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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