Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

No-baggage field report: Week two

September 6, 2010 by Rolf Potts

Two weeks into the journey, the no-baggage aspect continues to go remarkably smoothly: My sojourn through North Africa has been fascinating, and (as was the case with the Western Europe leg of the journey) I’m not up at night wishing I’d brought a shoe horn, a ukulele, or another pair of socks. The few things I’ve brought in my pockets have been suiting me fine — and in fact I might begin to jettison some items I haven’t been using so much (stay tuned on that).

On climate and culture

The biggest changes since my first week on the road have come in the form of climate and culture. The North African heat has at times been brutal, maxing out at 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) in the Moroccan mountain town of Chefchaouen. The five-hour Chefchaouen-to-Fes bus was absolutely stifling — enough to make Justin and I shell out an extra US$5 each for an air-conditioned first-class car on the Fes-Casablanca train a few days later. I’ve definitely gotten sweaty in my sleeveless SeV Tropical Jacket on hot transit days — but far less sweaty, I might add, than if I’d had a backpack strapped to my body in a similar situation (I just keep the vest unzipped when the weather gets hot).

Quite by accident I’ve landed in the Muslim world during Ramadan, which (since this festival involves a strict fast during daylight hours) means restaurant-food and cafe-beverages have been hard to come by while the sun is still up. Groceries and drinks are sold during the day, however, so I’ve been buying bread and water in the market and eating/drinking it in private (so as not to tempt or distract my hungry Muslim neighbors). I miss the teashop social-culture that made my afternoons in Egypt so enjoyable when I was in this part of the world ten years ago — but the festive vibe at night (when Muslims can finally hit the streets to eat and drink during the month of Ramadan) has more than made up for it.

On clothing and gear

Clothing-wise, a couple of items have proven more useful than I’d originally predicted: my ScotteVest performance t-shirts, and my SeV prototype boxer shorts. Back before I began the journey, when I was making a video about the kinds of clothes I was bringing, I expressed ambivalence about the zip-pockets in the hip and shoulder of the SeV performance tees. As it turns out, I’ve been consistently using both of those pockets (the hip pocket for money; the shoulder pocket for easy access to ticket stubs while I’m sitting on trains and buses). I was also a tad ambivalent about the boxer shorts at the outset of the trip, since briefs are more my style (and they pack smaller). ScotteVest sent me boxers because that’s the only style they make at the moment — but the boxers have actually served my needs better than a jockey-short equivalent. Whereas I might feel ridiculous consulting on Justin’s video edits in briefs while my pants dry, my boxers wear like a pair of running shorts. They’re even long enough that I can go swimming in them without feeling like I’m cavorting around in my underwear (even though I am).

I continue to shower twice a day — and I’ve taken to bringing my dirty clothes into the shower with me each night and washing them as I wash myself. This makes my laundry routine seem less like work, and my clothes are coming out just as clean as when I wash them in the sink.

In general, I’m surprised how easy it has been to stay clean and odor-free while traveling without luggage. When standing in line for train tickets with a group of European backpackers in Fes the other day, I was intrigued at how unkempt my fellow vagabonders looked. Even with their rucksacks full of spare gear, they looked as if they hadn’t washed any of their clothes in over a week. I felt like I had just scrubbed up for a job interview by comparison.

I mention this not to disparage the backpackers (I’ve traveled in that manner myself for most of the past decade), but to note that basic hygiene on the road is less a matter of how much you pack than how diligent you are about keeping yourself (and your gear) clean. If cleanliness is a personal priority, it’s easy to stay clean, luggage or no.

On a related topic, those of you who tuned in to the Fes chapter of my journey know that I’m now carrying a small mineral-salt stone to keep my armpits well-scoured and free of bacteria. This alternative to deodorant was actually suggested to me early on by readers of this site, as well as commenters on Tim Ferriss’s blog. It’s still a little strange to rub my pits with a translucent rock after I shower — but if it works at keeping body-odor at bay, I might just toss out my store-bought deodorant stick.

On speed and connectivity

I’ll reiterate this week that the strangest part of this journey comes not from its lack of luggage, but from its relentless pace (I’m accustomed to covering less ground in this amount of time), and its emphasis on video dispatches. These two factors actually influence each other, since a fast-paced journey lends itself more to televisual narrative (which is great at conveying quick encounters) than written narrative (which benefits from slower, more patient experiences and reportage).

Amid this newfound role as travel-video writer-director, I’ve found myself staring longingly at Justin’s laptop as he produces, edits, and uploads the videos. By the rules of the journey, I don’t have access to any of his gear. This hasn’t affected the travel portion of the journey all that much — but it does mean I’m a lot slower and less efficient when it comes to researching online information with my iPod, writing dispatches on my tiny bluetooth keyboard, and clicking through to check comments and respond to readers on this website. (If you were wondering why Justin has been more active in the comments than me the past couple weeks, now you know why!)

Finally, since video files require a reliable internet connection to upload properly (and since Justin requires a good deal of connectivity to keep my content up to date and looking good), we’ve ended up staying in a lot of business hotels since we arrived in North Africa. Business hotels are comfortable, of course, but they tend to be expensive and a bit cut-off from the host culture. For example, I am writing this dispatch from the Marriott Hotel in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek district. We got a complimentary stay here, and I can say with all objectivity that this is a terrific facility in terms of comfort and amenities. The hotel building is historical (it used to be a Napoleonic-era palace), the food is great, and our stay here has been very restful. Still, staying at this Cairo Marriott is like living in a pleasant little bubble, cut off from the teeming, intriguing city I experienced when I visited here ten years ago. (Moreover, in spite of the comp, this place is loaded with incidental expenses. Does a five-star hotel business center really need to be charging $25 an hour for drop-in internet access in the year 2010? Justin has it slightly better, at $16 a day for laptop cable-access in his room, but that still feels a tad excessive. I don’t begrudge business travelers their comforts — and the Cairo Marriott is as comfortable as any hotel I’ve stayed in — but luxury hotels can at times feel like a dubious value if you are more more interested in cultural experiences than away-from-home amenities.)

All that said, I have only just arrived in Cairo — and it’s never all that hard to hike into a more interesting area of a given destination. I look forward to exploring Cairo’s farther flung neighborhoods tomorrow, to see what the city has to offer!

Note: My stay at the Cairo Marriott hotel came courtesy of Marriott. One night in a single room here costs roughly US$150.00.

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  • Keith Mander

    Stick around for Eid (the celebration of the end of Ramadan) on September 11th.

  • Wayne

    The laptop versus Bluetooth keyboard & Palm is an interesting tradeoff. For years I’ve left the laptop at home when on travel, even on business trips, since the Palm had Documents to Go (which has Word & Excel) and email, as well as limited internet. If I needed more than this, I would use the hotel computer – for instance to print boarding passes. It’s amazing the number of people who have asked me about this set up and how it works, since when I’m done I just put it in my pants pocket. It works well on planes and at cafes.

    Lately though, I’m bringing a netbook on longer trips since I can more easily use the internet. (The Palm Centro’s web browser is very limited.) Of course, it may just be time for a better phone.

  • Rolf,
    On the iPod constraint and laptop lust, the ScotteVest has a pocket large enough for a iPad or netbook. The “Pad Pocket”. What do you have in there? Would a iPad or netbook of some sort fit in with your other gear?

  • Really enjoying this trip so far Rolf and Justin. Every night when I check my RSS reader I jump straight to this feed to see if you've posted any updates. Keep it up, and make sure you let us know the progress on the salt rock!

  • Tim

    I'm wondering what the downsides to traveling this way are. No places to put up memorabilia maybe, but you could just ship it home or to a loved one. You've really got me fired up about the idea of doing some traveling, though as a photographer I would love a chance to see a bit how Justin is doing on the trip since I would probably have to carry a laptop and camera gear. (Is he using a full blown video camera or a DSLR?)

  • Sharon Miro

    Anywhere you go now–if you recognize the name of the hotel, you are going to pay for internet. Hotels are like Detroit: slower to get the clues.

  • Tyler

    I knew it! Boxers all the way bro! Boxers all the way!

  • Silvergeek

    Looks like the Cairo Marriott hasn't changed–stayed there 20 yrs. ago, and loved it!

  • Amazing how much you two are doing!! Visiting the cities, moving about (Justin with a backpack no less), and yet still producing excellent video and written content on a very regular basis (despite tiny screens and bluetooth keyboards…), and only getting a few hours sleep! Your adventure sounds like fun, but I don't think I'd have the energy for it!

    If anyone thinks you are on a relaxing holiday they need a slap in the face! Staying in expensive hotels is actually really annoying when you have a non-business travel style of moving around. I've only ever done it in Thailand and my experience felt less authentic because of it (I too needed secure Internet for work purposes). I was also gobsmacked when I saw they wanted even more cash from me despite what I was already paying.

    I hope when these crazy six weeks are done you will both treat yourself to some well deserved R&R! :)

    • Thanks Benny, and you're absolutely right — this is by far the most exhausting trip I've ever taken, and it's very far from a true vacation! Fortunately we're able to slow down from time to time and relax, but most of the time we're full-throttle, either filming, editing, traveling, or sleeping. Thanks for following along!

  • Psquared

    Ooohhh, the Marriott. That was my bubble 10 years ago when I needed a break from my “Cairo days”. Wish I was there…

  • Thanks a lot for answering my question a few posts back, kind sir. I was going to ask even more questions but decided not to hassle you after all – I'll find out soon enough. :)

    Like others, I also get a warm, happy feeling when I discover a new post here… And as an added plus, I've never been to Africa or Malaysia, so it's fascinating to see the sights & sounds and how you respond to them.

    Happy purposeful loitering, and try to enjoy the hotels despite yourself! ;)

  • You know I was going to ask you about the internet, for a moment I thought you guys had a satellite internet connection. I find myself in the same conundrum that you find yourself in with the internet as I travel. The cafe's in cairo or hostels dont have good internet connectivity?

    • We were in Egypt and Morocco during Ramadan, so most cafes were closed until later in the evening. I have uploaded some videos from a few though. Hostels sometimes have good Internet (though it's hit or miss in my experiences), but the size of the video files mean I usually do all the editing and rendering, then set the videos to upload overnight while I sleep. Leaving my laptop in a public area of a hostel overnight while it uploads isn't a good idea for obvious reasons. ;) Plus, hostels can be hit or miss — we've found it's just been easier to use business hotels where there's no question about whether the Internet will work or not, and we can do it all from our room. Content is my number one priority on this trip, so we have to make some special accommodations to insure our posts and videos get up in a timely manner. Thanks for following along!

  • Scott

    Just a suggestion to ease the use of the small Bluetooth keyboard. If you have connectivity with your ipod and a microphone, try using Dragon Dictation. It is free, and you can talk a good 30 seconds before it finally needs to upload to transcribe. Using copy and paste you could then do some minor corrections in whatever program you are using to type your blog.

    Keep up the great work. You and Justin have inspired me to figure out what I can leave behind on my next dive trip…

  • I loved reading about the challenges with internet in Africa. Please comment more on how that progresses.

  • Steve

    Enjoying reading about your adventure. Was introduced to you by Tim Ferriss and have just recently embarked on my own adventure: After automating my business as much as possible, six days ago my family of four terminated our house lease and decided to take a year and travel across the USA. We sold or gave away most of our possessions, outfitted our minivan and put the rest in a 10×10 storage. We still have too many travel bags but are learning quickly what is necessary and what isn't. I am looking forward to streamlining even further and your rtwblog is inspiring. Thanks – Steve reporting from Yosemite then off to San Fran…..

  • Monina

    :) I just got back from spending 11 days in Vietnam. I brought 5kg worth of stuff (clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc) from home with me… half of which I didn't even get to use. The laundry service in all hotels/hostels is efficient and cost $1/kg so it's very easy to be neat and clean in the midst of the heat and humidity. I also didn't take laptop with me as even the smallest hostel/inn we stayed at provided free internet service which is accessible to guests almost 24/7. i don't know if this kind of connectivity would have worked for your purposes.

    good luck on the rest of your journey and may you always smell as fresh as a daisy! :) by the way the mineral rock you are using as deodorant is also a good cure for mouth sores.

  • Deodorant crystal: I've been using one for the past 20 months in all kinds of weather. What works best for me is to take a shower and quickly dry off all except my pits. Then rub the stone vigorously onto the intended areas while they're still wet. Finally let the pits air dry, which should only take a minute. It doesn't stop sweating at all (but neither does an “anti-perspirant” really) but it does seem to keep odor away.

    Note that running water over the stone to moisten it might cause it to crack and break. That happened to me on an earlier test of the product years ago. Sharp corners + armpits = pain.

    Washing clothes in the shower: I've also found that to work well. Makes it less like doing laundry and more like just washing another body part.

    Hotels charging for internet: We ran into that in Dallas this past weekend. I mean, really, I'm already paying $100+ per night and they expect me to add $15-$30 per day (depending on options) for internet too? Sheesh. Was glad my iPhone could reach AT&T's 3G net. The good news is, having limited internet access means less time surfing in the corner and more time out having fun!

  • Doverider

    Interesting updates!! Still that video about your pyramid trip had me laughing my butt off! Awesome editing Jason!! I can't wait for the next installment! Safe Journeys guys!

    • Thanks Doverider, but my name is Justin! ;)

  • Very cool. I am interested to hear how the mineral salt works out. It is an interesting idea.

  • No way, you're doing all this writing on an iPod screen? Holy cats, I admire your writing skills even more. You must see, what, two sentences at a time at most? Maybe invest in some small reading glasses so you don't kill your eyes? Yipers.

  • No way, you're doing all this writing on an iPod screen? Holy cats, I admire your writing skills even more. You must see, what, two sentences at a time at most? Maybe invest in some small reading glasses so you don't kill your eyes? Yipers.

  • Erin

    Our familial experience has been that the cheaper the hotel, the more services you get. Most of the US hotels we stayed in were pretty clean and comfortable, the motels get kind of iffy. During our last road trip, we stayed in a business hotel and had to pay extra for everything. It was exquisitely appointed but everything cost more. Interesting point.

  • elaielaios

    Hey you might want to try the sony vaio P series. 590g, a laptop, and probably fairly close in size and weight to your bluetooth keyboard and ipod combo.

  • Rene

    I have to ask: how on God's name can you take two showers a day? I would figure that when you're constantly moving around that showering once, let alone twice, would be quite a challenge not just time wise but simply finding a facility. How do you manage?

    Sorry if this seems like a silly question, but I'm not a traveler.

  • John of York (UK)

    Sorry to nitpick but I guess the deodorant mineral salt is Alum hydrated potassium aluminium sulfate .My Father used this as a styptic pencil to stop minor bleeding after shaving, and I picked up a piece in Turkey where think it is also used in dyeing.It is an ideal addition to any male toilet bag or bathroom.

  • Kryolux

    Seems like you were in the Cairo Marriott a week after we were there in August, as part of a two week trip in Egypt. When we got to Aswan and Luxor, the temp hit 115; at only 90 or so, Cairo was “cool” by comparison, though with more humidity and air pollution.

    I was watching the video you made after this one (and before seeing this one) and asked my wife, “Say, doesn't that look like the souvenir store in our hotel in Cairo?” and sure enough, based on this video, it must have been! (When you say “Napoleanic era” be aware that the palace was built at the time of Napolean III, around 1869, rather than the original Bonaparte.) We had a great view of the Nile from one of the top floors of the “Z” tower, but the dust and smell of plastic resins from work on one side of the elevator shafts was a bit annoying. The buffet for breakfast was great, one of the best in Egypt, so we were told. Ramadan put a crimp in some of our eating and touring options, but gave us a whole different set of things to see and experience.

    We found a decent internet place about four blocks away for about $1 per half hour, which was usually enough time to check our email and let my wife upload her blogs and photos; the hotel won't steer you there, but this was a tip from previous trip takers. Also, for $1 and no prescription, we could get a box of 12 pills specifically designed for the inevitable “Mummy Tummy,” which I got on the river cruise the next week; it worked like magic within 24 hours, as advertised.

    I got a small brick-shaped block of that translucent alum-based stuff in Spain in 1969, which works way better than the white styptic pencils as an after shave treatment, but I never thought of using it as a deodorant; it has remained nearly undiminished after 40 years! I think a safer bet for underarms would be to use a similar-sized block of Himalayan sea salt.

    As a veteran “compleat lite-traveller,” who has never taken more than one carry-on bag for any trip of any length to any destination, I'm following your trip with interest, and plan to incorporate some of your tips. Although I often take a supplex vest with many pockets, I find that, even with careful weight distribution, the weight is inevitably borne by the shoulders; similarly, cargo pants pockets, which are often poorly placed, so that the items in the normal slash pockets wind up right down behind them, causing bulk and pressure against the legs, have the disadvantage of adding weight to each time you lift your leg, in other words, every step.

    I swear by my roomy Totes black fanny pack. I can get all the items I need for the day in there, and all the weight is borne by the hips, whether the bag is worn in front, back or on the side. I slip a foam shoulder pad on the belt, on the opposite side of the bag, so the weight doesn't dig into me as much. If I need more room, I slip additional leather or nylon bags onto the belt, like a cop's utility belt. So, I might put my mini-camcorder bag, smartphone bag, micro-umbrella sheath, or bag for MP3 player, batteries, micro-fan, monocular, etc., even though I can usually fit all the above into the basic fanny pack. It's as easy to buckle or unbuckle the pack as dealing with a vest, and I can sling it over one shoulder like a purse, or put it on top of my rollaboard when in transit. And with a Rick Steves fold-up nylon back pack the size of a lemon attached or inside, I am ready to shove hats, sweaters, the zip-off legs from my pants, lunch, or groceries to take back to the hotel.

    Yeah, I guess I could make the transition to a bagless trip, using a Scottevest or similar, but lots of shirt and pants pockets AND a fanny pack seems to work fine for me; add my regular Rick Steves microfiber day pack and I probably could travel the world indefinitely! Just the ability to switch SHOES each day, and have ONE extra pair of thin supplex zip-off pants and ONE extra supplex shirt can make all the difference.

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