This post will explore three options for never checking luggage again. Some of them are extreme; all of them are effective.
In my next post, I’ll detail what I (and some friends) pack in carry-on. Some are surprising and hilarious.
Given that I spend 100+ days of the year traveling, and that I’ve been to 40+ countries, I’ve tested just about everything.
Hauling a five-piece Samsonite set around the planet is hell on earth. I watched a friend do this up and down dozens of subway and hotel staircases in Europe for three weeks, and — while I laughed a lot, especially when he resorted to just dragging or throwing his bags down stairs — I’d like to save you the breakdown. Trip enjoyment is inversely proportionate to the amount of crap (re: distractions) you bring with you.
So, how to avoid checked luggage altogether?
We’ll cover three different options, in descending order of craziness. I promise that something in this post will work for every one of you, even if partially:
– Using “urban caching” for travel purposes
– Mailing instead of checking (and some Steve Jobs-ian quirks)
– Ultralight packing
Many of these suggestions have been given to me by readers over the years, so thank you!
I try and bring such gifts full circle by collecting hundreds of tips, testing them, and publishing the winners.
So here we go…
Remember the first Jason Bourne movie, when various agents are “activated” to kill Jason? One of them lands in Rome, where he accesses a hidden locker that contains everything he needs: a few passports, a gun, ammo, cash in small denominations, etc. That is an example of a single “cache.” (Yes, I’m somewhat obsessed with Jason Bourne)
Doomsday preppers (not derogatory) will often have multiple caches at various distances from a “bug out” departure point like a home or office. In the case of disaster — tornado, terrorism, zombies, Sharknado, etc. — they can set off walking empty-handed, if needed, and find everything they need waiting for them. Here’s a good intro to this controversial craft.
But how the hell do you apply this to regular travel? Ah, that’s where things get fun.
Let’s say that you’re flying to the same two cities 50-80% of the time, as I do. When I land in New York City, this is what I find already placed in my hotel room:
It is a trunk that contains almost everything I could need for a week. Believe it or not, it was provided and stenciled at no cost by the hotel. All I had to do was ask. (More tips on travel negotiating in the second half of this post)
I refer to this as “travel caching.”
I’ll explain how this can cost less than checking luggage, but let’s look at some key goodies first:
– One (1) winter jacket – I usually live in SF, where it is typically warmer most of the year.
– Cans of lentils and beans, pre-salted and spiced – I dislike waiting 30 minutes for $30 breakfasts. I use Amazon Prime to order Jyoti Dal Makhani or Westbrae organic lentils, having them mailed directly to the hotel. I eat directly out of the cans.
– Can opener and spoon
– Surge pocket multitool (do NOT put this in carry-on bags). No such thing as too many multitools.
– Jug of unflavored or vanilla whey protein, generally Bluebonnet or BioTrust. I find that whey in the mornings prevents me from getting sick when shifting time zones. It also helps me hit my “30 grams within 30 minutes” rule from The 4-Hour Body.
- L-lysine for immune support (especially after early or late flights), magnesium/ZMA and melatonin for sleep and jetlag.
Lacrosse balls for rolling out my feet, upper back, chest, and forearms.
– Jiu-jitsu gi for getting my ass mercilessly kicked at the Marcelo Garcia Jiu-Jitsu academy.
– Four (4) collared shirts – I often travel to NYC for business or media.
– Four (4) decent t-shirts, including two V-neck t-shirts (I know, I know), that can used for lounging or casual dinners, etc.
– Socks and undies for one week.
– Two (2) pairs of dress shoes, one (1) pair athletic shoes, one (1) pair hiking boots for upstate adventures.
The best part: When I check out, I give a bag of dirty clothes to the front desk, they have it all cleaned and put back in my trunk, folded and pretty… ready for my next arrival! They charge it to the same credit card I have on file for rooms. Doubly cool: Since I stay there so often, they don’t charge me the in-house extortion prices. They take it down the street to an inexpensive clean-and-press laundry joint.
No packing, no checking, no unpacking, no cleaning. It’s magical.
So, how can this possibly save you money and sanity?
1) To check an equivalent amount of stuff would usually cost $30+, so $60+ roundtrip.
2) The clothing isn’t new clothing. Most of us have MUCH more clothing than we need. I simply leave one week’s worth of less-used stuff in NYC. No purchase necessary.
3) Two WEEKS worth of lentils, beans, and whey protein cost about the same as 2-4 DAYS of room service breakfasts. It’s also a ton faster. Waiting around makes Tim cray-cray.
4) If you stay in a hotel often enough, you can simply ask: “Do you have a trunk or something I could store a week’s worth of clothing in? That way, I wouldn’t have to pack so much when I come here.” The above trunk was given to me this way, but you can also buy one for $60 or so on Amazon, the equivalent of one trip’s baggage fees. Then ask the staff (who you should know by now) if you could store a week’s worth of clothing in the storage room, basement, or security office. This can also be arranged with many people on Airbnb.
And if your hotel or host won’t play ball, guess what? Startups can save you. Consider using MakeSpace or its close cousins, which one 4-Hour Workweek reader uses to live like James Bond, all while vagabonding around the planet. Pretty cool, right?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is travel caching. It’s a game-changer.
Mailing Instead of Checking
This is exactly what it sounds like.
Dean Jackson of the I Love Marketing podcast is the person who — for me — turned it into an art form.
The benefit of mailing versus caching: it’s not limited to your most frequent 2-3 destinations. It can be used anywhere, but it’s most often used domestically.
Not unlike Steve Jobs and his “uniform,” Dean literally wears the same outfit EVERY day: black t-shirt, tan shorts, orange Chuck Taylor shoes, and a black cap when cold. He doesn’t want to expend a single calorie making decisions related to fashion, which I respect tremendously. I’m a huge proponent of the choice-minimal lifestyle and rules to reduce overwhelm.
In his words via text, here’s how his packing and mailing works. Comments in brackets are mine:
“As you know, I wear the same thing every day…Black shirt, tan shorts…so I have my assistant keep a carry-on bag constantly packed for 7 days [TIM: It’s a bag with 7 days worth of “uniforms”]. I use mesh laundry bags with a zipper to put together 7 “Day Packs” with a black shirt/underwear/socks [TIM: You can also use gallon-sized Ziploc bags]. Every day while traveling, I unzip a fresh new pack. When I return, she washes and repacks everything, and restocks my travel-only shaving kit with everything I need.
I have separate chargers, shoes, melatonin, etc., so I never have to pack…and she can ship my bag ahead of me without me having to do anything. Plus, she packs a pre-filled return FedEx shipping label for me, so I can — when I’m leaving — have a bellman come get my bag and take it to the business center to ship back.
That whole rig fits in a carry-on sized bag….7 Day Packs, 3 pairs of shorts, orange Chuck Taylors, charging cords, shaving kit…but that all gets shipped. Then my actual carry on is a Tumi laptop bag with Macbook, iPad, journal, passport, wallet. Using the Tumi, I don’t have to take out my laptop for x-rays, plus it’s beautiful leather with just the right pocket config.
It’s pretty light travel.”
Even if you never want to mail your bags ahead, there is one point you shouldn’t miss: It’s smart to have a travel-only toiletry kit that is never unpacked.
Keep one set of toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. at home on the counters and shelves, and have a separate packed kit that is exclusively for travel.
This alone has saved me a ton of headache and last minute “Where is the closest CVS? I forgot my dental floss”-type nonsense.
Which brings us to the question of carry-on…
I’ll be expanding on this greatly, but, to start, please read one of my previously viral posts, “How to Travel the World with 10 Pounds or Less (Plus: How to Negotiate Convertibles and Luxury Treehouses).”
You’ll notice my “BIT” (Buy It There) method of travel seems to contradict the travel caching above, but they’re actually complementary.
BIT is ideal for traveling to places you’ve never been, or that you seldom visit. If it’s a third-world country where your currency is strong, all the better. Travel caching is for your 2-3 most frequently visited locations.
To get you in the mood for the above “10 pounds” post, here’s your first ultralight travel purchase: Exofficio underwear.
Do you like this type of post? If so, please let me know in the comments.
Please also share your own tips!
If it seems you dig it, I’ll detail (at least) the following in my next post:
- My latest findings in ultralight packing
- My must-have carry-on items and subscription services
- Tools recommended to me by elite military and hedgefund managers
- My favorite bags
- Apps and other tricks that get me from home to gate in less than 20 minutes
Until then, start thinking up destinations.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.