Starting tomorrow, travel writer Rolf Potts will embark on a trip that will take him around the world without using a single piece of luggage. This post will explain how he’s going to do it, and there’s a kick-ass giveaway at the end…
For six weeks he will explore 12 countries on five continents, crossing the equator four times, without carrying so much as a man-purse. The few items he does bring will be tucked away in his pockets. Though he’s a seasoned minimalist traveler (famous from his book Vagabonding), he usually travels with a single overhead-bin-perfect backpack, the Eagle Creek Thrive 65L. It’s been his go-to bag for the last 3-4 years.
So why attempt to travel the world with no luggage at all?
Rolf sees his journey as a real-time experiment in traveling ultra-light, and “a field-test for a more philosophical idea — that what we experience in life is more important than what we bring with us.”
While circumnavigating the globe with no luggage sounds like a clear enough proposition, it can raise a few semantic issues. What, for example, counts as a bag? Rolf has set up a set of ground rules to guide his own journey, including:
- No bags on the journey (not even a man-purse or grocery store bag, unless the latter is used en route to a meal).
- No borrowing items from his cameraman or using his cameraman as a pack mule.
- Borrowing or buying items along the way is permitted but excludes bags.
Since most people don’t travel with a film crew, Rolf’s advice for the average no-baggage traveler is a bit broader than the rules he’s set for himself. Here are 8 key tips from Rolf on how to plan and execute a no-luggage journey.
In Rolf’s words…
1) Manage the journey from your mobile phone.
A smartphone could well be the most important tool for a baggage-less traveler. It can store your boarding passes and other important documents, make phone calls from virtually anywhere in the world (with a swappable SIM card) and even act as a miniature blogging tool.
I recommend an iPhone with a foldable Bluetooth keyboard, which allows you to fit your mobile office inside a single jacket pocket. The iPhone can be loaded with a series of applications to replace everyday day items carried on a normal trip. The Kindle app lets you leave behind bulky books, and Genius Scan lets you use you iPhone’s camera as a makeshift scanner so you can quickly save receipts and email them to yourself on the fly. Wikihood utilizes the phone’s GPS to serve location-relevant Wikipedia articles, which is a unique and interesting alternative to a guidebook. Throw in your favorite currency converter, phrase book, and flight tracker, and you’ve got a single device in your pocket more powerful than its dead-weight paper counterparts.
2) Keep your footwear simple and practical.
With no bags, the only shoes you’re going to want to bring is whatever you’re wearing from day to day.
I’m traveling with a pair of Blundstone boots I bought in Australia in 2006. I’ve worn these boots all over the world the past four years, from Paris to Ethiopia to the Falkland Islands, and they’ve served me great. They work for hiking in remote environments, yet they’re easy to slip off and on at airport security.
Some travelers might prefer Chaco or Teva sandals (if nothing else to save packing socks) — and I won’t fault them for that — but my Blundstones look nice enough that they will get me into places where sandals might seem too informal. You are on your feet constantly when you travel, of course, so whichever footwear you choose to bring (be it sandals or boots or running shoes), make sure you aim for comfort, simplicity, and durability.
(Note from Tim: I opt for darker-colored Keen Newport Bison Leather Sandals. If you use black or dark socks, since they have closed toes, you can easily get into restaurants or even pass for business casual if you tuck the tightening strings in.)
3) Buy or borrow certain items as you go.
An old vagabonding adage goes, “Pack twice the money and half the gear.”
The same notion applies to no-luggage travel — even if you’re only packing a tenth of the gear. If a journey takes you to a beautiful beach region, odds are you can buy rubber flip-flop sandals there for a few dollars. If a given city is rainy, cheap umbrellas should be in plentiful supply — and if you get sick, the world is full of pharmacies (many of which are better-suited to cure local ailments that whatever medicine you might have packed).
Should you travel your way into cold weather, thrift stores are a good place to buy a warm jacket (which can be given way to a needy person or left in a hostel swap-box when you leave). You can also borrow things from other travelers along the way. You don’t want to be obnoxious about this, of course, but most travelers don’t mind sharing a spot of toothpaste or a couple of aspirin, and asking for these kinds of things can be a great way to strike up a conversation at the hostel or on the hiking trail.
4) Be disciplined and strategic with what you choose to bring along.
Packing light can be enough of a challenge when you have a small backpack, let alone when you have to keep all your gear in your pockets. This in mind, don’t bring anything you’re not going to use every day.
Nail clippers can be borrowed along the way; rain ponchos can be purchased on rainy days. I left my razor out of the equation (it was better to let my beard grow and then get a hard razor shave in Morocco), and before the trip I cut my hair so short I won’t ever need shampoo. Any big-box retailer should have bins of tiny deodorants and collapsible toothbrushes to keep your toiletries micro-sized. Camping stores will sell 3-ounce snap-top storage bottles that work well for toting concentrated laundry detergent or multipurpose liquid soap. Err on the side of minimalism; you can buy or borrow items along the way.
5) Wear travel gear with strategically located pockets.
If you travel without any bags, this means whatever gear you bring will have to fit in your pockets. My journey is co-sponsored by ScotteVest, an Idaho-based sportswear company that specializes in travel clothing with multiple pockets.
Most of my gear fits into the ScotteVest Tropical Jacket, which has 18 pockets of differing sizes. A majority of these pockets are accessed from the inside, which (a) is a nice deterrent against pickpockets, and (b) saves me the “dork factor” of looking like I’m traveling the world dressed like a confused trout fisherman. I can carry a majority of my gear in this jacket without looking ridiculous — plus the sleeves zip off, so I usually wear it as a vest. I’m also wearing a pair of Ultimate Cargo Pants from ScotteVest, though I’ve packed light enough that I rarely have to use the large cargo pockets. ScotteVest isn’t the only company that makes travel gear with utility pockets, of course; your local camping outfitter or travel-specialty store should provide you multiple gear options, and you can choose the clothing that best fits your needs.
6) Use a minimal rotation of clothing.
Essentially, you’ll want to travel with little more than the clothes on your back — but you will want to bring a few spare clothing items to keep things fresh and ensure you won’t get too stinky.
Given that I wear cargo pants, a travel vest, socks, underwear, and a short-sleeved t-shirt under a long-sleeved shirt on a typical day of my trip, I keep one spare t-shirt, two extra pairs of socks, and two extra pairs of underwear in my pockets.
Each night I wash the day’s socks, underwear and t-shirt in the hotel/hostel sink, and these items are dry enough to pack by morning. I’ve been washing the cargo pants about once a week (and I have yet to wash the travel vest). Some people take short no-luggage trips with even fewer clothes, but my arrangement isn’t bulky and ensures that I always have a rotation of fresh socks, underwear and t-shirts.
7) Utilize the postal system for souvenirs and extra gear
With airlines baggage fees quickly spiraling upward, many travelers these days are saving money and hassle by mailing certain items to one or more destinations along their itinerary.
If, say, you’re traveling from warm climates into cold climates, you can mail your warm clothing to the first cool destination (just make a pre-arrangement with the hotel you’ll be staying at in that location). On that same token, traveling without luggage doesn’t mean you have to forgo buying souvenirs — if just means you won’t be able to carry them. To solve this problem, just hit the local post office and mail that Balinese mask or Latvian amber or Syrian silk home.
This is actually a strategy that can be employed when you’re traveling with luggage: The souvenirs you find along the way might be nice, but there’s no sense in dragging them along with you. It’s worth the expense to ship them.
8) Remember: Travel is about the experience, not what you bring with you.
In the end, that remember that going without luggage and packing ultra-light need not be an extreme act. It isn’t a contest, or a rite of travel-superiority: It’s just a great way to eliminate distractions and concentrate on the experience of the journey itself.
Freed of baggage, there’s little to forget or lose on the road. You don’t have to stow anything, guard anything, or wait for anything (aside from the occasional train or bus): You can just throw yourself into the adventure and make the most of your travels.
If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”
I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.
Question of the Day (QOD): What tricks for light travel have you learned along the way? Please share in the comments. The more detail, the better.
Prize of the Post: Leave an answer to the QOD by this Sunday at midnight PST (8/22), and one of the best comments (hard to objectively say one is “best”) will get a Sonos ZonePlayer 120 ($499 retail) and two Klipsch speakers ($389 retail)! Just download the Sonos app for iPhone/iPod Touch, and you’ve got a killer home stereo system that can play just about anything, including Pandora and Rhapsody.
The goodies will ship directly from me in an S5 box (as I now have a new S5 setup). Look forward to your tips!