The ULTIMATE Traveling Office & Digital Nomad Setup (2021)

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I’ve searched far and wide for the perfect digital nomad work setup. 

A traveling office that: 

(1) is lightweight and compact
(2) has a second monitor
(3) is affordable
(4) improves my posture so I won’t grow up to be a hunchback

After some trial and error, I finally landed on a lightweight digital nomad setup that barely takes up any extra space in my backpack.

In this guide, I’ll show you why this portable home office is the bee’s knees — plus alternative gear options for Mac/Windows users, or anyone on a budget. 

Whether you’re looking for an entire digital nomad desk setup or you just need ideas and recommendations for how to mount multiple screens, this will help.

But if you’re in a hurry, here’s the TL;DR version…

Just starting (or struggling) with digital nomad life? Check out this ginormously detailed guide on how to become a digital nomad and this mega list of best travel jobs. You will come away with new ideas, guaranteed.

TL;DR — The Ultimate Traveling Office for Digital Nomads

table with all gear laid out for digital nomad setup

Shopping online for your portable office setup can be a pain. Without being able to test components out together, you could end up with a janky setup.

To save you the hassle of ordering things that suck, here’s every piece of my remote work setup (plus alternative options I’ve vetted):

The Basics
Laptop stand
Magic keyboard
Magic trackpad 2
Magic mouse 2
Alternative budget-option keyboard (PC/Mac)
Alternative budget-option mouse (PC/Mac)
Case for keyboard and mouse
Tripod for tablet or iPad
Mount for tablet
Budget iPad (I use the generation prior to this. Refurbished is a great way to save.)

Extras
Sony noise-canceling headphones (I use the version prior to this, which is cheaper.)
Jabra sweatproof earbuds
Cell signal booster for van/RV

Best Digital Nomad Setup, Explained

Your travel desk setup should not be an afterthought.

Whether you’ve been working digital nomad jobs for years or are brand spanking new, these portable office ideas will make work more comfortable on the road. 

The Laptop

We’ll start with the obvious. Your laptop is the most important tool in your digital nomad toolkit. It’s the only piece of equipment you actually need. Everything else is a bonus.

Choose your laptop based on your unique needs and preferences (versus just getting what everyone else has).

I personally use a Macbook Air with the M1 chip, but there are a handful of other awesome options as well, both PCs and Macs.

For help determining which is right for your needs, check out this guide on the best laptops for digital nomads

The Stand

A laptop stand lifts your laptop to eye level and helps you maintain a healthy posture while working.

The most popular digital nomad laptop stand is called “The Roost”.

If you’re an I-only-use-name-brand-stuff kind of person, grab a Roost.

If you prefer paying less money for essentially the same thing (like I do), pick up the Nexstand.

They’re compact, super sturdy, and have easy height adjustments. My wife and I have been using ours for years without any problems. 

The Keyboard and Mouse (or Trackpad)

This is where your digital nomad accessories may vary. Since your laptop sits up higher on a stand, you need to add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse (or trackpad) to your toolkit.

For Mac users, the best digital nomad keyboard and mouse combo is the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 (or Magic Trackpad 2). 

The 2nd generation models allow you to recharge via USB-C cable. This is convenient compared to the 1st generation trackpad, mouse, and keyboard — which require AA batteries. 

If you’re on a budget, you may be able to pick up any of these second-hand on Facebook Marketplace or in “renewed” condition on Amazon.

The decision between mouse and trackpad comes down to personal preference. I have both, but I mostly use the trackpad. The mouse is nicer if your job requires a lot of precise click-and-dragging.

If you use Windows, I recommend this combo:

Both of these also work with Mac and are great budget alternatives. 

The Protection

Don’t just cram your accessories in your traveling office bag — they will break. This is especially true for the Magic accessories. I learned this the hard way when my $100 trackpad shattered inside my backpack…

To protect your accessories, grab one of these affordable cases:

This particular case is the perfect size for the keyboards and trackpads mentioned above (apart from the Logitech mouse, which is pretty sturdy on its own). If you have a different keyboard, measure it to make sure it fits. 

The Second Screen

Constantly changing and resizing windows on a small laptop screen is annoying and inefficient. To fix this, you can add a second screen and instantly boost your productivity.

There are two main screen options:

  1. A tablet
  2. A designated portable external monitor

I simply use my handy-dandy digital nomad iPad. It’s something I travel with anyway, so I’m not adding any extra bulk to my setup.

While a portable external monitor might be a little cheaper, it only has one function. A tablet has many functions. And when you live out of a backpack, multi-functionality is key. 

The Second Screen Stand

Work is more comfortable when your two screens are at the same level. 

Most portable external monitors and tablet cases have some sort of built-in stand. When you’re not using your laptop stand, this works perfectly.

minimalistic two-screen digital nomad desk setup

But if you put your laptop on your laptop stand, now there is a huge difference in level — your eyes have to make a big jump every time you move screens.

If you’re ok with this, you can simply lean your digital nomad monitor against the front of your laptop stand, like so:

portable home office setup with two screens that aren't level

But if you want both screens at the same level (which I recommend), you need another stand. This can get tricky because not just any old stand will work.

It has to be sturdy enough to hold your screen, with enough adjustable height to match your laptop screen. 

The best solution I’ve found is this GorillaPod.

traveling office setup with arrows pointing to gorillapod and ball head
For maximum height, choose the GorillaPod that comes with the ball head. This adds an extra ~2 inches.

The best part is, it’s multifunctional. We also use this as a tripod for our phones to take pics and videos while sightseeing. Since it’s something we use anyway, it’s not adding any extra bulk to our pack.

Note: To attach your phone, you also need a phone mount. We use this Ulanzi mount because it allows you to attach a light and/or microphone to the top (handy for Youtube). But if you don’t care about that, any old mount will do. 

The Second Screen Mount

To attach your second monitor to the Gorillapod, you need a mount. 

Now, the mount you use really depends on the type of screen you have. If you use an iPad (or any tablet with similar thickness), you can use this cheap-yet-sturdy mount.

The best part is, depending on your tablet’s thickness and case, you may even be able to mount your tablet with the case on. My iPad (basic 7th generation) and case fits perfectly. If you had to remove the case all the time, it’d get old fast.

The Dual-Screen Connection

Now all you need to do to finish your digital nomad office setup is connect the two screens.

There are several ways to do this, and some work better than others. 

digital nomad second screen and laptop with arrows connecting them

If you have a new-ish Macbook and iPad (see exact requirements here), you can use Sidecar for free. This is what I’m currently using, and it’s super slick.

If you use Windows or have older Apple equipment, you can install the Duet app on your tablet and laptop. I used this method before upgrading my laptop, and it works pretty well. It’s a one-time purchase (~$20) for the wired connection or $20/year for wireless. 

Lastly, if you buy an external portable monitor, it’ll come with instructions on how to connect to your laptop. Some monitors connect via cables, while others have wireless capabilities. 

The Internet

Person using Skyroam mobile wifi on his laptop in the grass

Unless you like stress, I would not recommend depending on cafes or your accommodation’s wifi to get work done.

Always have a Plan B.

Whether that be tethering to a data plan on your phone or one of these other fancy digital nomad wifi hotspot options, you need to bring the internet with you.

Think of these hotspot devices as your very own portable “digital nomad router”.

If you have a van life job and need internet in your vehicle while traveling, a WeBoost cell booster helps you get usable cell service in places you normally wouldn’t. You can then use your phone’s data plan and tether to your laptop. We used the Unlimited Everything phone plan from Visible, which can be as cheap as $25/month.

The VPN

If you work from public wifi or unsecured networks (which you will), you also need a VPN.

I’ll spare you the details of how they work (mostly because I have no idea), but they basically serve two purposes:

  • Protect your sensitive info from hackers (e.g., when logging into your digital nomad banking)
  • Allow you to make it look like you’re accessing the internet from a different location

This second perk is handy for accessing websites only available in certain countries; when you get locked out of accounts for being abroad; or to stream movies on Netflix, Hulu, etc.

If you don’t care about streaming or bouncing to specific locations, TunnelBear is a great free VPN I’ve used for years. This would be if you just want something to protect you when logging into your bank account periodically.

For something a little faster and more flexible, Surfshark is probably the best bang for your buck. To test it out, use their free 30-day trial

The Headphones

A good pair of noise-canceling headphones is a digital nomad’s best friend.

Sitting at the airport in a crowd of people? Put on your headphones and block ‘em out.

People jabbering and trying to be friendly at a hostel? Put on your headphones and block ‘em out. (jk, be friendly.)

Living in Colombia next door to an inconsiderate b-hole who has never heard of earbuds and blasts salsa music for the whole barrio to hear? Put on your headphones and block ‘em out. (Literally what I’m doing right now).

My go-to pair are the Sony WH1000XM3s. They’ve since released the newer WH1000XM4s, but the 3s work fine for me (and are cheaper).

I also carry around these Jabra sweatproof earbuds. These are my exercise headphones, but they also come in handy when I don’t want to lug around the bulky, over-the-ear headphones.

If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to buy fancy headphones to be a digital nomad. They certainly make work more comfortable, but you can always upgrade later.

A basic pair of earplugs works just fine.

The Music

Everyone has different tastes, but I’ll just throw my favorites into the ring.

I’m a big fan of Lofi Girl on Youtube. You can also find her playlists on Spotify. 

If you can’t concentrate well with music, I also like the free White Noise Lite app. If you don’t have noise-canceling headphones, just choose the Airplane white noise, crank it up, and it’ll block everything out.

Lastly, if you need something more upbeat to give you energy, try listening to music in different languages. Since you can’t understand what they’re saying, it’s not as distracting.

The Posture

It doesn’t matter how fancy your traveling office is if you continue to use poor posture.

And even with all the gear, sometimes it’s still difficult. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a digital nomad office chair that you can carry around with you (that’d be cool though). And if you’re not sitting at the correct height, it throws everything else out of whack.

In an ideal world, you want to have:

  • Top of screen at eye level
  • Shoulders relaxed
  • Arms and back supported
  • Elbows, knees, and hips at 90 degree angles
  • Straight, supported wrists
  • Feet flat on the floor

This rarely happens when working on the road. But for your body’s sake, try your best.

What Does YOUR Portable Home Office Look Like?

Every digital nomad’s needs are unique. While this guide covers several options, it’s impossible to cover them all.

So, have you discovered anything I’m missing?

Leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you use at your setup!

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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