Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

Why Rolf is traveling around the world with no luggage

August 19, 2010 by Rolf Potts

When I first announced my intention to circumnavigate the globe for six weeks without carrying so much as a fanny-pack, I got a common (and admittedly reasonable) reaction from my friends: Why?  Why travel the world with no luggage?

Well, for starters — as someone who’s spent much of the past 16 years traveling to various corners of the world — the idea of hitting the road without any bags sounds like an intriguing challenge.  Not to mention a whole lot of fun.

But I also see my journey as a field-test for a more philosophical idea — that what we experience in life is more important than what we bring with us.

This is an idea that goes back to the initial travel-dreams of my childhood.  When I was a kid dreaming of faraway places, I didn’t imagine what I would pack — I imagined what I would do.

When I got older I eventually learned that world travel was cheaper, easier and more life-changing than I had ever imagined — and I shared these lessons in my first book, Vagabonding.  Traveling light is essential to the notion of vagabonding, and the more I traveled, the more I became intrigued by the idea of giving up luggage altogether.  I took note of other vagabonders who were conducting their own experiments in traveling light, and I began to wonder what it would be like to take this idea to its logical extreme — to go around the world with no baggage whatsoever.

As I was wondering how I might implement such a journey, I got an offer to field-test some travel clothing for an Idaho-based sportswear company named ScotteVest.  As a travel writer I get these kind of offers all the time, but I was intrigued by the fact that ScotteVest apparel features a system of strategically located pockets.  In a whimsical fit of inspiration, I emailed back: “Why just send me clothing?  Why not send me around the world with no luggage?”

Within a matter of days this idea had made its way to ScotteVest CEO and founder Scott Jordan, and — with some key input, assistance, and an around the world ticket from Sean Keener, founder of the budget travel network — the “No Baggage Challenge” was born.  In late August of 2010, we decided, I would embark on a luggage-less journey that would take me through 12 countries on five continents.

As my departure date neared, a strange thing began to happen: Baggage began to make headlines.  Ryanair hiked its check luggage fees to more than $60 per bag, Spirit Airlines raised the ire of Congress by charging as much as $45 for carryon bags, and — perhaps most spectacularly — JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater responded to an in-flight fuss about overhead luggage by deploying the emergency exit chute on the runway at JFK.

Suddenly, the notion of traveling without luggage began to seem downright sensible.

Still, I’ll be the first to admit that my no-baggage adventure is a “stunt” of sorts.  But while I’m taking the notion of “traveling light” to a rather wacky extreme, I hope to explore a serious point about what is and isn’t important in life.  A popular phrase among those who seek to live simply is “make sure the things you own don’t end up owning you.”  I think the same notion can apply to travel: Sometimes the things we pack for a journey can get in the way of what we’ve come to experience.

I’m curious to know what I can experience when I travel with no bags at all.

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  • Alastair Humphreys

    Good luck Rolf! Sounds like a great trip. I'm jealous…

  • Rolf, does that mean you can't take the dog with you? That's probably good. Imagine if it tried to jump out of an airplane?

  • I'll be following this adventure keenly, best of luck and great idea!

  • Kellie

    I love this idea even if I hate having lots of things in my pockets. Good luck and safe travels!

  • CamelsAndChocolate

    This is phenomenal. Love the concept. Can't wait to follow along!

  • Izidor Matušov

    Good luck! I hope you complete your journey as you plan.

  • Sharon Miro

    I love this..really. But when can we see the clothing?

  • Rolf

    Thanks, everyone!

  • Sputniklee

    Tough challenge! When I travel abroad, I pack with the intention of leaving as much of it behind as possible. My own goal is to pack, go, shed as I go along–night before the return flight, upload to Flickr, give an old camera and (SIM-less) phone to a local, and waltz onto the plane encumbrance-free. With each trip I'm getting closer to this ideal, but you're going all the way. Break a leg!

  • Live2bike

    Wow, are you ever going to popular at the laundrymat.

  • Kansas Cousin

    We'll be watching your progress. Be ready for my students' questions in about two weeks!

  • andrewhyde

    I'm about to do a year around the world with 15 things, a bag included. The transition to nothing seems daunting, but very doable.

    Looking forward to hearing about the challenge!

  • I imagine this will be a grand opportunity to wear local outfits wherever you go. What looks good under a ScotteVest? Serapes, togas, grass skirts, etc. equals hilarious photo ops and an excuse to see your cute face.

    Are you packing an iPod? I would not travel without my iPhone (for pics and music and ebooks) and a toothbrush and a bikini, based on where you're going. Otherwise, this is kinda feasible for even me, as a chick. But sans music and camera, meh.

  • Epiphanie Bloom

    As long as you've got your 'creative hat' on, that's all you need! ;) Good luck!

  • Sara

    Cool! I'll be following !!
    Good luck !!!

  • Airport security is my biggest downfall. I want a few things with me (pocket knife being one) that I can't bring unless I check a bag. Ok, so I'm not going with “no bag”, but even a light traveler in this day of overly tight airport screenings… how do you deal with it?

  • I love my ScotteVest Women's Travel Jacket! It certainly holds a lot but not sure if I'd carry my undergarments in it :) Happy travel.

  • Always an inspiration, Rolf Potts! Love your books, love this idea. Can't wait to follow your trip!

  • Awesome! Fantastic idea. I love that it's in league with BootsnAll, too, love those guys.

  • Excellent! It's the RTW trip that had to be done.

  • Jason


  • Meg Zimbeck

    As a fan of your books (and fellow Kansan now living in Paris), I volunteer to meet you on the Pont des Arts with a fresh change of underwear :)

  • I love the idea! Good luck and look forward to follow your story :)

  • BillT

    Great idea, look forward to following you. Just FYI, beware of some potential custom issues. I once flew to Amsterdam from US. My luggage was lost and the next day I had to fly to Oslo, Norway. When I landed in Oslo and was walking to passport control, I was hearded into a side room. The reason – why was I traveliing with no luggage? What was the purpose of my tripm etc? Luckily I had my computer bag and some paperwork indicating the business reason for my trip into Norway, but it took awhile. My suggestion, print out something that describes your trip and stick it in your pocket. Good luck.

  • Vai Rolfs, show the world that it's possible and more enjoyable. Be followin you. If you stop by Chamonix Mont Blanc, holler ok?

  • Ha ha ha ha, love your dog jumping out the window!

  • Mytch

    Can't wait to see your progression over the coming weeks and months of travel! Have fun!!!

  • Busan Ajossi

    Kinda curious what the clothes look like. When travelling longterm, I found it useful to have clothes that were informal enough that I didn't worry about them but formal enough that i could accept invitations from new friends that required me to look halfway decent.

  • Cherryblossomgirrrl

    I'm sorry, but a deodorant is not enough for proper hygiene.

  • Fantastic idea – I love the ScotteVest range, just a pity it's not available locally in Sydney, Australia.

    I gather you're going got be posting interesting updates on Twitter as you travel ?

  • Sue Repko

    I'm so jealous! Have a great time, Rolf. Looking forward to hearing about it.

  • I realized I didn't need to bring anything at all, even clothing, to fly home for the weekend even though it was an international flight from the US to Canada. And I loved the idea of traveling in such a fashion. But I had the same sort of security alert problems as BillT because when you travel with no luggage your profile looks a lot like a 911 terrorist. If my name had been Muhammad I might very well have been diverted to Syria for a week of torture and interrogation (…).

  • Rolf

    Thanks for the ideas and input everyone!

    Meg, shoot me an email and maybe we'll find a way (and time) to meet up in Paris.

  • You're going to have a great time living in the present and experiencing every moment! All the best. You could bring even less if you dropped the camera and used only the iPhone 4 as your camera. : )

  • I can't wait to see how this trip goes, it should be really interesting, although, I couldn't survive without books. I never leave home without my e-reader (especially since I can load electronic library books on it! :-)

  • WandrinLloyd

    Rolf, As a long time fan and reader of your books (tree based versions), I'm looking forward to your “no luggage journey”. Bon Voyage!

    • Rolf

      Cheers, Lloyd — happy wandrin'!

  • StephenCooper

    I love the dog jumping out the window.

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  • Mary1971

    Stuff that. The Guggi handbag comes with me!

  • Ankara Kervan Nakliyat
  • Hugh

    Unreal. I love the line that got it all started: “Why not just send me around the world with no luggage?” Rolf just threw it out there and it stuck. Awesome!

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  • sdfhsdjfh

    This is such a brave concept but it makes so much sense though, because luggage allowance is so expensive.