Welcome to the Legal Nomads Resources page.
When I quit my job in 2008, I feverishly researched what I would need to pack, plan, and budget for a round the world trip. I did not find many world travel resources on the web at that time, so I cobbled together notes of my own. I update it frequently, and my goal is to have the basics of long term world travel all in one place, perfect for those seeking make a change and travel but unsure of where to start.
Table of Contents
1. Research, research, research!
While I always caution against planning your entire itinerary, it is essential to do some basic research about the area you plan to visit. Starting points:
Research the Weather. Do not discount weather in your planning. Exploring the Philippines was an awe-inspiring few months, but when monsoon season started I quickly learned just how difficult backpacking could be when you’re constantly dripping wet. While wet and dry seasons are less delineated these days, it still makes good travel sense to get a rough idea of when to go. The best times are usually shoulder seasons, on the cusp of the high or low periods. Prices are lower and while you might get some bad weather you’ll also avoid a good amount of the crowds.
The Culture: Part of what makes the world interesting is to explore a country through its cultures and customs. This custom deep dive can refer to table manners, tipping styles, or simple the ways that people say hello and goodbye.
Start with the links below and then filter by destination.
2. Build a timeline and spend some time looking at visa requirements.
Depending on your nationality, you will need visas in some countries, but might receive a visa waiver or visa on arrival in others. Since many countries require a visa ahead of time, one that cannot be obtained when you enter the country, it’s best to read up ahead of time about each country and its requirements.
- Resources. For American Citizens, entry requirements are here ; for Canadian Citizens, entry requirements are here. IATA’s global visa database is also a great resource for anyone – plug in the country you’re from, your resident country and where you are headed.
- Also take a look at country reports for your destination. The Government of Canada’s landing page for international travel is here (and they’re on Twitter here ) and the USA’s Department of State country warnings are here .
- Canadians! There are work programs available for you if you’re 18-35 years old. Several countries have bilateral treaties that allow you to work without a fixed job ahead of time, but as a means to reduce your travel costs. More info here .
- You can use the “Do I Need A Visa For ?” site to see if you require one – handy and an easy to remember URL!
3. Prepare for the Worst, and Hope for the Best!
Vaccinations. Yes, you need them. Not all of them, but some basics are important before you head to environments wholeheartedly different from the one your body is used to. Regardless of country, I’ve always made sure I had the following shots up to date: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Meningitis, Yellow Fever, Tetanus booster, Typhoid/Diphtheria, MMR booster (measles, mumps and rubella) and Polio. There are others such as cholera, rabies, and Japanese encephalitis that are more subjective based on budget and destination, and your doctor will be able to help ascertain how necessary they are.
Medical insurance. There were several times on this trip where I got sick, and while some countries are not expensive to find good medical care, others break the budget. Medical insurance is something that you hopefully won’t need on your travels, but if you do get sick, you’ll be relieved to have a policy to protect you.
- Resources: Bootsnall.com has a handy comparison chart for several medical insurance plans popular with round-the-world travelers.
PDF copies of your things to yourself. Before you leave, PDF yourself (and archive) copies of your passport, your visas obtained in advance and any other documents you might need to show and/or potentially lose on the road.
Consider getting a Google Voice number so you can receive emails of voicemail transcripts or texts left for you while you were on your travels. While not a failsafe method of communication (let’s just say their voice transcription technology needs a little work) it comforts me to have a number for my parents, bank or friends to reach me along the way.
Back up your Laptop. If you are traveling with a laptop, consider backing up your photos and computer files online. It’s awful to lose all of your photos and if your computer and backups are stolen, you’re going to be very upset.
- Resources. Companies like Carbonite. Crashplan. or Mozy will backup your laptop or desktop to the cloud. I currently use Mozy but friends have spoken very highly of all 3.
- For your photos. SmugMug is another good option. I host all of my photos on SmugMug, who have very reasonable storage plans and a great interface for building photo albums. This affiliate link gets you 20% off a new SmugMug account. And if you want to see what their galleries look like, my photo albums are here .
For additional tips about food safety and heath, see my Safe Eating Abroad section .
What to Bring? Packing tips and Packing Lists
1. Choose your bag.
There are so many backpacks, suitcases, and duffels on the market that it is no surprise that the “what bag to use?” question is one of the most frequent that I receive.
My advice: pick your bag based on your needs, and how well it fits.
- If you want a smaller daybag. I went through a slew of different daypack options over my 5 years of travel but have ended up with a 19L Synapse bag from Tom Bihn. It’s small but holds more than you would think, it is really well built and they even have a safety whistle on the sternum strap.
- If you want a bigger backpack and you’re a short woman like me: For longer trips where I need a technical pack that fits well, I go with a Gregory Jade 60, but they have discontinued this 60L size. A similar bag is the Wander 50 from Gregory. or the smaller Gregory Jade 40. (Both are available in XS torso size, which is a lifesaver for small people like me. The close fit allows me comfortable to carry weight while camping. I’ve yet to find another brand of bag that fits my small torso as snugly for trekking or backpacking. I no longer use this in my day-to-day travels as a back injury has led my doctor to request I stick to wheels, but when needed for camping or short technical trips, these Gregory bags fit to a T.
- If you’re looking for a suitcase, think about a packing system like Eagle Creek. I use Eagle Creek’s packing systems for packing cubes and toiletry cases for the most part. When traveling with a suitcase, I use either the Tarmac 22 or the Load Warrior 25. depending on my needs. My bag’s insides are a tetris-like mix of packing cubes and other sachets. For toiletries I use the Wallaby foldable accessories case — it houses everything from shampoo and soap and face wash and makeup, as well as important medicine and some of what’s in my first-aid kit above. To pack inside the suitcase I use rectangular packing cubes as I mentioned above, or if space and weight are an issue, the thinner siliconized nylon version .
- If you’re looking for a carry-on only bag that is built both for protecting your laptop and accessing all your belongings with ease. Try the Minaal. which was built by two Kiwis who decided they just couldn’t find the backpack of their dreams and so they needed to make it themselves. It’s got a clamshell packing system, a separate suspended laptop compartment, and the size also fits perfectly with those packing cubes I mention above from Eagle Creek. This is what I use when I want one bag for a shorter trip, instead of a daypack + suitcase combo.
2. Medical and Safety Related Packing Suggestions
Round out your First Aid Ki t. A first aid kit is a must. While I have been mocked for carting it around with me most of the time, the travelers who did fall/break something/tear their calf open while jumping off a boat were among the supporters. Many of these can be purchased and/or replaced from the road, but if starting out in a more remote destination, it’s a good thing to have a more thorough kit from the get-go.
Here is a list of items that I don’t leave home without when traveling to developing countries:
- Neosporin or a similar triple antibiotic cream; ( Note: if you’re going to be spending a good part of your time in the tropics or somewhere with high humidity (Southeast Asia), you might want to also include antiseptic powder. I’ve had deep cuts where using the cream actually made it worse, because the cut never dried out. In high-humidity environments, antibiotic powder is your friend).
- Anti-itch cream;
- Small sutures/stitches;
- Burn gel ;
- Diclofenac (anti-inflammatory cream sold over the counter);
- Ciprofloxacin (if you get food poisoning/stomach infections, you will want some of this)
- A “Z Pack” aka, Azithromycin (another option for stomach infections as many bacteria in Southeast Asia are becoming resistant to Cipro, discussions with doctors there)
- Metronidazole (for giardia or amoebic dysentery; I’ve picked these up for reasonable prices in Thailand or other parts of Southeast Asia);
- Immodium, but only to take if absolutely necessary since trapping whatever bacteria you’ve got in your intestine is a bad idea. I only use it if I’m about to board a bus for 8 hours and know that I’m not going to make it without copious bathroom breaks.
- Sewing kit;
- Benedryl or other anti-histamine pills
- Anti-malaria meds (consult your doctor about using these as a prophylactic; I keep a dose on me in the event I do contract malaria and no doctor is nearby);
- Moleskin and 2nd Skin for blisters (the former for regular walking, the latter for hikes);
- Charcoal tablets for your stomach, to help absorb the bad stuff after a bout of food poisoning;
- Oral rehydration salts;
- Diflucan (for the ladies);
- Anti-mozzie spray plus 100% DEET (for spraying drains in showers/sinks);
- Sterile syringes;
- Alcohol wipes ; and
- Tweezers (I swear by Tweezerman !)
Research your Water Purification Options. Safe water is an important part of travel, and thankfully there are a several options that are easy to keep with you that won’t weigh you down.
- The popular SteriPEN. a small wand that you insert in a glass of water, powered by AA-batteries.
- For filtering there is the Sawyer Squeeze filter system, which is compact and comes with 3 collapsible bottles.
It screws onto the bottle you are drinking from, so it provides fast filtration with no awkward parts you can lose.
- Aquamira chlorine dioxide water treatment drops are inexpensive and really lightweight, with two small bottles that require an hour wait prior to use. (Note that these treat viruses as well as filtering bacteria and parasites).
- For those looking for a non-chemical filtration and virus elimination system, the Lifesaver 4000UF is another option that protects against bacteria as well as viruses.
Safety Whistle. A safety whistle is small, but important. I wrote a post about how my safety whistle saved me on three separate occasions in Asia. It’s a small piece of plastic, but when you need it, you need it. Highly recommended. You can pick one up from Amazon or at your local outdoor store.
Doorstop. Small and easy to carry but brings some extra peace of mind if you’re staying somewhere and are worried about someone trying to get into your room at night. While not fail-safe (of course!) I’ve used my doorstop several times on my travels and it’s been a small tool I am glad I had.
Waterproof your Electronics. I use Ultra-Sil nylon dry bags to keep my electronics dry and dust-free. If you’ll be headed to the islands or will be on water, I’d recommend a sturdier, more waterproof bag like this See Bag from Sealine .
3. General Packing Tips and Essentials
Don’t forget wool socks. I live in my SmartWool socks. which I’ve been buying and wearing long before I set out to travel. I keep a pair of the expedition weight socks with me because I’ve found that as they are worn, they compress so that they provide a bit of cushion but are still quite warm. Their regular hiking socks work for those who — unlike me — are not freezing all the time. Wool socks! Don’t leave home without them.
Earplugs are your friend. I am a very light sleeper, and regardless of whether I stay in a crowded dorm room or a chaotic city like Saigon, I always have a pair of earplugs with me to quiet noise when I am ready to sleep. I have tried so many different earplugs. So many. The ones I’ve found work the best for me are Spark Plugs, the official ear plugs of NASCAR. If they work for racing cars, they work for me.
Packing Cubes or Compression Sacks. I love the Tetris game that is my packing strategy! For suitcases, I use the packing cubes I mention above, but for backpacks and their rounded shape compression sacks (siliconized nylon and super thin so they don’t take up extra room) are ideal. The compression sacks have the added bonus of being water resistant.
Headlamp. I’ve used my headlamp (I have had the same Petzl Tikka headlamp for years and it’s still kicking!) in a staggeringly broad cross-section of situations, from cave spelunking to reading in a tent to navigating my way to the bathroom in a hostel at 4am. I use a Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp and it has stayed intact over 3 years of travel.
Get a Point It Dictionary. People often write to ask how I get by in places where I don’t speak the language. This Point-It Dictionary is a big help. From a homestay in Siberia to ordering food in China (by pointing to my meat of choice in the book) to entertaining kids in Burma, this dictionary comes with me no matter what. It’s wise to learn a few safety words (“fire”, “thief”, “help” and the like) in the local language to be able to shout at the top of your lungs, should you need to.
Duct Tape: For everything from taping up ripped window screens (Jodi 1; mosquitoes 0), to rips in my pack to a cut that won’t close, I don’t leave home without it. You shouldn’t either. Adventure Medical Kits makes miniature duct tape rolls that are lightweight with no center cardboard, so they are easy to carry in any bag.
Smartphone. I’ve found having a smartphone on the road a very useful thing, especially now that mobile photography has become a fun and interesting way to share stories. If the phone is unlocked, SIM cards are very cheap and easy to procure from the road – in Thailand, for example, my SIM cost me $1.50 and came preloaded with enough to make several calls. In Vietnam, data plans are 70,000 dong ($3.19) for unlimited monthly data. In Greece, it was 15 Euros for 5gb of data on WIND Gr.
- Resources: Too Many Adapters rounds up the many SIM card options in Southeast Asia here. and there is a worldwide prepaid SIM card wiki here .
Sleep sheet. I live in mine whenever I’m outside North America, and sometimes within it too. I loved the Sea to Summit cotton and silk blend sheet, but they’ve replaced it with a silk liner that is stretchy and comfortable .
Thank you cards. A great gesture for anywhere you stay or are invited to eat, bringing a thank you card is an excellent option when you don’t know what to bring but don’t want to show up empty handed. A lovely option here .
Bring business cards for meeting and greeting. Working as a lawyer for several years meant that I was guaranteed a very staid, simple business card. So when I decided to head out and travel, I was excited to get something a little more fun. I ended up with Moo Cards . which allow me to upload my own photos (up to 50 of them per order) to the front of my card, as well as a headshot on the back. I currently use a version of these cards with my Legal Nomads logo on them, and they’re of good quality and durable. People love them.
For the ladies:
- Foldable flat shoes. In my post about 21 tips from four years of travel. I advocate packing jeans as a way to both fit in with others when you’re dining out in a city, and feel like yourself despite being far from home. Another arm of the same advice would be to find a pair of foldable flat shoes you can take with you, which dress up even the most casual of outfits. I’ve never found anything as comfortable as Tieks. since they’re padded and made of leather so they stretch. These were sent to me for review, and they are quite expensive but I stand by the fact that they are stupidly comfortable. I’ve actually never found a pair that fit this well and didn’t give me blisters. Other less expensive options Sidekicks or Dr. Scholl’s ‘fast flats’. Of the two, I’ve found the “fast flats” to be more comfortable, and slightly more padded, but still unwearable for more than an hour or two.
- A Menstrual Cup. For the first two years of my round-the-world travels, I lugged around Ziploc bags of tampons, in case I found myself in countries where they could not be bought. No longer! I now have a reusable menstrual cup. While not necessarily the most popular topic for dinner conversation, I’ve encouraged quite a few female friends and readers to buy one, as it truly has been life changing. I use the Lunette , which was recommended for shorter torsos. If you’re in North America, the Diva Cup is likely the easiest to find. Plenty of women I’ve spoken with are equally as happy with their cup as I am with mine. If you are worried about leakage, start using it mid-period, but I promise that I have never had any trouble with it. Because it’s made with medical grade silicon, it can be left in longer than a tampon, and it can be used just before you are due to get your period, in case you’re on a long bus ride and worried about timing. For cleaning, I use these Lunette cleaning wipes. or just buy baby wipes in whatever country I’m in — they are readily available everywhere. Basically, I can’t recommend it enough, both because of its environmental friendliness – no wasted materials discarded several times a day – and also comfort. If you want a more detailed write-up of the Diva Cup, Shannon from A Little Adrift has a review here .
4. See what others have packed in these packing lists below. Updated as of June 2015.
- Wonderful and interactive “preparation page” from Aline of Yallah Bye. divided by section.
- Ivana and Gianni from Nomad is Beautiful have a list for traveling light. with a rule to be able to pack everything in 5 minutes.
- Gilles and Heidi from Grand Escapades have a very practical ‘less is more’ packing guide .
- More of a flashpacker than a backpacker? California girl Kiersten a.k.a the Blonde Abroad has tips for the ultimate woman’s carry-on .
- Katie from Shores to Skylines is a firm believer in packing light (for summer or tropical climates, female travelers only).
- Kristin from Be My Travel Muse’s winter packing tips. for looking fabulous even while traveling with just one carry-on.
- Amanda from A Dangerous Business has tips on how to pack for Iceland, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and, best of all, how to pack one bag for both summer and winter or for truly Arctic conditions .
- Climbing the Kilimanjaro? Here is what Helen in Wonderlust packs. Going on an overland African safari? There’s a list for that too .
- If your heart is set on Patagonia, this list by Steve Hanisch is based on his experiences there.
- Devi (on her trusty bicycle) from One Bike One Year shares her gear and packing list for the longterm traveler .
- James from Nomadic Notes has an updated packing list as a full-time traveler (not carry on only).
- Dan from Tropical MBA has an updated permanent packing list using carry-on only .
- Women’s and men’s packing lists for 45L packs, from Scott Dinsmore of Live your Legend.
- Thorough packing list from Devon Mills including photos of each section from her backpack.
- Cassie’s packing list from Ever in Transit .
- For the gentlemen out there, GQ Trippin’s Gerard posted his packing list. along with photos, as did Eliot (for him and his girlfriend – 6 months, 7 countries’ worth) and Dan from Tropical MBA revisits his packing list years later, updated for 2014 in his digital nomad packing list .
- Spartan Traveler breaks down his packing into easy sections with photos — minimalist, and effective.
- See also Travel Lite. Lani Teshim’s great site, chock full of useful packing tips, lists and resources.
- Alexandra of Travel Fashion Girl has a lot of different packing list on her packing resources page. divided by season and by destination — with photos too.
- Laurence from Finding the Universe has put together what he calls the “ultimate digital nomad packing list “.
- Packing list from Anne and her partner Mike (divided by gender).
- Packing for families: Christine from Almost Fearless on packing for a Europe trip with her husband and two young kids. Erin from Travels with Bender on checking in vs. carry on, and packing with a family in mind .
- Sankara from Be on the Road has a winter backpacking checklist .