Our Office-less Office

Why are you carrying a dead body with you around the world?

— A fellow traveler attempting to carry one of our backpacks.

If you’ve run into us on this trip, you may have noticed something of a contradiction: we appear heavily laden even though we exhibit a knack for wearing the same clothes almost every day.

“What’s with that?” you might ask.

If our bags aren’t stuffed with spiffy duds for nights out on the back beach, then what on earth are we carrying?

Our Equipment Landscape: A Snapshot

Check out the photo below and you’ll see that we literally carry an office-meets-production studio on our backs. This equipment enables us to capture our experiences and share them with our readers.

Gadgets on the Bed
A digital nomad’s office, one that fits in a backpack.

The table below attempts to organize our equipment into functional areas: photography, audio/video, computing/storage/networking, and everything else. We’ve added links to Amazon in case you’re in the market for some new electronic toys. If you purchase something through our website with this link, the price will stay the same to you and we get a percentage as a commission.

Note: The links below may reflect a newer model than the one we own.

Digital Nomad Gear and Technology

Lexar 32GB Flash Memory Card + San Disk Extreme 64GB Flash Memory Card.
Type of Gear
Item
How We Use It
PhotographyNikon D70 Nikon D300 DSLR Camera Nikon D7100 (February 2014)The camera we use for much of what you see in our photo gallery
Casio EX-Z750 Casio EX-V8 Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Digital Camera Canon PowerShot S95Versatile pocket camera, particularly useful for quick shots of food and landscapes. Can also take video.
Nikon 18-200mm AF-S VR DX zoom lensThe primary lens in our bag.
Nikon 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S LensA back-up lens in case something happens to the 18-200 mm lens.
Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8 PRO D Macro LensMacro (close-up) and portrait shots.
Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye lensCylindrical and spherical panorama shots.
Hoya Circularizing Polarizing Filter (72 mm)For glare reduction. Yields particularly interesting results with clouds and water.
Compact Flash Memory Cards Storage media for our DSLR camera.
Velbon RUP-43 monopodThink "tripod minus two legs." For panorama and night photography.
Joby GorillaPodA versatile GorillaPod (like a movable monopod) that can hold the DSLR, used for videos.
Nikon SB600 Speedlight FlashExternal flash for the Nikon DSLR for low light settings.
Video and AudioCasio EX-Z750 Casio EX-V8 Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Digital Camera Canon PowerShot S95Captures all the video you see on this site.
Apple iPod G5Replaced with iPhone.For audio recordings. Also helps to preserve sanity on long bus trips.
Belkin Tune TalkMicrophone/recording device for the iPod iPhone.
Griffin Stereo Lavalier MicrophoneUsed in conjunction with the iPod iPhone to record interviews.
Laptop and StorageMac PowerBook G4 12" MacBook Pro 13.3-inch Aluminum Laptop MacBook Pro Retina Display 13-inch (February 2014)Audrey's laptop, used primarily for photo editing, writing, and audio editing.
Sony VAIO VGN-SZ110 MacBook 13.3-inch Aluminum Laptop MacBook Air 13.3-inchDan's laptop, used primarily for writing, website development and video production.
Western Digital (WD) Passport 120 GB 500 GB Portable Storage 1 TB Portable StorageBackup storage for photos, videos, documents, website, etc.
Buffalo 320 GB Portable Storage Western Digital My Passport 2TB Portable Hard DriveBackup storage for photos.
Seagate Free Agent Go 1 TB Portable Storage DeviceBackup storage for photos and videos.
USB Storage Device - 8 GB USB Flash Storage Device - 128 GBTemporary storage of files for use at internet cafes or between laptops. Also holds music collection (iTunes).
GPS, Smartphone and MiscellaneousSony GPS-CS1 Amod AGL3080 GPS Data LoggerTo log location data as we travel to geotag our photos.
Palm Treo 650 iPhone 3Gs (bought via CraigsList) and iPhone 4s (factory unlocked, bought directly from Apple USA)Smartphone used as a mobile phone on the road and for digital note-taking and writing on the road.
Apple Airport ExpressTransforms a LAN connection into a WiFi (wireless) hotspot.
Belkin SurgePlus 3-Outlet Mini Travel Surge Protector with USB PortsOne of the most used pieces of equipment in our kit. Allows us to plug in multiple devices into one outlet + surge protection.

Updates: June 2009, January and June 2010, and March 2014

Do You Really Use All This Gear?

Frighteningly enough, yes. While we use certain pieces of equipment (e.g., cameras and laptops) more than others, everything has its purpose.

Laptops…as in plural??” Most people gasp when they find out we’re traveling with one. Our embarrassment runs so deep that we don’t often have the courage to share that we are actually carrying two.

We had hoped to travel with one, but we found it unworkable given the volume of content that we aimed to produce and the division of duties that we negotiated with one another. Additionally, working and traveling with your spouse day in and day out carries its own set of challenges – battling over the same laptop was not something we wished to add to the fire.

Does it make sense to travel this way?

For most people, the answer is obviously “No,” but it really depends on your travel objectives. Certainly there are people who travel with laptops, not only to connect with the office and friends back home but also to write and to manage their photos and/or videos on the road.

The obvious drawback to carrying so much stuff is physical strain. It’s no fun schlepping 50 pounds from bus to guest house (Though it does help keep us in shape and allows us guilt-free second helpings of things like Penang curry.)

Working by the Beach - Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Not a bad place to get work done…

Emotional stress is also a factor. Our equipment obviously has value. These are also the tools through which we attempt to make our travel financially sustainable. Finally, our laptops and external hard drives store our memories from this trip. [We do have an elaborate backup plan, including regular shipments of backup DVDs to the U.S. CrashPlan cloud backup.]

We continually consider potential theft and loss scenarios and we take steps to prevent them. For example, we must constantly make judgment calls regarding whether or not it’s safer to keep our bags locked up in a room or to take them with us. We haven’t had to turn down any experiences yet because of our equipment, but when we take shaky boats or head into the hills, our belongings (i.e., which pieces we take with us and which pieces we leave behind) are a major consideration.

Although we are making our equipment list public on this website, we don’t advertise our portable production studio when we’re on the road. Our Crumpler backpacks carry the majority of what you see above. Crumpler’s brightly colored designs resemble regular day-packs and manage to playfully conceal the complexity that lurks inside.

Why do it?

We’ve provided ample reasons why you should consider not traveling with a lot of equipment. So why do we do it?

In addition to subjecting ourselves to independent long-term travel for the sake of the experience, we had hoped to challenge ourselves creatively and professionally along the way.

We have chosen to do this by becoming proficient in producing stories, well-documented photo essays and semi-produced video and audio pieces as we travel. Despite the occasional aches and pains and the not-so-occasional desire to launch our laptops across the room in frustration, we do not regret our decision.

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Comments

  1. says

    While I am forever grateful for the results of your lugging, I must say that I don’t envy you. That’s is just plain a LOT OF STUFF!!! I’m very very very glad though to hear that you use it all, otherwise it would suck to carry that much. Thanks again!
    -Suz
    http://www.startgo.com

  2. says

    Pete: We appreciate support like yours – it makes the extra weight worth it!

    Suz: We have a rule that if we don’t use it regularly (emergency medicines excluded), it gets ditched or sent back to my mom. We’ve have had a few times where we’ve really cursed the weight, mostly when the guidebook map was off and what should have been a 1/4 mile turned into 1 mile. But, most of the time it’s not too bad. We’re now trying to get rid of guidebook weight…the India and China LPs are both bricks.

  3. says

    Holy cats, that’s a lotta gear. Yowza. I’m fascinated by the deets, I have to admit.

    I gotta ask, do you take it everywhere, all the time? Because I know we were told not to leave anything that could be sold in our hotel rooms throughout our travels and that stuff is just walking money, really.

    Also, why two laptops? On our last documentation heavy trip (we were writing a guidebook) ours died, so that’s a good reason, but redundancy in laptops is kind of intense…

  4. says

    I love it. Max mobile function on the go. I’m a big believer in mobile business. I of course do it American style which is a little more bloated and laden with fossil fuels.

    We’ve taken a conversion van and reconverted it into our mobile office including desk, AC inverters, wifi, printer, cell signal repeater/amplifier, aerobed, etc. I’ve felt guilty about the excess but you can’t argue with success.

    Thanks…I love keeping up with all your goings on.

  5. says

    Pam: Most of the valuable equipment (laptop + camera gear) fits into our two Crumpler “day packs,” so we’ll take them with us if we don’t feel a guest house is safe. More often than not (and I hope I don’t curse myself by writing this), we take the camera stuff with us to photograph the place and lock the rest of it away in bags in the room. Although we tend to stay at the bottom end of accommodation options, we splurge for double rooms instead of sleeping in dorms. In addition to being more comfortable, it provides a little extra security.

    Yes, two laptops does sound extreme and it doesn’t make sense for most travelers. However, it is a necessity for us for our work flow and sanity. We’ve gathered about 200 GB of photo/video/audio/written material in the last fifteen months that we’re using for this website and some other freelance work. While we review materials together to decide what to use and how, we divide up duties to produce. It’s common that Dan will be editing videos on his machine while I’m writing or editing photos on mine. We’ve had a few times with only one laptop (when one was at the repair shop) and one person ends up waiting around for the laptop to free up to finish up his/her work. At the moment it’s worth the extra weight/worry to carry two.

    Adam: I’d love to see a picture of your mobile office! We have dreams of traveling across the States in the same vein after we visit the other continents. Maybe we could borrow your van : )

  6. Brian says

    This photo confirms what I already suspected: you two are insane. :-) Very cool picture of your gear.The website we all enjoy makes it worth it – for us.

  7. says

    After we had to resort to stuffing our pockets full of electronic gear to get by Tiger Airways weight restrictions (Singapore to Kochi), we also started to question our sanity. We do hope it’s all worth it : )

  8. Julie says

    Love it! It is a lot but so worth it because your pictures are beautiful and your website it awesome! You’re making everyone back in the states very jealous of this experience! Keep safe!

  9. says

    Thanks, Julie! We’re keeping at it in India – so much visual and audio stimulation (sometimes too much – why do people have to honk incessantly?!)! Although it is a pain hauling our big bags on an off buses and trains, people here have been accommodating and helpful.

  10. Boz says

    Nice interactive photo there. Do you have one of the rest of your stuff (clothing, coats, shoes, accessories, bags?) I’d also be interested in seeing that.

  11. says

    @Deborah: Congrats on your new Panasonic Lumix camera! Glad my email last night was helpful!

    @Boz: We have some information about the rest of our gear here, but it’s not very comprehensive or interesting. We’ll be putting together a more interactive visual about our clothing and other gear soon.

  12. Mark says

    I can so relate when you talk about the emotional stress of what to bring on an excursion and what to leave behind (safely?). One tries not to give up an experience for the sake of ‘stuff’ but it does take its toll. Our only theft experience was not really so bad: our backpacks were snatch on our second to last day in Costa Rica. The only technology we had was a mini-dvd player. Biggest downside was no change of clothes for the trip home. Ah, well.

  13. says

    @Mark: Thanks for your comment. So true. Stuff always takes its toll. I suppose that’s why some philosophies and religions attempt to de-emphasize it (with varying results).

    Sorry to hear that your backpacks and mini-dvd player were snatched on your last day in Costa Rica. In the grand scheme of Central America, that’s not so bad. Some other traveler friends (whom we met in Nicaragua) did not fare so well:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/2009/08/for-our-friends-robbed-at-knifepoint-nicaragua-photos/

    Safe travels.

  14. says

    Having watched your work almost since the beginning and seeing the changes in style and equipment, plus the constant work on your website, and all the various social sites you post on, I’m not the least surprised at the amount of equipment you’re carrying around with you. I work on photos and my website on a large PC, and there are days I’m pushing it’s limits. Having two laptops seems necessary to me with all you do, plus being able to stay in contact with family. Those laptops are get quite a workout! We haul quite a bit of equipment on our trips, which are much shorter and not so far as yours, so we can take photos, process them, let family know what we’re seeing, plus a few items just to keep us calm and sane (kindles, headphone splitter, etc). Your “office” looks perfectly normal to me.

  15. says

    @Sandra: Great to hear from you! Kindles (electronic books) and headphone splitters…check. Good ideas to carry, for sanity and a little separation from the always-on of website and social media management. Glad to hear that all this strikes you as perfectly normal…or at least perfectly reasonable :)

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