This digital nomad lived out of a single bag for 3 years

May 5th of 2009 is a day that Jim Wilmer will never forget. A systems engineer by trade, Jim had spent the previous 3 years working night and day on a touch-to-pay payment system for a well-known Silicon Valley tech company.  A pre-cursor to Paypass, ‘Swyp-it’ had a strong buzz in tech circles and was supposed to disrupt the credit card industry in coming years.

Like so many others, Jim had lost his nest egg during the housing crisis, but he remained optimistic. Jim did have equity in the rising company, and he daydreamed of the day a 7-figure payout would allow him to leave the cramped office behind for an early retirement spent traveling the world. So when the app was abruptly shelved and Jim found himself without a job, he decided to forge ahead and chase his original travel dreams, finances be damned. Jim bought a cherry red Jansport backpack from Target, filled it with just the bare essentials necessary to make it through a weekend trip, and hit the road.  

Over the next 3 years Jim embraced the nomad life. He taught English in Vietnam, labored in Japanese rice fields, and eventually started a successful export company based out of Singapore. But never did he allow his possessions to outgrow his tattered backpack. 

In May bluehighways met up with Jim at an expat conference in Malaysia, and there he shared with us his tips for traveling (and living) light. 

BH: Why just a backpack? Surely that’s a bit extreme, no?

JW:  Extreme, yes. And I guess it was the whole point, you know- to show people more is not always more, I guess. Your possessions will grow to fit the space. This never changes. Backpack or mansion, this is true, and I’ve certainly felt that while living on the ‘other side of the tracks’ during my tech days. 

BH: Do you miss the corporate world?

JW: Well I did. I tried to run from it, but try as I might, I still found myself in a similar role (with NeXports) that utilizes my skillset. 

BH: Could you give us a list of your essentials?

JW: Certainly. Like I said, I don’t need much…. 

Following is Jim’s essential travel list. Could you live this sparsely? Let us know below. 

  • Food: Ramen, canned, and dehydrated (Nothing fancy)
  • Sleeping bag
  • Water bottle, anti-bacteria pills
  • Four pairs of socks
  • Four pairs of underwear
  • Two anti-microbial tee-shirts
  • One pair of anti-stain khaki pants
  • Fanny pack (Fashion and security)
  • Laptop
  • Smartphone
  • Camera
  • Go-Pro
  • Batteries
  • Toothbrush
  • Battery-powered hair clipper
  • Shamwow (for toweling off, normal towel is too large and can get moldy if packed away)
  • Shaving kit
  • Deodorant
  • Measuring cups and spoons (for the occasional prepared meal)
  • Mixing bowls
  • Pillow
  • Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Whistle
  • Pepper spray
  • Tupperware containers
  • Instant coffee
  • Blender
  • Can opener
  • Running shoes
  • Shower curtain (most places I crash are thinly furnished, if at all, so this is a necessity)
  • Loofah
  • Solar Shower
  • Toilet paper
  • Toilet brush
  • Toilet plunger 
  • Bath mat
  • Air freshener
  • Tissues (I have strong allergies)
  • Cleaning supplies 
  • Extension cords (it can be a battle for outlets in a hostel)
  • Surge strips (Electricity grids are iffy at best in some of these countries)
  • Basic tools and repair gear to include electric drill and backup batteries, duct tape, screwdrivers
  • Mig welder 
  • Generator for welder
  • Propane  (Cheap and easy to refill in rural areas)
  • Dress shoes
  • Backpack camera
  • Neck pillow
  • Keurig instant-coffee machine
  • Electric longboard (fast and fun transportation)
  • Kennel (I like travelling with a furry companion
Jim and his trusty Jansport

Well? Something must be on your mind!

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