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.
Lonely Planet series of phrase books (multiple links depending on language)
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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485 Replies to “How to Travel 12 Countries with No Baggage Whatsoever”
Huge fan of Rolf Potts! This is great news.
Now that is impressive. I have done 5 countries will a 34 litre bag but now I feel less of a man. Well played Rolf, well played.
That’s a really cool concept, but is it really all that comfortable to have all your gear strapped around you and extra undies and socks popping out of your pockets?
I’m really interested to hear how this turns out…
Hopefully it’s a liberating experience that we can all learn from.
Thanks Tim and Rolf…
bring and wear clothes made with high-tech fabrics. usually have less mass (lighter), dry quick and easy to wash!
Have a most excellent adventure Rolf. You seeem to have it nailed – use the resources of your destination – most hotels have all the basic toiletries and they are small and if your clothes come in the teeny tiny dri-fit variety available so readily now it is easier to put socks in your pocket. How about a collapsible water bottle? It is hot near the equator!
Hey Tim and Rolf, great post!
Rolf, I just finished reading Vagabonding, as I’m considering doing something similar this Winter now that I’ve freed up my time and location. I’m looking forward to following your journey around the world on your blog, so congrats man.
Good luck, travel safe!
One of the best tricks I’ve learned for light travel actually comes from my Search and Rescue training – test what you need, before you actually need it! I tend to pack what I think I need, and then go on a shorter trip somewhere. Items that I don’t use, don’t need, or that I can find better alternatives for get dumped, no question. Also, make sure everything you have is multipurpose (making it, therefore, a better alternative). For example, take a leatherman or something similar rather than a switchblade, cargo pants rather than jeans, a waterproof jacket w/ a hoodie rather than a jacket, poncho, and hat, or a pouch w/ room for documentation, phone, and money (one of the ones that tourists often wear around their necks) rather than carrying them all separate. Vests work wonders as well, but the more multipurpose things you carry, the less you will have to bring with you.
You may not always be the most fashionable, but you definitely are traveling much lighter. I’m using a similar technique for moving back to college after summer break, and it’s done wonders so far.
I’m an ultralight backpacker – hiked the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail with less than 9lbs w/o food and water.
This is a habit I got into early on – whenever I got back from a trip, I would go back over my packing list and note the things I didn’t use. A lot of people carry stuff they NEVER use but by the time the next trip comes around, we forget.
I still think I would prefer an ultralight backpack to the vest (really, you’re just using wearable luggage) but it’s a cool idea. I’m sure the vest’s inside zip pockets would help in areas with pick-pockets.
Before I start packing, I’ll close my eyes, and imagine running through my daily routine and what I’ll be doing that day from the time I wake up to the time I’ll go to sleep. And I make note of everything I need along the way. For example, “I wake up, brush my teeth (pack toothbrush and toiletries), put on my clothes(pack a pair of jeans,shirts), going swimming(pack swim shorts) .. etc. I run through the entire day as best as I can estimate. And what I dont imagine needing, I dont pack. Then I do a final ‘phone, wallet/ID, cash’ check. Because really with those 3 things, you can handle most any situation you encounter, whether you forgot to pack something you needed or forgot to make arrangements of some sort.
Instead of a cotton t-shirt, bring a dri-fit shirt. You can easily wash it in any shower or sink, and they dry so quickly you dont really need a spare.
I also normally wear short ankle socks, but if you wear bring knee high socks (only under pants for me) you can actually carry quite a lot of small light items, and more securely than in your pockets. Extra credit card, cash, passport, even stuff like a tooth brush or comb.
If I am going to be swimming I will wear biking shorts underneath my regular shorts or pants. You can drop your shorts, go for a swim, the bike shorts will dry off a lot quicker and you can put your clothes back on over them once they are dry and be comfortable all day. Traditional bathing suits are much too bulky for this.
If you have a nice camera, utilize it. I took high resolution pictures of all of the maps I would need, and my camera allowed me to zoom into the picture with incredible detail. You could even pop into an internet cafe to review them, instead of bringing a lot of maps. This is a simple trick to compact a lot of documentation.
When I travel I wear a pair of Mountain Hardware Hiking pants that have zip of legs. That way I have a pair of pants and shorts all in one.
I have to agree with the two statements:
1) Ex officio underwear has been a lifesaver. They make other things too! Socks, shirts, convertible pants…in general, their whole line is geared toward minimalist travel. It is durable, easy to care for, comfortable and prevents the “stinkies” when you are traveling!
2) iPhone with or without a keyboard…plus certain apps such as Kindle or iBooks app…the development and extension of smartphones (iPhone is the BEST!) has certainly been a game changer. I don’t think I have carried a laptop on a trip since the first iPhone was introduced. I will admit that lately, when I don’t have to be ABSOLUTELY minimalist, I am carrying an iPad….which is the same idea….light, thin, LONG BATTERY LIFE, and allows things like Kindle and iBooks and Zinio, magazines, newspapers, maps, weather, flight information, etc….(just like iPhone, but more capacity and longer battery life)…not quite pocket sized, but certainly easy to carry.
These are the two things that have changed my travel the MOST and reduced my load the MOST. I can’t say that i have travelled without ANY bags….but I am certainly able to deal with a smaller bag and many less pounds as a result.
Last couple of plugs – many companies make shoes that fold or pack flat for easy travel. Some of these also have removable insoles so that you can have more or less support depending if you are riding on the airplane (and don’t really need thick insoles) or walking a lot (in which case you can slip the insoles in). I won’t plug a specific brand here…many places have them.
The PacSafe company makes a variety of small pouches all the way up to large bags that lock up tight, can be anchored to immovable objects (like a door or desk), and cannot be cut through by the usual tools….these are VERY useful for travel in situations that you won’t have a safe but want to secure that iPhone or iPad from theft. Highly recommended.
Wouldn’t this raise red flags in some places? Not traveling with anything.
Wow, I’d love to do that. I still think I need to take my netbook. I think I can get down to mini carry on, But no less. I have a problem with the theory though. Having to explain to customs officials why you have no luggage, not even a carry on for international trips. I realize that “officially” they can’t detain you for being uber-efficient, but I know these guys….their gonna ask….and ask…and break you down until you admit to a variety of crimes just to get out of the inquisition room. It might be worth trying this a while to make a documentary. “How I saw 12 different country’s security system in 15 days”.
Best light weight travel tip! Wear wool. Wool has natural antimicrobial agents that keep the stink to a minimum. Wool is the best fiber for temperature regulation, meaning that you need to remove and add less layers during exertion. Wool also absorbs moisture into the fiber, so if you are sweating it will not look like you are. It takes 30% of the materials weight in moister for you to feel wet vs 5% in cotton or synthetic. There are some great wool brands out there that have made stylish functional pieces that are great for in the city or in the woods.
I’ve found that, especially as a woman, the bag that fills up the fastest is the one filled with costmetics/bathroom items. To combat this, I:
*Pack makeup that does double duty – like a lip/cheek/eye stain; tinted moisturizer with SPF.
*Pack 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner that can also serve as body wash and shaving cream.
*One razor with multiple cartridges usually takes up less space than multiple disposables – but razors are something you can easily buy at your destination. Same with feminine hygiene products, so don’t give in to the urge to pack extra “just in case”.
*Pack a rubber band, elastic headband and bobby pins instead of tons of product and styling tools. If you’re spending the trip hiking, this is a no-brainer, but this also helps you lighten your load and feel comfortable with a night out, dinner in a restaurant, etc.
1. If you’re looking for a good all-in-one soap/shampoo/facewash I recommend trying the baby aisle of your local (or destination’s) department store. I found a great ‘GAIA’ brand ‘Bath & Bodywash’ that is soap and sulphate free, with some orange oils for zest.
2. Crocs don’t just make dorky plastic sandals — you can get the same lightweight sole with slip on loafer stylings up top. I love my pair of funky herringbone patterned loafers. Good for casual wear, and if going somewhere more ‘dressy’, people will just think you’re a hipster!
3. Twitter. A great tool for making a local friend or two in each destination before you leave. Great for a quick answer on a local topic.
Bonus: My sister bought an iPad before she went on an extensive european trip (she was going to lug along a full laptop) and it’s proven it’s worth. Incredible battery life, good size screen for maps etc . If you need a little more than a smart phone, it seems to be a reasonable alternative.
I enjoyed rolf’s book. I think you need to add another point that would perhaps be the biggest tip for many.
Choose who you travel with carefully. If your wife is one of those people that has to take the hair straighteners, then you’re going to have a problem traveling light!
You will probably need to compromise, consider splitting up for a while or get them to read rolf’s book!
I’m off to Thailand for my honeymoon is Dec and yes I have the slight issue of having someone else’s opinions who matter to me to consider!
In my travels I’ve noticed that having a handkerchief takes the place of a hat, towel, bag for small items you find (like stones at the beach), a way to mark and recognize baggage and muzzle the annoying person on a crowded bus (haven’t really tried this last one yet…). So one small piece of clothing, that can be worn on a head, neck, wrist or ankle, allows you to not carry as much on trips.
Very good tips above! Will make my next trip backpacking Europe easier with less stuff!
We always make sure our long-sleeved t-shirts contain SPF or are sun shirts (some people call them rash guards). With a good hat on our heads and long pants, we don’t have to pack sunscreen or bug spray, nor do we have to apply any of those nasty chemicals to our bodies.
Great post. It’s tough to travel this lightly with two small kids, but we sure try.
Man… With all of those awesome tips above, how are we suppose to compete!?
I haven’t done a ton of “extended journey” traveling, but when I do travel I like to only bring my backpack. The best tip I have is to use a checklist to make sure you have the “essentials” (things that can’t be replaced when you get there). Stuff like medication, passports (yes, people forget them!), phone, etc.
When your checklist pimpgame is tight, you feel extra chill when you pack and you’re on the way to the airport. Anything you bring on top of the checklist is just “icing on the cake”… Or weights holdin’ you down… 🙂
The timing of your post is funny… Since (I might) have your attention. Is there a way you would be interested in raising $500,000 for a school (or three!) of your choice and me buying $5,000 worth of your new book when it’s released?
If yes, click over to my webzone (when you have some free time) and scan the latest blog post (you’re more than welcome to skip the rambly video). 🙂
Zip off pants! Having a single pair of pants that can be used in hot and cold is invaluable. They might be ugly, and you have to carry the lower leg parts once you’ve removed them, but they give you a lot of options (like being able to wear longs pants in cultures that require them) without having to add an entire extra set of bottoms.
One of my travel light favorites is swapping the underwear for light weight, quick drying board shorts for a few reasons:
-Its a good excuse to get in the nearest ocean/river/lake daily.
-You can keep cash/visa/passport in the pocket which is hidden under your pants if you get into trouble.
-And obviously you can just wear the board shorts if its too hot for pants.
Make sure you have one pair of boxers for when board shorts are too wet.
Enjoy the travels and remember “the only thing you get from looking back is a sore neck”
great post! This is my first time visiting your site. I’ve skimmed through your book a couple of times at Barnes and Nobles, but today I decided to abuse my privileges. In 3 hours I read half of 4 hour work week, and completely lost track of time.
No worries, I did purchase 2 books 🙂
Didn’t mean to hijack the message board but thanks for putting out this awesome book!
Welcome to the party! No problem on the hijacking (you didn’t really hijack, after all)… I figure we’re even after two books 🙂
As a fan of Rolf’s book Vagabonding (hopefully I’ll be able to join the ranks of Vagabonds after grad school), this was a great post in many ways that aren’t even immediately evident. The eighth point is really one that I want to expand on: excessive luggage creates unnecessary distraction. From the brief world-travel I have done, I’ve found that a more concise travel pack not only helps you focus on the locations you tour, it also forces you to appreciate the few items you do pack.
Because we can go to a store here and get a 5-pk of black shirts for about two bucks a shirt (I believe your friend Kevin Rose has about a hundred of these), we see these hugely important items as almost disposable. When accessibility to cheap essentials is restricted because you’re on-the-move and busy touring, we perceive items taken for granted in a totally different way. Traveling light is an easy way to reset your subconscious notion (and order) of the importance of objects on a fundamental level.
Great article, I’m looking forward to reading more about the journey!
How do you go through airport security? (with liquids, etc)
My guess is dump it all in a bag you can throw away when you get there, but I’m curious anyway.
When traveling through western Europe a few years ago I learned the value of a super-light day pack.
We made a circle through Switzerland, Italy, and France and I was using a regular suitcase, with wheels! (I was total amateur).
I happened to have a nylon drawstring backpack (the kind athletes use to carry shoes and stuff) that I started using as a day pack.
For the size and weight it holds a good amount of gear, it has no pockets and draw string at the top that are over your shoulders so it’s fairly impervious to pick pockets, and it folds up smaller than a wallet weighing only a few ounces.
I can’t take credit for this one, but I wanted to share anyway:
Karol Gajda, of Ridiculously Extraordinary, recommends aLokSak’s for doing laundry in sinks of questionable cleanliness, or when you have no sink at all.
They are basically extra-heavy duty ziplocks, and also fold up extremely small.
Looking forward to your trip updates!
Currently I’m using a 40 litre bag. There is a pack list on my site but I’m really digging your no bag rule! I might have to take my DSLR along though. I don’t think I want to go anywhere with out that.
As for light packing tips:
1. Sign up for a checking account that refunds ATM fees
2. Borrow, beg, and don’t steal
3. If you do have to pack a bag, I find that rolling your clothes helps a lot
4. Just remember that 9 times out of 10 where you are going will have what you need
Ohh and have fun!
Hi Tim and Rolf
Excellent post, thank you.
This is a trick I learnt from a friend in the British Royal Marines. Fleeces and mid-layers can be bulky to pack/carry. Instead, carry a cashmere sweater. Benefits are: they are very light and pack small; can be casual or smart if needed; can be worn effectively under a outer-layer; and can be easily washed in shampoo/conditioner – it is hair after all!
I also carry a bluff – a tube of material that can be pulled over your head. Benefits: can be used in cold weather as a scarf; in sun to protect your neck; used as a hat or sweat band/bandana when folded/rolled… I have also used it as a mini towel, water filter, helmet padding, impromptu bandage and a small bag…
I also really like by Under Armor Heat Gear T shirts, they: wash well, dry quickly and hold their shape.
Rolf – have a great trip. Tim you are inspiring.
People are always amazed that I travel with only a lap-top sized bag. They are surprised because I am a girl and we’re not usually associated with light travel, and also because I can get by for weeks with this teeny bag.
My tricks are that I bring only one pair of pants (jeans) and I wear them on the plane. You can really go for weeks without washing jeans without anyone noticing (and if you do need to wash stuff, there’s always laundromats, or friends). I bring only a few shirts and one light, wrinkle-free black dress which I can wear for nicer events. For shoes I wear tennis shoes on the plane and pack one pair of gold flip flops that pass for nice dress shoes since they’re gold and sparkly. I also wear a hooded sweatshirt on the plane which works for rain or cold weather and doubles as a pillow when traveling.
The hardest part is your toiletries (at least for us women, and especially when we wear contacts). I simply minimize the make up (an all-in-one gold powder works for eyeshadow and, when mixed with chapstick, as a lipgloss), foundation and mascara and that’s it. No jewelry. Toiletries are brought in small travel sizes (including a comb) and if I run out on the road I just buy or borrow some. (If visiting family I never bring things like toothpaste or shampoo, I just use theirs).
Finally, my favorite trick is to pack my bag with dryer sheets. It keeps my clothes smelling nice and when they get funky I can rub the dryer sheet on it to mask the smell. Double bonus- dryer sheets reportedly work as a mosquito repellent.
I learned all of this after backpacking across Europe. You realize that it’s far more comfortable to wear your clothes a bit stanky than to lug around lots of luggage.
Thanks guys….Great post! I am definitely going to pick up some of that clothing.
I work as a freelance designer and programmer and am in love with photography. On my first few overseas trips my computer and photo gear took up most of my baggage. Now I just rent the gear when I get there and make sure I get insurance. I use Dropbox for all my files and software. Now I’m much less worried about losing gear and am free to travel and take side trips with just a backpack. Some companies even let me borrow a laptop when I get there. People love to lend things to travelers, you just have to ask.
Good luck Rolf, we look forward to hearing about your journey.
I am going to europe this fall/winter. Also I’m training for a marathon so I really have to bring my running shoes but I need to have boots as well. What do I do then?
One tip that have served me well: Only pack clothes that will dry quickly (even better if you can roll them in your towel, compress and have them come out dry). Can get away with much less clothing if everything can be washed at a moments notice. Plus, materials that dry quick tend to be lighter than your typical cotton shirt and jeans.
My trick to ultralight travel is the mobile phone (as you mentioned) — but I like to call it my “travel computer”. An iphone, ipod touch, or android device can replace more than a dozen things in your backpack: An alarm clock, movies and music for flights and train rides, TripIt for travel confirmation documents (no printouts), Evernote for taking pictures of receipts and remembering phone numbers and plans along the way (no paper notes) as well as journaling (no moleskine), Kindle or Stanza for books, Skype for calling and texting internationally from wifi spots, the built in camera for replacing your camera and video camera, Lonely planet guidebooks (along with tons of other guidebook apps and sites), Chase or USAA bank apps for depositing checks from wherever you are (and in the future you should be able to replace your wallet with some bank apps). Otherwise, grab your passport and extra pair of those ex officio boxers and you’re ready to travel.
Being a digital traveler can make you a ultralight/minimalist/paperless traveler.
nice! I also wanted see you along side Rolf in this video! =)
Love the idea!
Bon Voyage, Rolf.
QOD: When leaving one country and moving to another one buy a bottle of a local popular alcohol in the departure country at the airport eg. top Tequilla in Mexico, Flavoured vodka in Russia (ask for the special sealed plastic bag when buying to avoid issues at security gates / connecting flights). It’s a fantastic way to get some good friends soon after the arrival in the hostels, camping places etc. talking about the place the bottle comes from and later borrow stuff you are missing easily 😉
I have found that as a solo female traveler (and emergency-preparedness nut), that the two most versatile and useful things to tote around are MAXI-PADS and DUCT TAPE. I generally take 3-4 pencils and wrap lengths of tape around them to avoid the heft of a roll. That way, I get pencils, too! Not only can a pads and tape be used to seal off a large wound, but my two favorite life-savers thus far have been:
1) After placing my shoes too close to the fire while rafting in Mexico, I needed to protect my feet for the next 2 days of portaging, until the pick-up point. I put pads on each foot, and taped them on. Walked over rocks, steamy sand, no problem. The tape stayed in place while wet.
2) Recently on an overnight bus ride in Guatemala, the speaker across the isle was mal-functioning and very loud. The young couple with a baby directly under it were going nuts, as were the rest of us in the vicinity. When the attendant couldn’t fix the speaker, I whipped out 2 pads and the tape. Instant muffler.
I guarantee that as my travels continue, I will have many more uses for these gems!
-have your computer live off a bootable usb drive to be used a library or friend’s computer
-bring an empty drawstring bag for odds and ends
-cell phone with some sort of hands free device is excellent for traveling
-cary extra cash hidden somewhere, and keep several stashes in case one is compromised
-if possible, befriend a guide to help you around the city you’re in
-in a new location, wandering around is not always a bad thing. watch for people who look like they know what they’re doing and follow (not too creepily)
-fluids, especially water are very helpful when on a train, bus or plane to stay healthy
-via dan pink’s travel tips: make sure your nose is properly protected (Bacitracin), it’s a place where germs fester
-the best place to go to the bathroom is at a hotel; the hotel’s lobby should have a ‘public’ bathroom
-photocopy your important docs (passport, etc) and place them separate of your luggage for safe keeping
I’m looking forward to checking out Rolf’s journey! I’ve been wondering since I read about it whether I could manage purse-less travel. Maybe a bucket list add, travel sans everything. Cool flashlight in the video.
A tip for travelling photographers:
If you don’t already have one, pick up a new carbon fibre monopod. There are versions that double as walking sticks and those that collapse into a pocket or backpack portable size. They hardly way anything but add needed stability for low light conditions or HDR shots.
A monopod can also be used as an arm if you want to hold the camera away to take self-portraits.
Tim – Just say no to socks with sandals. (Unless you’re in Japan) 😉
Really enjoyed this post, thanks to both of you, Tim and Rolf.
I have a pair of casual Puma sneakers (Roma stye, brown on brown) that have proved priceless for me in my travels. They were: comfortable to walk around in, durable, yet light and thinly-soled, and — most importantly — were appropriate in many situations. Wearing the same pair of shoes, I felt appropriately dressed for academic lectures in Beijing and nightclubs in Barcelona. Granted, the other components of my attire required a backpack (kudos to Rolf for his extremely light-traveling), but if you do have a backpack and know you’ll be in diverse dress code situations — like business casual for academics and dress-to-impress (if that’s the term?) for bars or clubs — having only one pair of shoes can be huge. Needless to say, I also felt comfortable wearing the shoes in Rome, the shoe’s namesake.
Thanks again for the post.
Hey Tim, here is my list:
I go for the Light! Light! Light!
– I always travel with a single carry-on backpack and never with luggage.
– I use small travel size containers from Walmart or sample size items (shampoo, soap, mini folding toothbrush..etc. BTW, there are types of soaps that you can use for your face, hair, body, as shaving soap and for hand-washing clothes!!)
– I always use all-purpose or multi-purpose clothing and wear zip-off pants/shorts especially with several pockets on the legs. And, I roll my clothes.
– Money belts you can wear like a belt
– I wear quick-drying and breathable “shu-sandals” (they are crossover between the shoe and a sandal). I have one of these: http://www.zappos.com/chaco-paradox-gun-metal (Yeah, not cheap but they last long!)
– I also pack one scarf in my bag. Yeah, colorful scarf. They are very handy! Can make you look stylish and for instant respectability…
– Aquapac (Water resistant bag) find a good one here: http://www.saveandcheap.com/index.php?c=SportingGoods&n=51576011&i=B003R2SJ0Q&x=Aquapac_Keymaster
– Always carry small sharpie or a pen inside of your little neck pouch. BTW, neck pouches keep everything organized..even outside of the airports.. Example: http://www.rockcreek.com/sea-to-summit/travelling-light-neck-pouch/?ref=RCO_googlebase
– Small digital camera, nowadays I use my phone…I also use the same phone to type in daily journals.
– Light wristwatch with a built-in alarm
– Finally, I always leave some space in my bag for small souvenirs. Don’t get carried on with the big items. Pick smaller but meaninfull souvenirs.
Do it just like Gandhi, with simple clothes, open eyes and an uncluttered mind.
As for QOD, I have learnt the hard way that it is really nice to lose stuff on the go! I had my dirty clothes in a plastic bag within my main bag, after a few days at a hotel was in a hurry to take the boat to the next destination and simply forgot to pack the plastic bag with my dirty clothes back in the main bag. At least my backpack got a couple of days clothing lighter!
Pretty expensive tip, but if you take some clothes you know you’re not using/going to wear anymore(we all have those!) it’s nice to give/throw them away as you go along.
Rolf, awesome idea and good luck. I’m confident this can be done.
My wife and I just traveled around Italy with our 6 & 8 year old kids for six weeks with just small backpacks. If you’ve ever tried to load up a backpack for a 6 and 8 year old you would know that they really can’t carry much weight. My wife had a small Kelty pack and I had a midsize Northface pack with neither of them being completely full, nor did we have items strapped on the outside.
I’m sure Rolf will manage just fine.
Great post, Tim. As a high schooler, I’ve never traveled truly solo before, but I’ve learned a few things about the practice from reading books and blogs here and there. There are several, but I’ve listed the ones that I have tried to apply on trips.
1. The bundle approach (roll apparel like a snail shell, then tighten it with a string or a rubber band) is a great way of saving space.
2. Pack versatile clothing and other items, and realize that you don’t need more than two or three changes of clothes at most.
3. Bring extra money, not only for souvenirs and emergencies, but also to cut down on cheap yet relatively bulky things such as socks and undershirts.
4. If there’s a smaller and/or digital version of something essential, use it and not the bigger/physical version. By going with the electronic editions of my summer reading and using online test prep, I avoided the hassle of lugging books around as I visited several relatives along the East Coast over the course of a week.
5. Expensive rentals are a natural part of travel, and bringing the bag of golf clubs or the skateboard is not worth the amount that it will cost you to rent the item for a day.
6. For novices (myself included), set a limit on the amount of things you’ll bring before you proceed to pack. Pack so that you can meet this goal, then try to shrink your luggage to just over half of what you’ve included.
This is something I’ve learned from experience, but when traveling in a group, as I did a few years ago, it’s easy to skip bringing items like ties–just mooch off of friends. Just rely on principle 2 and bring a shirt that is unlikely to clash with other colors. You’re not likely to get denied, especially when your speaking event starts in ten minutes.
Don’t pack the night before you leave. Just like writing an essay, you will need some time to cut down on the extraneous bits. “Draft” your luggage several days in advance by packing everything as if you’re ready to leave (write items down if you don’t want to physically pack them), and let the contents of your bag mull about in your head. You’ll end up naturally trimming down what you’ve brought as you fail to find instances in which you might use the useless items.
Ah the good old days…
A few kilos ago
A couple of decades ago
… and a child ago 🙂
When you travel do use a smart phone with an extended keyboard or bring a laptop?
It depends on the duration and what I’m doing. If super extended, I’ll usually bring a laptop these days (writing, after all), but I’d like to try the smart phone with keyboard. The trick might be only using it overseas, as I don’t want email in my pocket in the US. That might change, but we’ll see.
Packing light is all about optimization. My teenage daughter packs so she has choices and brings twice as much as anyone else…my teenage son wears basketball shorts and t-shirts, so he’s easy. My wife is a smart packer and backpacked through Europe for 4 months in the early 80’s with a 75lb pack on her back – she vowed to never do that again – meaning pack that much. I have traveled to Europe and China on business for week-long trips with a carry-on – key is to get stuff that needs to be cleaned done at the hotel or if possible a local dry cleaner. (2x the $ and 1/2 the stuff) Learn to use the iron in your room if you need to press something. Pack single colors so you don’t need 2 different color pairs of shoes and belts. Leave toiletries at home except for what you absolutely cannot get at the hotel for free or in the sundries shop if you need to buy it.
I plan on getting an iPad before my next trip so I can leave my laptop and books/magazines at home. I’ll even pdf docs I need and store them on it for reference. If something needs to be printed – email it.
That’s my take on packing light!
Great Article! I especially liked the links to the gear. I love outdoor and travel gear and use a similar Eagle Creek Backpack when I travel.
One of my favorite travel tips… turn your underwear inside out after a few days’ wear. It feels like a fresh pair. While you are washing your undies in the sink with barsoap, wear your swim suit as underwear. Commando is always fun too.
And, if I am traveling on a budget and purchase food from a grocery store or farm stand, I found that a cloth napkin is great as a makeshift lunch table (on a sandy beach, random bench, etc). It also works as a spill rag, towel etc. Along with that, I do as much research about where I’ll be visiting before I go (including train schedules) so I know what to expect.
I look forward to reading more about this journey. Props!
– Pack a bag of bags. I use little nylon bags with draw strings that my mom sewed for me when I was in scouts.
– Pillow case can come in handy as an extra bag or — stuffed with a fleece outer layer — an actual pillow
– 35 mm film canisters make great waterproof containers. Even if you don’t take a film camera — and who does any more — throw some allergy medication of your choice in one and some benedryl in another. I react with different climates, cultures sometimes.
Leave the children at home. They seem to required luggage in inverse proportion to their size!
Tim, I know you’re a fan of traveling and you promote it every time you get the opportunity. But I wish, just once, you’d recognize how much damage flying via jet travel does to the ozone layer of our planet. You do nothing to minimize your carbon footprint by flying as much as you do.
Great tips above, Rolf and Tim. My two favorite things for light travel are a light poncho (~$10) and Nivea Active3 (~$3-4).
You can always shove the poncho deep down in your pack, and if you don’t need it, great, it only weighs about 6 ounces. But it’s come in handy waiting for those buses on the exposed mountain roads in Panama, and it will cover you and your pack. That way you don’t need full, heavy raingear. It’s great for impromptu picnics on wet ground, too.
The Active3 (and they have generic versions too at target) you can put in a tiny 2-ounce squeeze bottle — it’s shave gel, body wash, and shampoo/conditioner, and it excels at each. It’s really reassuring to know that I have what I need to get clean, in case I get to my destination too late to go to the local store.
Happy Travels, all!
Having done a fair amount of solo-traveling myself (3 years with extended stays), the best trick I have, after learning the language and buying local, would probably be my Samsonite Silhouette 7 hard-side carry on suitcase (packed with my Eagle Creek packers). Before I get flamed for not using a backpack or convertible backpack (I have a great Osprey Waypoint 80), I find for most of the travel I do, a solid messenger bag (my Chrome bag, or the multipocket Samsonite Attachable Tote that has dry pouches etc.), and my rolling hardshell work perfect. With the hardshell I can pack it with anything rest assured it won’t be broken on the other end, I look way more together when checking into hotels along the way, I am way less of a mark for con-artists, I can straddle my luggage when on a cramped subway, rather than taking up space for 2 with a back pack, I avoid the uncomfortable and unseemly sweaty back when going from point A-B in warmer climates, and I can move easily from one mode of transport to another.
While I recognize that the post is about ultra-lightweight travel (an interesting exercise), I think the most practical way to travel is to avoid checking luggage at all costs, feeling comfortable in urban environments, and avoiding being lumped into any particular traveller stereotype.
Oh, one more thing, if you use deodorant, bring your favorite along with you, because some countries have some pretty lame and unhealthy options!
I’ve only done a couple of major trips (more than a week) out of the U.S., and my early attempts involved a very steep learning curve. So my main “tips” for light travel are a few what-not-to-do’s that I learned the hard way:
-Don’t bring your old boy scout MagLite. A tiny LED keychain flashlight is plenty for finding your way around the hostel or your backpack at night.
-Don’t bring your Leatherman Multi-tool when a simple penknife is plenty.
-Don’t bring a sleeping bag when you’re hosteling. It’s likely that the hostel’s sheets are cleaned more often than your own. (especially if you’re a college-age single male)
-Don’t bring a 1-pound padlock for hostel lockers. A decent little luggage lock is enough of a deterrent to keep your things safe while you’re in the shower.
I have more, but those are the most dramatic (and embarrassing). I hope others can learn from my mistakes.
Cheers, everyone! Not a lot of time, since I jump on the subway to JFK in 24 hours, but you have some great ideas going here.
@Jan: I’ve often worn boots and packed running shoes in my travels (not when I’m going bagless, though). If there’s any way you can get out of bringing the boots, though, go for it. You can do a lot of the same activities in running shoes (though to be honest I tend to favor boots).
@Peatt: Love the female travel tips! Those cracked me up…
Great tips, everyone — keep them coming!
My wife and I did backpacking in Europe for 24 days. We used the Osprey rollybag/backpack combos. Rolling them in the airport and packing them on the cobblestones was perfect. We traveled in April so I had a Helly Hansen heavy nap fleece that had big inside pockets and zipper outside pockets that worked beautifully.
The backpacks are the only thing coming with us on a two week trip in November to Singapore. That and 18 month old twins! 🙂
This is kind of long, but you did say the more detail the better… so, here goes.
My first rule of light travel is that my bag has to fit under the seat in front of me in an airplane (if I’m taking one). So this immediately restricts my packing options.
I pack one change of clothes and do my laundry in the sink daily if possible so my clothes are always clean. I don’t pack formal clothes because I rarely go anywhere too fancy when I’m on vacation. If I find I need a skirt or better shoes, I can go shopping at my destination.
My favorite pants to travel in are a dark gray pair of convertible pants/capris/shorts I found on the clearance rack at REI a few years ago. They have velcro pockets (so I have an audible alert when they open), dirt doesn’t show up on them, they dry fast, I can sleep in them if I’m sharing a room with a travel buddy, they’re weather-adjustable, and they don’t look too manly. Even when I’ve packed other pants, I end up only wearing the others when I’m doing laundry.
I pack the bare minimum for toiletries. Most hotels have all I need either for free or in a vending machine in the lobby. Or the convenience store a block over has them. I usually bring at least a toothbrush that folds over into itself , some deodorant, and a couple pieces of makeup.
I pack as few electronics as possible, or an extra charged battery instead of a charger. The space cords take up for laptop, cell phone, and camera chargers is obscene. I figure if I’m traveling, why do I need to be hanging out behind a computer screen or texting about nothing important with my friends? I can do that a home for much cheaper. Also, public computers and telephones seemed to be readily available most places I’ve traveled.
I also learned the hard way that light travel is made less spectacular if my travel companions are not also light packers. I once traveled with a friend who packed two gigantic duffel bags and a backpack for a two week trip. He ended up wearing the same (very stinky) clothes for the entire trip, and we spent forever waiting to check and claim his baggage at the airport.
I could go on forever with more of this, but those are the highlights.
Great post, thanks Tim & Rolf. I especially like the advice about only a few changes of clothing, underwear, etc., then washing what you’ve worn. I did that on a 5 week trip through Mexico and Central America. It worked great. I haven’t traveled that way in a while though, need to get back to it.
For the QOD: I really like a money belt or small pouch that hangs around the neck, inside my shirt. Its great to put your backup credit card/cash and things you want to keep close like your passport (on days you’re not going through customs). It keeps everything inside safe and difficult for somebody to take off of you, but also ads one more organizational “pocket” for keeping those valuable things separate, so you don’t accidentally drop your credit card out of your pocket, when you’re pulling out some dry socks for the hick back from the swimming hole.
Great video and blog. I am glad http://www.scottevest.com can help.
Scott Jordan, CEO
I highly recommend a mini quick-dry, microfiber towel (I use one from REI), ExOfficio boxers, and Smartwool socks. Having gear that dries quickly and will stand up to repeated washings is essential. Lastly, skip the guidebook and talk to people!
Great post! I think this idea is phenomenal! I have always wanted to try traveling light. I haven’t had a chance to read all of the tips yet. The only thing I would add is that a spare iPhone battery may be helpful, Best of luck to you Rolf!
i will ask how you get trough airport security with all that stuff and do we need to do that if you can get a nice small backpack which can be so comfortable so you wont feel it with those few items you take with you.
Harmonica. Put a harmonica in your pocket. Even if you don’t know how to play it. Music opens door and provides opportunities to for conversations.
I would also include sunglasses and aspirin
I am a former infantry Marine, and although this may not apply, the 3 things I made sure were in my pockets before going out on patrol, were a knife (in case I needed to stab someone), a tourniquet (in case I got shot), and some baby wipes (in case I needed to take a shit). I say this in all seriousness. When push came to shove, those were my 3 essentials.
Here are a few tips after 30+ years of business and leisure travels across all continents:
– Bring the iPhone / iPad with USB cable, headphones (Bose or Apples) and adapter (this will be your home office, camera, bookstore, movie screen, boarding card, phone et cetera. only use WiFi hotspots)
– Store all your data in the cloud and access via apps (music, movies, docs, spreadsheets, mail, photos et cetera)
– Use a Timbuk2 messenger bag (medium or large) as they work well for both business and pleasure
– Travel in comfortable jeans, shirt and trainers; pack shorts / swim trunks, travel socks and briefs, flip-flops, PJs and a few shirts; a blazer if for work
– Use the PJ to sleep in on long-hauls to keep your clothes fresh; grab a shower at the airport lounge
– Wash your clothes at the hotel or local laundromat for a few bucks while having breakfast
– Two credit cards and passport; no wallet
– No need to bring any hygiene products as the airline, airport lounge and/or hotel can always provide that for you
– Utilize the airport lounge to shower, eat and work / communicate – all free
– Make extra sandwiches from the breakfast buffe to use for lunch / backup
Buy or borrow anything else; the world is more commercial than we’d like to think. Be okay with wearing the same jeans for a few days.
The above allows you to travel in style, light-weight and don’t look like a bag packer or a corporate drone. It enables you to easily leave the airport and head off out on adventure as soon as you land.
Here is a prezzo I made before the arrival of the iPad about traveling smart: http://www.slideshare.net/perhakansson/how-to-travel-smart-fast-and-simple
I’d like at some point to travel around the world in only the clothes I’m wearing, two credit cards, passports and an iPhone. But that’s another story and challenge.
Best / Per
Disperse your valuables in different locations on your body (internal pockets, external pockets, moneybelt, etc.)
This simple concept has saved me so many times I’ve lost count. No need to be overly paranoid or let it stop you from traveling, but still: nothing derails a trip like a stolen passport. Credit cards (which if possible should be favored over massive amounts of cash and debit cards) and such are somewhat easier to recover, but it’s still a pain and can interrupt a trip in major ways if you are not prepared for it.
In Rolf’s case, presumably he will have to have all his valuables on him at all times, unless he is comfortable leaving them at his hotel lock box or with a friend. As an expert traveler, I’m guessing he’s probably not too worried about it because he has a system down. And that is key to this tip: develop a system.
Before you head out to the market or clubs (pickpocket heaven), the airport (a little more secure), or a border crossing (depends on where), carefully consider exactly what valuables you will need to access. Place them accordingly for both security and ease of access. In most cases, I’ve found the following system to be the best:
Put some small change/bills in an external pocket, preferably zippered (hint: wear pants with zipped pockets). You can access this easily for small purchases, and the loss is negligible if it is stolen. Keep larger bills, credit cards, immunization records, passport, and photocopy of passport in deep internal pockets or a money belt/necklace, but NEVER keep your main source of $$ in the same place as your passport. Ideally, each valuable should be in a separate internal pocket, with thought given to the priority of each valuable and the security of the pocket. Never keep these things in a bag attached to your body, and for that matter, never carry a purse or a bag that only has one point of contact with your body (i.e. messenger bags, camera bags, etc.).
Depending on the clothing and planned itinerary, each system will be a little different. But the key is to think about it carefully and implement it at all times. After a while it becomes second nature. A little forethought can save a lot of regret and hassle.
Love the blog and the book, Tim.
#3 Buy or Borrow
Though I love the premise of this journey, if meant to promote a long term lifestyle, please remember that you will find very generous people along the way, but reciprocation is expected. It wouldn’t really be fair to always be the borrower…..
I teach recreation (yes, it’s a real job) and have a general rule when backpacking when it comes to going ultralight. Anything (aside from clothing which varies greatly season to season and location) that one brings must as a rule serve more than one purpose. For example, what purpose will your toothpaste serve outside of being toothpaste…..no purpose is the answer you are looking for….ditch it and borrow or ask for some when you check into a hostel, hotel, etc. Contact lenses? Ok, I’ll give you that one. Great use of the vest by the way. If you go by the dual/multiple purpose rule – you can shave come serious weight. And…I agree with Peate, duct tape is a must…ditch the safety pins…you’ll only end up pricking yourself along the way. wrap the duct tape around one of your other multi-purpose items (using the sunscreen tube as a duct tape holder makes it multipurpose).
Great stuff! Here are a few tips/tricks I have used
1) smart phone and ear bud headphones. Already covered, but amazing
2) REI nylon cargo pants. Similar to above. These things are amazing–dry, sun proof, dry super fast, come clean from almost any stain, the legs zip off to for shorts! I wore them every day on the Race Across America (RAAM) a few years ago.
3) Vibram KSOs. Love these shoes. They look odd, but if you go with the all black they blend in a bit more. Awesome for hiking in wet and dry conditions.
4) TRX suspension trainer. Packs in bag and can be set up almost anywhere to do some cool exercises. Of course, knowing bodyweight drills requires zero equipment and is highly effective. A couple jump stretch bands can help too.
5) Trade skills – I do some movement work that most times allows people to move better and without pain, many times in minutes. This works great to trade for virtually anything. Most people have a few slightly or major painful issues. Get them out of pain and you can get tons of cool stuff and an instant friend for life.
6) lightweight fleece – works great when it its cooler and makes a great pillow at night too.
Keep up the great work guys!
Mike T Nelson PhD(c)
When I travel for work, they are usually short trips of about 3 days. I economize on space by wearing the same pair of black pants pants and shoes each day, and just packing shirts to switch out. It may not be for everyone, but it saves so much space, and I guarantee no one notices.
The space this saves allows me to pack my gym shoes and workout clothes. I always pack clothing made of cotton or wrinkle-proof material so that I can roll it up to maximize space. The ultimate result is being able to make a 3 day business trip with nothing more than a small backpack.
There are some great suggestions here, I’ve definitely been taking notes. Of late, my light travel has been camping with kids. (Don’t let the ads fool you, kids, once they are past the baby stage, don’t require more stuff! A single bottle of bubbles has often been the only added entertainment.)
The best suggestion I have is to live your everyday life in a simple way. When you’re doing that, you find what you “need” away from home is simple.
If you are used to living light, traveling light occurs naturally.
I’ve met travellers who do the borrow toothpaste, shampoo etc thing and I wanted to say it’s really freaken annoying. Don’t expect other people to look after you.
It’s a personal preference but I’d rather carry more stuff with me than spend precious holiday time doing handwashing and running around shops looking for basic items. I’m especially wary after travelling through SE Asia and not being able to get things dried overnight in the humid weather… damp knickers – urrrghh!
I guess I’ll never be an ultra light packer because I have other priorities for my holiday time and I’d rather die than wear nylon or technical fabric on hols.
My packing light tip is definitely to cut the shoes. They are the worst. One of my male friends is trying to convince me I can travel with one pair but it’s not working. I’ve cut down to two pairs though.
My light travel tip is to take a water bottle with you. It can be a Sigg, Kleen Kanteen, Lifefactory glass, Nalgene, old milk jug, etc. The point is to take a re-useable water bottle with you. This not only helps to keep you hydrated while traveling (especially important for air travel), but also reduces the amount of crap that ends up in landfills. Double win! As long as the bottle is empty when you go through the TSA checkpoint, you are all good. Next, skip the water fountain and ask the friendly Starbucks, Caribou, Peets, etc. coffee person to fill up your bottle when ordering your double tall soy skinny mocha latte frappachino. The filtered water the coffee houses use is typically better than what comes out of the water fountain.
ok, this is going to sound really obvious- but bear with me-
I really like bringing a backpack- but bringing it about 75% empty. Having it on my back like that gives me a sense of peace (it’s like a reminder of how light I’m traveling and how easy it is to move around with all my stuff) and it’s a great tool to have if you need to get something from point a to point b easily while you’re on the road/on foot.
Now, can I have that expensive item please? Thanks in advance-
Warning: contains secret girls business. (but not for princesses!)
Traveling with “feminine hygiene products” is a nightmare for a variety of reasons. One tip from me – menstrual cup (eg Diva Cup). I won’t say any more – chicks can Google it if interested.
And as tempting as it is to get the smallest thong possible for underwear, take up a bit more room and get boy-leg undies in black. They can double as swimmers, pyjamas and even shorts.
Rock on Blundstone boots from Australia; Tim, ban the sock/sandal combo!!
Cool post! What a creative challenge – I hope things go well for those involved.
Last summer I hitchhiked and backpacked over 1,000 miles around the Midwest and Canada. I was only allowed an average-sized backpack and could only spend money on myself at dire need (the only money I spent on myself was on a McDonald’s breakfast my last day in celebration and chewing tobacco to keep me occupied while walking).
The key was developing a fearless confidence and learning to truly care about other people. It is difficult to muster up enough courage to invite yourself into other people’s lives, but your initial reluctance diminishes rapidly after a few skipped meals or cold night outside (especially without a blanket…one of my worse ideas).
Three tricks I found useful:
1. Practice. I spent three months before the trip hiking, biking and sleeping in ditches to imitate worse-case scenarios. My feet still got blistered and I still hated trying to sleep in 40-degree weather covered in dew, but I was prepared and knew I could manage those problems.
2. Don’t be discouraged when you fail. For every ride I hitched, meal I shared or friend I made there were dozens of cars and people who passed me by.
3. Actually listen. Most people offered me something small, like a 5-minute ride to the next town. See those 5 minutes as an opportunity to establish trust and build a relationship – don’t be afraid to be honest or get personal. The more authentic you are with people, the faster you gain their respect.
My best success using this method was turning a 5-minute ride turned into two days of hospitality and a +200 mile ride to Milwaukee. Caring pays!
Another trick is using a VA to manage your life while you’re gone. Spend time learning how outsourcing and who to hire. Automate everything you possibly can – your VA(s) should be doing everything in the month or two before you leave. Having a VA will help you setup processes for most of the unimportant things in your life and letting them do everything will force you to stop micromanaging. The key is to do this BEFORE you leave so you can step in and do damage control in a secure environment.
Once you’re on the road, your life should be automated. Take your time. Let experience guide you and remember: serendipity cannot be planned.
Tips for outsourcing:
1. Find a ghostwriter to take care of your writing needs during the trip. Find/train someone who can mimic your stylistic needs, then call them a couple times a week to feed them travel notes or plan new content.
2. Don’t manage the trip planning yourself – tell the VA what you want and let them set it up. Again, you should train them BEFORE you leave. Use them to setup appointments, measure travel distances and routes, contact local hosts on sites like CouchSurfing, etc…
Hope these tips help future travelers.
Find ways to have multiple uses for everything. This reduces our gear load considerably. Phone for calls, flashlight, itinerary tracking, music, Internet…
The ultimate tip for travelling light is to make friends with locals during your journey. Not only does this improve your travel experience and teach you more about the local cultures, you will be surprised by the extent to which complete strangers will help you on your journey.
This is often in the form of a free dinner, a shower, a bed for the night, but more importantly (for travelling light), these wonderful people will often kindly supply (or let you borrow) the things that you need for life on the road, often in the quantities you need (a refill of shampoo, some soap, some water for the road, etc.). This will help you to avoid carrying so much cargo.
Of course, it is vital never to take advantage of people’s generosity. However, if you are open-minded and genuine, you won’t need to anyway.
Good luck Rolf!
For the QOD:
For me, the biggest gain for travelling light has been something I actually found here, Evernote. With the ability to use the iphone app to quickly take pictures of things and then discard them (great for bills/receipts etc.), as well as easily searching through any information / documents that I may want (Travel insurance details, flight info for example) that I have already stored in there have saved on the need of carrying a load of stuff around with me.
One of the handy things I have recently found myself using it for is keeping track of things I want to pick up. On a recent trip over the course of the week, whenever I saw something I felt was worth buying and taking home, I would take a picture of it, note where it was and tag it as ‘To Buy’, then on my last day, I spent a couple of hours going around, picking the bits and pieces up and off I went. This also had the advantage of actually saving me time, as I didn’t need to do the ‘umming and ahhing’ over a purchase when I could do it later in some downtime, like waiting for a bus. It also allowed me some time to decide if I really wanted something or not, without the hassle that either going back and deciding I didn’t really want it, or later finding something better would cause, while allowing me the freedom to spend my time as I wanted, without carrying around that amazing souvenir I found in the morning all day.
Long story short – Evernote has been by far my best find in a long time, and it has amazing uses in almost any situation, including helping travel light!
Tim, you said the more detail the better. Well, as we all know it is usually more difficult for a woman to pack light. There are certain problems that woman can not avoid such as menstruation. I have found that is it difficult to lug around boxes of pads and tampons everyday so there is a solution called the “Diva Cup”. The Diva Cup is a silicon cup that is reusable for up to a year. It is easy to pack, washable with soap, and wearable for 24hours without being emptied. I am now able to be superwoman with this device.
I have also used “secret stash” a detachable bra pocket to store extra money.
“Go Girl” a feminine urination device where woman can pee while standing. It is very discreet, easy to pack, easy to clean and safe than sitting in public restroom. I use it usually for camping outside.
A lot of women do not like to talk about these issues and do not that there are solutions. I hope that I have not disgusted you guys.
This is a very fascinating post, but as a fashionable woman that is currently planning her own round the world trip for February 2011, I find it very disheartening that comfy, functional travel products are geared for men. The ones that I have seen for women are for women with no sense of style. I’m racking my brain to figure out how to only take one bag on this trip and maintain the “glamour element” but so far, I am stumped as to how to accomplish this.
I highly recommend Tilley.com. I went to London for 2 weeks with just one carryon bag and felt stylish the whole visit.
In more than a decade of traveling around the world from a year to just a few weeks, I can say that traveling light is certainly the way to go.
I still can’t go as light as Rolf, nor do I think I’d want to, but for me, that means carry-on only whenever possible, no matter the length of the trip or the destination.
I find zip lock bags of all sizes invaluable for organizing. I use them in place of bulkier toiletries bags. I put clothes in the larger ones and when I go through security, it makes it much easier if my bag is searched.
I also make my own “guidebooks”, culling the best of what I can find on the web before I go into a single document, rather than bringing an out of date printed heavy book.
The best things I like to bring with me when I travel are : Travelon Soap Toiletry Sheets (one kind is enough to wash your hands or clothing, or taking a shower) and 4 or 5 Buff multifunctional headwear.
When the weather is too warm, dip a Buff in cool water and wear it around your neck or around your head. Also a nice filter to avoid breathing sand or dust during a storm.
A Buff replaces a scarf around your neck when it’s getting cold, and hides your hair when it’s getting wild. You may also use a Buff to wash yourself.
The macabi skirt is supposed to be great also because it’s multifunctionnal and dries fast, but I didn’t try it yet.
Great article, very inspiring !
I have continually reduced my travel load. Generally travel with a half full backpack but have traveled with nothing but stuff in pockets. Here are some observations:
1. A baggie with duct tape, heavy duty rubber bands, safety pins, handkerchief. etc. Any of these things can be awesome in emergencies.
2. Travel clothesline – cant wash clothes in hotel rooms without it. I’ve even used the rubber band plus the hair dryer usually in hotel bathrooms to turn the bathroom into a giant ‘dryer’ – just band the trigger shut of the hand dryer and leave it in the holster pointed at the clothes. Don’t go to sleep though!
3. This is a huge lifesaver – a small travel allowable bottle of coconut oil. I use this stuff for: shaving oil, hair oil, moisturizer (hand and face), um personal lubricant, etc. Its totally natural, smells nice, and in a pinch it’s an emergency food ration. You laugh, but after being stranded for 36 hours without food during a trip somewhere I chugged it for a quick couple of hundred calories.
4. ex-officio underwear. Wear on, bring one – all you need.
5. I got one of of the Macati travel skirts. You can roll/fold this up to pocket size. Same goes for vibram footwear – it can be packed small.
6. Make sure everything you have can be charged via usb, and then bring either a notebook or one usb/outlet adapter and forgo the individual adapters (for your phone, etc). I typically charge everything I need – camera/phone, etc – off my laptop overnight.
7. When you plan on bringing stuff, decide whether you are bringing something because you need it or because you are using it to avoid people. Why bring three books with you, you should be out socializing.
8. A pair of nice jeans, that can be worn to a night out, a pair of shorts you can swim in (any athletic shorts), and the macati’s are all a man needs when traveling. Wear the jeans on the plane.
9. No need to bring copies of travel docs – store on gmail somewhere. Print them if you need them.
10. Eyewear. Contact lenses need very little care. I can travel overnight with just the lens case filled with saline, no need to bring a bottle. And, in a pinch, if you have to, tap water is fine to store them in. It’ll hurt your eyes the next day but you’ll survive.
here’s a simple and small piece of headgear with multiple functionality. it can be worn as a:
it’s called Buff from http://www.planetbuff.com
just a little piece of flexible cloth. it comes in a huge varitey of colors and can be worn at leisure and formal settings.
used to wear it under my bike helmet when I went through sicily on bike for 2 months last year. it absorbs sweat and keeps your head cool in the sun.
worn as a wristband it gives you a rockstar kind of extra accessory (for those who want to stay in style on the road!)
I prefer to look poor when I travel. It minimizes the chance that I’ll be targeted by criminals or con men (or women!).
I don’t bring spare clothes. My favorite travel attire is mesh shorts and an undershirt in tropical locales. Benefit being, you can simply buy new ones instead of washing them, and they keep you cool even during midday exertion. For shoes, I wear loose archless slip-on cheap hard-rubber sandals. They allow my toes to spread and my feet to breathe, and they wash easily and dry immediately. Arch support is bad for your feet.
I don’t like pockets. I don’t like odd things bumping against me when I walk. I have a comfortable leather man purse that hangs at hip level and doesn’t interrupt my stride.
For geekery, some combination of smartphone with optional USB keyboard or a mini laptop will do. You also might use Dropbox, a USB stick, or a virtual desktop application to access your data from internet cafes. Be aware that Dropbox would work poorly in low bandwidth situations, and a USB stick might have security issues with exposure to multiple international internet cafes, unless you are running a virtual machine off of it.
For info management on the hoof, I recommend a combo of audio recorder (probably your smartphone) for capturing inspirations, and a pen and notepad for practical information you will need to access again, e.g. addresses and phone numbers. Don’t rely on your smartphone for practical information, because it is unreliable: low battery, data loss, water damage, you’re using the phone and can’t look anything up, etc.
Don’t make schedules. Keep all plans tentative.
Food is a big one for those of us with sensitive stomachs. I don’t eat food prepared by anyone but me. I buy fatty meat and cook it myself in the hostel microwave or whatever, then eat it with disposable silverware. (I live on an all-meat diet.) In a pinch, I go for something simple like plain white rice. A single meal can cost you a week of illness – it’s not worth it.
My #1 travel tip: Walk up to the pretty girls you see with your mind blank and your heart filled with desire. Be direct about your romantic interest. A girl will appreciate your appreciation of her beauty even if she doesn’t want to date you. That habit should make you plenty of instant friends who will usher you into an interesting mix of local life. With a pretty local girl on your arm, you will find easy introduction to others whom you would like to meet. You do not have to consummate any relationship for this to work.
thanks Tim for the great post
i have been working on this same problem for the last month can’t wait to share my findings with you ill compile the stuff and post it in about 3 to 4 hours
I am in Bangalore India right now getting ready to leave to NY on the 11th i hope this post makes it on time
this post is going to make history
Great stuff, Rolf.
The Boy Scouts gave me a keen sense for packing light.
It’s always a game between my fellow scouters to see who can pack and get by with the least (but most useful) gear.
Many times, we would head up a gear truck that would run our heavy loads to our final destinations (great for canoeing outings and long trips).
Usually, one or two people would head up the truck. We even had a team drive a trailer across country to meet up with us and deliver gear (while we flew and effortlessly hiked around national parks). We’ve encountered groups that provide transportation services within the parks and it’s a great way to enjoy your travels but still have the benefits of using gear at the end of the day.
This reminds me of Rolf’s “utilize the postal service” suggestion.
I was wondering if anybody else was familiar with any delivery services on a larger scale?
Depending on where you are headed, these tools can be a great addition to lighten your load/pack without losing usefulness:
ENO Hammocks- (http://amzn.to/cjwSBL) Durable, lightweight, super well-built. Eliminate being on the ground at night (bad flooding experiences). Great health benefits too.
SwissCard- (http://amzn.to/d4VFZJ) Fits in your wallet. Streamlines a ton of tools.
Best in Travels,
I like to wear a baseball cap (Redsocks) when traveling. It protects against weather (sun and rain) and bad hair days. I also have an old Air Force Grunts jacket that my brother bought at a thrift store 20+ years ago that has a great arm pocket. it’s light while still being warm, and I can use it as a blanket.
I’m a girl and I travel with the same purse I use to carry my laptop/textbooks at college. It might be cheating, but I *like* having a small bag and I *need* my laptop for coursework. I use a simple system when I pack to travel solo.
1. Dress for the airport wearing layers. I live in Seattle. Departing & arriving with a bikini under jeans & tank and a jacket over is always okay.
2. Wear sturdy, flexible shoes. Black flats work best for me.
3. Bring essentials: hairbrush, toothbrush & paste, shampoo. Credit card & passport. For me, makeup and sunglasses.
4. Electronics: 10″ laptop, cell phone, charging equipment. I never bring a camera, since I go for the experience and can always find photos online or use my cell phone’s camera.
5. Only bring clothing that will definitely be worn. On my last trip, I brought two dresses, shorts, a shirt, a scarf/towel, and an extra swimsuit for swimming/underwear. Used it all. Didn’t need anything extra.
Seattle being what it is, I tend to flee to the south or travel during warmer months. This scheme definitely doesn’t accommodate cold climates. Rolling clothes into bags and sealing out the air doesn’t work for me — I pack too much and can’t access it easily.
Since there are way too many great posts I’m just going to stay with a short answer. Since we’re talking about absolute minimum, I am taking this to the extreme 🙂 Just take a passport, one credit card, and a toothbrush (can take the FlyClear card too to speed up airport times).
These are really to me the only necessities if you are going to travel extremely light, since obviously you legally need the passport, and you need a form of currency. The toothbrush is one thing I definitely don’t want to borrow! The clothes you are wearing can be washed every night.
Thanks for the great post, and good luck to you Rolf!
QOD: Bring/wear WinterSilks long underwear–amazingly warm but balance heat well, and lighter than anything else you’ll find. Can cram them into tiny spots and they’re practically weightless.
Silk boxers Idea.
If you’re a boxers man, you could wear 2 pair of silk boxers. One over the other. Less to fill your pockets and ultra light. Simply rotate, washing the inside pair each night. Silk dries quickly.
Give-N-Go underwear able to wash daily and dries quick.
A compact travel towel – micronet is cool but still needs innovation
The OHSO Marko Travel Toothbrush is fun!
A wallet belt
Micro Fiber Socks
the ultimate cargo pants rock!
One question. What about going though security? The number of fluid containers you have could cause some problems.
Uber cool quest! Good Luck! I’ll follow
To travel light, travel with a friend. That was items can be divided between the two (toothpaste, shampoo, aspirin etc.) While this might seem obvious, I’ve got on multiple trips where members of my group will carry multiples of the same item. For me, I just break down the trip to bear essentials, clothing,hygiene, and passport/money. Since I don’t have a smart phone, I usually shut it off for most of the trip, but keep it handy for emergencies. Yet one could easily go without it. I 100% agree on the usefulness of any smart phone on your trip, but I could also see that as a distraction. For me, the temptation would be to strong to check blogs, facebook, twitter, etc. Again if you travel with a friend, chances on you can use his smartphone for things like GPS, weather alerts, etc. But again, interacting with the people there is the point, so reliance on any technology could be hazardous. Either way great post, good luck Rolf, and keep up the great work Tim. Excited for the new book!
90% of success at anything in life is attained during practice and preparation, not the actual actions themselves.
You can “travel light” without leaving the house. Pack yourself as if you were leaving, and live out of that bag in your own home for a week. Or three. Just because there’s a stove and a refrigerator, maybe a washer and drier, doesn’t mean you have to use them. Treat your home as if it were a hotel or hostel, and simply ignore any item that wouldn’t be there on a trip.
I’ve used this method over the last year, and I’ve never even managed to travel yet due to time constraints (because I’ve not yet implemented my Muse and found my Ferrissian Escape Vector). It’s simplified and improved my regular life so much I have no doubt I’ll be able to travel light and agile.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Fun challenge – let’s see.
1) Plan by design – if you have a firm itinerary set, use WolframAlpha.com to look at the kind of climate variation you can expect where you’re going at each place, and plan accordingly. I personally like cargopants (REI Nylon are a decent choice) with removable legs at the knee – great in the summer, where a normally cool area can jump in temperature dramatically.
2) Plan by experience – before embarking on a longer quest, take a shorter one. Recently I traveled Hokkaido, and packed everything I thought I would need. I took two bags – a mini-suitcase, and a backpack – everything I needed was placed in the mini-suitcase, and as I needed them throughout the trip, I would transfer them to the backpack. By the end of the week, my backpack contained the few items I needed. The suitcase and everything inside it could then be safely donated.
This helps not only in helping break down expectation vs. reality, but also gives a psychological boost in that, as you’ve survived with the backpack before, you can easily do so again. It’s great for beginners to minimalistic packing.
3) Reducing common items:
Laptop – as mentioned, can be reduced to an iPad or iPhone, depending on needs. In addition to all the points mentioned above, they can also be used to store a decent amount of photos, so as to reduce the need for multiple SD cards. The Apple camera-connector is useful here, and small enough to fit in your camera pocket.
Multiple pairs of anything – DriFit or similar such water/stain/etc. proof materials are great – if you need to do something fancy at a moment’s notice, it’s always great to have a spare t-shirt, but a dark colored DriFit shirt can be run through a faucet and dry on your skin before you shake the hands of anyone important.
Underwear – depending on temperature, I’ve sometimes substituted these for a light pair of waterproof running shorts, which are typically small enough to not be terribly uncomfortable (similar to wearing boxers) and can be used as a bathing suit quite easily.
4) Temperature variation – A small, thin washcloth can be easily tossed into a pocket (or you can use a t-shirt for this same purpose, if you bring an extra one) – when the temperature climbs, soak it in cold water and place it on your neck. The blood running through your neck is cooled (similar to how placing your wrists under running water can cool you down) and simultaneously protected from the sun. You can drape it over your head to protect from heat in much hotter areas as well. In cool weather, you can heat the cloth (very carefully) in a dryer, in a pan (over a fire or set on low heat), or in a pinch in a microwave, then wrap it around your neck to keep warm.
5) Ultimate minimalism (building off Potts’ ideas)
– Eliminate mobile internet/phone – while I think it’s better to not remove your sole means of contacting people, the world has enough internet cafés that you could do this if you really wanted.
– Grab a phone with a higher end camera and replace your camera. This is my favorite – the iPhone 4, for example, has a good enough camera to reduce the need for a dedicated one.
– Buy on-location. Eliminate everything other than clothes and camera-phone (+ keyboard if needed). While deodorant in some countries is laughable (I’m looking at you, Japan), it’s good enough to use in a pinch, unless you smell terrible. Shampoo/soap can be borrowed if you’re going anywhere with people, and what can’t be borrowed can be picked up in a convenience or dollar-type store for pretty cheap.
– While I’m personally involved with WeDrink (charitybottle.com), I’m hesitant to recommend taking a bottle along – it really depends on where you’re traveling. It adds a ton of weight when full (which I guess could be used as a weapon in a pinch), and while you could treat one as a mini-pot and boil water in it (make sure it’s stainless steel), in most areas where you’d want to boil or iodine the water you’d probably be better off buying bottled. If you’re traveling through all first(ish) world countries, then it’d be a decent thing to carry.
Personally, I leave with a money-clip (credit card, some cash, ID), passport, quick-dry running shorts (with extra change of underwear), 2 pair socks (replaced from convenience stores when they get unhandwashable), pair of light boots, pair of cargo shorts (with zip-removable legs), DriFit t-shirt (with 1 extra), and either a suitcoat or a pocket-filled vest that contains a camera phone (typically iPhone) with earbuds, and a set of earplugs. Everything else I need I buy as I need it.
I have two tricks that helped me in my travels:
– Couch Surfing (http://www.couchsurfing.org/) for sleeping for free anywhere in the world. The people there are so friendly and they introduce you to their culture and day to day life (something you might entirely miss if you’re “just traveling”)
– Greet and meet! Talk to people everywhere, get in a habit of starting a story that they can relate to. You’ll soon be making a lot of friends in all the countries you’re traveling.
My goal for 2012 is to make a trip through Europe befriending people in every country I go to. Since I just ticked off my last goal (parachuting) I hope I can also make this one happen!
I love when you do traveling posts, Tim.
ESPECIALLY when they involve Rolf!
My Swedish parka ( see e.g. http://www.outdoor-supplies.co.uk/zencart/images/Swedish%20Fur%20Lined%20Parka%201.JPG or http://www.rddusa.com/images/products/Army-Jacket/Swedish-Military-OD-Work-Jacket.350.jpg).
I find it useful because:
1. With its classic cut, fabric and color you can combine it with tons of other clothes – even with a suit (think mod). –> you don’t look like a tourist waiting to be ripped off (this is of course geography-dependent and won’t work for e.g. me in Nepal).
2. It has huge pockets where you can put lots of stuff you would normally wear in a (small, city-tour) backpack –> you don’t need a backpack –> you don’t look like a tourist waiting to be ripped off. Plus: you will not get pick-pocketed as easily, esp. if having your hands in the pockets.
3. You can use it as a blanket (or pillow) in e.g. (night) trains. Or when having a picnic.
4. As it has a removable lining, I can use it in any season of the year resp. geography I travel.
5. Having buttons instead of zippers you don’t run the risk of not being able to close the jacket when needed. Plus: the buttons can easily be closed even when wearing gloves. Plus: If opting for a backpack, you can use the jacket as a cape, thereby covering your backpack
I’ve got no problems carrying a single carry-on bag for 1 week or less. My warhorse is the eBags weekender.
The tricky part is the toiletries:
1) Shaving – Gilette Atra Mini (from eBay) and 20 Atra cartridges, plus a small bottle of ShaveSecret shaving oil. It all fits in a soap dish, and it’s TSA-friendly. You can also trim the handles off of disposable razors to make them fit in the soap dish.
2) Teeth – I keep a tooth powder bottle in my travel toiletries kit and use it whenever I’m on the road. It’s a bit pricey, so I only use the tooth powder when on travel.
3) Other toilietries (Contact lens solution, shampoo). Put them in 2 oz nalgene-type bottles (available at camping stores, some ‘mart’ stores). I don’t even bother w/ shampoo and soap if I know I am staying in a hotel that will have them.