Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

How to pack for a journey with no luggage

August 21, 2010 by Rolf Potts

I’ve been vagabonding for so many years now that I can’t remember the last time I put together a formal packing list.  In recent years, my packing process has just been a matter of tossing a few familiar items into my Eagle Creek Voyage 65L backpack and closing the door behind me.  If for some reason I forget an item, I can usually pick it up on the road.  In that spirit, I don’t want to micro-manage my no-baggage packing list.  As the 19th century naturalist John Muir was fond of saying, the best way to prepare for a trip is to “throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.”  I can’t say I’ve ever done that to in the literal sense, but I love the sentiment.

Still, considering that traveling without luggage requires a degree of precision and forethought, I’ve done some field-testing and speculation to come up with the following packing scheme (which amounts to roughly 24 items, give or take).  No doubt this list will fluctuate as I adapt to my ultra-light travel-style, adding or discarding items along the way.  Years of travel have taught me that you can’t anticipate every need or problem in advance — and fortunately the world has a way of providing necessities as you go.

As you’ll see in the video, I can fit all of the below items into my ScotteVest Tropical Jacket without even using the big side-pockets in my cargo pants.

CLOTHING

Given that I’ll wear cargo pants, a travel jacket/vest, socks, underwear, and a short-sleeved t-shirt under a long-sleeved pullover on a typical day of the trip, I’ll keep one spare t-shirt, two extra pairs of socks, and one spare pair of underwear in my pockets.  Each night I’ll wash the day’s socks, underwear and t-shirt in the hotel/hostel sink (note detergent below), and these items should usually be dry enough to pack or wear by morning. I’m guessing I’ll wash the cargo pants about once a week.

Since I’ve already covered my 8 basic clothing items in a separate post, I’ll move on to what I’ll be keeping in my pockets:

TOILETRIES

9) Deodorant

I picked up this half-ounce stick of “Degree for Men” in the travel-bin of my local grocery store.  No doubt my bus, train, and plane seatmates will appreciate this gesture.  Even more significantly, I plan to keep my hygiene up by showering twice a day whenever possible.

10) Toothbrush/toothpaste

I considered not bringing toothpaste, since this is something I can borrow most anywhere (or I could technically brush my teeth with Dr. Bronner Castile Soap — see below), but I had plenty of room in my pockets for a half-ounce tube.  The toothbrush is a 99-cent collapsible model from the grocery store.

11) Concentrated liquid detergent

Having heard Method soap founder Adam Lowry speak at the Do Lectures last fall, I knew that concentrated detergent was the way to go for my nightly sink/shower laundry sessions.  I’m keeping this in a 3-ounce bottle stowed in a chest pocket of the travel jacket/vest.

12) All-in-one-soap

I’ve been hearing about the legendary (and eccentrically labeled) Dr. Bronner Castile Soap ever since my teenage camping days, but I’ve never actually used it.  Now will be my chance.  I’m keeping it in a 3-ounce bottle next to my detergent (see above).

13) Glasses, contact solution and case

If I had a Lasik sponsor I wouldn’t need these items — but alas I do not.  Actually, I’ve been using contact lenses on the road for since I was a teenager, and they’ve never been much of a hassle. The only downside in this situation is that these items take up quite a bit of space in the sunglasses-pocket of my jacket.

14) Sunscreen and lip balm

When you sunburn as easily as I do, these items are essential.  My lip balm of choice is Blistex, and I’m carrying a small tube of Coppertone Sport SPF 30.  Both of these fit nicely in the front pocket of my cargo pants.

15) Earplugs

These are so small and forgettable that I neglected to include them in the video.  I might not use them every day, but they’ll come in handy while trying to sleep in noisy environments.

ELECTRONICS

16) iPod Touch

In addition to music and word processing (see bluetooth keyboard below), I’ll be using a variety of apps, including Kindle, which allows me to bring along a small library.  Other apps include translators, language tutorials, and a currency calculator.

17) Bluetooth Foldable Keyboard for iPad/Smartphone

I’m still getting used to using this feather-light keyboard to write blog posts on my iPod (my over-sized hands are accustomed to a much bigger laptop keyboard) but I’m sure I’ll get better with practice.  Ten years ago, when I was writing for Salon.com, I wrote most of my stories on a Casio Cassiopeia palmtop computer — which had an even smaller keyboard — and I eventually learned to type quite fast on it.

18) Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS camera

This is a loaner from my cameraman, Justin Glow.  I own a Canon PowerShot SX110, which I love to use, but the SD1100 is smaller and lighter — and the battery lasts forever.

19) Small flashlight

For the most part I’m only taking items I’ll use each day on the road, but I’m making an exception for the Maglite Solitaire Flashlight.  It weighs next to nothing, and fits into the pencil pocket of my Tropical Jacket.  No doubt it will come in handy in the occasional darkened safari tent or hostel dorm.

OTHER ITEMS

20) Pen and notebook

As a writer, I’d reckon I’ve been carrying a pen and notebook in my pocket most every day for the past fifteen years.  It’s a low-tech and very effective way of keeping notes on the journey.  I have a nice collection of Moleskine notebooks back home, but on this trip I’m just taking a small composition notebook from the grocery store.  It’s small, it serves its purpose, and it costs about a dollar.

21) Passport

First-time stamps on this trip?  Morocco, South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, and New Zealand.

22) Credit/ATM/debit card

This is my standard way of accessing money.  It feels like ages since I used traveler’s checks.

23) Sunglasses

I got this pair at a swap meet in San Diego three years ago.  I think they cost me $10.  If I lose or break them, I’ll just buy another cheap pair on the road.

24) Safety pins

I’m not sure exactly how I’ll use these pins, but they’re tiny and they could serve any number of purposes from hanging still-damp socks from my jacket, to keeping my fly shut when I go swimming in my underwear.

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  • Keira Derrick

    If you need a bus from las vegas to victorville have this ready as well. Most travel agencies will be happy to make these arrangements for you.

  • Alina John

    Thanks for your beyond belief blogs stuff.hajj visa

  • carrie

    I am totally surprised to see the blog. It's just stunning. Antler luggage

  • Which keyboard did you go with?

  • Superheavyg

    The good thing about this way of travelling is that you do not need condoms (or really birth control of any sort), skin/hair products, perfumes/colognes, jewelry, or any other nice clothing. The stink will prevent the sex. Good work dork.

  • mad106

    This is a repost from Tim's Blog.
    Rolf,
    If you really can't afford Lasik, Go to India, seriously, you'd be surprised that the surgeons are much more confident(cuz people don't sue them a lot) and have very sophisticated equipment. The Dr who performed lasik(actually zyoptix which is way better than lasik) for me had 10,000 patients experience and 99.99% success rate. Zyoptix is one hundred percent blade free and best of all it costs downward of $500 (arnd Rs. 22,000) which is what you'd roughly pay for you Contact lenses+ spare glasses + Solution and maintenance for lenses in the US. And finally it takes only 24 hrs to fully heal and you have new pair of sight. Zero maintenance. Do yourself a favour and save the trouble.

  • Bhorn

    Hi,
    What keyboard are you using?

    Thanks.

  • Iowill

    A couple of ideas:
    1) a Buff...combo hat, neck gaiter, dust mask, balaclava, headband, eye-shade...pack small, easy to clean, multiple uses to keep both cooler & warmer;
    2) wrap one of your items, like a water bottle, with several layers of duct tape. you can then peel off sections as needed for a gazillion uses: field repair, blister prevention, you name it;
    3) suggest Fischer Space Pen or one that uses it's cartridges, and a journal that is weather proofed to allow to write in damp environs without smearing or loss of info.
    4) there are easy & tiny multi-pluu adapters and multi connectors for both power and or usb/firewire/recharging of devices. Belkin makes a small one that is surgeprotector and has two usb ports for charging both iTouch & phone at same time. Combined with power adaptor kit, you're good to go world wide.

  • I have had label-less bottles confiscated by TSA, so I solved that problem by making them much safer: I use product bottles from other products, then fill with my favourite stuff. Probably breaks a rule, but the TSA folks don't even look at them then.

  • Hdorroh

    Which model Bluetooth keyboard are you using?

  • Alex Swisspilot

    yeah what keyboard are you using

  • Caleb

    Yeah what keyboard are you using?

  • Carolina

    This luggage seems alright for a few days, but you'll eventually have to buy new toiletries and the standard bottles are a lot bigger than those in the article (and less "multi-use"). How do you manage? Do you re-fill your bottles and throw the rest or borrow shower gel from other backpackers? :P

  • You've inspired me to pack lighter for my upcoming All You Can Jet trip with Jet Blue. I'm the typical over packer by a mile. This time I'm going to try and go with just a carry on.

  • Kristie

    And here I thought my husband and I were travelling light~ We are going to Alaska, 6 days land and 7 night cruise and only bringing one carryon each, 21 inchers. And we will still be able to do the formal nights~ We have the fleece hoodies and can't wait to try them out. Rolf, good luck to you and Justin. I will be watching to see how things go~ Good travels~

  • danbou

    Kristie. How do you like those hoodies? We're headed out on a late fall Rhine River Cruise. They seem warm enough for 20's. Too warm for 40's. Like you I'm trying to pack light (1 sm bag and a day pack) yet have a sports coat for more formal dinners.

    PS Rolf and Justin. Looks like you're having fun. Keep it up. Keep the posts coming. And as often as you can.

  • Beth

    You packed contact lens solution and glasses. What about a contact lens case? I didn't see one anywhere but you must have something to put your lenses in.

  • Renaisssace12345

    when you replicate the whole challenge for a woman traveler , let me know!

  • lily

    Especially one who is still, er, in their reproductive years? 

    I'd actually love to see how little I could get away with packing on vaca with kids.  When I have packed light in the past I have regretted it, but in a different frame of mind might enjoy the challenge.

  • Cynthia Anne Womack

    I hear one can take hormonal treatments that prevent menses for a matter of months. Menstruation can be limited to a few days three or four times a year and be healthy. In earlier times,we hit puberty and menopause earlier and may have had fewer and briefer periods. If one doesn't want to take washable pads,the Cup or throwaway pads or tampons,ask about this alternative. (Pads,sponges,tampons,etc. can be used for other purposes-even by men! If you need a cushion or bandage,use the pads. If you want to pollute your body, DON'T soak a tampon in booze or a mind-altering drug. Rethink the self-sabotage.) Remember that cooling,wicking fabrics fight hot weather,over-exertion,fever and hot flashes,too.

  • Raerth

    And I have no idea how I mis-spelt "cotton t-shirt" so badly...

  • Fourteenhalf

    That's quite a lot of luggage for a no luggage challenge!

  • i think luggage refers to bags, suitcases, etc... what he had is a lot of items that he carried in his pockets.. no luggage!

  • Sambast1

    Have you ever heard of Lavilin deodorant? One application can last for weeks. Also, the Photon Freedom is a great light to have and weight practically nothing. I wear one around my neck and it works great on travels when you can't find a light switch. The other is the Maratac AAA flashlight. runs on a AAA and is way brighter than a Solitaire with longer runtimes and three brightness modes. I would also take a P-38 can opener. I don't know if you will be able to keep it trying to board at an airport, but they are really cheap and way useful. Also a paperclip.

  • Jenny

    Tip about the Dr Bronner's - don't get it in your eyes! I'm not kidding! It's excruciating, and in my case resulted in an emergency trip to an ophthalmologist.

  • geoff

    totally! I once put a drop of Dr. B's in BOTH eyes half asleep in the dark early morning hours (I had transferred it to a bottle that way too closely resembled my saline solution). Hurt like HELL. I literally put my eyeballs under a running faucet for 20 minutes, and they still burned horribly and swelled up bright red for the entire rest of the day.

  • Personally, I think carrying detergent in addition to Dr. Bronner's is redundant. Dr. B's makes for some amazing laundry detergent! I also would have tried Dr. B's before taking it since it seems like people either totally love or totally hate the stuff for personal use.

  • jaqusto

    I applaud not taking a phone, but does that go for both Justin and Rolf? I'm sure there are some small and light internationally capable phones out there that could have easily been packed and used only in the case of an emergency... Can you guys go into a little more detail on your communication philosophy and practice while during the trip?

  • I have my iPhone4 with me, so if there was an emergency I could use that -- but ONLY for an emergency, since I don't have an international plan. I'm sure it would cost a lot if I called back home with it.

    Instead, I just use Skype. I pay for unlimited SkypeOut to the U.S., and have a SkypeIn number that people back home can call to talk (when my computer is on and connected to the Internet). I also have the Skype app on my iPhone.

    This setup works pretty well for me, since I can stay in touch essentially for free (I pay something like $6 every 4 months or something for Skype -- I forget exactly) and people can call me and leave me voicemails if they need to get a hold of me.

    Otherwise, email is another good option.

  • Sasha @ Global Table Adventure

    Nice! I'm looking forward to following along - although I think I'd want one or two more undies. :)

    http://www.GlobalTableAdventur...

  • He won't need the liquids in ziplock bags. All he has to do is take off his jacket and put it through the scanner. I did the exact same thing on my travels internationally with a Scott-e-vest and I had no problems whatsoever.

    Rolf, you will need to pack adapter plugs and a charger though.

  • So my main question is: Will you have the liquids in various ziplock bags and surrender them at the various security checkpoint? Or will you just do as I always do and go in confident that TSA employees are idiots and/or don't care and therefore won't hold you up?

  • Rolf has his liquids in a zip-lock bag per TSA (and its international equivalents) requirements. It also keeps leaks from happening. He took his liquids out of the vest and placed them in the bin on his way through security at JFK.

  • Bill

    No phone? No chargers for iPod and camera?

  • Nope, no phone. No charger for the camera (see my comment above). iPod charges via USB cable plugged in to computers at hostels or hotels or internet cafes.

  • bridanp

    I'm wondering about the camera battery. Are you planning on purchasing more batteries while on your trip, or did you bring a charger for it? Pretty darn excited about this journey for you. It's going to be very interesting to watch.

  • No Charger... it's a small Canon Powershot and the rechargable battery lasts forevr. If it happens to run out, they're popular enough to find another traveler with a charger to borrow for an hour or so.

  • Wiz30pa

    Please provide specific information for detergent, body soap, and ear plugs you are using. If you are using a small generic bottle for the liquid soaps (less than 3 oz) will you have a problem with TSA (no labels on bottle)?

  • Riccardo

    Hi Rolf, what about a small towel? Didn't you pack it?
    I really like your challenge of travelling LIGHT, enjoy your trip!
    Riccardo

  • In 2 days I leave for China to teach for a year. Your first post inspired me to pare down the things I'm bringing. You have good reminders that items can be acquired on the road. I'll eliminate more things before I leave on Tuesday I'm sure. It'll be fun to follow your travels!

  • Jason

    Are you planning to bring a universal electric plug adapter? How do you plan on charging your devices?

  • Jason

    You didn't mention what type of earplugs you were taking, but the best earplugs are the Etymotic Research ER20's. They come with a keychain case. Worth every penny, best earplugs ever!

  • Jason

    I would have chosen a Photon keychain light or a Streamlight Nano keychain light over the Maglite, they're smaller and brighter. I've had many flashlights over the years and Maglites are over rated.

  • Eero L.

    You could carry a Nokia N900 instead of iPod Touch, keyboard and the camera. It's a real sub-notebook computer, unlocked phone and has a very decent camera.

    It might even be cheaper too.

  • The N900 worked just great for our recent one-month trip through Europe and Morocco (not quite no luggage, but we limited outselves to 25-litre day bags each). It was great to have the whole Wikipedia in our pockets thanks to Evopedia, and the browser was up to the task of handling even the more complex hotel reservation websites.

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