The notion of being a “digital nomad” who wanders from city to city or country to country while supporting their travels with remote work is a popular one in 2023.
And we see the appeal: go to exotic destinations, immerse yourself in new cultures, and create memories for a lifetime, all while getting paid thanks to your ability to work from anywhere. Sounds heavenly.
And thanks to technology, it’s pretty easy to do. All you need is the right equipment and you can literally plug in anywhere there is power and internet access to do what you need to.
So what does “the right equipment” look like? That’s where we come in. We’re about to take you on a shopping adventure to show you what you need, taking into account that you’ll need lightweight yet powerful consumer tech on your travels.
Let’s get started!
A powerful laptop with good battery life
The cornerstone of any wannabe digital nomad’s toolset is a decent laptop. You’ll want one that has plenty of battery life but is also plenty powerful enough to let you do all of the photo/video editing, writing, and videoconferencing you’ll be doing on your travels.
And as much as it pains us to admit this, you don’t want a Windows laptop for this – you want a MacBook. Apple’s iconic portable computers tick every box in this list: they offer brilliant battery life (sometimes as long as 18 hours if not more), they have powerful processors, and creative software runs brilliantly on them. Windows laptops are just too fiddly, and MacBooks are better and more reliable because they just work.
A 13-inch MacBook Pro (any model with an M-class processor in it) is your best bet here, as they offer all of the above while also being small and easily portable. They are expensive, however – expect to pay upwards of R30k to own one.
Don’t underestimate the value of having something to stand your laptop on while you travel. Elevating the screen to eye level and giving yourself comfortable access to the keyboard is how you avoid sitting uncomfortably for hours while you create.
You don’t need anything fancy, but we do recommend stands that are lightweight and which fold up into an easy-to-transport bundle. Like these.
R300 and up
Not having to deal with wires is an important part of any traveller’s equipment, while at the same time it’s also important to carry a keyboard and mouse with you. The solution: keyboards and mice that don’t have cables!
There are plenty of choices out there, but we recommend sticking with established brands like Logitech and Microsoft, as they tend to make the best kit.
If you can, get yourself a wireless keyboard and mouse that uses Bluetooth instead of a separate USB dongle to connect. That way, you’re not managing a separate dongle and your keyboard and mouse will connect to your laptop automatically whenever they’re switched on (after the initial pairing). You’re also not risking misplacing the dongle or having to search for it in your laptop bag every time you set up.
If we were about to go digital-nomadding, this is the wireless mouse and keyboard set we’d choose to take with us.
From R300 (but R2,500+ for the really good ones)
Digital nomad or not, you’re going to want some peace and quiet on your travels, and there’s no better way of guaranteeing that you can do that than by carrying a set of noise-cancelling headphones with you.
Slip them on, hit the power, and you’ll be immersed in a personal no-sound cocoon that’ll let you focus. Over-ear is more comfortable than in-ear, and brand-name NC headphones are the way to go as they tend to perform better. In an ideal world, we’d go with Sony’s WH-1000XM4s – they’re good at cancelling noise, they are comfortable, and they last 30+ hours between charges. They’re just a bit expensive at a buck short of R6k.
Lastly, a word to the wise about noise-cancelling headphones: the cheap ones aren’t great. To save a few bucks, you’ll miss out on better sound quality, better noise-cancelling, better build quality, and superior comfort. They still work to some extent, sure, but we recommend putting in a bit of extra cash to get something that works better.
An External Monitor
When at home or in an office, we can’t work as well without a second monitor. So if you’re like us, taking a portable second screen with you is all but essential.
Fortunately, the past few years have seen some innovation on this front, with several manufacturers bringing out screens with batteries that are powered over USB, sometimes even with their own support stands for easy placement when you’re out and about.
The ASUS ZenScreen MB165B is one such product, and we’d be happy to take it along on any digital nomad adventure. It’s reasonably priced at R2,500, it weighs just 780g, and it offers Full HD resolution and a screen size of 15.6 inches. Perfect for travelling.
Portable Wi-Fi Router
We’re in two minds about this one but will include it anyway for people who don’t have a second cell phone, a dual-SIM cell phone, or who don’t want to use their primary phone as their Wi-Fi hotspot.
A portable Wi-Fi router that uses cellular data for connectivity could be convenient to have on your travels. They’re cheap, too, starting at around the 600 buck mark, and they will give you cellular internet access over Wi-Fi. Their built-in batteries typically give you anything from two to ten hours of uptime, and they can connect several devices to the internet at the same time.
A local SIM card
To make use of your portable Wi-Fi router, and to avoid paying massive roaming charges for any data you use, you will need to buy yourself a local SIM card with plenty of data on it.
Do this as soon as you land at your latest destination and ask for a once-off SIM card with as much data as you can afford. Slip it into your portable Wi-Fi router, and enjoy the internet. We have no idea how much this would cost you, however, as that will depend on where you are.
A Virtual Private Network
Approx. R176 per month
It’s a good idea to also have access to a VPN service as you move around. On your travels you might, for example, need to access a service or a website back in South Africa that requires you to BE in South Africa, and the best way to fake that is by having a VPN in place.
Here are some of the more popular ones to choose from:
Expect to pay 10 US dollars a month or so for these, which at the moment is about R176. Who knows what it will cost tomorrow?
While other items on this list can be taken or left, you should absolutely not leave the house without a travel plug in your luggage.
This handy device lets you plug your good old South African equipment into any country’s power outlet by giving you access to the correct power pin configuration.
A Portable Hard Drive
We recommended a MacBook earlier, but as you probably know they tend to have limited storage with no option to expand it. This is where having an external hard drive will come in handy, especially if you’re working on video files which tend to take up a lot of space.
They start at R1,000 or so for a 1TB external drive, but we recommend getting one with the biggest capacity you can afford. A 5TB WD My Passport drive will set you back around R2,500, but it’ll be worth it to have so much space available to unleash your creativity.
This segues nicely into…
A USB Hub
MacBooks beat Windows laptops in every way except when it comes to ports – they tend not to have many. Solving this requires a USB hub that plugs into the MacBook’s USB-C ports on the one side and gives you USB-C and USB-A ports as well as the ability to read memory cards on the other. Like this one.
Having some background noise while you work is always nice, and a portable speaker is a great way to get that without requiring that you wear headphones.
Many companies now make small, battery-powered speakers that fit nicely into travel bags. Simply find one you like (like this one), and click buy.
You’re ready to go!
With all of these items in your travel bags, you’re ready to take on the world! And more importantly, get some quality work done no matter where you temporarily call home.