Digital Nomad travel gear review – getting started

Thinking of hitting the road with your laptop? Here's a review of all the gear you're going to need...

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Aviator Jeans, a digital nomad's close friend
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Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series by Hawaii Reporter Travel Editor and creator of Fijiguide.com, Rob Kay. In this article we’ll look at a travel wallet, trousers, and shoes.

Ever consider being a digital nomad? This is a trend that became increasingly popular during the COVID era. If you’re going to be stuck somewhere, it may as well be someplace with great beaches, good beer, and a culture you’ll want to explore. And yes, decent bandwidth so you can do your job, is also a must.

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Many countries, who understood this trend, realized that attracting hi-tech workers in a plague-induced downturn could be a boon to their economies. They responded by offering special visas that allow new economy workers to avoid tax hassles. The rationale was, so long as you’re working for people outside of the host country, you don’t have to pay taxes.

If you’re mobile and fancy-free, what’s not to like about this arrangement?

So I thought I’d try the digital nomad life for a few months in Europe while both researching a book.

I don’t know if there’s an official digital nomad instruction manual, but I would think rule #1 would be “travel light”. Rule #2 would be, bring the right gear.

What exactly was I going to need?

Here are the lessons I learned…

Card wallet plus from Nomad
Nomad’s full grain leather Card Wallet Plus worked well for me in Europe because of the size. (photo Rob Kay)

Organized and Safe

The first thing I did was acquire the Card Wallet Plus ($80) a decidedly non-high tech item from a company called appropriately enough, Nomad. A Santa Barbara-based operation, Nomad manufactures an array of high-tech products ranging from smart phone cases to wallet tracking cards and yes, even leather wallets.  

The Card Wallet Plus is minuscule but has 5 card slots and an external “quick access” slot.

How does this fit into the digital nomad’s world?

Start with the premise that when you travel, you don’t need a big fat American wallet. There are several good reasons for this.

First off, Rome and Barcelona are not just centers of great cuisine. Both are also the pickpocket capitals of Europe. This slim little billfold will readily slip into your front pocket without screaming “steal me”.  

comparison of Nomad Card Wallet Plus and big fat American wallet
Leave those big fat American wallets back home (photo Rob Kay)

The Card Wallet Plus is much thinner than my old-fashioned, “traditional” wallet, and could handle my Honolulu driver’s license and about four credit card sized items with plenty of room left over for folded cash and a few business cards. Nomad says it will fit up to twelve cards (which it will) but at that point it’s bit bulky for me. (I mean do you really need to carry around 12 cards?)

No.

All I wanted was room for a credit card or two, a couple of debit cards, a driver’s license, and room for Euros. It’s a good idea to carry a couple of credit cards with you because for inexplicable reasons one may not work. For example, Trenitalia, the Italian rail company, “liked” one of my credit cards but not the other. Or you may be in a situation where you need cash so a debit card will come in very handy.

The Nomad wallet became my “EDC” for use in cafes, restaurants, etc. No real need to carry anything else which would be fodder for the bad guys (and girls).

What about carrying a passport? 

Aviator travel jeans will keep your valuables safe
With Aviator Jeans you’ve got several secret pockets to discourage the pickpockets. I wore their new khaki jeans on this recent trip.

I didn’t find I needed a bigger billfold to carry around my passport in an EDC context. If you need to carry a passport (which you do at times) that can be transported in a money belt or you can zip it up in your front pants pocket. Generally I’d leave the passport back in the hotel room.

For me, a carry-all with passport(s), cash, cards, and everything else is just too big to stuff in your pants. It doesn’t mean that having a larger wallet might be a better solution for you but carrying something less detectable worked better for me.

Secure Clothing

Another way to protect your valuables on your person is to purchase a pair or two of “travel” jeans with hidden pockets protected by a zipper. I like products from Aviator, a company that has built its entire business model on travel clothing. Among other items, they offer a variety of jeans – classic faded, jet black, khaki, camo, steel grey, etc. I’m partial to their traditional denim jeans. 

Aviator offers a quintessential five pocket and five belt loop classic jean design. You could easily mistake it for a Levi or Wrangler.

Be a smart digital nomad and Keep your valuables out of harm's way with Aviator travel jeans
Yet another zippered pocket to stash your goodies in an Aviator travel jean (photo Rob Kay)

That’s just the surface resemblance. Aviator’s secret sauce is their three “secret” zipper pockets, hidden from view so that you can stash your passport, credit cards, cash, etc. Inside the right front pocket is a pouch where you can easily tuck your Nomad wallet, or your smart phone. (So long as your phone isn’t too big). Two of the hidden pockets are back pockets and third is in the left front. The back pockets could work for a passport or even cash because these items would be very hard to spot.

The Aviator jeans come in slim and straight fits. If you’re not the sleek type, the regular fit will be fine but if you have an athletic frame, the slims will be more flattering. On the other hand, the regular cut, which is more forgiving is probably not going to reveal what’s in your pockets as readily as the slim version.

I have Aviator jeans both in traditional denim and khaki, a newer version with a fabric that is clearly more durable and feels akin to my Levis than their stretchy denim.

The upshot? If you’re going to be in a town full of pickpockets, you don’t want to make their job too easy.

the Abisko Midsummer Trousers is must for the digital nomad
The tailoring on the Abisko Midsummer Trousers has a very appealing European look. It also has secure pockets for your wallet and passport.

I also like Fjallraven’s Abisko Midsummer Trousers ($140) which I also wore extensively on this last trip. Although they are “serious” hiking pants, these are stylish enough to wear anywhere. I wore them in restaurants and on a hiking trail high in the Pyrenees. They are comfortable, flattering and very practical.

They don’t have the hidden “anti-pickpocket pocket” but they do have zippered and button-down pockets that come in very handy on the road (and on airplanes for that matter). All the pockets are on the front, so no one is going to grab anything out of the rear pocket.

Let’s hear it for the Swedes.

Finally, I’m also a fan of Western Rise. Every version of their trousers (someone correct me if I’m wrong) has a hidden zipper pocket behind the right rear pocket which makes them great travel candidates. I own both their Evolution and Diversion lines. The former has lighter fabric and thus probably better suited for travel purposes. They have recently introduced a new (Evolution 2.0) pant which has had good reviews I have yet to “experience” it. V.1 suited me just fine.

Western Rise trousers also have a back right hidden pocket.

The Right Shoes

When you go to Europe, be prepared to walk–a lot.

Shoes, of course are a very personal choice but #1 is comfort and fit. The last thing you need is blisters. On my recent trip I took along two pair of “walking” shoes from Lowa, a German manufacturer that I’ve used for years. (Full disclosure, I have dual American-German citizenship so I’m a bit biased about German products). I swapped out shoes every other day and walked all around towns such as Florence, Mantova, Figueres, Merano–you name it. Here’s what I took…

Innox Pro GTX Lo

The Innox Pro GTX Lo (priced at $215) is a cross between a running shoe, a trail running shoe and a hiking boot. Thus, in theory, you get the best of all worlds with this product. It’s both stable and flexible on all types of terrain. It’s also light (360 grams or .78 lb).

The shoes are constructed with a synthetic, mesh fabric upper that entails a “PU” or polyurethane frame for durability, shock-absorption and stability. PU absorbs shock, supports, and rebounds well and is more durable. LOWA claims a PU midsole also offers excellent support, lasts 2-5 times longer than a comparable EVA midsole and is less toxic to manufacture.

I’ve had this pair for nine months now and wore it extensively in Europe. (Rob Kay photo)

Another excellent quality is the sole, which seems to be “grippy” in a variety of terrain. Whether you’re in a mall parking lot in Aprilia lot or on the cobblestone streets of Puigcerda, in the Pyrenees, this shoe can handle it. After two months of use the shoe’s sole had little wear.

Walker GTX

This shoe is slightly more formal than the Pro GTX. You probably wouldn’t wear at a performance at La Scala but it rounded out my portfolio. It’s also very practical. They don’t call it the “Walker” for nothing.

The manufacturer describes the Walker GTX as a lightweight, ‘sneaker-inspired walking shoe’ but I would say it’s a lot more robust than your everyday ‘sneaker’.  The sole provides ample traction so that you can go from sidewalk to trail without breaking stride. At under 2 lbs. It’s both light and extremely comfortable but until you break it in, you’ll feel the sole has more of a stiff, almost boot-like quality.

Lowa’s Walker (like many of their shoes) uses nubuck leather. Nubuck is top-grain, extremely durable, cattle leather that’s been sanded or buffed on the grain side, or outside, to give a slight nap of short protein fibers. The result is a near velvet-like surface that is quite comfortable to wear.

I’ve owned six pairs of Lowa shoes/boots and have only had a problem with one pair–a boot where the midsole separated from the plate. The manufacturer repaired it for me at no charge. They stand behind their products. Let’s hear it for the Germans…

Stay tuned for more travel gear for the Digital Nomad

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