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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.