The Technium

Travel Without Baggage


Can you seriously travel with no luggage at all?

Yes you can.

I’ve done it. Traveling with no bags is gloriously liberating. You move fast, close to the ground, spontenously.  You feel unleashed, undefined by your possessions. It is just you and the world. I am convinced that with less stuff to manage you think different. You learn lots, fast.

I’ve done a few very short trips this way, and once I took a month-long journey in Sri Lanka without baggage. I would not want to travel this way all the time, but once you go with none, it is much easier to go with very little. It’s one of the oldest truism in the world: the less you travel with, the more you take back.

There are four modes of no-baggage travel these days:

1) Total Nada

2) Just Pockets

3) Day Baggers

4) Minimalist Borrowers

Total Nada. In this mode you take your passport, a toothbrush, some cash, a cell phone, the clothes you are wearing, and that’s it. It’s pretty radical. You have to be in a certain zen state to enjoy this, but like many things, once you jump in it is not hard to do.  This mode is great if you are drifting, going with the flow, and not trying to do anything else. If your travel entails producing something, you’ll need tools (keyboard, or cameras, or books, or maps, or hand tools), which takes you out of this mode.

But a number of folks sail off this way every year. For one example, Jonathan Yevin travelled for a month in Latin America in Total Nada mode. He wrote of his adventures in Budget Travel. That’s him below with all his luggage.

Yevin

I just completed a month-long, bag-free trip through Central America. I ran the full length with nothing but the clothes I was wearing: cargo pants, maroon T-shirt, and gray fleece tied at the waist. On my person was an American passport, a Visa credit card, about $50, a toothbrush, a tiny Canon digital camera with extra battery, a Ziploc bag of vitamins, and a copy of The Kite Runner, whose chapters I tore off as I read them. Begging for toothpaste, it turns out, is a great way to make new friends.

…My lack of luggage did raise suspicions, among travelers and government officials alike. Border crossings were particularly interesting. Unsurprisingly, immigration agents were annoyed, as they clearly missed the opportunity to rummage through my bags in search of weapons or smuggled Rambo bubble gum. What about washing clothes? An amused agent asked, “vas a recorrer mi tierra desnudo?” (“You gonna run around my country naked?”) A valid point.

…I would recommend a second pair of socks; you can streamline by putting one in each pocket. Sweaty T-shirts and boxer briefs doubling as swim trunks can be dried in transit by hanging them from a car window (assuming the vehicle has windows).

Body odor notwithstanding, I was free to walk anywhere at any time and to completely improvise and revise my itinerary in liberating fits of spontaneity. All of which brought me into more intimate interaction with the people and places I came to visit.

Just Pockets. Pocket people carry no bag because they hide their stuff in cargo and vest pockets. You can cram a whole backpack’s worth of stuff into your pockets if you wanted to. And you can overdo it (see this guy below). Or this guy, Eric le Fou, who carries 1,300 things in his jacket pockets, weighing 12 kilos! There is some advantage to always having what you want right in your pockets, but most of the time pockets are emptied during the day, or the loaded vest left in the hotel room. Nonetheless pockets clearly limit what you can bring. They definitely keep the amomunt of gear down. And while it may seem like a simple case of semantics to wear gear instead of “carrying” it, there IS a perceived freedom in not having something extra on your shoulder or back.

 

Blousonouvert

All luggage in vest

Rolf Potts, an influential travel blogger, was inspired by Yevin’s 30-day no-bag travel and others to completely circumvent the world with no baggage. He found a clothing company (ScotteVest) that made pocket-rich pants and jackets to sponsor his trip, which was also filmed. His debriefing is here, including the list of the few items he carried in his pockets. (He manage to carry a foldable keyboard for his phone in order to keep blogging.)

Pockets

What a pocket person carries. Marcus Fernandez, another round-the-wrold no-baggage traveler sponsored by ScotteVest, wears the clothes on the right and stuffs the items on the left into his pockets. I asked Marcus and his partner Jen, why they traveled with pockets instead of a small bag. They replied:

Since we aren’t carrying much with us and it all easily fits into our pockets, why bring a bag along? We would have brought a jacket on our trip anyway so we’re killing two birds with one stone. We also find that we worry less about our belongings being stolen since everything is on us. Bags are more easily misplaced or stolen. We have met many people during the trip who have had their bags stolen on a bus, at a cafe, etc. Several times we’ve been able to bypass security checkpoints at places like museums and even customs where they scan all bags. When we ‘pack’ in the morning, it hardly takes any time to throw stuff into our pockets. Yes, sometimes we forget what pocket we put something in but we can find it pretty quickly.

I also emailed Rolf Potts a few questions about pocket-only travel:

K: What is the advantage of carrying your few things in pockets versus a small bag?

P: Functionally, the vest served the same purpose as a bag — i.e. I could easily take it off and stow it. Most of the time I just hung the vest on a hanger in my hotel/hostel room and explored the city without it (keeping specific necessities, if I needed them, in my cargo pants). An advantage to pocket-only travel is that it leaves no room for anything extra. You can cram a few unnecessary extras into a daypack, but not a travel vest! It forces you to be disciplined with your minimalism. Most people will probably err on the side of a daypack, since it’s a more usual way of doing things. That said, pocket-style no-bag travel is pretty easy to get used to.

K: Next time will you also go with pockets?

P: I’ll probably opt for a daypack because as a travel writer I usually bring a netbook (which I prefer to a bluetooth/iPod setup). Plus with a daypack you don’t have to organize anything; you can just toss stuff in and fish it out.

K: Did you find yourself purchasing things locally even for a few day’s use, and then giving it away? Kind of just-in-time use.

P: A few times, like in South Africa when I needed insect repellent. But I did this a lot less than I thought I would. Had my trip been slower and longer I probably would have done a lot more of this. When I hit New Zealand it was quite cold, so I borrowed a sweater from a friend who lives there. Had I not had a friend living there, I probably would have gotten a sweater from a thrift store and given it away when I was done.

K: In the end what was the chief advantage of traveling with no luggage?

P: Simplicity and mobility. I didn’t have that much to worry about, and I didn’t have anything to slow me down. I could go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Often my cameraman would lag behind me on walking-intensive days in places like London and Fez and Bangkok — and he was only carrying about 20 pounds of gear. It’s easy to get used to the freedom.

K: What surprised you most about travelling so light?

P: The biggest surprise was how easy it was. Once you get into the routine of using fewer items and washing your clothes each day, you don’t really miss anything.

Day Baggers. Not as radical as either Total Nada or Just Pockets, day bagging is still powerful and liberating. You need fit everything into one very tiny day pack. In this respect “no-luggage” means no luggage that you deposit. You only carry something you are willing to walk around all day with. I did a two week walk in the Cotswolds of England with a very tiny daypack, hiking from inn to inn and it was perfect. You can’t carry anymore than the Pocket People do. The only difference is that it’s all stuffed into a bag that you can set down at times.

To be honest, all three of these modes benefit from locations where the climate is constant. One freezing winter I flew from a trip in northern China directly to steaming Bombay India, and the need for two kinds of clothing killed my day bag plan. But when weather permits, I’ve done some “no-luggage” business travel, stuffing a change of clothes  and a toothbrush into my computer bag.

Minimalist Borrowers. The final set of no-luggage travelers are a very few folks who are exploring a no-ownership lifestyle. These pioneers are trying to reduce the number of things in their homes and life to less than 100 objects, say.

Image6993903

So when they travel, they tend to move with little, but then borrow what they might need at their destination. Or they may buy what they need when they arrive and leave it behind when they leave. I met one fellow who flew to a wedding without luggage and bought his dress shirt and pants locally, and donated them before he flew home. He calculated this way of not “owning” stuff actually saved him money (cleaning, storing) in the long run, because he only bought things when he REALLY needed them, and then unowned them when he did not really need them. This minimalist mode is a surperfulous eradicator. Not for everyone, but another way to keep fleet.




Comments
  • http://twitter.com/trishaabel Trish Abelson

    It may be a bit trickier for those females who ovulate but I can see the attraction. For my sins I would have to grow out my hair colour (nice) so a hat might help. The tee shirt idea is attractive – saves on explanations.

  • nbluedorn

    I dream of doing this.

    • A.A. Public

      Why just dream? Just go ahead and do it. I’ve been traveling in light daypack mode for years, and it’s great. And I constantly refine and lighten my load every trip. As of my last trip to Japan, my daypack was about 4 kg packed for temperatures down to 5 degrees Celcius.

  • Sameer Panchangam

    How about a less-than-10-items-on-you traveller? 10 things including clothees/cash/cards et al. You choose your 10. Even 5 (but a pair of clothes + innerwear makes it 5 usually…+ cash)

  • http://twitter.com/ChetW3 Chet Wood

    While traveling the total nada mode you might look for nylon type cargo shorts that have built in nylon mesh underwear. We use them on long hiking trips and they wash and dry very quickly.

  • stax

    I did a month in Morocco in day pack mode. It was by far my favorite travel experience.

  • http://biendobolyu.blogspot.com/ bem & weng

    this is cool! we will try this sometime. traveling without baggage. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/Reverend.Professor.Stephan.Cook Cookie Monsta

    I find that whenever I travel, I am in the Total Nada category, except for my luggage. Once that is checked, total nada. I only need my luggage once I arrive and again when I depart. Hey, some folks may say this is cheating but, for the guy who counts ‘one library’ as a single possession, I think I’m allowed that caveat.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Good distinction. Two modes — between hotels and on site. I like it.

      • sveltema

        The two mode works great.

        One of my best trips was when I dumped my full pack and kit at the hotel, stuffed a change of socks, a light jacket, money, and camera in a fanny pack and took off to the mountains outside Chendu, China. The misty peaks, stare-downs with monkeys, and nights (and dinners) spent with monks in high mountain temples was the best. Though when I came down, personal hygiene had suffered and it took a bit of cleaning up and cash to convince the hotel that I wan’t a crazy deadbeat. Wouldn’t have been possible with any kind of kit that I had to slug everywhere and then worry about it disappearing too.

  • http://www.hudin.com Hudin

    Yeah… you need at least two changes of clothes when in Africa, plus cash as there few if any ATMs.

  • Cary

    It’s nice to go light, but I can’t think of a time traveling when I had a great opportunity to spontaneously do something, but turned it down because I had a couple of changes of clothes, bivvy supplies and a cook kit with me.

    Self-sufficiency can be way more liberating than undersupplied neediness, in my opinion. Also, people tend to appreciate it when you clean up to visit them, or attend weddings and such things, and it’s not really so burdensome to have a decent outfit in the bag.

  • Cary

    Also, the overstuffed fisherman’s vest reminds me of Gary Larson’s ‘How nature says “do not touch”‘ cartoon.

  • skyler188

    meaning no disrespect, but once you have to stuff a guidebook down your pants, you have left clarity and simplicity behind. there’s a lot to be said for traveling with only what you can comfortably carry on your person (daypack, bulging cargo pockets, totebag, etc.), but once you’ve left home without a change of clothes you’re no longer traveling — you’re participating in some kind of endurance sport. that’s fine, but it’s not the same as traveling any more than “the amazing race” is. some would say it cheapens the whole idea of travel, but i just think it’s not travel.

    on the appalachian trail you find the same thing. on one end people with thousands of dollars of ultralight this and goretex that; on the other people who saw off the handle of their toothbrush to save an ounce of weight. hey i have an idea — what if we bring some extra socks, a rain jacket, a small tent and a sleeping bag, a knife, and a food kit and pay attention to the trail instead of ourselves?

    • Kevin_Kelly

      When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I think I took the minimum I could at the time (1980), but if I could have spent a little more to take a little less weight I sure would have. I agree that fixating on weight can become compulsive for some. And taking everything compulsive for others. Moderation in all things, says Aristotle!

  • http://twitter.com/sensevisual sensevisual

    White Privilege

    • Kevin_Kelly

      And Brown and Yellow Privilege, too!

  • http://twitter.com/sensevisual sensevisual

    “actually saved him money (cleaning, storing) in the long run”
    I’m sure all those south-americans didn’t really want his money in the first place.
    Well, if you are an rebel, anti-capitalist and stuff, I suppose it would be hypocritical to help all those south-american capitalist economies.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      The guy was going to a wedding in Baltimore.

  • http://twitter.com/blueluck Steve Vig

    The man in the overstuffed vest comments on his site, “I had not foreseen this situation. A large bottle of water, a small loaf of bread and some slices of boiled ham in the pockets. Even a dedicated traveling light person like me must admit I look a bit overstuffed.”

    It reminds me that while traveling light there are certain items, notably food and water, that are heavy, but much less expensive when bought as grocery rather than at a service establishment like a restaurant. I occasionally find myself carrying a small shopping bag or other container that I pick up locally, and leave behind when I move on. In the mean time it only contains a couple dollars worth of food and beverage, so there’s never a worry if it gets dropped, stolen, or lost.

    One item I started using ages ago that I still consider a light-travel staple is Johnson’s baby shampoo. It’s a mild, non-toxic soap that works great for washing hands, face, body, hair, dishes, and clothes.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Steve, yes. I rarely carry anything to drink with me, or food, because it is rare when I am out of range of food when traveling and half the point is to stop and smell the cooking.

    • dukepeter

      your utilization of Johnson’s baby shampoo was similar to how i used Dr Bronner’s magic soap. but dr bronner is still the nicest soap i ever tried

  • Uriah Zebadiah

    TLDR: As a big and tall man, the travel part of traveling sucks huge donkey balls anyway, and is only occasionally improved by a lack of stuff, whereas the being where you’re going part of travel is greatly improved by having the options that a big backpack or suitcase gives you.

    At 6’7″ 300lbs, buying clothes wherever I’m at isn’t really an option, and my clothes take considerably more space on top of that. A change of clothes, a couple pairs of underwear and socks, a sweater (or shorts and t-shirt) and a raincoat just about fill a day bag, leaving just enough room for a computer and some sundries (charging cables, bare minimum toiletries, camera).

    I can get two pairs of pants and three shirts, a pair of shorts, a suit jacket for dressing up a bit, a sweater, a rain coat, three pairs of socks and underwear, a towel, dressier shoes, sandals, a bathing suit, blankets (I like a bedroll of fleece blankets better than a sleeping bag), and a thermarest all into my big internal backpack, and be well-dressed for almost any occasion and any weather, and never find myself wanting for toiletries or a comfy warm place to sleep. Add a smallish messenger bag or something that’ll hold the bare necessities and expensive crap so it’s not the end of the world if the backpack gets stolen, and I’m in a good position to travel indefinitely. Switch one change of clothes and footwear for a tent and a cook kit, and I can go places a minimalist would have to spend hundreds on gear just to get to.

    Sure, it kind of forces me to adopt the model of traveling to a place, finding somewhere to store my stuff, then exploring, rather than just drifting, but I don’t really enjoy not having a plan about where I’m sleeping all that much, and I’d rather spend some significant time in each place, rather than do these whirlwind tours, stinking to high heaven. Of course going super light is SO much easier when you’re hopping from country to country, but you’re spending your time constantly moving. I want to relax, have a base of operations, get to know the locals. Having a big bag with you just isn’t that much of a hassle when you’re slowing down.

    For me, traveling light so that getting where you’re going is less onerous seems like a waste– I’m already going to be incredibly, unbelievably cramped and uncomfortable for hours and hours and hours, no matter what, so who cares if I have to wait a half hour at the carousel and an extra ten minutes at customs and have to hire a taxi rather than hoof it across town with all my crap? There’s very little joy in getting there for me, and once I’m there, I’m exhausted anyway, whether I carried 50 lbs on my back for a few hours or not.

    You spend money buying what you need when you need it, I hire a taxi when I need it and carry only what I need the rest of the time that I’m not going from country to country.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Uriah,

      No baggage doesn’t fit everyone. You’ve got a system worked out, and more importantly you know what works for you. But I bet you could pack 10% less and get 15% less hassle for doing so.

  • ans

    what sensevisual said.

  • Pennysandwich

    I work with some of these minimalist types. I used to let them “borrow” aspirin, etc. After awhile I ran out and asked them to chip in for a new tub o’ pills. Said they left their money in their other pants….no wait! Do they HAVE other pants?

  • glasnt

    I’ve done a few weekends with just a daypack, so that’s flying without check luggage. I’ve also done an overnighter in Wales. Being touristy without being bogged down is wonderful :)

  • http://andrewhy.de/ Andrew Hyde

    I’ve been doing this as more of a long term experiment. 7 months so far only owning 15 things.

    Long story short: it is liberating and amazing. I don’t really need more than a light backpack to live and travel. I think going without a bag seems a bit over the top (but would say light bag to everyone that will listen).

    I’m impressed, way to go!

    Here is everything I own (as of Colombia):

    • teacherman

      Crown Royal!

  • Zachary Reiss-Davis

    While “no bag” is not for me, a moderately sized shoulder-able pack makes international travel a lot more pleasant; once you need to wheel it, or even more extremely once you need to check it at the airport and under trains and buses, everything slows down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/regev.elya Regev Elya

    Awesome post.

    I’ve just came back from a 7 months journey pretty similar to that, and I can confirm: Less is way more. I loved not having almost nothing on me, felt completely free and ready to consume what the world has to offer me. You can read about my journey here:
    http://regevelya.com/travel-gear/ 

  • Kevin
  • Wayne