Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

Adventures in planning a sponsored adventure

August 10, 2010 by Rolf Potts

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this journey deviates from my vagabonding travel style in that its focus is public, I’m reporting on it in real-time, and I’m doing it all with the help of sponsors. The sponsorship angle has been of particular interest to friends and acquaintances in the travel community, and to answer a common question: Nope, I’m under no obligation to “shill” products for my sponsors; my only goal for the journey is to circumnavigate the globe without the use of luggage. If for some strange reason my ScotteVest Tropical Jacket falls apart on safari in South Africa, I’m not required to pretend it didn’t; if the airline partners on BootsnAll’s round-the-world ticket continually lose my reservations, I’m free to criticize the service.

I’ve been partnering with BootsnAll on various projects for the good part of a decade, and our philosophies are virtually identical. That means working with them on the No Baggage Challenge is kind of like getting sponsored by my favorite cousin. Since I’ve never been much of a gear-geek or a clothes-hound, however, the ScotteVest sponsorship is a more situational arrangement: I’ve had a longtime yen to travel around the world without any luggage, and they have the gear to help me make that happen. I haven’t been working with some random PR consultant, though; I’ve been working directly with ScotteVest founder and CEO Scott Jordan.

In the early months of my planning for this journey, Outside magazine ran an excellent article by Rob Story, which documented the idiosyncrasies of sponsored expeditions. Entitled “You Wish You Were Here,” the story examined the curious mix of extreme connectedness and extreme physical adventure that results when sponsors and athletes team up for high-profile expeditions in the 21st century. Like the sponsored mountaineers mentioned in the Outside story, being wired and attempting something out of the ordinary is part of my own adventure. Unlike your typical sponsored athlete, my journey isn’t about traversing glaciers or conquering peaks — it’s about promoting a certain idea of simplicity, ultra-light travel, and seeking meaning in experiences (and people) instead of “things.”

The irony of a clothing sponsor in my situation is that the best indicator my clothing is working is that I’m not worrying about it. Hence, the less I think about my ScotteVest clothing, the better that ScotteVest clothing is serving my trip. As the Outside article implies, however, sponsored expeditions aren’t about verbally flogging the product: They’re simply about showing the product in action. “The value of sponsorship to us is credibility,” one Utah-based outfitter told the reporter. “We can say, ‘We’re a core company supporting core athletes on core adventures.'”

So has sponsorship changed the way I’m approaching this journey? Apart from the fact that it’s the first time I’m traveling in pants that zip into shorts (which is actually not that big an issue — see the post about my travel-clothing for details on this), I can only think of three things I might have done differently thus far. First, I’m not wild about traveling in a jacket with an embroidered No Baggage Challenge logo (I have traveled with embroidered uniforms on previous expeditions, and it felt kind of corny). Second, there was an early push to brand this as a “record setting” event, when in fact I’m uncomfortable with the notion of competitive travel, and ambivalent about whether or not some record is being set. Finally, ScotteVest sent me quick-dry travel boxers — when in fact I’ve been a briefs man all my life (oh, the scandal!).

In general, I plan to be very candid about the role sponsorship plays on this trip — since as much as possible I want to promote the idea that no-baggage travel is a thing anybody can do. In keeping with this, I will disclose any “comps” (i.e. free tours or services) I receive along the way.

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