Rolf Potts travels around
the world with no luggage

Q&A with Jonathan Yevin, no-luggage traveler

August 13, 2010 by Rolf Potts

Though I’ve long harbored vague intentions of traveling without baggage, I wasn’t aware that other travelers had attempted such a feat until 2006, when travel writer Jonathan Yevin emailed me about his luggage-less adventures in Central America. Since then, Jonathan has gone on to take four more extended no-baggage journeys, including trips to Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and India.

While I was preparing for the No Baggage Challenge, I emailed Jonathan for some advice and insights into no-luggage travel. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:

How did you first get the idea to travel with no luggage?

The idea to travel with no luggage came in 2005, when I was on assignment for a men’s magazine writing an article about mountain climbers in the Ecuadorean Andes. This activity involves lugging nearly a hundred pounds of gear from town to base camp to summit and back again. I’d always been a super light traveler, favoring a standard Jansport over a linear frame pack, so you can imagine I found all this equipment extremely cumbersome. Upon returning to Quito, I officially retired from the sport and gave away all those trappings — from the ice ax to three sets of waterproof gloves to the frame pack itself — until I was stripped to bare essentials: Passport, toothbrush, credit card, a few hundred US dollars. From there I made my way north to Mexico over the course of a month, mostly at sea level.

What kind of gear do you bring on a no-luggage trip?

Before my last trip I had a tailor dismantle a pair of cargo pants, taking the pockets off the front and sewing them on the inside. While this afforded me the ability to keep my money, passport, toothbrush, and universal charger safely tucked away, it left various hotel clerks, government officials, and random passersby somewhat taken aback whenever I had to publicly unzip my pants and shove my hand down there to pay for a hotel or fill out a visa form. In my outer pockets I keep an ultra compact digital camera and a smartphone. I took the HTC G1 Android (with an extra battery) on my last adventure — and I highly recommend it, even for those looking to disappear off the grid.

Depending on climate you may want to invest in some quick dry clothing. I would recommend nondescript plain clothes, so you can keep the same company for a few days and no one will notice you always wear the same thing.

In what ways does no-luggage travel enhance the travel experience?

Luggage-less travel makes coming and going incredibly easy. The moment you cease enjoying a particular situation, you move on. Literally, that very moment. It’s the escapist’s utopia. It also shifts your travel consciousness in subtle ways. For instance, souvenir shopping is largely out of the question. Then there’s the way people you meet react once they realize your condition: They open up. I’ve been invited in people’s vehicles, homes, to weddings, you name it.

In what ways does no-luggage travel complicate or inhibit the travel experience?

No-luggage travel is certainly not for everyone. My mother, for instance, thinks I’ve lost my mind. So perhaps it’s not very practical for middle-aged travelers, or higher maintenance people in general. Personal hygiene may be compromised, especially after a few weeks in tropical climes… there will be a day or two here and there where you’ll be jonesing for a Samsonite filled with your favorite fabric softened garments.

Any advice or warnings for people who are considering no-luggage travel?

The secret of no-luggage travel is that it’s the easiest thing in the world. Just do it. As a matter of fact, stay light always — even when you’re not traveling. The other day a friend of mine shared a wonderful quote (which I will paraphrase from memory). Thoreau said that if an emergency struck, a man should be able to leave his home with nothing more than the clothing on his back and feel like he left nothing behind.

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