How to Never Check Luggage Again

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

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

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

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

Hauling a five-piece Samsonite set around the planet is hell on earth. I watched a friend do this up and down dozens of subway and hotel staircases in Europe for three weeks, and — while I laughed a lot, especially when he resorted to just dragging or throwing his bags down stairs — I’d like to save you the breakdown. Trip enjoyment is inversely proportionate to the amount of crap (re: distractions) you bring with you.

So, how to avoid checked luggage altogether?

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

– Using “urban caching” for travel purposes

– Mailing instead of checking (and some Steve Jobs-ian quirks)

– Ultralight packing

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

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

So here we go…

Travel Caching

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2247 - closed trunk

IMG_2248 - open trunk

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

I refer to this as “travel caching.”

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

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

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

– Can opener and spoon

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

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

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

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

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

– Socks and undies for one week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailing Instead of Checking

This is exactly what it sounds like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s pretty light travel.”

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

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

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

Which brings us to the question of carry-on…

Ultralight Packing

prewear-small

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

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

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

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

More soon…

###

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

Please also share your own tips!

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

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

Until then, start thinking up destinations.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 500 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.

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278 Replies to “How to Never Check Luggage Again”

  1. I haven’t read all the comments but I’m sure I’m not the first to recommend this: use synthetic clothing materials for everything possible.

    Synthetic camping underwear, dryfit Nike, and synthetic bicycle socks can all be washed in the sink and dried overnight. No need for a weeks worth of that stuff! Two pairs will work great.

    This advice (from my friend Chris) has allowed me to schlep around Europe for 2 months on a motorcycle and airplanes…never checking a bag.

  2. When I traveled weekly to the same location, I travel cached – didn’t think it had a name. I still packed another bag, but this way I had the comforts of home, like my pillow, my favorite coffee, an extra sketch book, workout shoes, my toiletries, so I didn’t have to run those through TSA, etc at the hotel or check a bag every week. It never occurred to me to ask for a trunk -that’s a great idea. That allows for way more stuff than a small bag. Thanks for expanding the concept for me. Great read. : )

  3. Hi Tim,

    Have been reading your books and checking out your site more and more now… Great post about light packing. Can you share more of your tips? Seems that my company is going to let me travel quite a bit more soon… Best, and keep up the brilliant, inspiring writing, Thijs

  4. I really love to travel, keeping all my things in just one bag. To avoid paying excess with your baggage just bring the important things like toothbrush, underwear, shirt etc. Do not bring lots of things because it’s hard for you to carry all your things. Ultralight packing will do for the first timer.

  5. Hi Tim!

    Love your material and would like to ask you a couple of burning questions if you’d be open to it. [Moderator: Email removed]

    I think you might find my story useful and am working towards a new goal I would give….a lot for your advice.

    Thanks!

    Paris Reid

  6. It’s really convenient especially you travel a lot and your looking forward to carry lesser luggage as you go every time to the same location. Though it’s a bit risky with regards with the hotel staffs or whatnot that might be too snoopy to other people’s things/belongings.

  7. It’s really convenient especially you travel a lot and your looking forward to carry lesser luggage as you go every time to the same location. Though it’s a bit risky with regards with the hotel staffs or whatnot that might be too snoopy to other people’s things/belongings.

  8. I travel around the world as a professional bodypainter (painting naked people for a living in interesting to say the least) and the number one thing I’m always looking for is how to minimize my kit (paint, airbrush compressor, airbrushes, etc). I live in NYC but am in SF at least once a month so I’ve taken your tips and started travel caching- keeping clothing and a kit to avoid TSA (who loves to open my bodypaint and then it inevitably explodes all over my suitcase) and costly baggage fees. When traveling internationally I do everything in my power to only take a carry on and either BIT or have it shipped from the manufacture. Shipping it myself would probably is more then the baggage fees for sure, but the rewards of renting it or getting it shipped direct and not lugging a 35 lb compressor on cobblestone paths is priceless. I love the idea of separating days with zip lock bags and need to try that on my trips this month. Thanks for the great and highly useful article- love and appreciate your blog! =)

  9. In addition to having a pre-packed toiletries bag, I use a check-off master list of things not to forget – prescription drugs, camera, jewelry case and other things not normally remembered.

    Question: What does it cost to rent a locker and where does one arrange for it?

  10. Love these kinds of posts! What type of wallet do you carry Tim? Lots of new, lightweight wallets on the market, wondering what you carry. Thanks.

  11. Seriously awesome. I’ve been doing the dedicated kit for hygiene for years now. I do the same thing with the earplugs, eye mask, etc, and various medicines that I occasionally need, so I never have to worry about not having something in my bag.

    I can’t wait to read your newest tips and tricks and what bags you carry.

  12. I have a beautiful and stylish friend who travels to Paris, London and Rome for short trips–3 days or so. She refuses to deal with luggage. On the plane she wears a black pantsuit , black t-shirt, black boots and a patterned cashmere shawl. In her large but not enormous handbag she tucks a pair of slim ballet slippers, a pair of undies, a small, well-edited cosmetics bag and some showy costume jewelry. When she arrives at her destination she makes a quick shopping trip to buy a few pairs of underpants and an inexpensive blouse at Zara or the like. Then she mixes and matches wardrobe pieces. When she’s ready to leave she tosses the underwear in the wastebasket, wads up the now well-worn blouse into her purse and strolls back thru the airport with only a handbag.

  13. Thanks for the great post! Would love to hear how women manage to pack minimally, especially the shoes problem! I already carry on a bag of camera gear, a laptop, an external drive (I’m a photographer), toiletries, and one change of clothes (for when my luggage doesn’t arrive when I do). Would love to never have to check a bag!

  14. Love it! As a flight Attendabt, I appreciate fresh ideas about traveling and packing, in particular! Keep’em coming! I’ve adopted several of your life hacks and always look forward to more!!!

  15. I’d like to add another comment how great I find Merino wool clothing, though only the stuff with special treatment, so I can throw it into the normal 40° laundry. It’s fresh for several days and adjusts well to temperatures but the greatest thing is how it feels on the skin. I started with a pullover, went on with some t-shirts and finally swapped my underwear, adding 2 dresses, leggings, a coat … I find myself picking the merino items from bag again and again :). It’s not the cotton is not nice, and plastic can look great too, but the warm and cuddly feeling of merino wool is unbeatable.

  16. Great call on the “ship your stuff” alternative to checking bags. Some airlines gouge you so much on checked bags and it seems crazy, but it can be so much cheaper to just ship via UPS or FedEx.

  17. Loved it! So many great tips! I have an old trunk lying around and I’ve always wondered if shipping my things would work out to be cheaper. Thanks for sharing! I will be sure to share and give you a mention on my little blog as well! 🙂

  18. Great ideas! One of my buddies used to do the mail ahead thing a lot. I’ve definitely been considering keeping a suit and some clothes in the hotel where I stay on business the most.

  19. I leave a whole separate wardrobe in South Africa as I am there each year.

    Saves hassle. I find roller luggage useful. When in switzerland they have an excellent service that transports your luggage to the ski resort, so the trains are relatively luggage free. I will travel with airlines who give me a decent allowance as I travel with lots of kit. For me a hotel with great restaurants is part of the joy of travelling. I can eat out daily and adore it. So I would struggle with tins of lentils. For luggage I like North face. Its robust, light and you can pick a bright colour, so easy to spot.

  20. Tim,

    I too have traveled to over 40 countries in less than 30 years of being alive but for some reason, still haven’t mastered the art of packing…I think it’s because I am a master at dressing stylishly though, lol. However, ever since I read your articles on packing, I’ve started keeping a seperate toiletry bag and a seperate makeup bag only for traveling and it has seriously changed my life! I’m always on the go and very spontaneous…so this advice was invaluable. Thank you so much!

  21. I have a friend who works with security profiling at a large international airport in the UK. If you (attempt to) board an international flight without check-in luggage they immediately “flag” you for closer inspection, and you can find yourself getting grilled by security. This is simply because it doesn’t “fit” their profile of an international traveler. In other words, to them, it’s “suspicious behavior”.

    Same with carry on luggage. If you are flying at all, and have no carry on bags, you’ll get flagged as suspicious! Be prepared for a long Q & A session with security.

    I traveled around the world for a year in 2001. I started with a 70litre rucksack full to the brim, and weighing what felt like a ton, and ended the year with a 50litre rucksack only a third full. And, yes, I changed my rucksack half way through because it was just too big. Traveling like this for an extended time is one of the best ways to learn what not to take, and what you don’t need to survive.

  22. Great Post! I was wondering about how you deal with slightly longer stays, and have to do laundry? From my limited experience overseas, I have found that it is expensive having it done in the hotel. Do you suggest any of the travel laundry kits, or is it generally better to find somewhere in town to do laundry?

  23. Merino wool clothing is my staple for packing when traveling, naturally hinders smell and much more flexible for temperatures compared to all synthetic based clothes I’ve tried. Plus is very fire resistant, which is a benefit for my work and accidents do happen. Pricey but good stuff.

  24. For ultralight packing, have you found a shoe that looks nice enough for “fancy dinners” but is also great for walking around outside with shorts? (This is my current unicorn.)

      1. The Vivobarefoot Ra II looks nice, but my fallen arches can’t handle the barefoot aspect for very long. Thanks Though.

  25. Please, sir, I want some more! This is great stuff, Tim. I travel to Albuquerque once a month and I am going to starting caching the hell out of that b*tch! Thank you!

  26. I’ve been UPSing my entire family’s luggage for annual vacations for the past five years. Another benefit is that you’ve packed well in advance, so there’s none of the last minute packing nonsense that can happen when you pack luggage the night before a flight. Just show up, and there’s your stuff. A must if you’re travelling with toddlers like I do.

  27. appreciate all the little details and circular reference from jason bourne to steve jobs to small numbers and metaphors (like morning sickness and v neck). these details would be greatly appreciated by anyone in a manic/psychotic state linking symbols non-stop. personally following your blog has saved me from running on the street waiting for speeding cars. it felt like finally somebody famous understood me!

  28. I use a combination of mailing and buy it there when visiting my brother. I live on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and my brother lives in San Antonio TX when I visit I pack only my electronics and small personal items and 1 change of clothes. I cache my bathroom essentials at my brothers place. Then I buy my clothes while down there. As clothing is less expensive (even with the dollar exchange) and there is more variety. Then when I leave it simply but the clothes I bought there in a flat rate shipping box and mail it back. Very effective if you find you like to buy clothes on vacation anyways

  29. Solid tips. Very practical and useful, but I have one tip to add that relates to sanitation. I’ve found in my travels, that bathing is the most important thing to keep me sane. The problem is, most towels are thick and heavy and I don’t know what else to dry off with — until I found this towel from Piaule. It’s insanely thin and lightweight. Full disclosure, it’s my friend’s company. Check it out.

  30. I have discovered camping. I did it in Uluru and in Hot Springs AR, and plan on doing it for most group events I go to. Really, it’s the best and super cheap! (in warm locales only, though for me). This is the ultimate in light weight scavaging. No advice is necessary as your resourceful gene blossoms. People share at camp sites. in ways that would blow you away. Those in cars driving home can take (and have) a lot of stuff. Those who fly in brought nothing but need to unload everything. It’s a great match. You get to hang out with the rebels and fairly local people and end up in more beautiful spots. Tents are $30 and pretty packable, then bring few clothes and you’re good. ANY food takes mighty fine over a fire.

  31. The best travel tips I’ve ever had are .com my husband’s aunt, who has been on every continent (including Antarctica twice): only pack stuff you can throw away or leave behind (buy at goodwill and take your old underwear), use the space saver-style bags to smoosh down everything so it will go in a smaller case (she gets 10days of clothes into an overnight bag), and always use a metal mesh/RFID-proof bag for your passport, credit cards and phone so no one can steal your info remotely. This has served my US sailor well and everyone wonders why his teabag is lighter than theirs. He has to keep the uniforms though!

  32. Such an helpful piece of writing. I am always worried what if I forget something to pack. Doesn’t seem like you need much to travel, all you need is a free mind and willingness to travel.