How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)

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The incredible Sony VAIO VGN-TXN27N laptop. This beauty is less than 2″ thick and weighs 2.8 lbs. If I add a few ounces of weight with the extended battery (on the right) and trick it out, I can get 15 hours of battery life.

The name of the game in world travel is being “fashionably light.”

Hauling a five-piece Samsonite set around the planet is hell on earth. I watched a friend do this up and down dozens of subway and hotel staircases in Europe for three weeks, and — while I laughed a lot, especially when he resorted to just dragging or throwing his bags down stairs — I’d like to save you the breakdown. Trip enjoyment is inversely proportionate to the amount of crap (re: distractions) you bring with you.

Practice in 30-plus countries has taught me that packing minimalism can be an art.

I returned from Costa Rica last Wednesday, and have since landed in Maui, where I’ll stay for one week. What did I pack and why? Check out the video…

I practice what I’ll label the BIT methodof travel: Buy It There.

If you pack for every contingency — better bring the hiking books in case we go hiking, better bring an umbrella in case it rains, better bring dress shoes and slacks in case we go to a nice restaurant, etc. — carrying a mule-worthy load is inevitable. I’ve learned to instead allocate $50-200 per trip to a “settling fund,” which I use to buy needed items once they’re 100% needed. This includes cumbersome and hassle items like umbrellas and bottles of sunscreen that love to explode. Also, never buy if you can borrow. If you’re going on a bird watching trip in Costa Rica, you don’t need to bring binoculars — someone else will have them.

Here’s the Maui list, listed from top-to-bottom, left-to-right:

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-1 featherweight Marmot Ion jacket (3 oz.!)
-1 breathable Coolibar long-sleeve shirt. This saved me in Panama.
-1 pair of polyester pants. Polyester is light, wrinkle-resistant, and dries quickly. Disco dancers and flashpackers dig it.
-1 Kensington laptop lock, also used to secure all bags to stationary objects.
-1 single Under Armour sock, used to store sunglasses
-2 nylon tanktops
-1 large MSR quick-dry microfiber towel, absorbs up to 7 times its weight in water
-1 Ziploc bag containing toothbrush, travel toothpaste, and disposable razor
-1 Fly Clear biometric travel card, which cuts down my airport wait time about 95%
-2 pairs of Exofficio lightweight underwear. Their tagline is “17 countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear.” I think I’ll opt for two, considering they weigh about as much as a handful of Kleenex. One other nice side-effect of their weight: they’re much more comfortable than normal cotton underwear.
-2 pairs of shorts/swimsuits
-2 books: Lonely Planet Hawaii and The Entrepreneurial Imperative (the latter comes highly recommended. Check it out)
-1 sleeping mask and earplugs
-1 pair of Reef sandals. Best to get a pair with removable straps that go around the heel.
-1 Canon PowerShot SD300 digital camera with extra 2GB SD memory card. God, I love this camera more than words can describe. It is the best designed piece of electronics I have ever owned. I now use it not only for all of my photos and videos, but also as a replacement for my scanner. I’m considering testing the newer and cheaper SD1000.
-1 coffee harvesting hat to prevent my pale skin from burning off.
-1 Kiva keychain expandable duffel bag
-1 Chapstick, 1 Mag-Lite Solitaire flashlight, and 1 roll of athletic tape. The last is a lifesaver. It’s as useful as duct tape for repairing objects but gentle enough to use on injuries, which I am fond of inflicting on myself.
-1 Lewis and Clark flex lock (for luggage, lockers, zippers, or whatever I need to lock down/shut/together). Standard mini-padlocks are often too cumbersome to thread through holes on lockers, etc.
-1 Radio Shack kitchen timer, which I’ve been using to wake up for about five years. The problem with using a cell phone alarm to wake up is simple: the phone needs to be on, and even if you use vibrate, people can call and wake you up before you want to wake up. The second benefit to using a kitchen timer if that you know exactly how much sleep you are — or aren’t — getting, and you can experiment with things like caffeine power naps of different durations… but that’s another post ;)

What are your favorite must-pack items, multi-purpose tools, and lightweight winners?

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How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses… and Videos from Costa Rica:

The secret to getting what you want is first asking for what you want, then negotiating if you don’t get it. The first part is the most neglected.

Most people never learn to ask for something properly, so they always get push-back and end up negotiating. I cover dealmaking and negotiating exhaustively in The 4-Hour Workweek, as well as in the bonus chapter,“How to Get $700,000 in Advertising for $10,000.” Let’s look at how to win the fight before it starts.

I wanted this trip to Maui, my first to Hawai’i, to be an experience of personal firsts.

Here are a few: driving a convertible sports car on the Hana Highway, flying in a helicopter, sleeping in a full-size treehouse, and scuba diving the back wall of Molokini crater. I fulfilled all of them in the first 72 hours.

How I got a Mustang turbo convertible for $278 (gas included) instead of $542 (gas not included):

I bought my plane ticket to Maui about 24 hours before I left, so I landed in luau land with no reservations of any kind. There was only one rental company, so I had to get my convertible from them. Here are the pointers that got me from $542 to $278:

1. The first representative at the desk wouldn’t play ball with discounts, so I told her that I need to take a phone call outside, took a 5-minute walk, and came back to test another rep. Choosing the person on the other side of the table — just like choosing a slot machine vs. playing slots well — is more important than negotiating technique.

2. People who get what they want, just like good negotiators or PR folk, are good conversationalists. Here’s what I said:

“Hey, man. How goes it? I’m so excited to be here. [After giving him my license and info] If you have any discounts I can use — AAA, student, magic elf, or anything at all — I’d really, really appreciate it. I’m on a budget, so whatever you can do would be awesome.”

Notice that I’m asking for what I want without asking at all. The result: $278 with gas included instead of $542 without gas.

How I got a sold-out luxury treehouse for free:

This one is even better. It’s the high tourist season in Maui. It’s so popular to drive from Kahalui to Hana for coastline and waterfalls that my local helicopter pilot said: “Thinking of staying over in Hana? Forget about it. You’ll never get a room.”

Well, I had thought about it, and I wanted nothing more than to stay in one of the famous full-size treehouses in the rain forest. Doing this in the high season is something like showing up for the last game of the World Series and asking for box seats at the door. So I called the treehouse gods and here’s how it went down:

Me: “Hi. I’m really, really hoping that you have vacancies for tonight. Please say yes.”
Goddess of the Treehouses: “Nope. Totally booked.”
Me: “Oh, no. My dream is crushed. Are you sure? Do you have anything at all? Even a dilapidated and unsafe one? [I pause while she first takes me seriously, then laughs] Hmmm… Is there anything at all I can do?”
Goddess: [long pause] “Well… how about a work trade?”
Me: “Sounds like fun. What do you mean?”
Goddess: “Moving some dirt.”
Me: “For sure! I love it. How long would it take?” [Note: I actually do love hard manual labor. It demands full attention, and the repetitive motion is like repeating a mantra. Call me crazy.]
Goddess: “About an hour.”

We talk for another 20 minutes, and she decides that she would feel guilty if she forced me to shovel while on vacation. I was secretly disappointed, but no matter: she and I met up at the treehouse, and after a trip to a small alcove beach together and much conversation, my stay ended up being free. Not only that, but I was adopted by a wild dog — the cutest puppy you’ve ever seen — who then played companion for the entire time. Dig it.

Be a joker when you can, be pitiful when needed, and learn to get a laugh as you field test the most valuable skill in the world: asking for what you want. If all else fails in Hawai’i, just tell them “Kama aina,” which means you’re a local. It should get you an automatic 15-20% off in most places. Don’t tell them I told you ;)

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Here are some clips from my recent trip to Costa Rica:

Posted on: July 11, 2007.

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334 comments on “How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses)

    • Ex-Officio underwear is by far best for traveling. I have all three styles; 2 to 3 pairs and you can travel indefinitely. Just wash one pair in the shower or wash basin each night; wring out in a towel; hang up and they will be dry by morning.

      Ed

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  1. When I traveled last summer, the most important item on mind was sun protection. So I packed up lite, but took several hats, SPF shirts and pants. I even took a UV umbrella for added protection.

    Like

  2. Hi Tim,

    I saw your TED talk and there is some firm criticism about your blog post here and what you said on the TED talk about your fear for water. Much more is criticized, but let’s stick to this one.

    By the way, I am very enthousiastic about your book and your ideas. And I am looking for a way to implement it to myself in The Netherlands.

    But, I have to be honest: I’m a little confused by the critics. Please can you give me some response about that?

    Thanks in advance,
    best,
    Harmen

    Like

  3. I’m going to Europe for three and a half weeks and I’m only bringing 12 lbs. The full list is here, http://sonofaminimalist.blogspot.com/2011/06/my-pack-cont.html, but the idea is to pack thing I can wash in the sink and wear multiple times. In addition, it makes it easy to carry since all my stuff will be on my back the entire time. For future trips, Iceland Air will only allow you to have 13 lbs for any one carry on item if you are in coach.

    Aman

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  4. Longtime friend and fellow GTD devotee told me about your book today, so I thought I would check out the site while I waited for the book to get here. Love it, but it is difficult not to see your experience as an anomaly. While it doesn’t seem all that difficult for a young, attractive, single man to pull off, it isn’t something I see as a potential reality as the married breadwinner of the family with 3 kids under 5, which takes some of the fun out of it for me. I’m thrilled for you though. I know I will enjoy the book.

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  5. If you tell any local you are “kama aina”, you better be willing to produce a Hawai’i drivers license. If you’re drunk and in Waikiki and try to pull this, don’t expect to /ever/ go back if you are caught.

    There’s a reason they give the locals a larger discount, and it isn’t to be a pain- step outside of Honolulu or Waikiki for more than three minutes, and you’ll know exactly why.

    Like

  6. Surfing web for deals on convertibles – first trip to LA/Vegas next week. Just knew you’d have a tip for me! All for BIT, travelled 3mths in Oz/Asia with about 6kg. Bandana useful accessory for blood/sweat/tears.Final stop in Darwin, fellow traveller helped themselves to everything from the washing line. Wasn’t bothered – came home even lighter, with a great excuse to buy new threads!

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  7. Surfing web for deals on convertibles ahead of first trip to LA/Vegas next week – thanks for the tip! All for BIT, managed 3mths in Oz/Asia with 6kg. Bandana useful for blood/sweat/tears. Last stop in Darwin, everything I wasn’t wearing got taken from the washing line, so travelled home even lighter with a great excuse to buy new threads!

    Like

  8. Hey Tim, I just got back from 6 months of independent travel around central/eastern europe and SA. I got a lot of comments on how small my bag was. Here were my takeaways.

    This bag: Eagle creek Rincon 65L
    http://www.eaglecreek.com/bags_luggage/adventure_travel_packs/Rincon-65L-10081/
    65L of well constructed awesomeness. More importantly, you can carry it on an airplane. The ‘daypack’ goes under the seats and the main bag goes in the overhead. It’s slightly larger than the boxes they have to check your stuff, but almost no one does anyway. If they stop you just tell them…it fits the correct way (umm…parallel to the normal vector of the overhead, sorry) in every plane I’ve ever been on except those really big international ones that have four seats in the middle row. In those you just have to put it in the other way.

    Bring a couple of carribeaners to hand stuff off of your bag

    Those recyclable grocery bags are nice if you want to bring food around with you.

    The flex lock like you recommended is great, as are those tiny TSA travel locks. The flex lock is important for locking the bag to yourself on sketchy buses so you can sleep a little better.

    Exofficio underwear IS awesome. Buy it.

    I picked up an HP DMZ1 laptop and it was a great purchase. $450, great specs, 95% size keyboard, etc. It’s really well designed and I am very pleased with it. Plus it’s tiny 11.6″

    A petzl headlight is absolutely crucial. I have one which also had a red LED on it which is really good for sleeping in dorm rooms at hostels because it doesn’t wake people up as much.

    The microfiber towel you recommend is great, though I hate the feel of it. Big fluffy towels are one of the things I miss most.

    REI makes great travel shirts and pants.
    Handsome, breathable shirts with UPF and secret pockets: http://www.rei.com/product/794446/rei-sahara-tech-long-sleeve-shirt-mens
    And they make some nylon pants (Not convertible!) with additional zip up pockets near the sides.

    The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is a great travel sized point and shoot that takes VERY impressive pictures (pretty much as good as a point and shoot gets) and is a great price. I bought mine years ago, they’re probably on a different model number by now. They’re popular.

    A pair of headphones is important if you’ve got a laptop.

    Bring a journal.

    Travel socks are nice, but buy a few extra pairs of regular ones there.

    You can carry on nail clippers and cartridge razor blades, but not a pocket knife. BUT you can buy pocket knives pretty damn cheaply when you land. I’ve even seen combo knife, spoon, fork, and bottle openers for about $5 in several countries.

    Bring good earplugs. Those Israeli silent ear were too pricey for me (I lose them) but the highest rated box of cheap earplugs on amazon are excellent and cheap. I brought a whole bunch.

    A kindle is a sweet way to fit 300+ books in your bag. Even better you can download tons of free books that are out of copywrite from sites like the gutenberg project.

    Platypus water bottles are awesome. The take up no space when empty.

    I brought a cheap quad-band GSM phone and just popped in local pay as you go sim cards if I felt I needed cell phone service (though usually I didn’t)

    A compass is really useful in cities when you get out of public transportation and are disoriented

    Carry photocopies of your important documents and scan some to evernote/dropbox

    Bring a sleeping mask

    Athletic tape and ziplock bags are awesome

    Carry purel

    You probably don’t need a guidebook

    And never, ever be without toilet paper.

    Like

  9. great website to check out is impacked.com people take photos of what they take on trips. Great ideas on how to pack light, makes you realise what you can cut out from your bag.

    I live in Sydney, and often go home to the UK, and when i do i order new clothes online, have them delivered to my parent’s house so all i have to bring is a carry on bag. (Although today a friend who works for the aussie customs and immigration told me they are more likely to stop and question people with just carry on for security concerns).

    Like

  10. gday tim, i accidently picked up the audio book 4hww. love it…. i drive road trains in outback Australia for a living, and listen to audio books to keep me sane while i am driving. your book is inspiring and a definate for everyone who wants to live their life not just be a participant in it.
    where can i get the solar charger you use for charging the phone ect… my wife our 3 month old son and i are travelling to Taiwan in may for 6 months. your book is being devoured by helen so we can get the most out of our trip.
    i am looking up muses and ways to create a passive income so we can travel around the world. i am looking forward to becoming a vagabond.

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  11. Hello tim,
    How about updating your packing to take into account new tech etc, also mention luggage etc?
    Regards
    Chris

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  12. doesn’t everyone have a favorite bit of gear that they took a while to find and love to bits? I wish there was some sort of community to share these tips.

    mine are:
    Patagonia barely there Bikini underwear. Expensive but SO worth it- no more panties riding up. No more sweatiness.

    and:

    Chaco sandals. Seriously, flip flops are bad for your feet. You will be comfier and walk faster in chacos. no affiliation here, just love ‘em.

    Like

  13. Hi Tim,

    Great tips Tim! Now, you can go even lighter especially with the camera! Did you see the latest Gopro hero 3 black edition? The size of this thing is about the size of a matchbox!
    These days, you can film the sharks while swimming with them. Go snorkeling, diving, boat trips and get AMAZING shots on film. Pretty AWESOME!

    LIFE IS BRILLIANT!

    Have FUN!

    Greetings from Czech Republic.

    Like

  14. Hi! I know this is somewhat off-topic however I had to ask.

    Does managing a well-established blog such as yours take a large
    amount of work? I’m brand new to writing a blog but I do write in my journal every day. I’d like to start a
    blog so I can share my own experience and views online.
    Please let me know if you have any suggestions or tips for
    new aspiring blog owners. Thankyou!

    Like

  15. I am 72 years old and decided to fulfill part of my bucket list. I lived in Mexico city in 1963-64 and wish to visit againfor a few days before heading to Lima Peru to visit Machu Picu.Since I have not traveled light in 50 years I needed info on how to pack for this budget trip Thanks for the information.
    Health wise I can hack the trip; after touring with the Marines in the late 60 s
    this is no problem.I look foward to this journey as much as I do the destinations. Thanks again.

    Like

  16. There are plenty of ways how host with minimum cost while you’re traveling.. like wwoof, helpx or other volunteering, but this post gave my different perspective. Thank you.

    Like