Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

No Baggage Challenge: The Ground Rules

August 15, 2010 by Rolf Potts

While circumnavigating the globe with no luggage sounds like a clear enough proposition, it can raise a few semantic issues. What, for example, counts as a bag? Can your traveling companion carry some things for you? Are you allowed to buy new gear and clothing along the way?

To clear up these issues, I’ve set up five simple ground rules for the No Baggage Challenge. If for some reason you feel that I’ve overlooked some technical detail of no-baggage travel, let me know in the comments and I’ll give it consideration as a new ground rule.

1) No bags on the journey, period.

This means no backpacks or daypacks, no suitcases or briefcases, no fanny-packs or man-purses. Not even a plastic bag from the grocery store (unless it contains groceries en route to a meal). Any items I take on the road have to fit into the pockets of my ScotteVest clothing.

2) No borrowing of items from (or stowing items with) the cameraman.

I will be accompanied on the journey by Justin Glow, my video cameraman. Justin will carry a daypack for his computer and camera equipment, and he will assist me in getting my stories and videos online. On a practical-logistical level, however, Justin will not exist during the No Baggage challenge. That means I can’t stow items in his bag or borrow anything he brings with him. Not even a spot of toothpaste.

3) Borrowing items from locals or other travelers is permitted

That said, I am allowed to borrow a spot of toothpaste from a fellow traveler at the youth hostel. Or a random guy in the street. Since hospitality and generosity are time-honored virtues for hosts and travelers alike, I can borrow items as I go — just so long as I’m gracious and courteous about things, and don’t carry any borrowed items in a bag.

4) Buying items along the way is permitted

On that same token, I am allowed to buy things for myself along the way. If I suddenly decide that I want my own toothpaste supply, I can buy a tube in Paris or Cairo or Bangkok. The same goes for clothing and accessories: If I want to buy a pair of sunglasses in Casablanca, a fresh t-shirt in Johannesburg, or a pair of flip-flops in Singapore, I can.  I can even buy a souvenir and mail it home from some far corner of the world — so long as I don’t break any of the above rules in the process. This is all in keeping with another time-honored travel virtue: If in doubt, bring less gear and more money.

5) Mailing items to oneself is interesting, but not permitted.

Now that increased baggage fees are complicating air travel, many travelers have embraced a novel way to avoid the luggage hassle: They mail their gear to their destination(s) in advance. I actually considered this strategy (and ScotteVest was willing to refresh my no-baggage wardrobe at various intervals of the journey) — but ultimately I decided not to, since it simply seemed like more fun to wear the same set of clothes the whole time and buy (or borrow) only what was available at my destinations.

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  • TrackZero

    Are you packing any extra clothing in your outfit? I did a 2-night trip with just my SCOTTEVEST once…I had an extra performance polo, socks, & underwear folded and tucked up around the shoulder from the outside pocket…It worked out fine at the beginning of the trip, but I hadn't really thought about how to handle the dirty laundry. I ended up getting a large zip-lock, stowing the dirty laundry in the bag, and putting that back in the large pocket on the back of the vest.

  • Rolf

    I'll post a video on packing my travel vest in coming days. But yes, I will pack a few extra clothing items in my pockets. Each night I'll wash at least t-shirt, pair of socks, and pair of underwear, so it will be dry by morning…

  • Finditout

    Please post your complete packing list. Then as things develop over the trip, list all the things you buy and add to your travel “kit.”

    Sure that everyone would like to know how you handle clothes washing, spare socks and changes of underclothes. Do you go for the nightly sink laundry or some other strategy.

    What's the penalty in in terms of time and convenience not having extra stuff with you?

  • WanderNWayne

    You might face security issues at flight boarding because you will be a single, male, with no luggage. My step-son did.

  • Just done two months with a small carry-on in India and Indonesia – absolutely echo less-stuff, more-money, i..e when the bag started it was half-empty, and now has a few things I really needed.

    The one real hassle was clothes – in tropical countries the strategy of washing each night doesn't work as stuff just doesn't get dry in time.

  • Expat Heather

    Wondering what you'll do when it's time to wash your clothes…

  • Rolf

    It'll be interesting to see what security issues arise.

    @Finditout: Packing list to come soon, complete with video. And no doubt once I'm on the road I'll make another video about my nightly washing routine.

    In general, a lot of these questions will be answered as the journey takes shape. Stay tuned!

  • Pedantic

    “That said, I am allowed borrow a spot of toothpaste from a fellow traveler at the youth hostel.”
    Just exactly how does one borrow toothpaste. Borrow implies returning the item to the person you borrowed it from…or at least intending to return it. How do you return the the toothpaste once used?

  • I'm envious of your journey!!!

  • Awesome! I thought I was cool for instituting my no-luggage, just-carry-on trip, I see there are far higher peaks to climb! Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Sambast1

    Is there a budget for this travel?

  • Jonno

    i travel light and had 2 problems. Firstly, getting called out at the airport for an international flight, cause they didn't know if i was there or not (electronic boarding pass) and the customs officer in the US, not believing that i was in the US for 4 week holiday, without bags, other than a day pack.

  • I am a bit curious about running into issues at security and customs as well. I've often travelled light–with nothing more than a smallish backpack–and other than a pair of puzzled US customs officers who were a bit slow to be convinced I hadn't checked any luggage, I haven't run into any problems. But I imagine travelling without a bag at all could cause some issues. With this, however, I imagine that travelling with your videographer would probably remove some of the suspicion: surely everything changes when you've got a guy with a camera following you. You're no longer a suspicious weirdo with who knows what reason for travelling without a bag: that you are being filmed reveals at least some of your intentions and makes it all the more innocent. Are you going through customs and security together, or have you tried separating to see what happens when you cross a border with truly nothing more than yourself and the clothes on your back?

  • Iris

    I am also interested in the way such a traveler is viewed by transit security. Having been selected for 'extra security' several times (5'6″ brown/gray haired female), as well as seeing my mother when she was still alive (5'2″ gray haired) be repeatedly chosen for such scrutiny. Didn't seem to matter if I was traveling alone with carry-on, with daughter with carry-on, or with husband and daughter (more on this) – I was the one selected.

    It has seemed to me that when there was no bag checked against my ticket – as we often did when all 3 of us were traveling, where the bags were checked against my husband's ticket – I received the extra scrutiny. Since I started making sure I had a checked bag on my ticket (if there was a bag to be checked), I haven't been tapped.

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  • Aldo Gonzalez

    Muy bueno! Lo voy a probar. Saludos desde Buenos Aires, Argentina.

  • Also I could not follow you on twitter when I searched –