How to Travel 12 Countries with No Baggage Whatsoever

482 Comments

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.

Some recommedations:
TripTracker by PageOnce
Lonely Planet series of phrase books (multiple links depending on language)
_blank”>Currency converter: “Currency”

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.

(Note from Tim: Here what I pack for an uber-light trip, in this example less than 10 pounds total. ExOfficio underwear are a lifesaver.)

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.

Afterword: So how’s Rolf doing? How’s he actually holding up? Check out his progress here, in real-time on the RTW (Round-The-World) blog.

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!

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482 comments on “How to Travel 12 Countries with No Baggage Whatsoever

  1. Nice tips. I travel a lot and many of the flights that I am on will not allow one to have a mobile phone on during the flight – even on in flight mode. So your Kindle App Iphone trick will not work for me. Recommendations for a good PDA with similar features, but no phone?

    A

  2. Hi Tim,

    Your mail timothy@brainquicken.com you’ve mentioned in book doesn’t work. Facebook wall doesn’t accept long messages. So I write my message here.

    I wanna say “Thank you”!

    “4HWW” changed my mind and showed a way. It helped me to understand what I really want. I’ve been searching for this for 3 years after a friend of mine suggested to read “Think and grow rich”. That book helped me to go to a positive thinking mindset, inspired me but the way was not seen cleary.

    You know, after it there was a period when I read about Warren Buffett and decided I wanna be an investment company CEO. I was so inspired by Warren Buffett’s lifestyle, principles, thoughts, etc that last summer I went to Omaha, NE because I wanted to tell him “Thank you” personally. I found business center where he works, called Berkshire and asked for a meeting but secretary slightly refused. Then I found his house but I was afraid of knocking the door though stood near. I was so afraid. I regret for chance missing but it’s also a pleasent lesson for future and a kind of motivation. Some time ago after it I understood I didn’t want to be an investment company CEO. I was inspired by a story of a man of principles, who found his way, what he likes to do, who did and continue doing it and I thougt it’s my way also. But that was a delusion which I realized only now.

    For a period my searching stopped. And then I found your book. It opened my eyes and showed me what I really want. I understood my values. My life is full of positive now. I beat fear more often. It’s still in my life but I found ways of beating it and continue searching. You helped me to understand the value of people surrounding me. You’ve helped me to be myself.

    I don’t know where you’ll check this message next time (Antarctic, Bali, Buenos Aeris, Tokio, Johanesburg, etc). If you’re in Russia or someday you’ll come here to study Russian and do some activities (what you usually searching in other countries) I’ll be very much glad to meet you here, shake your hand personally and do something special together.

    I know a girl who found out your book 1 year ago and after that her life changed. Now she’s happy and do things she likes. She’s free. I’m at the very beginning but now I know the way. Guess many people told you “Thank you” for changing their lives. Here’s my appreciation.

    Thank you,
    Vlad

  3. I am a pretty serious outdoorsman and need to admit that I’m anal about my equipment. If there’s one nuance that I dislike, it’s when my equipment give way. This is why I always get quality equipment to gear myself up and be ready for most anything the dusty trail throws at me.

  4. Great article, and good timing. I am heading out on a similar journey but more like his cameraman Justin. I will be travelling around filming and recording audio, along with taking a RC tricopter and a goproHD to shoot aerials.

    Knowing you like language I created a startup in early beta called blueplanet3.com a multilingual virtual world for kids. I believe if you can create a place for kids to speak and learn from other cultures you break down many social barriers.
    Thanks Tim for your great book, I just bought rev 2, after giving rev 1 to my son.
    Peace.

  5. Wow! I seriously didn’t think baggage-less travel IS possible. I guess that’s because I’m female :). I’m a normally heavy packer and the only thing I learned useful for my previous travels is to roll your clothes in bun-like way to save space PLUS bring foldable bags for extra shopping.

    Thanks for this article! I’ll definitely file this under my “must-read-before-travel” list.

  6. Awesome article Rolf and Tim and what an adventure. That vest looks bad ass too!

    The best travel light trick I have found is to bring a small bag. Sounds obvious but most of us (me especially) have the tendency to fill whatever space we have. Same reason I am against getting a bigger house just for the sake and status of it–you will inevitably fill it with useless nonsense.

    Save and adventurous travels fellas!
    Scott

  7. I’ve converted my normal, daily wear wardrobe to consist only of the clothing items I would travel with anyway. Today I wore the same Keens that Tim mentions (pretty much the only shoes I ever wear, every day), REI Adventure pants (quick drying, SPF-rated), Under Armour boxer briefs (can double as swimwear in a pinch), Under Armour Heat Gear undershirt, Columbia tech overshirt (trail worthy, but still looks nice). I also have a small travel toothbrush in a pants cargo pocket at all times, even at work. A North Face polar fleece is great for year round wear, and I usually keep a Marmot Ion wind/light rain jacket folded up in a pocket of the North Face. Grab a hat, passport, small microfiber towel, iPhone and charger (which fit into the jacket OR cargo pockets), and I’m perfectly willing to travel almost anywhere and do almost anything when I get there.

    I’m one of those yuppies that always carries a Nalgene bottle, and all the pocket items fit nicely into an empty Nalgene for flight purposes (no liquids, so it’s empty).

    If I wasn’t a figure skater and required to check my skates, I wouldn’t check anything. But, they’re considered a dangerous weapon because of the blades, so they go in the belly of the flying beast.

    Personally, I think Rolf is waaaay overpacking. :)

  8. This is such a relaxing way to travel! The Stowaway Keyboard is a huge advantage and I find them much easier to use than a laptop, so pleased to learn that it also works with the iPhone.
    A TIP HERE, IF YOU WANT TO USE THE KEYBOARD TO WRITE UP YOUR WORK AND SUNBATHE AT THE SAME TIME. A GOLD COLOUR FILM SURVIVAL BLANKET, CUT DOWN TO COVER JUST YOUR HEAD CUTS THE INTENSITY OF THE LIGHT DOWN SO THAT YOU CAN SEE THE KEYBOARD. THIS IS GREAT IF YOU WANT TO CHECK AND EDIT THINGS!

    I am going to use your article above as an example for an English lesson in Poland on Saturday. Thank you!

  9. I had read above, that Ralf uses the 65L from Eagle Creek. Is this a pack that can be carried on to a flight or has the larger pack to be checked? Thank you so much.

  10. Hi Tim and co-travellers,

    I just found a great gadget online for travelling light. It’s called “Maptor”, looks like a flashlight and allows you to project a map on even surfaces, i.e. you don’t have to take maps with you. The thing determines your precise position and then gives you a map of the area, if I understand correctly. Here’s the link: http://geekproject.net/a-map-and-a-projector-2-in-1/ Don’t know if it’s on the market yet, but I just needed to post this here :=)

    Take care,

    Julia

  11. “Documentation, passport, credit card” – he puts in his cargo pocket.

    Laster in the video – “The cargo pockets in my pants aren’t holding anything right now”

    Liar.

  12. A very challenging decision. I travelled for six months with a 12-kilos backpack and I felt proud of my self….but not anymore!
    Good job but be careful; protect your smart phone as much as you can!

    Lenia

  13. I’m developing a website site and I was thinking of switching the template.Yours looks pretty nice! You could visit my web site and tell me your viewpoint!

  14. All I can say is incredible. I was researching a few articles on light travel and ran into this one. This is the perfect example of how to travel without luggage. Unfortunately people like me wouldn’t benefit much from it since I am in the luggage industry. I can definitely see a future for this!

  15. “Travel is about the experience, not what you bring with you.”

    I agree, and the things that matter in travel or even in life is not just the things the you will bring to travel but the things and learning that you will bring from the travel. :) And btw, don’t forget to get a right pair of travelling socks with you, eh. You can buy online like me. I often buy my travelling socks at Legs Therapy (http://www.legstherapy.com/) for better choices. :)

  16. Being Norwegian I’m used to posting stuff being really expensive. I remember the first time I realised how inexpensive it could be overseas, and have since then utilized this great tip of mailing myself stuff while on holiday. It’s great tip! (It goes without saying that you need to pack it well, of course) But so far I’ve had only positive experiences with this :-)

  17. I just switched to carry on only travel and it’s amazing! I never thought I could do it but so far I’ve been traveling for 2 weeks and haven’t missed anything! It has saved me both money and stress numerous times already. Am finding it’s hugely increasing my flexibility and it makes packing up after a hotel stay so much quicker and easier!