Working abroad is the best of both worlds—you get to travel to places that you’ve always wanted to see, meet new people, and experience whole different ways of life, all while continuing to build on your career. Gone are the days when extended travel meant sacrificing the integrity of your resume!
Sure, working abroad is going to be a little less happy-go-lucky than that summer you spent studying in Spain during college. You’ll be embarking on a new adventure, but you’ll also have supervisors to report to, performance reviews to undergo, maybe even a team of your own to keep in line. Sounds like serious business! And for serious business, you’ll need serious gear. (Note: it is highly recommended that you leave your bubble backpack at home, or in 2001).
To prevent packing from becoming too overwhelming, it’s a great idea to do some research, and maybe even make a physical list of what you’ll need before you start shopping around. To get you started, consider the following: Are you traveling indefinitely, or for a set amount of time? Will you be making frequent side trips? What kind of climates will you be exposed to? Do you like to remain active? Is your job’s dress code business casual, or informal? Do you prefer to travel light, or to be prepared for every possible contingency? The answers to these questions will help you narrow down exactly what travel gear for living abroad you should have in tow before you board your flight.
Where to buy your work abroad gear
While you might normally stock up at Old Navy or Nordstrom on your pre-trip spending spree (we all love having a few new outfits to get us through vacation!), the type of shopping you’ll be doing for your work abroad adventure will feel a little different. Why? You’re investing in essential travel gear instead of accessories, and you might need to spend a little extra moolah to ensure quality isn’t sacrificed. No one wants ripped seams or holey t-shirts when they’re stuck in a place that doesn’t carry their size or doesn’t offer easy access to a shopping mall, right?
If you’re balling on a budget, there are plenty of stores fit to kit you out without dramatically decreasing your savings. Opinions vary on who has the best gear for traveling abroad, but we love REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Sierra Trading Post. If you’re more into online shopping than the brick-and-mortar experience, Amazon will (continue to be…) your BFF. Brands like Columbia, Marmot, Kelty, and Guerrilla will also help you on your money-conscious search for top-notch gear for working abroad.
If you’d like to spend a little extra money upfront to guarantee even higher quality products, brands like Patagonia, North Face, and Moosejaw will do your closet good. For our friends with a little extra to spend, check out Topo Designs, Osprey, Arc’Teryx, Lululemon, Under Armour, and Carhartt. These can be bought directly from their websites or from major shops that sell their items.
Pro tip: Outlet stores are a true gem. It might be last season’s designs, but they’re still top-notch and usually offered at a discount. Winning!
The best luggage/backpack for working abroad
Do you want space, or do you want mobility? This is possibly the most important question to ask yourself before committing to any luggage or backpack since, oftentimes, you can’t eat your cake and have it too. For those who know they’ll be constantly on the go, here’s a word of friendly advice: it is a PAIN taking a rolling suitcase through turnstiles, and on and off trains. You’ll be glad to be hands-free when you’re booking it towards the bus you’re to miss. On the flipside, any backpack under 50L will be sure to present a humbling challenge for packing, whether you’re traveling for a single month or 12. Take along any of the following recommendations, and you won’t have to worry leaving behind essential items for traveling abroad long term!
- The name speaks for itself. This little buddy’s looks are deceiving, but is still best reserved for travelers who are skilled enough to hack it on a very lean packing list. For the rest of us, this pack can function as a comfy-meets-cute daypack or carry-on for those weekend trips when you don’t feel like hauling around a full-sized backpack or suitcase.
- For those who like throwbacks: ($79) by Kelty is 30L, downright affordable, and has that old-school charm that’s missing from so much modern travel gear.
- Respectable in size, the Graviton by Marmot provides long-lasting quality sans the dent in your bank account. Featuring multiple pockets, clips, and bonus space in the lid, this pack will be reliable for quite a few trips around the globe.
- Sleek, chic, and all-weather: ($259) by Arc’teryx is compact and ideal for a destination with unpredictable weather, or for outdoorsy travelers planning stopovers through multiple climates.
- Talk bang for your buck! Trimmed your list all the way down to the essentials, but still have a heaping pile of “options” on your bedroom floor? This backpack by Guerrilla has you well covered. Heavy-duty, adjustable, and roomy enough for a couple weeks’ worth of clothing and amenities, you’ll find you still have enough wiggle room for inevitable end-of-trip souvenirs.
- Arms getting tired? Try out the ($350) by Osprey, which has wheels (for when you can feel your spine crumbling away), and a back panel that conceals shoulder straps (for when you’re ready to go hands-free once again!).
- This. Suitcase. Is. Dope. Backpacks are convenient and great for those who are constantly on the move, but for expats who know they’ll be hunkered down in one spot for a while, this suitcase is the answer. At 46L, it’s on the smaller side, but you’ll never have to check it with your airline. It features tons of stylish color choices, the option to add a monogrammed tag, a combination lock, an unbreakable outer shell, and a chargeable battery and USB port for your electronics. Fancy! If you can do without the battery, Away Travel also has ($295), featuring 86L of space.
- For those who can’t leave their stuffed animal collection at home: ($349) by North Face sounds intense because it is. This rolling duffel has self-cleaning wheels (yep, that’s a thing), and clocks in at a whopping 155L. Heck, bring two stuffed animal collections!
Electronics for traveling and working abroad
Some travelers like to go full-Ron Swanson and remove themselves from the grid while they travel. If you’re working abroad, though, that most likely won’t be plausible. We’ve got a few suggestions for essential travel gadgets to keep your firmly planted on the grid so that you can stay up-to-date with your work emails, and never miss an important phone call!
Depending on your destination, it’s possible that WiFi will be unreliable, expensive, or both. Take your fate into your own hands, and bring a WiFi Hotspot with you! ($149.99) has coverage on every continent except Antarctica (sorry, penguins), and offers sweet, sweet unlimited data through affordable $9-per-day passes.
If you’d prefer to pay-as-you-go, check out the ($149.99).
If you’re planning on bringing a large number of electronics (or a couple that you frequently run down to 1%), it would be wise to invest in a rechargeable battery pack, like the ($79.99) by Lifeproof. These will be especially handy in areas prone to blackouts or frequent power outages, like India and Central America. This version by Lifeproof can handle water, dirt, snow, and fumbles, and has a few fun accessory options to boot.
($49.95) is a more affordable option without sacrificing the juice. Don’t worry—this one withstands dust and splashes, too.
More affordable still is the hippie-approved ($23.95), granting you the ability to harvest the power of the sun for your mere mortal electronics.
MacBooks are fun and beautiful, but our recommendation for working abroad is something that’s functional and durable, but affordable, too. Consider a Chromebook, like the ($189.99). You’ll still be able to access and create word docs and spreadsheets, but in the unfortunate event that it’s stolen or broken, you won’t feel quite so much pain thanks to the price. Plus, Google will have all of your documents backed up.
Voltage Converter and Adapter
This seems like an obvious suggestion, but often goes overlooked, believe it or not. Arriving in a foreign country with no way to plug in your laptop or phone? Sounds like an oh-no-no. Explaining that to your boss will surely sound like the travel version of “the dog ate my homework”. Grab this 2-in-1 ($43.90) from Amazon before you leave for your trip, especially if you have electronics that don’t have built-in voltage converters.
Things that will make your life abroad a little sweeter
You’ve got the essential travel gear like luggage and electronics covered, but what the fine details? We have a few recommendations that will make your work life abroad just a little (or maybe a lot!) easier.
Planner or Journal
- Are you notoriously late or forgetful? Check out the ($26.97), which will not only help you keep your days straight, but help you improve your productivity and time management. This thing could single-handedly earn you your next promotion.
- If you’ve got the adulting thing covered on your own, and a bit of a sentimental side, grab the ($11.04). With enough space for five years of memories, it’ll encourage you to chronicle your time abroad in short bursts so that you never forget the good times.
- We would normally file this one under “non-essential,” but the ($24.99) is so teensy that you’ll forget it’s in your suitcase. Every traveler knows the neverending wrinkled-clothes conundrum, so bring this gadget along to stay looking sharp (at least until wrinkle free travel clothes become more of a thing). It’ll surely set you apart from the other disheveled expats in the office!
- Between deadlines, meetings, and projects, hydration can be difficult to maintain when working abroad. You know what makes it even more difficult? Undrinkable tap water. If your work is taking you to a developing country that your stomach isn’t used to, take a look at the ($59.50). It might seem pricey, but it will pay for itself quickly with all the money you save on plastic bottled water (and the Earth will thank you).
- If safety isn’t an issue, bring along the ($29.00) by CamelBak! It keeps drinks cold for up to 24 hours, and hot drinks nice and toasty for up to six, so you can bring you morning cup of joe along with you.
- For expats who need the security of being prepared for absolutely anything, the ($12.90) is a practical and affordable addition to any packing list. Like a modern Swiss Army Knife, this handy little tool has 18 functions, but is not much larger than a credit card. Seems silly not to bring it!
Travel clothes you probably can’t live without
With most of your travel gear essentials squared away at this point, we come to perhaps the trickiest part of packing—clothing. If your work environment is informal, for both men and women we recommend bringing simple, loose, comfortable clothing that can be both dressed up and down. Ladies should also consider bringing an ultra-versatile scarf or two, which always come in handy in more conservative parts of the world, as well as chilly locales.
Below we have recommendations for travelers who like to remain casual. If you’re on your way to a business casual work environment, we suggest perusing retailers like and .
Sometimes it’s not too hot, not too cold, and all you need is a light jacket. Windbreakers are great for destinations that have unpredictable weather, and also for desert regions that get surprisingly cold at night. and have tons of options that will last you forever, as well as heavier coats in case you’re headed somewhere that sees snow often. For frugal travelers, has you covered, as always.
A comfortable, everyday-style shoe will be your best friend. Easy to wear with jeans, shorts, or leggings, we recommend to stay stylish. For something less restrictive (and that also supports a good cause), is the answer. It’s worth noting that if you don’t want something that’s going to fall apart after a few months of heavy use, expect to dish out a decent chunk of change. If you don’t mind having to replace your shoes sooner rather than later, has some affordable alternatives.
If you’re headed somewhere hot and flat, a decent pair of sandals will be imperative. We highly recommend , which have lots of fun styles for both men and women, and not a bad price tag, either. They have a fun collection of rainboots, too! For something more durable (but pricier), check out .
Purse or Bag
The best purse for traveling abroad will easily be something that’s durable, lightweight, crossbody, and versatile. The ($32.16) fits the bill exactly. Slash-resistant and full of pockets, this purse will accommodate all of your necessities. An even smaller and more discreet option is a good, old-fashioned money belt. This ($13.99) by Raytix is a great, affordable option.
For a more professional look, check out this ($21) at Hello Wander, as well as sleek messenger bags by , covering a wide spectrum of prices and styles.
Now go forth & shop for working abroad with purpose!
Don’t just work abroad… work abroad with style. 💁😎 👔
But tell us—what’s missing? What gear did you buy before starting your fabulous expat life that made a huge difference? Let us know in the comments below!