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So Christmas is approaching and you’re scrambling to find the perfect gift for that one Black Sheep in your life who travels around the world, laptop in tow, supposedly working? You, my friend, are looking for digital nomad gift ideas.
Here’s the “secret:” Figuring out what to buy for a digital nomad is easy when you realize we digital nomads concern ourselves with really only two things:
- Getting Wi-Fi
- Protecting our laptop (our source of income)
Another consideration when considering digital nomad gift ideas is that, for most nomads, the only “storage” we have is our backpack. So don’t buy us furniture, home decor, or other items that would only hold us back. It forces us to figure out a way to store it or get rid of it before our next trip (and that makes us feel really guilty).
Before writing this, I scoured the Internet for other posts on traveler and digital nomad gift ideas and I was laughing the whole time! So many of the items on these gift guides are mere junk that a nomad would need to get rid of in order to travel freely. Case in point:
With that said, here is my take on the best digital nomad gift ideas, from experience:
Wi-Fi Range Extender
Ah, the frustration of having a Wi-Fi signal that is just…out…of reach. I use the NetGear N300 Wall Plug Version Wi-Fi Range Extender to fix this. My last apartment in San Francisco was on the first floor, and the Wi-Fi router was on the third floor in my landlord’s apartment. After moving in, I realized the signal wasn’t strong enough for my laptop to connect, so to fix that, I set up a Wi-Fi Range Extender. I was able to do my work just fine after that. Note that even though it will extend the Wi-Fi signal’s range and allow you to connect, the overall connection will be a little slower. A small price to pay for functioning Wi-Fi.
Portable Laptop Charger
A major frustration for a digital nomad is a dead laptop or phone. I love those portable cell phone charger banks, but they’re not nearly power enough to charge my MacBook. What would be GREAT is this Anker PowerCore+ 26,800 Power Bank. It’s powerful enough to charge an iPhone 6s TEN times and a 2015 MacBook MORE THAN THREE times. Whoa. It even has enough ports to charge three devices at the same time.
Yes, they’re pricey. If you’re buying this for the digital nomad in your life, you probably really love them a lot. Over the past three years, I’ve been through countless laptops and time and time again I keep coming back to the MacBook Air (I also have a terrible track record with MacBook Airs, including spilling water on one, having one stolen in France, and having a used one break down on me in Canada).
Why is the MacBook Air my laptop of choice as a digital nomad? Nothing can beat its lightweight, slim design. As a one-bag traveler, I don’t have a lot of extra space. Additionally, nothing that I’ve used can beat its performance and speed. The battery life on the new MacBook Air is also insane, with the latest version maxing out at up to 12 hours. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to get work done, run out of battery, and then can’t find an outlet. So for me, battery life is an important factor when choosing a laptop to travel with.
MacBook Air Hard Case
The downside to having an expensive laptop is that you feel this unending pressure to protect it. And a MacBook Air has that sleek aluminum casing that is so easy to scratch. Because I’m always throwing my MacBook into bags and taking off to different places, I protect it with this MacBook Air hard case. It has a nice rubberized exterior for a more tactile feel, snaps on tightly, and protects my MacBook from scratches.
MacBook Air Keyboard Cover
For anyone who is prone to spilling water on their keyboards (me. That’s me. I’ve done it twice), a keyboard cover is essential. Digital nomads in particular need a keyboard cover because we often work from coffee shops with the disastrous combination of hot liquid, crumbly pastries, and a MacBook Air sitting very closely together. A silicone keyboard cover adds an extra layer of protection (you still need to be careful, though!).
Timbuk2 Aviator Backpack
My affection for this backpack is well documented in my Timbuk2 Aviator Review, but in short: It is just about the maximum size for a carry-on bag; it has a hip belt so you don’t kill your shoulders; and, most importantly, it has a padded zipup sleeve in the back to protect your laptop (remember rule number 2 above?). I now always travel with my Timbuk2 Aviator.
Without fail, I lose my earbuds. So even if your digital nomad already has a pair, I’m sure they’ll be losing it soon and would appreciate a backup. These are the earbuds I used and loved—until I broke them. :(
A digital nomad is always learning, and the advantage of online courses is they can be taken from anywhere in the world. I am a hoarder of online courses. If you want inexpensive courses, you can’t beat Udemy. Try buying a course for your digital nomad that covers a part of their business they’re hoping to improve (marketing, design, management, etc.). There are even courses on how to be a digital nomad.
Another course that I have taken and highly recommend is Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing.
Digital nomads always want to find “passive income” sources and affiliate marketing is one of the ways to achieve that. The course is taught by Michelle from Making Sense of Cents, and she makes about $100,000/month from her blog through affiliate marketing while she travels around the U.S. in an RV with her husband and dogs. She definitely knows her stuff, and I can vouch for the quality of the course!
For many long-term travelers, this is the book that started it all. That or The 4-Hour Work Week (I’ve read both. Okay, so I didn’t technically finish Vagabonding…). Funny enough, the latest edition of Vagabonding has a new foreword by Tim Ferriss. Very fitting.
Both books bust the notion of living in one place and working a 9-to-5 desk job until you retire. I highly recommend both. Just check to make sure your digital nomad doesn’t already have well-worn copies.
The 4-Hour Workweek Book
It’s clichéd, but this is the book that opened my mind to the possibility of working remotely and traveling. Tim Ferriss is like the king of productivity and “lifestyle design” and one of my heroes (and I think he’s single?) and I really hope I get to meet him one day (TIM, ARE YOU READING THIS??)
Anyway, I read The 4-Hour Workweek in 2012 during the third month of my first desk job out of college—and I knew I’d be leaving that job after I read it. Tim gives a step-by-step plan on how you can start working remotely either through remote employment or remote entrepreneurship. He also gives tons of examples of real people who have followed his advice and escaped the rat race. Again, check to make sure your digital nomad doesn’t already have this book. If they don’t, I’m sure they’ll enjoy the read!
Just as you would put a lock on the door to your house, a digital nomad should secure their Internet connection with a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. A VPN encrypts your Internet connection, so if you’re, for example, connected to unsecured public Wi-Fi at a cafe in Paris and someone tries to steal your information being transmitted over the connection, they wouldn’t be able to see your data because it would be encrypted. This protects you from getting your information stolen whenever you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network that does not have a password.
Another benefit to using a VPN is you are able to select which location you want to connect from, enabling you to access sites you normally wouldn’t be able to access in certain countries. So, for example, I can set my location to New York while I’m in Canada, and still be able to access Pandora (which is not available in Canada). In more serious cases, for digital nomads who travel to countries with government censorship, a VPN can help them connect to sites that are blocked. For example, a traveler in China can use a VPN to access Facebook, Google, and blocked news sites.
I use VyprVPN to secure my Internet connection when I travel and work from public places.
VyprVPN is running an Autumn Special that lets you get 3 FREE MONTHS on an annual plan (plans start at just $60/year)
Wi-Fi Security Camera
You may think this is overkill, but after my apartment in Paris was broken into last year, I now travel with a Wi-Fi security camera. It lets me watch live-streaming video of my apartment from an app on my smartphone, so I can check in and see what’s going on. It also sends me push notifications when it detects motion or sound, and lets me watch replays of what it has captured.
Your Unused Frequent Flyer Miles
You’re not going to use them anyway, right? Why not gift your miles to your favorite digital nomad, so they can travel the world in your stead and you can live vicariously through them? (Yes, I’m being sarcastic.) Check with your airline to see what the rules are. For example, Delta allows you to transfer your SkyMiles to another account, so long as that other account has been open for at least 10 days and has earned at least one mile.
Gift Cards for a Cause
Thus far, this post has been intentionally snarky (but the gift ideas are real!). I can’t help but poke fun at digital nomads simply because I am one myself, and I am well aware of the accusations of most of us being entitled millennials. Fair enough. But in all honesty, I and many other digital nomads, after traveling so much particularly to countries with higher rates of poverty than our home countries, are often acutely aware of the disparities and feel this sort of…guilt over our lifestyle.
I think every digital nomad eventually is inspired to give back after what they’ve seen during their travels. One of the most meaningful gifts you can give a digital nomad is the ability to help the poor and marginalized.
One great way to do this, and to touch on the love of entrepreneurship that every digital nomad has, is to give them a gift card from Kiva. Kiva is an international nonprofit that allows you to give microloans (loans for as low as $25) to entrepreneurs in impoverished communities around the world, so they can grow their business, improve their lives, and help their community. The loans are usually (97% of the time, but not guaranteed) returned to lenders (without interest*), and lenders can then reinvest that same loan into another business through Kiva.
For a digital nomad’s gift, you can buy a gift card from Kiva and have it delivered via email or postal mail, and then your digital nomad gets to select which business they want to lend to. What’s more, is once that loan is returned, your digital nomad can reinvest it into another business on Kiva! It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
If you don’t choose to go with Kiva, you can also donate to a cause that is near and dear to your digital nomad’s heart, and do so in their name.
*If you’re wondering, yes, most Kiva borrowers do pay interest on their loans. However, Kiva itself and Kiva’s lenders do not receive the interest. The interest is collected by and goes to the local Field Partners to cover the costs of doing business, but Kiva says it will not partner with an organization that charges unreasonable interest rates.
Relax. Most Nomads Think Experiences Are Greater Than Things
At the end of the day, most digital nomads don’t want material things. Think about it: They’ve brazenly forsaken every expectation society has for them—a stable desk job, a house to call home (and all its trappings), a life lived in one place—to travel the world. Digital nomads crave experiences and meaning more than anything else.
So maybe the best gift you can give a digital nomad is quality time together…before they head off to their next destination. ;)