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About Me

About Me

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Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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How I’ve Managed to Fit My Life into 2 Suitcases for 4 Years: A List of Everything I Travel With as a Full-Time Nomad

Posted on February 28th, 2017

I'm coming up on my fourth anniversary as a nomad this March, which means four whole years of living out of two suitcases! I've gotten a lot of questions on what and how I pack, so I'm finally going to dig into the details for those of you who are curious. A good friend of mine also just recently got hired in the same international position as me for Uber and is facing the challenging of packing up her whole life for a year of on-the-go travel for work… so I did this mostly for her (Hi, Adrienne!). 

 

Except when I did my 9 months backpacking through Asia, I've always traveled with two suitcases: a small carry-on and a HUGE checked bag, plus a tote bag and my camera bag with my DSLR. I always sneak onto airplanes with more than my allowance… I think they don't usually see me because I'm so small.

 

Because I'm traveling for work, I need a versatile wardrobe that's friendly for work and play — not to mention the oddball safari or jungle trek thrown in on the weekends. 

 

One caveat: I have NOT had the same clothes for all four years. I tend to go home at least once every 6 months and rotate out my clothes or buy new stuff. My old job was also VERY fancy (suits and heels) and my new job is VERY start-up casual (jeans and a blouse), so I've had multple wardobes over the years. I tend to do shopping trips before each new set of assignments I go on, so I have that climate in mind before I go.

 

I have, however, worked almost exclusively in tropical climates (minus that one time I was sent to Mongolia without ANY warning and showed up in flip-flops), but sometimes I do get caught flying from home to New York City for a layover and then on to smoking hot southern Mexico. Like right now I'm lugging around my winter coat from Buffalo, which is less than ideal, but I'll ship it home before heading to Sydney next month. Of course, nomadic life logistics make wardrobe logistics very challenging from time to time.

 

Embarrassing confession: I literally don't unpack these days because Uber is sending me to a different city every 1-3 weeks. I use large eBags to sort all my items and, because I really don't have time or the incentive to unpack, I just open my suitcase and unzip all my large eBags with my different "drawers" of clothes in there and sift through it every morning. Pathetic, but practical. I have one for work tops, one for causal tops, one for bottoms, one for dresses, one for underwear, one for cosmetics, and one for swimwear/pajamas. You get the idea. All in different colors.

 

3 Principles of Packing

 

I have 3 guiding principles for packing up my life. The central principle is: I DO NOT PACK FOR WHAT-IFS. I pack for what I use every single day, and that's it. If there's a "what-if" type situation ("What if I get sent to Mongolia out of the blue?"), I buy in-country and then donate it all when I leave or I rent what I need for that rare situation (ie. I rented all my hiking gear for my trek in Nepal for about $70 for two weeks)

 

My second principle is: I don't have much, so I buy better quality for the things I'll use day in and day out. I never worry about losing stuff or having my things stolen. Shrug. It's only stuff. I'm a minimalist for sure, but I also don't feel bad about my $1,500 camera or my iPhone 7 or my Michael Kors bag or gold jewelry. I only have 100lbs of belongings, so they might as well be nice! While I invest in some of my technology and accessories, I don't over-invest in my clothing. Because I wear the same things so often, I literally wear my wardrobe out every 6 months! I mostly shop at Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx, Zara, Express, and Top Shop. I'm just happy to look nice and buy slightly better brands when it makes sense.

 

And the last but not least is: LOVE YOUR LAYERS. How do I make a pit stop in South Korea in the fall before heading to summer in India and not freeze? Layers! Leggings, one of my scarves, a long sleeved tee with a lightweight sweater, one pair of boots, and a jean jacket. Done. 

 

Okay, so here's the grand inventory of more or less what I'm carrying with me at any point in time, save some style variations depending on my mood.

 

Tops 

 

I have two eBags for tops: 1 for nicer items that are work appropriate and 1 for "weekend wear" (ie. cropped tops, lower necklines, etc). Most everything is on the nicer side so I can jazz up my jeans and flats for work or pair anything in there with a skirt and wedges for a Friday night out. 

 

– Bunch of t-shirts 

– Bunch of nicer shirts, long and short sleeved 

– Bunch of tank tops

– Bunch of nicer sleeveless tops 

– 2 long-sleeved lightweight shirts for cooler evenings

– 2 lightweight sweaters for layering

– 1 lacey tank for layering under lower-cut items

 

Bottoms

– 3 pairs of jeans (black, dark wash, fun destroyed)

– 4 pairs of shorts, all entirely too short for a country like Mexico, but fine for Australia or Germany (various shades of denim)

– 1 pair of loose fitting pants for hot weather, comfortable and conservative

– 1 black lacey skirt for dressing up

– 1 gold skirt for going out

 

One reader commented that I don't have much for going out, but remember that most of my tops are "nice" so I usually just throw on heels with my work outfit and some extra eyeliner and I'm good to go. I also don't drink or party much these days, so adjust these numbers if you're a big club-goer. 

 

Dresses

– 3 lightweight dresses for work

– 2 nicer dresses for going out

– 1 fun maxi dress for hot climates

 

Jackets/Outerwear

Right now I'm carrying more than I ever have before but I need some versatility for countries that are warm during the day but cool in the evening.

– 1 leather jacket

– 1 jean jacket

– 1 black blazer for going out

– 1 navy blazer for work

– 1 long, oversized sweater, doubles as my bathrobe sometimes

– 1 huge winter coat (shipping home)

– 1 lightweight scarf

– 1 slightly heavier scarf

 

Pajamas, Undies, and Swimwear

I carry a lot of underwear so I don't have to do laundry a lot. Normally I have just one bikini, but I'm Australia-bound so I have 4 with me now. I always have several types of bras and sport bras, too. Then I throw in jogging shorts, leggings, yoga pants, and pajama shorts, plus a few plain tank tops for sleep and/or exercise. Some people here would throw in a hoodie, which I live without and use my oversized outwear sweater instead. I also have socks and a few pairs of pantyhose for good measure.

 

Shoes

Again, I'm carrying more shoes now than I ever have before, mostly because I had a rapid transition from cooler weather in San Francisco to hot Mexico and I had to bring some extras. When I backpacked India, I literally wore Chacos or I was barefoot, period. Tough luck when I went to a rooftop bar in Mumbai once… the Indians got to turn their noses up at my mud-crusted Chacos (although I did have one nice dress).

– Running shoes

– Flats

– "Nice" flip-flops

– Open-toe sandals

– Wedges for going out

– Heels for going out

– Platform sneakers (my beloved Berlin clubbing shoes, also still have Burning Man playa dust caked on them)

– Ankle boots for cooler weather (even in Mexico I regularly go from chilly Mexico City to the HOT Yucatan peninsula, so I do use them often)

Not with me now but usually always: Chacos! 

If I had to narrow this down it would be: platform sneakers, flip-flops, flats, and wedges — easy!

 

Cosmetics

Dear Lord this is the bulk of my luggage. I always travel with backups and several months supply of everything in case I wind up in Ethiopia and have to have a friend bring me facewash from Dubai (true story).

– Shampoo, conditioner, facewash, bodywash I always buy locally when I arrive in a new country

– Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash

– Vitamins stockpile (not easily found abroad)

– Contact lenses (6 months worth, ditto)

– Organic cotton tampons (6 months worth, ditto)

– Make-up and extras of anything not easily found abroad (over the years I've come to just use Mac or other brands found in almost every part of the world)

– Sunscreen (found abroad but can be very expensive)

– Acne cream

– Deoderant (6 months worth, I'm particular about this brand

– Nailpolish and files, clippers, etc.

– Nailpolish remover pads (vs. the heavier bottle of liquid)

– Coconut oil (all-purpose moisturizer)

– Tweezers

– Razors 

– Perfume

– Comb

– Bobby pins

– Hair straightener (no blow dryer – hey, I have natural waves!)

– Medicines: tylenol, anti-diarrheals, eye drops, contact lens solution, bandaids, antibiotic cream, and anti-itch cream

– Insect repellent with high DEET concentration (ugh, necessary evil)

 

Honestly there's a lot of stuff I used to be more particular about, but over the years I've found substitutes or just gotten less fussy. But I'm still a bit fussy… clearly.

 

Technology

Here's where my stuff gets expensive, but I even backpacked India with all of this, minus the work computer.

– 1 personal PC (HP x360)+case

– 1 work computer (Macbook Air)+case

– 1 unlocked iphone 7 (+spare Speck case and spare glass shield protector) 

– 1 Go Pro 4+selfie stick (shameful)

– 1 Canon Rebel T4i with 18-200mm lens

– 1 Kindle (no "real" books for nomads)

– 1 external battery

– 1 external hard disk for backing up photos/docs (+Dropbox professional account)

– 2 headphones

– 3 international converters for my chargers

 

On cameras, you could probably just get away with an iPhone 7 if you aren't a blogger or someone who's crazy about professional-level photography like I am. 

 

Miscellaneous

– Hand-held luggage scale (I'm always overweight)

– 1 belt

– 1 all-purpose small handbag that lays flat in my carry-on

– 1 totebag for both laptops, chargers, life in general (carry-on item)

– 1 small backpack that lays flat in my carry-on

– 1 bike lock (for when I rent/buy bikes)

– Jewelry case with my minimalist selections

– 1 moleskine notebook and pens

– 1 lightweight hooded rainjacket (the expensive kind you get at REI, worth it!)

– 1 umbrella

– Glasses

– Sunglasses

– Scissors (seriously they come in handy ALL the time)

– 1 Klean Kanteen for refilling from larger bottled water jugs 

– 1 fast-drying travel towel

– Bunch of hangers

– 1 mesh laundry bag (I always just find a local laundry service, which tends to be cheap and remarkably well done anywhere in the world)

– 1 neck pillow for the airplane

– Locks of various sizes (for luggage or hostel lockers)

– Travel insurance

– Passport, wallet, extra debit and credit cards, a couple checks, yellow fever certificate, secret stash of dollars

 

And there you have it, a list of pretty much everything I own and believe it or not, I can pack all of it up in less than 20 minutes and it weighs about 100-110lbs total, so 50lbs in my checked bag (okay, usually a little over and I pay the airline fee), 30-40lbs in my carry-on (I put heavy stuff in there, I'm absolutely screwed it the airline has a limit and chooses to weigh it), and my tote bag with the electronics (15-20lbs). 

 

Feel free to email me at elaina@lifebefore30.com if you have any questions. I've posted some photos of my luggage so you can see how I organize it and what I carry. Hope this helps — or is just fascinating for those of you living in a real home (which I always joke I define as stuff on hangers). 

 

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At the airport in Guyana with everything I had been traveling with for more than a year while working in Guyana, Qatar, Oman, and South Africa

 

IMG_4237A glimpse of my "organization" system of cubes!


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My room in Lagos – packing up after 3 months working in Nigeria (absolute chaos!)

 

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Trying to keep it fresh in Oman – basics and bright accessories

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About Me

About Me

IMG_5937

Hi, I’m Elaina and I want to help you live life on your terms, find a career you love, and travel as often as you want. 

 

I’ve lived, worked, and traveled to more than 60 countries, including some pretty off-the-beaten path destinations like Mongolia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Paraguay. I’ve also lived out of a suitcase as a full-time nomad for the past 4.5 years, ever since leaving my management consulting gig in New York back in 2013 when I landed an international role at a media company that sent me all over the world to work. You can read my full story here

 

What makes my story unique is that I’ve traveled AND built a professional career, working for companies like IBM and Uber over the years. I’ve also spent long stretches of time freelancing and traveling adventurously through South America, Asia, and Africa. I’m currently freelance writing, coaching professionals through career transitions, and working on a few small business ideas while splitting my time between Berlin, the US, and India. 

 

I write about self-development, digital nomadism, charting unconventional life paths, finding REAL jobs overseas, pursuing long-term travel, and living more purposefully in a fast-paced, confusing world. There’s simply no one-size-fits-all model for creating a life you love. I’m not a full-time digital nomad and I’m not a full-time corporate professional: I’ve done things a bit differently and I think it’s feasible for more people to live “off the beaten path” this way. I hope my blog lets you see that it’s both possible and practical.  

 

I started this blog because I want to help you find an exciting career, travel the world, break the norms, and develop yourself both personally and professionally. Read on or get in touch to set up a 1:1 session with me: elaina@lifebefore30.com.

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Currently in: Malawi

 

 

Previously in: Berlin

 

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What’s Hot

Recent Posts

Coaching

Coaching

Step into my office!

 

Five years ago, I changed my whole life in 30 days. I scored the job of my dreams, quit my job in New York, sold everything I owned, moved to West Africa, and never looked back. Read about it here.

 

Now I use Office Hours to help my clients do the same.

 

Do you want to travel but are scared to quit your job?

Do you want to find a job overseas but don’t know where to start?

Do you wake up in the morning dreading what’s ahead?

Read more

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