I’ve been a digital nomad now for just over five years, picking up every few months to explore a new city, often in another country. But no matter where I end up, I rely on the following travel tools, apps, and gadgets to be able to work (and play) without skipping a beat. (Note that a * indicates an affiliate link.)
These are in addition to the obvious travel accessories, such as voltage adaptors and electronics chargers. I’ll add to this list as I find new gear and gadgets. Share your recommendations in the comments.
1. Charles Schwab Card
ATM fees suck. This one card has saved me an estimated $5,000 in ATM fees over the past six years. When I lived in Berlin, I would go to my German bank, take out my rent money from my Schwab account, and then deposit it directly into my German account, from which I then paid my landlord directly. Paying an international wire transfer each month would have cost about $50 a pop, or I could have withdrawn from my main bank account for about $8 (combined ATM fees of my American bank and German ATM).
Tip: If you set up your main bank account to transfer to your Schwab one, it takes about three days for the transfer to go through. Requesting from Schwab to your main account can take a few days more, so best to get it set up on the main-account side.
Bonus: There are no fees at all for this card. I don’t know how Schwab can afford to offer such an amazing service for free, but they do — and their customer service has been impeccable. They’ve even overnighted me a card overseas. For all these reasons, they’re one of the few companies I have complete loyalty and faith in.
You can apply here for the card. As of the writing of this blog post, Schwab will even give you $100 when you open your account. If you need a referral code to claim the cash, shoot me a message. (Note that I do not get any compensation for the referral. And H/T to Milevalue.com, where I originally learned about the Schwab card.)
This little fob can help you find important items if they’re lost or stolen. After the last time an airline lost my luggage, I purchased a pack of six and placed one in each of my suitcases and my purse. Unfortunately, the battery dies pretty quickly, but Trackr has sent me free replacements on more than one occasion, a perk I didn’t expect. Note that I have not yet been able to test whether I can locate my luggage after it’s been lost by an airline, but from the tests I’ve done, it seems a Trackr would do the trick.
3. Skype Subscription
When I accidentally moved to Europe, I needed a way to call my clients and record calls (for transcription purposes). Regular Skype-to-Skype calling is free, but calling a phone costs a couple cents per minute — which began to add up with all my business calls. I also wanted a U.S. phone number that clients could call when I was abroad.
By purchasing the Call Recorder plugin (a one-time fee of $39.95) and getting a Skype phone number and an annual subscription (a total of $120 per year — far less than an international cell plan), I got everything I needed. More about Skype paid services.
4. Google Voice
Once I realized I wasn’t coming back to the States any time soon, I didn’t want to lose my U.S. phone number, which I’d had for nearly 15 years. For $20, I was able to move the number over to Google (although I didn’t use it there). I already had a Google Voice number set up, so I had that forward to my Skype number. On my visits back to the U.S., I changed the forwarding to go to my new U.S. number. This way, I could give out the Voice number knowing that it would always connect callers to me, no matter where I went. Aside from the $20 to move my number, I haven’t paid a cent to Google for this service.
Another great feature of Google Voice is that it will email transcriptions of your voicemail, which means I don’t have to call and check messages all the time. (Although sometimes the transcriptions are unintelligible due to a mumbling caller or crappy connection.)
5. Extra Cell Phone
Rather than trade in my old iPhone, I kept it so that guests who visited me in Berlin could use it rather than pay for an international plan. When I went to another country, I’d purchase a local SIM card (usually about $20) rather than pay German roaming fees. (Note that as of June 2017, there are no more roaming fees between EU companies. I’m pretty sure the EU was just waiting to hear when I was leaving to implement that change.) Having two phones means I can still get U.S. calls (in case of emergency) and make cheap local calls and use a local data plan. Plus, using the older phone in other countries means I won’t be as upset if it gets stolen or, more likely, lost.
I much prefer a good old-fashioned paperback, preferably well-aged so I get a whiff of times long past as I flip through the pages. But books can weigh down luggage like few other items can, so my Kindle* is one of the first items I put in my carry-on. And if you’re looking for something to read on your next international trip, check out Journey Reads.
I believe in security through redundancy, if that isn’t already obvious. I back up my computer to an external hard drive and the cloud, I have multiple phone numbers, and I have multiple ways of tracking my computer, in case it ever gets lost or stolen. Although the Find My Phone (which covers any Apple device, not just phones) feature is insanely handy whenever I forget where I’ve put my phone, it doesn’t have the security features Prey offers, such as locking your device, erasing the data on your device, and evidence reports that can help police track down your stolen item.
The free version of Prey allows you to track up to three devices. For a couple bucks a month, you can upgrade to add more devices or get priority support. I’m still on the free version because of some glitches with the software, such as Prey telling me it can’t find my computer when I’m using it right then and there. But I might upgrade in the future if they get these kinks worked out.
You can further protect yourself from being spied on by getting these handy sliding camera covers* that work on your computer and iPad.
A virtual private network became crucial when I couldn’t access American content on Netflix. With all the traveling I do, I really should have gotten one sooner for security purposes, but being forced to watch German documentaries lit a fire under my Arsch.
I’ve been using ExpressVPN* for about three years now and have been rather happy with it, aside from the occasional lag. Be safe! Never log into a public or hotel network without a VPN. Heck, I even use the VPN when I’m at home, especially if I’m sending sensitive info, such as when I’m buying something online.
I had a Roku* when I lived in LA, but I’d remembered it being on the large side (it was one of the early models), so I didn’t want to waste precious suitcase space when an HDMI cable would do. Then, late last year, I purchased one for my mom (who said she’d never use it, then told me she’d finished all of Grace & Frankie in less than a month) and saw how small and lightweight the newer models were, so I added it to my travel gear. Now I no longer have to use a mouse as a remote, as I did when I watched Netflix through my computer, nor do I have to worry about almost knocking a TV off the wall the next time I’m trying to access a port in an Airbnb with the TV attached to the wall. (Sorry, Berlin host!)
10. Wine Opener
Because I never again want to find myself in a situation where I have a bottle of wine and no way to open it (other than that shoe trick, which only succeeded in splattering me with malbec). Tip: Keep a cork on the screw so it doesn’t tear up your clothing.
Is there something you can’t leave home without? Let me know in the comments.
I try to travel with light baggage, so usually, everything that I have fits in a small backpack. I definitely agree with that part about Kindle I love paper books, but they are just too heavy. Also, a good VPN is a must for every traveler. I never tried Express, I bought Surfshark because of the price, and it works just fine. And I just loved your tip about wine opener 😀
When I travel, it’s usually for a few months. My next trip will be three months on three continents, so I’ll have a medium suitcase and a backpack. I’ll have to look into Surfshark. Thanks for the tip!