How to Never Check Luggage Again

Travel has many joys. Luggage is not one of them.

Travel has many joys. Luggage is not one of them.

This post will explore three options for never checking luggage again. Some of them are extreme; all of them are effective.

In my next post, I’ll detail what I (and some friends) pack in carry-on. Some are surprising and hilarious.

Given that I spend 100+ days of the year traveling, and that I’ve been to 40+ countries, I’ve tested just about everything.

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.

So, how to avoid checked luggage altogether?

We’ll cover three different options, in descending order of craziness. I promise that something in this post will work for every one of you, even if partially:

– Using “urban caching” for travel purposes
– Mailing instead of checking (and some Steve Jobs-ian quirks)
– Ultralight packing

Many of these suggestions have been given to me by readers over the years, so thank you!

I try and bring such gifts full circle by collecting hundreds of tips, testing them, and publishing the winners.

So here we go…

Travel Caching

I was first introduced to the idea of “urban caching” by my friend Jason DeFillippo.

Remember the first Jason Bourne movie, when various agents are “activated” to kill Jason? One of them lands in Rome, where he accesses a hidden locker that contains everything he needs: a few passports, a gun, ammo, cash in small denominations, etc. That is an example of a single “cache.” (Yes, I’m somewhat obsessed with Jason Bourne)

Doomsday preppers (not derogatory) will often have multiple caches at various distances from a “bug out” departure point like a home or office. In the case of disaster — tornado, terrorism, zombies, Sharknado, etc. — they can set off walking empty-handed, if needed, and find everything they need waiting for them.  Here’s a good intro to this controversial craft.

But how the hell do you apply this to regular travel? Ah, that’s where things get fun.

Let’s say that you’re flying to the same two cities 50-80% of the time, as I do. When I land in New York City, this is what I find already placed in my hotel room:

IMG_2247 - closed trunk

IMG_2248 - open trunk

It is a trunk that contains almost everything I could need for a week. Believe it or not, it was provided and stenciled at no cost by the hotel. All I had to do was ask. (More tips on travel negotiating in the second half of this post)

I refer to this as “travel caching.”

I’ll explain how this can cost less than checking luggage, but let’s look at some key goodies first:

– One (1) winter jacket – I usually live in SF, where it is typically warmer most of the year.

– Cans of lentils and beans, pre-salted and spiced – I dislike waiting 30 minutes for $30 breakfasts. I use Amazon Prime to order Jyoti Dal Makhani or Westbrae organic lentils, having them mailed directly to the hotel.  I eat directly out of the cans.

– Can opener and spoon

Surge pocket multitool (do NOT put this in carry-on bags). No such thing as too many multitools.

– Jug of unflavored or vanilla whey protein, generally Bluebonnet or BioTrust. I find that whey in the mornings prevents me from getting sick when shifting time zones. It also helps me hit my “30 grams within 30 minutes” rule from The 4-Hour Body.

– Jiu-jitsu gi for getting my ass mercilessly kicked at the Marcelo Garcia Jiu-Jitsu academy.

– Four (4) collared shirts – I often travel to NYC for business or media.

– Four (4) decent t-shirts, including two V-neck t-shirts (I know, I know), that can used for lounging or casual dinners, etc.

– Socks and undies for one week.

– Two (2) pairs of dress shoes, one (1) pair athletic shoes, one (1) pair hiking boots for upstate adventures.

The best part:  When I check out, I give a bag of dirty clothes to the front desk, they have it all cleaned and put back in my trunk, folded and pretty… ready for my next arrival!  They charge it to the same credit card I have on file for rooms.  Doubly cool: Since I stay there so often, they don’t charge me the in-house extortion prices.  They take it down the street to an inexpensive clean-and-press laundry joint.

No packing, no checking, no unpacking, no cleaning.  It’s magical.

So, how can this possibly save you money and sanity?

1) To check an equivalent amount of stuff would usually cost $30+, so $60+ roundtrip.

2) The clothing isn’t new clothing.  Most of us have MUCH more clothing than we need.  I simply leave one week’s worth of less-used stuff in NYC.  No purchase necessary.

3) Two WEEKS worth of lentils, beans, and whey protein cost about the same as 2-4 DAYS of room service breakfasts.  It’s also a ton faster.  Waiting around makes Tim cray-cray.

4) If you stay in a hotel often enough, you can simply ask: “Do you have a trunk or something I could store a week’s worth of clothing in? That way, I wouldn’t have to pack so much when I come here.”  The above trunk was given to me this way, but you can also buy one for $60 or so on Amazon, the equivalent of one trip’s baggage fees.  Then ask the staff (who you should know by now) if you could store a week’s worth of clothing in the storage room, basement, or security office.  This can also be arranged with many people on Airbnb.

And if your hotel or host won’t play ball, guess what?  Startups can save you.  Consider using MakeSpace or its close cousins, which one 4-Hour Workweek reader uses to live like James Bond, all while vagabonding around the planet.  Pretty cool, right?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is travel caching.  It’s a game-changer.

Mailing Instead of Checking

This is exactly what it sounds like.

Dean Jackson of the I Love Marketing podcast is the person who — for me — turned it into an art form.

The benefit of mailing versus caching: it’s not limited to your most frequent 2-3 destinations.  It can be used anywhere, but it’s most often used domestically.

Not unlike Steve Jobs and his “uniform,” Dean literally wears the same outfit EVERY day: black t-shirt, tan shorts, orange Chuck Taylor shoes, and a black cap when cold. He doesn’t want to expend a single calorie making decisions related to fashion, which I respect tremendously.  I’m a huge proponent of the choice-minimal lifestyle and rules to reduce overwhelm.

In his words via text, here’s how his packing and mailing works. Comments in brackets are mine:

“As you know, I wear the same thing every day…Black shirt, tan shorts…so I have my assistant keep a carry-on bag constantly packed for 7 days [TIM: It’s a bag with 7 days worth of “uniforms”]. I use mesh laundry bags with a zipper to put together 7 “Day Packs” with a black shirt/underwear/socks [TIM: You can also use gallon-sized Ziploc bags]. Every day while traveling, I unzip a fresh new pack. When I return, she washes and repacks everything, and restocks my travel-only shaving kit with everything I need.

I have separate chargers, shoes, melatonin, etc., so I never have to pack…and she can ship my bag ahead of me without me having to do anything. Plus, she packs a pre-filled return FedEx shipping label for me, so I can — when I’m leaving — have a bellman come get my bag and take it to the business center to ship back.

That whole rig fits in a carry-on sized bag….7 Day Packs, 3 pairs of shorts, orange Chuck Taylors, charging cords, shaving kit…but that all gets shipped. Then my actual carry on is a Tumi laptop bag with Macbook, iPad, journal, passport, wallet. Using the Tumi, I don’t have to take out my laptop for x-rays, plus it’s beautiful leather with just the right pocket config.

It’s pretty light travel.”

Even if you never want to mail your bags ahead, there is one point you shouldn’t miss: It’s smart to have a travel-only toiletry kit that is never unpacked.

Keep one set of toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. at home on the counters and shelves, and have a separate packed kit that is exclusively for travel.

This alone has saved me a ton of headache and last minute “Where is the closest CVS? I forgot my dental floss”-type nonsense.

Which brings us to the question of carry-on…

Ultralight Packing


I’ll be expanding on this greatly, but, to start, please read one of my previously viral posts, “How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses).”

You’ll notice my “BIT” (Buy It There) method of travel seems to contradict the travel caching above, but they’re actually complementary.

BIT is ideal for traveling to places you’ve never been, or that you seldom visit. If it’s a third-world country where your currency is strong, all the better. Travel caching is for your 2-3 most frequently visited locations.

To get you in the mood for the above “10 pounds” post, here’s your first ultralight travel purchase: Exofficio underwear.

More soon…


Do you like this type of post? If so, please let me know in the comments.

Please also share your own tips!

If it seems you dig it, I’ll detail (at least) the following in my next post:

  • My latest findings in ultralight packing
  • My must-have carry-on items and subscription services
  • Tools recommended to me by elite military and hedgefund managers
  • My favorite bags
  • Apps and other tricks that get me from home to gate in less than 20 minutes

Until then, start thinking up destinations.

Posted on: August 8, 2014.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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244 comments on “How to Never Check Luggage Again

  1. We have practiced BIT quite a bit. My smokin hot wife and I were discussing how much good stuff we have to get rid of to fly back home though. I wish there was a “traveller exchange” or something at a hotel where I could use or leave a few lawn chairs or fishing rods or even the last 4 beers out of the case we didn’t drink. Then the next efficiently packed traveller could enjoy them rather than the cleaning ladies.


  2. I always wondered about the mailing solution: how do you keep in the costs? E.g. if you travel out of the US does it still work? I recently sent a *small* and *light* package to Canada with UPS and spent $100 to get it arrive the day later. It was $60 to get in there in one week.


    • Rule of thumb – Never use private delivery companies (UPS, etc) for international shipping. They have to pay for their own planes as well as for international fees. The same package, although not over night, would be about $17 via USPS. I recently found that out myself when trying to ship a box of cereal I purchased for $2. UPS tried to charge me $65 to send it from USA to Canada, USPS was $13.


  3. I’ll be caching in Saigon (only with friends, as I don’t stay in hotels) as I live out of 50L but only need 15-20L for pure travel.

    Re: the things you’ll include in the next post, I would have just included them in this one. Still interested nevertheless (even though you’ve covered the last bullet before).


    • Oh,really?? I’m Vietnamese,if you come to Ha Noi,i will be glad to give you some advices :).That’s quite pity because i will go SaiGon in next year,not this time.
      contact me via fb. [Moderator: link removed]

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m in Europe for a month with my husband and 7-year-old daughter right now. And I just discovered e-cubes for packing–– total game-changer. It’s like you have mini organized suitcases, so your suitcase doesn’t turn into a clothing explosion. Great for small spaces. And could be used in place of Dean’s laundry bags or ziplock bags. e-cubes on amazon. [Moderator: link removed]

    Love the reminder to just have a separate toiletry bag for travel. I’m probably living out of my suitcase 60-70% out of the year, so this is super helpful!

    P.S. I am overjoyed that you are focusing on list-building and connecting with your people via inbox. Brilliant!


  5. If you’re on a surf trip, contacting a local shaper at your destination and buy it there is a good way to avoid excessive baggage fees and get good boards for the local conditions. When you leave you can either sell them or spread some aloha to a lucky local


  6. I find all your stuff fascinating and love learning more about your thought processes and way you do things. One of the only podcasts I’ll actually listen to FYI.

    So definitely dig it, and looking forward to the next post.


  7. Making multiple trips to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Please continue to provide more great tips! Thanks!


  8. Love these types of posts Tim. When I go overseas now I travel with just a single small backpack – it gives such a good feeling of freedom. And I always end up laughing at people with ginormous backpacks. Exofficio is the BOMB – since you recommended those in your last packing post they are all I’ve used o/s and sometimes at home too.


  9. I love my Rothco Canvas Messenger bag. It’s light, has just the right set of pockets, plus small zipper compartment for passports, etc., it’s indestructible and costs less than $30. And it’s exactly the one Jack Bauer uses in “24” (minus the machine gun and C4), close enough to Jason Bourne, I guess.

    I still have to pull out my laptop at airports, but it’s in a handy Crumpler sleeve that slips out easily and has a convenient and invisible handle.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The dry cleaners will often hold your clothes for a period of time…which may be negotiable. If you’re returning to a location relatively soon, you can simply drop off your clothes there and pick them up when you return. This works well when you go home on a weekend for example.

    We always thought of our laptops as the most precious thing ever, so we needed to keep them with us at all times. Then I realized that my client’s office (think bank fortress) was a more secure location than with me on an airplane. Instead of dragging my stuff home, I’d leave everything with my client.

    Protip: it’s often cheaper to fly to popular vacation destinations than to fly home. So it was possible to negotiate a trip to Vegas or even LA for a weekend, with hotel, car, meals, etc. because flying home was so expensive (small airport). We’d take a laptop bag with just clothes, jump on a plane Friday night, party all weekend, then fly back on the red eye Sunday night. “Shower” in the crown room or airport bathroom at 6 am Monday morning. Pick up clothes from dry cleaning. I’m not going to lie…we weren’t with much on Monday, but I got some great stories out of those weekends.

    I’m also very much a proponent of buy it when you get there. A trip to CVS or better yet a real grocery and $10 is less hassle to me than even an extra 2 minutes in an airport line. You can also pick up real food that way.

    The biggest improvement in my travel happened when my thinking shifted. When you realize, often out of desperation, that there really are no rules, you begin to see opportunities. Everything becomes negotiable, and by negotiable I mean you pretty much can do whatever you want if you ask nicely…for permission or forgiveness. It also helps to have a very finite sense of what your time is worth so that small errors or expenses become trivial to your decision making.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve also condensed clothing to one “uniform.” Prana stretch Zion pants or shorts in gray, white CC v-necks (yes I know, too), teva mush sandals or inov8s, exofficios. The pranas dry quick, stretch, roll up just below the knee with snaps, and have a belt built in. Made for rock climbing so they are bomber. Small black backpack has been my faithful man purse for the last 6-7 years. Clothing, toiletries, and survival gear stays with me where ever I go.

    Life is just easier when you find exactly what you like and remove everything else.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. While this is country-specific, anyone planning to travel to/around Japan should check out the Takuhaibin delivery services:

    They’re couriers that you can set up through your hotel (or yourself, using the airport and train station kiosks) that will deliver your stuff just about anywhere, usually the next day (two days if it’s across the country).

    Sure beats lugging huge bags on the Shinkansen.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Your tips on travel, packing, gear, et cetera are always much appreciated. Yes, I would very much like to see more if you have them.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person