February 22, 2024

5 must-haves from digital nomads who live out of their suitcase

  • Meagan Drillinger has traveled from continent to continent and only takes the essentials with her.
  • As she’s gotten older, her packing list of “must-haves” has grown to meet her needs.
  • She said a pro tip is to always wear your biggest shoes on the plane.

In January 2021, I traded my New York apartment for carry-on luggage and kissed many of my material possessions goodbye. What I thought would be an extremely difficult adjustment turned out to be one of the most liberating decisions I’ve ever made.

Realizing that you can live with less has not only saved money over the years (bye, Amazon addiction), but has also helped shift my priorities. I now believe that if you can’t wear it, maybe you don’t need it.

Now that I’m older, I can’t just roll out of bed and maintain an air of effortlessness—at 22, I was traveling ten to twelve times a year with little more than a pair of leggings, face wash, and a toothbrush. Now that I’m 36 and on the road full time, skin care and fitness are more important and my packing list of “must haves” has grown to fit my style and needs.

As short as this list is, some of it can still be left out if necessary, but I believe I have found a good balance between routine, comfort and traveling light.

A passport

Drillinger always has a passport at hand.

Smith Collection/Gado



1. The essence

It may go without saying, but I always have my passport with me. I’m sure of that too check which countries require travel visas advance. The other essential item I never travel without is insurance. I have bought Allianz AllTrips Basicwhich provides protection for a year at a rate of $125 per year and covers any trip up to 45 days in one destination.

2. The hand luggage and checked bag

Meagan Drillinger

Drillinger’s unpacked suitcase and all her supplies.

Meagan Drillinger



I use a combination of a carry-on bag, which I check, and a travel bag. I love this travel duffel because underneath there is a zipper pocket that fits three to four pairs of shoes. I’m not exactly a suitcase expert, but I am a fan of the spinner wheel hardcase suitcases. I bought a dupe of a bag from the popular but expensive brand Away – which I hear is worth the splurge – and it’s just not the same, so I plan to buy a real Away bag next year.

Recently I’ve given in to the cross-body bag obsession, so much so that I’ve given up on a handbag altogether. Crossbody bags are incredibly useful: mine fit my credit cards, small sunscreen, sunglasses, headphones, lip gloss and, when we’re at the airport, the passports and boarding passes, saving me valuable minutes instead of rummaging through a large bag. bag.

3. A capsule wardrobe

Drillinger packs a capsule wardrobe when she travels.

Drillinger packs a capsule wardrobe when she travels and keeps her winter gear on standby.

Meagan Drillinger



When you’re on the road full-time, you usually have the ability to do laundry, so never pack as much as you think you need. My capsule wardrobe consists of two pairs of long pants, two pairs of shorts, five neutral colored tanks or T-shirts, sweatpants or leggings, dresses, a cardigan, two swimsuits, underwear, socks, bras, and sports bras.

I also pack a pair of sandals and running shoes and, if there is room, change into shoes and walking shoes. That shoe compartment holds up a lot of. Pro tip: Always wear your largest shoes on the plane.

I try to tailor nicer pieces depending on where I’m going, like flowy resort-style dresses for tropical destinations or more business-casual pieces for cities. A real challenge was this most recent trip I’m currently on, a six-month adventure through Africa, the US, Canada and Mexico – three climatic zones. But with a capsule wardrobe, I’m covered – as long as my hat, gloves and down jacket are on standby at my in-laws’ house in Canada.

4. My health and beauty must-haves

Make-up bag

Drillinger always packs a makeup bag

Vitalij Sova



It can be difficult to maintain a fitness or beauty routine on the go, but the right toolkit has given me consistency. I always take a travel blender with me (I discovered this recently USB-c rechargeable blender) and supplements, such as protein powder and vitamins. By taking 1000 mg of vitamin C daily, I have been cold-free for more than a year. I pack protein bars for when it takes a long time between meals; no one is fun to travel with when they are hungry.

I also never travel without Advil, Benadryl, cold medicine, and fiber supplements. If you can stock up on one antibiotic such as CiprofloxacinI recommend you do that; it can be useful for a wide range of bacterial infections, such as traveler’s diarrhea or urinary tract infections. (Of course, check with your doctor before taking any medications.) My husband always carries a pair of mini scissors for grooming. Our water bottles are always within reach.

My skincare bag has gotten out of hand in the past, but I’ve found that the essentials are a gentle cleanser, moisturizer, sunscreen, and eye cream. The other toiletries are pretty obvious: shampoo, conditioner, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Facial wipes are often useful, especially on long-haul flights or the unexpected overnight stay at an airport or in the car.

When I check my luggage, I always pack a change of clothes and essential toiletries in my carry-on in case the luggage gets lost, which happened to my husband’s bag, along with his wedding suit, while en route from Croatia to our wedding in New York . (They found it in time, but it’s never a fun scenario.)

5. My mobile office

Laptop in suitcase

As a digital nomad, Drillinger works on the road, which means she also has to pack her electronics.

photo alliance



Because I live on the road, I also work on the road, so my mobile office is always ready to go. In addition to my iPhone (which is also my camera), laptop, and power cords, I have a universal adapter for international plugs along with additional charging pads and USB-C cables. My husband has insisted that we travel with one small dash cam when we rent a car for extra liability protection in case we get into an accident. He’s also responsible for preloading movies and TV shows on his iPad for those times when we’re stuck somewhere without power.

Living out of a suitcase has changed my life for the better in many ways, even if it comes with certain sacrifices, insecurities and inconveniences. If you’ve ever had the urge to see how far and how long you can go, it will teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the world and yourself – and learn to live with only what you need.

Meagan Drillinger is a travel writer and digital nomad originally from New York. She now lives on the road full time.

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