Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

No-baggage field report: Week five

September 29, 2010 by Rolf Potts

Week five of the No Baggage Challenge finds me in New Zealand, where I arrived exhausted after a barnstorm transit through Malaysia and Singapore (and Australia, if an hour in Sydney’s airport counts as its own leg of the journey). I hadn’t expected my journey through lower Southeast Asia to be so brief, but — since I was having such a great time in Bangkok — I stayed two extra nights in Thailand and that meant I had to cut my Malaysia/Singapore transit short.

(For the record, my most memorable experience in Malaysia, apart from my encounters on the train in from Thailand, came in a Penang restaurant, where I had what was possibly the best Indian meal I’ve had outside of India. As for Singapore, where I spent less than 10 waking hours before flying Down Under, my most memorable experience was a 5am drive through the dark and quiet city to do a remote-feed interview — embedded below — with an Australian TV show.)

In this field report I’ll touch on some travel issues from Southeast Asia and New Zealand, and I’ll also answer a new batch of reader questions. Since I want this blog to be a resource for other ultra-light and no-baggage travelers, I continue to welcome new questions — just check in on previous field reports to make sure I haven’t answered your question already.

The most notable aspect of travel in Southeast Asia was the humidity. This meant I had to keep my shower and hygiene routine especially tight, since I was sweating so much. It was here that I washed my SeV Tropical Jacket/Vest for the first time on the journey, since a month of sweat accumulation had left it with a slight odor (which came out easily, after the washing). All in all, my clothing and gear performed quite well during my week in Southeast Asia — though I’d be curious to know if anyone out there has experienced longer-term no-baggage stints in the tropics, since the humid climate would seem to require as few layers of clothing (and as little excess gear) as possible.

By contrast, my travels to New Zealand landed me square in late winter, and I’ve already experienced a fair amount of snow here in the Queenstown area of the South Island. Fortunately I’m here visiting my old American travel-buddy Dan, who is now based in New Zealand, and he’s lent me an old wool sweater and stocking cap as an insulation layer under my standard SeV ensemble. This is the first time on the trip that I’ve had to borrow a significant item of clothing due to weather. (ScotteVest actually offered to ship me some of their gear designed for colder weather — and mailing gear to oneself could be a legitimate no-baggage strategy — but I thought it would be more interesting to stick with the same basic core wardrobe for all 42 days of the trip.)

Elsewhere in New Zealand, I had my first-ever moment of bureaucratic no-baggage nervousness at the airport in Auckland, when the customs officer took note of my lack of luggage and started questioning me about my travels. I thought I was in trouble when he called a colleague over — but, as it turned out, he just wanted to ask the guy if he’d ever seen anyone traveling as light as me on an international route. Thus far, after crossing into 11 new countries in nearly five weeks, I have yet to get seriously hassled by customs officials for having no baggage.

As for reader questions about the ins and outs of no-baggage travel, here’s a recent sampling;

What would you bring on your no-luggage journey if you had it to do all over again? Do you feel like you’re missing anything?

I’ve actually addressed this in other field reports — my basic feeling is that I’m not really missing anything — but since it’s such a common question I figured I’d add a few thoughts here. I suppose I do miss having a variety of clothing over the course of a multi-week trip — but the ultimately the trade-off is worthwhile for the purposes of this experiment. The same goes for a laptop (I’m writing this on my iPod, using a small bluetooth keyboard): It would be nice to have one to work on, but the reduced weight/bulk of the iPod is usually worth the hassle in this situation. If I had it to do all over again I might bring an iPhone instead of an iPod, though, since it has more uses as a travel tool.

How often do you wash the cargo pants?

I’ve been washing my SeV Ultimate Cargo Pants about once a week, and thus far they’ve been staying clean and sharp (they dry fast, too). This is more or less in keeping with my washing habits at home: I often go for a week or so without washing a given pair of jeans, since (for whatever reason) they don’t get dirty/smelly as quickly as my shirts. My travel wash routine mirrors this: t-shirts are washed daily; pants are washed weekly.

On another clothing note, I’m happy to announce that my friend Dan has given my SeV cargo pants his highest rank of approval (i.e. he asked me where he could buy a pair). This is significant coming from my old travel pal, since Dan has long expressed scorn for “zippies” — the term he applies to both convertible travel pants/shorts and the people who wear them. Dan has a point — poorly designed zip-off travel pants can indeed look dorky — but my SeV cargo pants seem to have won his approval (and indeed I would not have chosen to bring them had they not passed my own standards of appearance and function).

How do you think a female version of the No Baggage Challenge might work?

I’d love to see a female version of the No Baggage Challenge! Any ideas, plans, or field experience, ladies? Do let me know!

Is traveling with most of your gear in a vest/jacket all that different from bringing a very small bag? And if not, why go bagless?

This is a great point to bring up — and I’ll concur that, in the long run, going bag-less is less central to my own travel strategies than simply going as light as possible. This can be done as readily with a small bag as a travel vest or cargo pants.

That said, however, I’ve really enjoyed the discipline that has been required by the No Baggage Challenge, since putting items into a vest is different than putting them into a bag (and hence I’m not tempted to bring something that might fit into a small bag, but not into my vest). I’m certainly not going to tell everyone that they have to travel bag-less — but if you are interested in ultra-light travel and on-the-road minimalism, I heartily encourage you to make your own experiments in no-luggage travel. Traveling out of a vest (or a similar clothing combination) is simply different than traveling out of a small bag — and even if you don’t wind up traveling baggage-free forever, the exercise lends a useful perspective.

Has your “packing system” for the SeV Tropical Jacket/Vest changed much since you began the journey?

For the most part it hasn’t. Clothes and gear and toiletries are still more or less going in the same pockets you saw in my initial packing video. I have, however, removed a few items from the vest (see last week’s field report), and the sunglasses now reside in an outside (as opposed to inside) pocket, as does my mineral-salt deodorant stone.

What advice would you give to people wanting to take their own No Baggage Challenge? What other travel clothing might be useful on a no-luggage journey?

My initial advice for those interested in trying no-baggage travel would be to just get out and try it. It’s a lot easier than it sounds, and it’s a lot of fun to travel so light. I might also suggest that you develop your own no-baggage system. My luggage-free travel strategy is a simplification of the way I normally travel (minimalist, but with bags), and I think each person should gradually fine-tune their own travel system rather than reinventing it completely (or copying mine wholesale).

This in mind, the kind of clothing you bring on a no-baggage journey will depend on your own style. ScotteVest makes a trench-coat that has a lot more pocket-capacity than the SeV jacket/vest I’m using — but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything and I like going ultra-light. A no-baggage business traveler, on the other hand, might need that extra pocket space for his own trip. In general, I’d recommend disciplining yourself to go as light and minimal as possible, just to keep your clothing ensemble light and organized and looking good. And while I haven’t done comprehensive field tests on other brands of travel clothing, I can say in all objectivity that SeV’s vests and jackets are designed with these very factors in mind.

How do you carry water and snacks if don’t have any bags?

For the most part, I’ve been traveling in populated areas where food and drink are easy to come by when I get hungry or thirsty (one exception being Ramadan in Morocco and Egypt). This is mind, I usually just bring a few extra dollars (or baht, or rand) for food instead of packing a lunch. My SeV Tropical Jacket/Vest has ample pocket room for a sandwich or two, however, and its front-outside pockets are specially designed to hold water bottles. I actually tested these front pockets with a tall bottle of Gew├╝rztraminer wine here in New Zealand, and the bottle fit easily!

What do you do when people give you gifts?

So far I haven’t gotten any gifts — but in the event someone does give me a gift I can’t part with, I would probably mail it home (given that it’s not an anvil or a live animal, of course).

What are your favorite places in Thailand and Southeast Asia?

I pretty much love all of Thailand, north to south, east to west, mountains to beaches. Myanmar and Laos are also wonderful places to wander. Each of these countries is gorgeous and friendly and inexpensive — though Myanmar and Laos have less infrastructure and services, so you might start your SE Asian sojourn in Thailand and get more adventurous from there.

Again, if you have any lingering questions, please ask them in the comment section of this post! I will address them in next week’s field report.

The video portion of this week’s field report was shot at The Rees hotel in Queenstown, NZ, where Destination Queenstown graciously hosted us during our time in the area. Nightly rates at The Rees start at NZ$190.

Here is a segment featuring Rolf ‘s No Baggage Challenge on Australia’s Weekend Today show:

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