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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  • Wendy

    As an ultra-light traveler myself, I am really enjoying following your adventures. Please let us know how it goes when you wash your pants — will they dry completely (or mostly) overnight? Because you chose a lighter color, are they getting stained or dirty requiring more frequent washings?

    And regarding the Tropical Jacket, did you pack the sleeves in one of the pockets? Or are you staying in warm climates and so did you leave them behind?

    Keep up the excellent reporting!

  • Fantastic first week review, I look forward to each new post more than the last! That's great that the Tropical Jacket is working out so well. Lets us know how those Performance Tee's continue to perform and if there is anything we can do to help! Good Luck in N. Africa.

  • Awesome. Glad to hear it is going so well and look forward to future posts. I found this site b/c just got back from a huge road trip and all my dang luggage was driving me crazy. Can't way to try it your way!

  • Miguel

    > The quick-dry polyester is convenient for laundry purposes, but the material holds body odors more
    > readily than cotton.

    Wool. Smartwool, Icebreaker, Patagonia, Chocolate Fish, Ibex, a number of manufacturers are out there. Wool takes a little longer to dry but nowhere near enough to be a deal breaker. It does not stink, merino wool feels wonderful on the skin, wicks like mad, keeps you warm when wet.

    My philosophy has always been wool inner, synthetic outer.

  • Taj

    I love this blog/experiment. Love to travel and pack light. Totally understand the feeling of 'forgetting something” Where is that bag? etc. Must ask… DO YOU EVER WASH YOUR CARGO PANTS?

    • Rolf

      I've washed the cargo pants once so far, and they are probably due for another wash in the next few days…

      • Peatt

        Curious if you're going to try to wash the pants in the shower approach, Rolf.

  • About those soon to be smelly t shirts – Merino wool Tees don't hold the odor, don't scratch and can feel extremely comfortable. Bamboo tees have the same features, but I've found them to be more fragile.

    And that “what? where is …” reaction is classic.

  • Miles Mccrocklin

    Michael I think he was limited in his gear choices to the sponsored gear, which explains the lack of some possibly superior materials.

  • Curtis Fouracre

    Great review there Rolf, I look forward to hearing more of what you have been accomplishing and I wish you the best of luck! Take care man and be safe!

  • This is awesome, just got tipped off about this now. Been looking for something different for a LONG time. Currently traveling 1 year, gear sucks.

  • Adrian

    Just wondering how do you charge your equipment i.e. phone, ipod, camera etc.

    • Rolf

      I have USB cable, and I charge up at internet cafes (doing just that at this moment)…

  • Hey. You should check out Icebreaker Tshirts.… They're made of wool so they don't smell. Dry very quick after being washed, and can be folded into small sizes.

  • Damn you I often travel very light and have been thinking about this for years. Good luck anyway and I will be following with interest.

    I probably couldn't carry 6 weeks of meds in my pockets anyway.

    Did you take a hat or sunblock ;-)

  • Woodfieldnc

    Having backpacked around the world in my younger years usually with 10-15kg on my back, I am keen to see how you will travel with so few “necessities” but love the idea and will follow your journey with much interest. Travel safe.

  • Nic

    Love it!! How bl..dy liberating. As a female I would love to test myself to see if I could do it without my girly 'necessities'. I'm sure there will be lots of copycats following in your footsteps.

  • Barbara Dove

    Now that you've completed the first week, I wonder how 'no baggage' might (or might not) work for longer stays and/or long term travel. Any thoughts? BTW, can't wait to hear about Morocco!!!

  • Melanie

    I think being a woman traveling lightly is more challenging, no offense Rolf! I was trying to consider what “girly necessities” I could live without and still be presentable in public… hmnn…. as well as trying to live without my purse! lol Maybe I should list that as my challenge for the contest? Downsizing purse… whoa, that's a biggie!

    • That's one of best parts about an eVest: for traveling without a purse. The hardest part is the panicked feeling I get every 30 seconds from walking around without a purse. It's been such a part of my life that it's difficult to do without from a “feeling something's wrong” point of view. I have the same feeling when I walk through an airport without a wheelie behind me.

  • Sandra

    I look foward to each post! I don't think I could travel with no luggage but I definitely have thought more about traveling simply.

  • Re: missing sock…now you know what those safety pins should have been used for. Washers and dryers eat socks, especially when washed with linens. Pin your socks together, or even to another article of clothing.

    • Oh…GREAT tip for Rolf, Karen!

  • Davis95618

    Dude, you need merino wool t-shirt. You can wear it for a week or a month with no smell. Essential for ultralight travel.

  • Wow this is great.. you know one challenge that I have is the fact that I day trade as I travel around the world. so similar to your cameraman I have to travel with 2 laptops and a 19 inc monitor. All my carry on stuff is literally all my technology, i made the mistake of buying two massive over powerful 18.5 inch laptops that can power NASA! lol. I finally found a roll on to fit it all but it weighs roughly 60 lbs… ouch. But I have the advantage of renting an apt wherever I go as well so thats the only upside… looking forward to seeing how it turns out!

    • I know what you mean! My short trips would be so much easier to carry around luggage if I didn't always have the desire to bring my laptop. Even after buying a newer lighter version recently, it still makes a huge difference in weight. Especially when this 5' 3″ has to lift the bag up to the overhead bin in an airplane :o)

  • Why did you even have 3 pairs of socks to begin with? If you wear one pair and wash the other, you'd never have any need for more than 2 pairs anyway, right?

  • I would have borrowed the strange undies from the hostel lost and found! LOL

    LOVE watching your videos and completely jealous of all the wonderful places your getting to experience. My overseas travel is very limited, but I hope to do more of it in the future. Just waiting to “lighten my load” of children when they get older before traveling more of the world. LONG ways to go, they are 2 & 6yrs old.

  • As others have mentioned, there are some odor-free wicking t-shirts out there, usually treated with silver or some other additive. Merino does work better too, but can get hotter in my experience. I'm curious as to why you have regular underwear in this photo though? Tilley and ExOfficio both make great travel underwear that dries in a couple hours.

  • Speaking of Travel Underwear, I'm pretty sure SCOTTEVEST may be coming out with something like that fairly soon….

  • Pingback: No-baggage field report: Full circle (week 6) | No Baggage Challenge -- Around the World with no luggage()

  • John Zaci

    Appreciated work!

    I like the post. It is really very helpful to make a rationale decision between the fairs of shipping to usa

    shipping to Canada

    shipping to Australia

    excess baggage shipping.

    I hope I will back soon.