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Lucas Otaño
Lucas Otaño

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My Digital Nomad work setup

You like to travel or to work from wherever you please, that's the reason why you've clicked on this post. Here I'll give you my thoughts on the matter, things that I take into consideration while choosing my tools/equipment and also how to get used to it.

💡 Disclaimer:
On this article and the following I will be sharing my thoughts based on my own experience and knowledge. I'm not the owner of the truth and no one is, although I firmly believe that we all have interesting points of view, that's why I'm sharing mines and I would love to know yours as well.

My transition to Minimalism

When I started my studies on software development I bought my first laptop (HP 250 G5). After a while I “borrowed" and old monitor from my uncle and when I got my first job I started buying a lot of stuff: a second external monitor, audio speakers, external keyboard and mouse, then a mechanical keyboard. I'm also a huge fan of audio stuff so I had a bunch of headphones, speakers, USB audio interface, etc.

I thought and convinced myself that I needed all of that gear, contradictorily I knew that one of my goals was to travel, working from a train, cafes, coworking places, airbnb, hotels, wherever I wanted to be.

What was the issue?

Wherever I tried to work on a cafe, or on a friend's house or during a trip I usually was "uncomfortable” taking out the focus from the actual tasks that I had to do and saying things like: "I can't work properly with just one screen”, "I miss my Shure headphones and USB interface to listen to music”, "This screen is too small”, "I'm not used to this keyboard, I like the external one better”. It's just inconvenient having too much stuff in you backpack with you.
Yeah, I know what you are probably thinking: “Those are not real issues, stop crying”. I totally agree with you, I'm just sharing with you what was on my mind back then.

How to overcome a similar situation?

First you should know what your workflow looks like or how it could evolve once you start moving around and working from everywhere, also know your priorities and know what could you give up. In my case I mainly work as a developer, all the music related stuff was not required at all, I play the guitar but I never got into recording and producing. My laptop keyboard was fine, I don't have any issues on my wrists or any “health restriction” of any kind, another thing less. Depending on your laptop an external mouse is required (unless you are one of those "Mouse's or trackpads are for newbie's” guy, I really envy you), the trackpad on my old HP was trash, but then I purchased a Dell XPS and then a Macbook and those are enjoyable to use.

And lastly the monitors, I know that there are some roles in programming or professions that can not give up a second, third or even fourth monitor, but I believe that's a really small percentage of professions. I was already used to having a couple of screens: one with chats and music, another with terminals or code, another one with the rendered UI, documentation or a tutorial. The way to adapt that workflow on a single screen is to start using virtual Desktops (that feature is available on every OS), with a simple swipe gesture or key combination you can easily swap between desktops and it will soon become as natural as if you were just moving your head to look to another monitor. Right now I use four of them: one with personal related things (browser (Chrome), WhatsApp, Spotify, etc), another for the work specific browser (Brave ❤️) and chats, a third one for Postman and VS Code (Native windows on Mac is a must use) and the last one just with terminals (iTerm2 on full screen split as needed).

Enough verbiage, let's get into the gear

I don't mean to brag here or anything similar, I just want to share what currently works for me. I'm more than satisfied with my current setup, so much that being as consumerist as I'm, I'm not thinking of what to change or upgrade although there are "better” or newer alternatives.

Laptop

I currently own a 14” M1 Pro Macbook Pro with 16Gb of ram and 1Tb of storage.

Why this laptop?

  • Is the perfect size/resolution for me: it took me a couple of days to get used to the size reduction from my Dell XPS 9500, but now I'm used to it.
  • Is not too heavy: the previous one was stupidly heavy, but I've also used a Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon and that one was unbelievable on this aspect.
  • Amazing screen: if you are reading this, it's more likely that your computer is your work tool, you are spending way too many hour looking at this device. Your eyes will thank you if you use a decent screen. Note: There's a debate on whether blue light filters are useful or not. I don't need glasses, but I bought a pair just for the filter and I couldn't be happier with the results.
  • Battery: it will last a lot depending on your workflow, tools and how many hours you are on the computer. In my case I can trust the battery life to work a whole day without a charge.
  • Reliability: unlike Linux and Windows (at least in my experience) everything works out of the box, always, and that's what truly matters if this is your work tool. There's not weird surprise updates, blue screens and there's not need to manually download and build a sketchy controller from some repo to make your keyboard work.

Alternatives

If for some reason you can't use a Macbook I think that a really good alternative would be the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon: great battery life, nice build quality, very lightweight (from 1,13 kg/ 249 pounds), also very customisable to fit your needs. And also if you need or prefer Linux, the Thinkpad line is very well known for it's Linux compatibility.

Smartphone

I don't think this is important, we all carry a smartphone on a daily basis, it's important to have a good plan not to worry on the data usage. iPhone and Mac integration is beautiful and very convenient, it's cool but it's not a must have.

Headphones

Well, I have two pairs: Sony WH-1000XM4 (Headset) and Sony WF-XB700 (Earbuds). The most important one is the headset: amazing battery life, good sound quality, multi-device, VERY comfortable and they have a really good active noise cancellation which is a must have if you will work on a public space. They are also affordable, lightweight and foldable (unlike the Apple Airpods Max).

The Earbuds are pretty good too: nice sound quality, inexpensive, comfortables and they have a great passive noise cancellation. I use them when I don't feel like having a big headset, when I have very few space on my backpack or when I'm somewhere where I want to be low key and avoid being robbed or something.

Wrapping up

I think the idea here is to understand your needs and goals, then find the gear that best suits your needs on your budget trying to get the most value possible. In my case I mostly do FullStack web development, I don't have any technical limitation (I could easily work on a 8Gb Intel I3 windows laptop, which I did for a long time) so I focus mainly on reliability, battery life, screen quality and weight (in that priority order). So this is my dream gear right now.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Would you change something? Was this useful for you in some way? What's your setup and why it fits you?

Thanks for reading, may the force be with you.

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