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 Gewürztraminer 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:

 
Share |
  • adriftsoul

    For me, my motorbike trip needed loo paper!! lots of tourist attractions and national parks here in australia are not great at having stocked supplies of loo paper - so a travel pack would be required for us ladies!!!

    Camping and sports adventure type stores stock lots of light weight and small trekking type stuff which may be useful to tweak a no-baggage challenge - like tiny travel towels and trekking sleeping bags etc.

    Do you have any Scottevest stockists in Australia? Would love to have you again Rolf for a longer tour of oz. Your stories from 2007 in Alice Springs are well written - covering a lot of different opinions.

  • Dale

    I'd also like to encourage more women to try ultralight travel. I'm female and happily travel for weeks with one small carry-on, including for trips that require business presentations. Sometimes other women tell me they could "never" do that. Why not? If Rolf were a woman and wore a bra (or he just wanted to wear a bra for some other reason...), this would add 2 items of squishable clothing to his collection: one bra to wear, and one to wash. Even if you added makeup to his gear, he could use those small disks that take up little space, but a female Rolf would probably be happy to face the world barefaced.

    I'd sign up for the challenge myself, but my fall trip is more like a temporary move. I'm going to spend 4 months in one location, and I'm bringing my computer monitor. I don't think there's a pocket big enough for that.

  • crystallinesheen

    Rolf, it was great watching your videos and reading your reports! I got in on the No Baggage Challenge about halfway through after reading your second book, which led me to your website and to here! I'm almost done reading Vagabonding now, and I can say I really like your style and your stories. You approach writing as a fine science, and I really like that. It is great to learn about the actual mechanics of your literary process, keep up the great work man. I look forward to your future writings and pursuits!

    Thanks to the Scottevest people for sponsoring you as well. I checked out the site and plan to purchase some things for my first trip to Thailand. I love those deep pockets on those travel pants!

  • I read that you're back, ready to have a welcome back party in NYC! Well done, and congratulations on your challenge met!
    I'm curious if you think that this challenge has forced you to spend more money than you would have otherwise. Have you stayed in better hotels, spent more on food, and so on? When you're a low-budget traveler, it seems hard to do this because you need to take a towel with you, for example.
    I loved reading about your trip, and thought back on comments from my (supposedly more travel experienced) friends after I packed for 6 months in Australia, when they saw my small trolley suitcase. I guess without a smelly backpack you're not really a traveler to some people. ;-) I went to Australia without checked luggage, had a great time and sent a lot of stuff home, too!

  • Hendrik

    I have a theory why the NZ customs officers asked you and nobody else did before:

    Every other airport had connections to other main land airports so it wasn't unusual for some passengers to have no luggage. In NZ however I guess that every flight is from further away so you are expected to have luggage with you which makes it uncommon to have no luggage :)

  • MattBrownerHamlin

    Rolf -
    Thanks for responding to these questions. In a previous video of you and Scott Jordan, you mentioned thinking about traveling with no bags again, but maybe bringing one small bag with you. If you had a small day pack, what would you take that you don't currently have? A laptop? More clothes?

  • Exitaisle

    In those hot, humid climes, get into the shower at bedtime fully dressed, Soap your clothes as you would your body, rinse thoroughly, then hang them up in the shower on hangers to drip while you wash your body. After a while, remove them to the windiest place you can find, such as near the air conditioner duct, hanging on separate hangers. In the morning put them on damp, they'll dry very quickly and keep you cool as you're out and about. You start clean and odor free.

  • Really not looking forward to the journey coming to an end but I guess it had to happen sometime. =-( Really looking forward to the next project however!

    Cheers!

  • I can't believe the challenge is almost over!! I am really going to miss watching a video a couple times a week with my brekky of yogurt and meusli or protein bar.
    Your journey has been very inspiring for me! Between you and Tim Ferriss, my beau thinks I'm completely mad.

  • I'm going to miss this too! Maybe you could keep it going in some way...no baggage living back at the farm in Kansas? :)
    The do-over takes made me laugh. Have fun in the last week

  • Caveman

    Dude, what am I going to watch in the morning with my breakfast now that your nearly done with your trip? It was heaps of fun to watch your videos :-)

  • Max

    This reminds me of the END of the TRUEMAN SHOW with Jim Carrey--everyone is glued to that one channel, and then when it ends they flip over to see what else is on! Rolf and Justin I think you should contact MSNBC and syndicate your travels as part of a new reality show...Rolf and Justin's Excellent Adventure, Bodacious Backpacking, and Most Triumphant Travels. Party on dudes!

  • Lynn

    Questions:
    1) Did washing the same clothes every night ever become excessively tiresome?
    2) In Thailand, how did your feet fare wearing socks and boots?
    3) Were you tempted to purchase sandals while in SE Asia?
    I have been following your blog almost from the beginning. So this past weekend, my husband challenged me, during a short 3 day trip, to travel with out baggage. It actually was fine, except for my hair. I realized to take a longer trip, I would either need to cut my hair very short or grow it out into pony tail length.

  • Brandreth

    Yes - I'm keen to know how the boots thing in a hot, humid country worked out too.

  • Michael Rasmussen

    Are thrift/2nd hand stores common where you've been? In my home town the Goodwills always have wool sweaters in the rack - typically for $3 to $5. If Dan hadn't lent you a sweater how would it have been to find a used one to buy?

  • Acid_violet

    Hi guys,
    I'm loving the entire concept and the implementation of this no baggage adventure, I would never have dreamed of the possibility of travelling so light. To use a cliché - its inspiring. I am about to head over to Europe for 5 weeks to backpack for the first time, but I’m certainly not prepared to travel quite as lightly as you are. Two of those reasons form the basis for my questions.
    1.Do you think that this minimalistic approach is feasible for someone with no (or limited) previous travel experience? You have a wealth of knowledge, past experience etc, would it be likely for someone without that to get by?
    2.Do you think that travelling this way is realistic for someone travelling solo? Being able to have someone to rely on in different situations would surely be important, though Justin ‘doesn’t exist’ for the purposes of the experiment, at the end of the day he is present with you on your journey if something were to go haywire.

  • GH

    I'd say travelling this way is even better for a solo traveller than for a group. You can move about more independently with minimal luggage. If you're going to backpack you'll need more -- at least a sleeping bag and a water bottle -- but you can do a lot to cut down. See http://www.the-ultralight-site... and http://www.onebag.com/ for more ideas.

  • Gerry

    Hi Rolf--I've been following your posts with great interest and have a couple of questions--
    Did you keep to your clothes washing schedule while on the train or did it have to go by the wayside?
    And I'm curious--what have you worn to bed? The next day's underwear or nothing?
    Thanks--wish you were coming back through SF.

  • Rolf, any chance you'd put these videos on YouTube? I've been loving your content, and I could share it with a lot more people through YouTube.

    Thanks for sharing your adventure. It's way cool.

  • Mark
  • Rolf and Justin, just 3 days to go until you cross the big finish line in the Big Apple... so what are your plans after its over? What are your thoughts and feelings about the trip ending? Any further adventures in the pipeline? I've really enjoyed following your adventure and will miss seeing new videos being posted.

    Also guys I had a question re. off-road travel. Have you both ever done things like stealth camping on top of mountains with bivvy bags in remote locations? Or do you mainly stick to hotels, hostels etc? If so, what remote locations have you explored / do you recommend?

    Cheers! Bon voyage and a safe journey back to NYC. Thank you for the great blog!

  • Rogerchesney

    justin, i saw you wearing a st. louis cardinal hat during one of the videos. are you a fan of that club or is it just a hat you picked up somewhere?

  • Yep, I'm a Cards fan (I live in Missouri). Looks like I missed a pretty bad ending to what was once a decent season. Oh well, there's always next year.

  • I can relate - I'm from Colorado :(

  • JP

    Inspiration is an understatement obviously. So what's next after this Rolf? And will this website continue to exist?

  • Bastian Kroehnert

    Question: How much money do you spend on average? Obviously it's more in Europe than in Asia. But I think that fact that you have "unlimited" money supply for lodging and food makes it much easier to travel without luggage.

  • We worked with a budget, so the money definitely was not "unlimited" (in fact, we're running on fumes as we near the end of the trip). We will go into more detail about the budget in a post after the trip is over.

  • Justin, your videos / web pages have been a joy to watch / interact with. I use a Phase One digital back system for professional stills, however when it comes to motion picture, I am clueless! I have a question...the camera system you use, is it capable of producing broadcast quality footage e.g. National Geographic channel / satellite broadcast / TV, or is it purely for HD web e.g. YouTube? Thanks!!

  • Thanks for the kind words, teNriA. Though my camera will record in roughly the same resolution, it isn't quite as good (or expensive!) as cameras used on popular broadcast television. Those have much bigger sensors and expensive lenses. Mine is very much a consumer camera.

  • Bastian Kroehnert

    and still Australien TV used your footage without explicitly declaring it as private video. I think although the technical features might not be exactly the same, the quality, from a viewers point of view is.

  • Msmaf

    Nice interview! Enjoyed the post.

  • SCOTTEVEST, Inc

    Great post!

  • Hi Scott, I was wondering if your SeV products are available in the UK? Yesterday I had enquired in a number of stores here and was unable to find SeV. Thanks.

blog comments powered by Disqus