Ahh, those rascally digital nomads.

We must make the nomadic life look like so much fun. In reality, there’s a lot we give up to have the lifestyle we do — and it ain’t always pretty.

On one level, I’m proud to be able to hold everything I own in two suitcases and a computer bag. I can jump on a plane for most anywhere in the world with almost everything I own and (shouldn’t!) be paying any overweight fees. That said, a choice for the nomad life means some things have to go.

One important thing to note here: I’m presuming you’re planning to leave your home country — and not come back — for quite some time. If you’re planning on coming back to the same country / city in a year, consider storage, long-term parking, and the like instead of selling things off.

Home and car

Before freaking out about this one (ER-MA-GAWD, this could take months! or years!), consider your options if you own your home:

  • Renting it out to traditional tenants (e.g. for six months or a year)
  • Renting it out via Airbnb, Innclusive, or a dozen other similar companies. (Wait, don’t you have to be nearby to give them the key? Not necessarily — an electronic door lock is an investment, but a great way to give out a one-time code. People might hire a neighbor to clean or otherwise look after a property, so there’s always a real-world touch to it.)

As for your car, these are usually easier to sell so long you own it outright. A lease might be a bit more tricky, so it might be time to pull out the paperwork and see what it takes to quit the lease early.

Moral of the story: these are good questions, but not impossible obstacles.

Furniture / big electronics

I gave a lot of furniture to my roommate when I left the states in 2008, and for obvious reasons haven’t bought much since. Office chairs, a couple of dry eraser boards, some plastic shelves here and there — most of which got resold or left behind since they don’t fit very well in luggage.

As for electronics, there’s a reason I need a computer bag / backpack that ends up being my ‘personal item’. There’s no room in the luggage for a big TV, and even something like a few backup external hard drives can take up a lot of space.

Sell it, trade it for luggage, give them to roommates or friends, or give them to Goodwill / the Salvation Army / other thrift stores.


While living in Krabi, Thailand, a cat we later named Tab followed Laura home while she was out for a walk. Even after learning it had feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), she took care of him, got him to the vet, the whole nine yards. When we left Thailand, Laura spent hours researching and hundreds of dollars in arranging to fly him to her mom’s place in Canada. (Despite some excellent care, Tab died a short time later.) To say Laura was heartbroken is a bit of an underestimate… but life goes on…

While living in Medellin, Colombia, Laura fostered another cat with FIV (and briefly fostered a second cat during a major holiday). Even though she was just fostering with a known date to give them back…? Heartbroken again.

Even assuming you’re staying / living in a place where you’re allowed to have them, pets need many of the same things as humans: love, attention, food, some space to play, etc. It’s not unlike another traveler in your group.

If you have one and can’t stand to leave them behind, it’s time to start researching how (and if) they can come they can come with you. It’s usually possible, but the amount of red tape makes it difficult to get them in the country legally or timely.

While nomads have a tough time giving pets a ‘forever home’, they can offer a safe space to foster or care for animals for the short-term. The animal clinic Laura used in Medellin, for example, is the Fundacion Orca. though you’ll want some Spanish to help you through the process. She fostered a cat (a second for a short time), only paying for food Other clinics around the world may allow for short-term fostering — if you have the language skill or a translator on hand, it’s worthwhile to ask.

Paper books

This is a hard one for some nomads. Sure, a tablet or a Kindle enables you to buy and purchase books the world over — and with a better selection than in any paperback store — but those that love the feel or look of the printed word feel stuck. Perhaps that’s one reason why some favorites get shunted to a hostel’s communal bookshelves or the first place some people go in a new town is the bookstore.

My personal solution is to buy, enjoy, then give away before my next flight. That puts a damper on the ‘building a collection’ mindset, but ends up forcing me to find some time to actually read the books instead of simply stockpile them.

A whole array of clothes and shoes

Photo by JessicaGale

At some point, every nomad has had to ask ‘how many shoes (shirts, pairs of socks, pairs of underwear, etc.) do I really need?’ With few exceptions, the answer is usually ‘fewer than you think’. It’s going to vary based on your traveling plans, naturally, but few of those plans involve ten pairs of shoes.

As for the clothes, I had a hard time letting go of some of the nicer formalwear, even though I almost never wore it. I didn’t really run in those circles, and didn’t need them for work obligations. At some point I got down to a single pair of black slacks and dress shoes… and eventually let those go as well.

A cabinetful of dishes

Yep, they look really pretty — but again, this goes back to the ‘how many do you need?’ question. Anything considered breakable has a tough time in luggage, be it checked or carry-on. Some basics are legitimately worthy of bringing — you’ll usually find some cheap plastic cups or plates in my luggage for less-stocked Airbnb’s and hostels. For extra credit, I love the idea behind these travel-friendly silicone wine glasses. They’re silicone and thus unbreakable — throw them against a wall of whatever, they’re good.