomads spend a lot of time in front of our laptops.

Be kind to your neck, shoulders, and the rest of your body with a portable stand.

We personally own this one and love it for its light weight, adjustability, and small folded size.

VAVA 7-in-1 USB-C Hub

This little puppy is something I never thought I’d need…until I got a newer Mac and discovered they’ve switched exclusively to USB-C. AND…in most cases, you only get TWO ports!

The solution? A USB-C hub with 3 USB ports, USB-C charging port, SD/micro, and HDMI.

We use this one which seems to work flawlessly with my recent MacBook Pro and is a good value for the money.

Logitech M535

Another item I thought I’d never need as a digital nomad. But after several hours of “gesturing” on a modern trackpad my whole hand can feel like it got slammed in a door.

Enter the humble mouse.

This is the one I use currently, which is lightweight, small (might not be suitable for monster hands), connects fast, lasts forever, and seems like an overall excellent value.

world travel adapter kid digital nomad gear

Ceptics World Travel Adapter w/Surge Protection

In terms of essential digital nomad gear, this is one gadget that should absolutely be on your packing list!

I’ve waited a long time for this one — a solid, compact, and virtually universal travel adapter.

Features surge protection, 2x USB 3.0 ports, 2x U.S. outlets, and SIX types of international adapters.

Does not convert voltage. However, most personal electronics do this now for you. Always check your gear specs and country voltage before using!

e-reader moving abroad packing checklist

Kindle Paperwhite – Now Waterproof

If you love to read on the road, you’ve got three choices — weigh down your bag with a bunch of books; hope you find books in your language along the way; or…get an e-reader.

I prefer the Kindle Paperwhite over tablet PCs, because, quite frankly, I already spend too much of my day staring at a computer screen.

And now, they’re waterproof!

rugged hard drive moving abroad packing checklist

LaCie Rugged 4TB Portable HDD

Getting not just one, but two rugged water resistant external hard drives for storage and backup is one of the best digital nomad gear decisions I’ve made.

If you’re working on the road with your laptop, it goes without saying that you’ll want to back up all those hours of work.

Durability and weather-resistance are crucial considerations in the tropics, where heat and humidity can wreak havoc on poorly made electronics.

If your hard drive does fail, a high-quality replacement drive might not be easily available (or cost-effective) in many countries, so best to get one built like a tank.

unlocked phone digital nomad gear

Whether it’s made by Apple, Samsung, or someone else, having one solid, dependable phone that you can use anywhere in the world saves time and money.

Many of the most popular smartphones on the market (such as the most recent iPhones) offer unlocked versions of their phones that will work on both GSM and CDMA networks.

You’ll be able to take advantage of prepaid call/text/data rates at local prices, which is typically way cheaper than roaming.

If you’re working or traveling in remote areas with a phone but no laptop, and taking a ton of pictures, this little do-hicky can be a lifesaver.

This one is for iPhone, but they make them for any phone connection under the sun.

It’s essentially a thumb drive for your phone, allowing you to back up all your data while you’re on the move.

I’ve seen phones break, get rain-soaked, or just give up the ghost in extreme heat and humidity in the tropics and having one of these would have saved a lot of heartache.

Again, great for multi-day hiking or trekking as well.

A true butt-saver that should be on every digital nomad’s packing list.

portable dvd drive developing country packing list

LG Electronics Ultra Slim Portable DVD+/-RW Drive

In many countries, if you want to watch movies or listen to music, particularly those produced in destination (and your laptop doesn’t already have a built-in CD/DVD drive) you can find yourself in a tough spot.

And forget about Netflix or Spotify if your internet connection sucks or you’re paying by the megabyte.

Thankfully, today’s external CD/DVD drives are tougher, more compatible across brands, and smaller and lighter than ever.

rugged laptop developing country packing checklist

We use and recommend the MacBook Pro 13″

One of the biggest digital nomad gear mistakes we ever made was moving to a remote, tropical area of Central America with a cheap laptop. Our thinking was, if anything happened to it, we wouldn’t be out a bunch of money. Well, yes…and no.

Within weeks, multiple components failed likely due to heat and humidity, with no viable replacement within hundreds of miles. After a long wait, a colleague from the States ferried out a replacement.

That was 7 years ago. And the Mac we replaced it with? Still cruising along.

Further Considerations for Your Digital Nomad Tech Gear

I’ve listed 10 tech gadgets here that I’ve found incredibly useful at one point while working and traveling overseas.

While I strongly recommend adding many of these to your digital nomad packing list, I do want to stress that the gear that works for me and my circumstances may not necessarily work for you and yours, and vice versa.

Cost vs. Durability

You may have noticed that some of these items are quite pricey. Lori and I are frugal and fairly minimalist when it comes to buying stuff. With that said, we don’t buy crap.

If we invest in something, it’s for the long haul — and believe me, you are rewarded for it traveling full time or living in developing countries. 

I’ve had too many experiences in the past where I’ve bought crap and it couldn’t hold up to the daily rigors of a tropical climate, dust, public transport, or whatever. Never again.

Digital Nomad Gear Safety & Security

You might also be wondering about safety and carrying around a $1,400 laptop, etc. Personally, I’ve never had a problem (knock-knock). I know people who have, and most of them weren’t using common sense at the time.

I known more people who’ve had their laptops and phones grabbed from them at Starbucks or walking down the street in Washington, DC.

Don’t flaunt your stuff. Don’t walk around with it at night. Keep your stuff hidden/secure when you’re not using it. And get a good travel insurance policy. Done.

Hot Tip

Do you connect to public WiFi?

Stay safe surfing the web at hotels, coffee shops, and airports and use a VPN!

Not sure what a VPN is? Read our straight-forward article on why we always use a VPN, and why you probably should as well.

UPDATE (Dec 2020): Our favorite VPN is 68% OFF + 3 MONTHS FREE for a short time!

Global Compatibility

It’s worth noting that all the items listed here either work on 110v-220v power, or plug right into your computer via USB, so you should be good to go in that respect (along with the help of a good travel adapter (see above).

Pack Smart

Finally — and most importantly — you probably don’t need all this gear. I don’t need all this gear —at least not all at once.

But I’ve used each of these items (or older versions) at one point or another in the last decade depending on the job or the living situation, many of which have boosted my productivity or made nomadic freelancing way more enjoyable.

I prefer to pack as light as possible, and packing for a move overseas is hard enough without bringing a ton of unnecessary gadgetry. Add what you need to your digital nomad gear packing list and forget the rest.

Pack smart. Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Then, do it better the next time.

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Are you a digital nomad or tropical freelancer? What did you have on your packing list? Let us know in the comments below.

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