I’m a sucker for gear posts — the kind where people list every single thing they own and fit into a backpack while working and traveling the world. But something that’s always missing from those posts is a digital nomad ergonomic workspace setup. From what I can tell, everyone is hunched over their MacBooks, either not working enough for their bodies to care or it’s just a matter of time until they do.
I understand the reality is that it’s practically impossible to have a perfect desk setup while traveling. Your chair might be too tall or short, and so might be whatever desk or table you find. Wall-mounted monitors and HDMI-ing to hotel TVs are handy but unreliable solutions. We’re left to do our best, following ergonomic best practices while making known compromises.
Before I share the details of my setup, a couple important notes:
My mobile workspace is dynamic and constantly evolving. What I bring and work with depends entirely on the distance from home and duration of time I’ll be at a destination. If I’m driving and will only be away from home for one night, I’ll only bring my tablet. What I’m sharing here is the full loadout I brought to Japan for two months. But I also regularly test new products to see if they’re a worthy upgrade. This is just as things are right now.
I do not recreationally purchase consumer electronics; I buy them for work. Consequently, I don’t care about having the newest tech, only the best for working while traveling. If having the latest and greatest is important to you, then you’ve been warned: You might find this a little boring.
Acer TravelMate P2
All throughout the dark days of COVID I used an Alienware M15 R3. It was great while working from home, but too big for travel. Before that I had also tried a ThinkPad P15 but experienced unresolvable screen flickering, so with a bad taste in my mouth from Lenovo and not wanting to pay so much for Dell’s Precision line, I turned to Acer.
I love it. This thing was designed to be taken through airports. It’s lightweight, has a tiny AC adapter, and at 14 inches is still big enough for easy viewing. The backlit keyboard keeps me from squinting in the dark in the rare moments I’m not using an external keyboard. The build quality feels cheaper than Lenovo and Dell because it is, but that’s exactly what Acer does and is known for. At least in this case, I don’t see it as a problem.
Buy from Acer.
Roost Laptop Stand
The Roost came first. Then came the copycats. Then COVID happened, and that dumped gasoline on the laptop stand market.
I’ve seen a lot of laptop stands for less than half the price of the Roost. A lot of them do a few things well, but none of them do all things as well as the Roost, and that’s why it’s worth the money: It packs up small, gets your computer screen high off the ground with an adjustable height, and protects the computer from damage.
Buy from Amazon.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 FE + Cases
Originally, I bought the Galaxy Tab S7 FE to take with me to my college Japanese courses and work between classes, since my laptops have never easily docked with all of the peripherals I use. It also forced me to take a break from the repetitive motions of touch typing, chicken pecking the screen with my index fingers because the device is too big for thumbs-only.
When I started thinking about working in Japan for two months, I realized I would need a second monitor. That’s when I learned I could use my Galaxy S7 FE as a second screen. At 12.4 inches, it’s actually big enough to do that.
If Windows and / or Android aren’t your thing, my partner uses a MacBook Pro and brought a SideTrak Swivel in place of an iPad. For me, it was worth the extra money for something that can do both, but she was and continues to be happy with it.
LISEN Tablet & Portable Monitor Stand + Case
The ability to freely move a lifted external monitor while traveling is nice, but finding a good compact stand is hard. Most of the stands out there raise the monitor a couple of inches at best, and the ones that do a decent job of getting it high off a table or desk aren’t portable.
I had found one stand that worked decently before switching to the LISEN, but that stand took up more space than it needed. The LISEN stand sacrifices a little bit of height but shaves off unnecessary width from the base. The ledge on which the monitor sits also folds in, saving even more space. Unfortunately for them, the market for people who care about this level of detail is likely small, but I appreciate the design and think they deserve recognition.
As much as possible, I like to find cases for my gear to protect it while in transport. This airline toiletry bag from Cole Haan I found on eBay works well, and they’re pretty common if you’re interested in getting one for yourself.
Kinesis Advantage360 Keyboard + Case
The Kinesis Advantage360 is the only keyboard I can use now that allows me to work for hours without wrist pain. It’s an inconvenient problem because as a keyboard, it’s still quite large and oddly shaped. It doesn’t travel easily, which is why I ended up hacking together my own travel case and technique. I’ve already written about it before, so if you’re interested, you can read more in the previous link.
Kensington Expert Mouse + Case
The problem with small peripherals intended for travel is that they’re bad ergonomically for long-term use. After testing smaller mice, I ultimately gave up and decided to pack my Kensington Expert Mouse. This and the Kinesis360 keyboard take up the most room in my bags. All remaining devices are small in comparison.
Panasonic eneloop Charger & Rechargeable AA & AAA Batteries + Cases
In addition to my mouse, I have a couple of other devices that rely on AA and AAA batteries. Lithium-ion batteries can be problematic for airlines, so I stick to NiHM. This combination of slim retractable-plug charger and simple battery cases takes up minimal space.
ELECOM USB-C Charger
It might not look like it from my setup, but I love ELECOM products and have many laying around my workspace at home. As a company, they’re the first to test new product designs and explore underserved markets (for example, they make a left-handed thumb-operated trackball). Unfortunately, like many Japanese companies, only a small segment of their product lineup gets exported from Japan, and this little fast charger for my tablet and phone is one of those products exclusive to Japan.
If I weren’t in Japan when I bought it, I probably would have bought the next closest charger from Anker. I see it referenced quite a bit online for the same purpose.
Buy the Anker equivalent from Amazon.
Audio Gear: Samson Go Mic + FAAEAL Wired Earphones
My business partner and I use Shure MV7s to record our podcast from home. When I travel, I bring my tiny Samson Go Mic. Of course the audio quality doesn’t compare to a $250 full-sized microphone, but it’s good enough and takes up very little space.
As for headphones, FAAEAL makes old-fashioned wired earphones with a built-in mic for about ten bucks. The new style of earphones never sit right with my ears, and since I already have to charge batteries for my mouse, I don’t want to hassle with charging other wireless peripherals.
Electrical Gear: Tripp Lite Surge Protector + BEVA Power Strip
I don’t know if it’s a generation gap or digital nomads cutting corners, but many don’t carry surge protectors. In contrast, older seasoned business travelers seem to prioritize them. I do as well. Tripp Lite has many different models of surge protectors and all of them are great, but I like how tiny the SPIKECUBE is.
Another common digital nomad trend I don’t understand is long power strips. It’s a waste of space. BEVA’s power strip doubles as an extension cord and also wraps up really small. The two make for a great combo.
You might be wondering why I don’t have a universal plug adapter or voltage converter. I used to, but since my travel interest has been reduced to countries that only use type A or B plugs, that is the only small plug adapter I have.
Miscellaneous: Wire Bag + Cases
When my business partner visited me in Japan, he said I inspired him to get a wire bag. It was funny, because I always thought he’d be the kind of guy to have a wire bag.
I don’t know how people travel for work without some standard cables and common adapters — thunderbolt, USB-C to USB-A, USB-A to micro USB, etc. With minor and unnoteworthy exceptions, I get them all directly from Monoprice.
This wire bag was purchased years ago on AliExpress, but like many products, you can find the same one on Amazon with a small markup.
All of the remaining cases are from Seria in Japan. I was able to find an equivalent earbud case on Amazon, but not the cases I use for the rechargeable batteries, surge protector, and so on. It’s too bad, because they’re well made and cost less than a dollar each at the current exchange rate, which is why I bought five to have extra to bring home.