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8 things I’m carrying around the world.

From MacGyver-style fitness items to beautiful technology…and a small piece of rubber. Here’s what I packed for my trip around the world.

Nate on a rooftop.
Playing around on a rooftop in Bangkok.

If there’s one thing I’m grateful for every single day it’s this:

For the past nine years, I’ve been able to work on whatever I want, from wherever I want, whenever I want.

I decided long ago that I wanted to create things, help people, and control my schedule.

So instead of following the traditional career path or “following my passion”—the latter being misguided and dangerous advice—I started building a set of skills that would allow me to create value and solve problems for other people.

It continues to be an unconventional, rewarding path to walk. (And one I believe anyone with the right information and action-plan can follow, no matter what your life looks like now.)

Over the years, I’ve taken advantage of my location independence to the tune of multiple trips to Europe and the UK, Central America, and all across the US and Canada for days or weeks at a time.

But I’ve never quite pushed it to this extent.

6 months ago, Richelle and I sold or donated most of what we owned, put the rest in a small storage unit, gave up our lease, and left our house in Portland, OR for a trip around the world.

We’re not sure when we’ll stop and set up a “regular home” again. For now, we’re enjoying ourselves, hanging out in random locations, meeting people, and forgetting to tell my mom just where in the hell we are, because Nathaniel, boy, you’re gonna give me a goddamn heart attack!

Since we’re currently living out of suitcases, Richelle and I have to be very economical with what we pack and carry.

Of course, lots of travel bloggers and “digital nomads” have already written about their packing lists with suggestions on clothes, backpacks and the like.

But I’m no travel blogger, and I dislike the “digital nomad” label. (It makes me think of lifestyle coaches who help other lifestyle coaches become better lifestyle coaches…)

So, my list of crucial travel items is different than most. Built over the span of nearly a decade of working and traveling, it includes MacGyver-style fitness tools, beautiful technology…and a cheap piece of rubber.

Whether you travel for business, vacation, or not at all, I think you’ll find that the following items—ranked from least expensive to most expensive—will make your life just a little bit better.

At least, they have for me.

Sleep better with a travel alarm clock.

For some reason, most people still use their phone as an alarm clock. That means the first thing they see in the morning and the last thing they see at night is a little rectangle of distraction and light.

I used to do the same thing, so I’m not judging too hard. But a few years ago, I bought a tiny travel alarm clock and started leaving my phone in the kitchen at night. I instantly started sleeping better. I went to bed faster and woke up feeling refreshed and focused.

I’ll never go back to using my phone as an alarm clock. It’s a $13 purchase that will change your life.

Carry a frisbee. Instantly become popular.

It’s ridiculous how much I love this thing, but this little piece of rubber—designed for dogs, and made by the same company as my beloved Aeropress—is incredible. It’s soft, it’s packable, and it flies smooth and even.

Take it to a beach or a park and you have an instant workout and an instant friend-maker.

I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, or what language you speak: Everyone always wants to play frisbee.

Everyone. Always.

Make anywhere feel like home with a Bluetooth speaker.

Anker

I listen to music constantly: in the morning while I get dressed, in the late morning and afternoon while I work, and in the evening when I’m calming down for the day.

I use the Anker Bluetooth Speaker since it’s small, fits in the palm of my hand, and is incredibly powerful. I’ve now listened to Kendrick Lamar and Lana Del Rey (shut up) in four different countries.

Stay in shape with the most portable dumbbells ever.

I got this tip from Tim Ferriss six years ago when I was helping him with research for “The 4-Hour Body”.

Kayakers use dry bags to keep water out, but we put water in and use them as makeshift dumbbells / kettlebells. (Mine weigh between 30-40 pounds when filled.)

I use them for Turkish Get-Ups, swings, presses, rows, and more. Pair ‘em with a pull-up bar (or a tree branch) and some open space to move around and do handstands, and you have the makings of a perfect workout.

The best part: When you’re done, just pour the water out and hang them somewhere to dry before rolling them back up and putting them in your suitcase.

Sit there and be a person with a mediation bench.

This meditation bench is the biggest, most cumbersome thing I travel with. I love it.

Ever since I did a silent 10-day retreat—where we often sat without moving for an hour at a time—I’ve enjoyed meditating on a bench as opposed to a chair or the floor. It allows me to maintain better posture and isn’t as physically taxing as sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Nate's meditation bench
Harnessing my chi. Or something.

The biggest reason I brought my bench: Habit.

Meditating in the morning was something I wanted to continue to practice while traveling, and I knew I’d stand a better chance of sticking to it if I brought my bench along with me.

So far this has proved to be true: I’ve only missed a handful of days in the past six months.

Work better (and feel better) with a separate keyboard and mouse.

Nate's work set-up

I make a living with my computer, which means I’m often on it for hours at a stretch. This, of course, can lead to some annoying neck and back pain.

Back in Portland, I had the ultimate set-up: An adjustable desk that toggled from standing-height to sitting; two 27” Apple monitors; a fancy-pants Herman Miller chair. My home office felt like being in a control room at NASA. (Or so I imagined.)

But out on the road, I’m at the mercy of random uncomfortable chairs and tables of varying height and stability. That’s why I always carry a separate keyboard and mouse. They allow me to put my computer at eye level—usually on top of a few books—so I’m not constantly looking down and straining my neck while typing with T-Rex arms.

Feel all the emotions and maybe even cry a little with Bose noise-cancelling headphones.

Before I left Portland, I gave my Bose noise-cancelling headphones away; I thought all I needed were my Apple earbuds.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Still, I went for months without looking for a new pair. But a conversation at a cafe in Chiang Mai changed my mind.

That’s when I met Derek, a guitar-tech and roadie for bands like Alabama Shakes and Fun. We started talking about music and I asked him what headphones he used. Without hesitation he said “Bose noise cancelling over-the-ear headphones.”

They’re key, Derek told me, because he listens to music the way most people watch movies: Fully immersed and focused.

“With these, you don’t just hear the music; you actually feel it.”

So later that week I bought myself another pair. And, sweet Jesus, I forgot how much I love these things. When I got home from the store, I lay on the couch, closed my eyes, and listened to the entire Ben Howard album, Every Kingdom.

I was captivated. It felt like Ben was sitting in the room next to me, singing his damn heart out.

Listen, if you’ve never put a beautiful, powerful pair of headphones on your head, then you’re missing out on 99% of the music you listen to. I’m not even kidding.

2017 Update

After 7 months of traveling, Richelle and I are back in the States for now. I still stand by this list, but have one other thing I added since I got back: The Roost Laptop stand. It sure as hell beats putting your laptop on a stack of books.