Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

No-baggage field report: Week one

August 31, 2010 by Rolf Potts

Since this journey is an experiment in traveling ultra-light, I want to check in every so often and evaluate how that experiment is going. Happily, after one week, it feels like this trip has been very much about the journey itself. If one thing stands out as strange for me it’s not the lack of luggage but the fact that documenting everything in real-time has added a weird density to the experience.

More on that in a moment, but now I’ll just make a statement that hopefully won’t come back to bite me in the ass in coming weeks: Traveling without luggage is pretty darn easy. Each day on the road has been efficient and fun, I have yet to yearn for a single item of unpacked gear, and — despite a few idiosyncrasies that come with traveling in this manner — I’m actually beginning to take the lack of a bag for granted.

Here are a few field-notes on the experience:

On traveling with no luggage

I first noticed the applied advantages of going bag-less in the U.K. — my very first stop — when Justin, Richard Lai and I were racing around London, trying to cram in as many cliche tourist experiences as possible. After a couple of hours I noticed that Justin was looking a bit winded and overheated. At first I assumed he was feeling run down from the trans-Atlantic flight, but soon I realized the true problem: He was carrying a 20-pound bag of video equipment, and he had to tote it as we ran to catch double-decker buses and recruit Abbey Road-walkers. Indeed, for all the lip-service I’ve given to how mobile and spontaneous you can be with no luggage, the surest proof so far is that my videographer (who, apart from his gear, is traveling as light as I am) has more logistical hassles and gets tired faster than me on transit days.

While on a conscious level I’m enjoying the no-baggage experiment, however, my subconscious is still carrying bags. After years of traveling with (at the very least) a backpack and a wallet, I still have gut-level instincts to keep track of those items. This started at JFK airport in New York, when I had a small moment of panic upon realizing my wallet was missing (it was in storage in Manhattan), and I continue to get hit with occasional, irrational micro-flashes of “where’s my bag?” panic.

As for my no-luggage laundry duties (washing a rotation of socks, underwear, and a t-shirt each day), that has become a part of my nightly routine, kind of like brushing my teeth before bed. The only time it felt time-consuming was when I had to do multiple takes of this process while filming the procedure in Paris.

An unexpected bonus of the daily hygiene routine has been taking two showers a day (one in the morning, one at night). This is a habit I might keep when I get back home, since feeling extra-clean feels great.

On my gear and clothing

Thus far I have nothing but praise for my ScotteVest Tropical Jacket, which has been a key piece of gear on the No Baggage Challenge. I don’t know that it was designed to stow extra underwear and mini-bottles of detergent, but it does the job well. The layered interior pockets distribute my gear evenly — and if there’s a vivid testament to the fact that I’ve avoided looking overstuffed and lumpy, it’s that the 20-something backpackers didn’t give me any perplexed or scornful looks when I was wearing it at Madrid’s Malasana Travelers’ Hostel.

An unexpected bonus of the Tropical Jacket (which I’ve been wearing with the sleeves zipped off) is that stowing my long-sleeve Q-Zip pullover in the lower-back pocket has made for nice lumbar-support while sitting on long flights and train transits.

If there’s a clothing item that makes me a tad nervous, it’s my t-shirts. The quick-dry polyester is convenient for laundry purposes, but the material holds body odors more readily than cotton. The shirts are holding up fine so far (just did an armpit smell-test, and I’m good as of mid-day), but I sweat a lot in warm climates, and if smell eventually becomes an issue I might have to replace one or more of the shirts. Stay tuned on that.

As for smaller clothing items, here’s an odd little irony: While staying at the youth hostel in Madrid, I was thrilled when Emily, the night manager, offered to wash my day’s clothing with the hostel’s towels and linens. This spared me my nightly wash routine and made it easy to stay out till 5am eating and drinking in central Madrid — but when I got my laundry back the next morning I noticed a sock was missing. Emily offered me a spare from the hostel’s lost-and-found bin, but I couldn’t find a sock that fit — and to be honest, it’s not that big of a deal. With two pairs of socks instead of three, my load is now that much lighter.

On this journey in general

Interestingly, the most challenging aspect of my No Baggage Challenge hasn’t been the baggage: It’s been documenting it in real time.

Before my no-luggage adventure began I wrote a post about how this kind of journey deviates in several ways from my typical vagabonding approach to travel. I mentioned the sponsorship factor, as well as the breakneck speed of the itinerary and the fact that I’ll be “wired” most every day of the trip — but perhaps I also should have mentioned that this journey combines the rigors of travel with the rigors of in-the-field documentary TV production.

I’ve had a great time on the road from day to day, to be sure — but I’ve found that working on website content and overseeing video production concerns has eaten up a lot of late-night hours I might have otherwise spent reading, relaxing, or sleeping (indeed, I’ve been averaging just over four hours of sleep each night since I left New York). Justin, who has been shooting/editing the videos and troubleshooting technical and online issues, spends much of the day chasing after me with a video camera while I have fun — and this means the trip is even more work-intensive for him.

Lack of sleep notwithstanding, I learned long ago not to take any travel experience for granted — to enjoy where I am at each moment and be thankful for the opportunity to experience new things.

I look forward to what I find in North Africa and beyond!

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