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rolf pottsCould you travel around the world without a single piece of luggage — not even a small backpack or a purse? Just how necessary are those guidebooks or that extra pair of shoes?

Ask travel writer Rolf Potts. On August 22, he embarked upon the No Bag Challenge — a six-week, 12-country trip around the world during which his gear will be limited to whatever he can stuff into the pockets of his cargo pants and travel jacket. (The trip is partially sponsored by SCOTTEVEST/SeV Travel Clothing, which is supplying much of Potts’s wardrobe, including an 18-pocket Tropical Jacket.)

Items on Potts’s initial packing list included some basic toiletries, a few ultra-small gadgets (camera, iPod Touch), a couple of lightweight T-shirts and pairs of underwear, and some concentrated detergent … since he’ll be doing a lot of laundry!

Now four days into the trip, Potts is holding strong on his resolution to go bagless — and his body odor hasn’t gotten him thrown out of a restaurant yet. In addition to soaping up his dirty undies and T-shirts each night before bed, he also notes in a blog post that he plans to shower twice a day when the opportunity allows.

On the surface, it seems like Potts is taking the time-tested idea of “packing light” to a ridiculous extreme. After all, not everyone finds washing clothes in the sink every night to be a worthy use of precious vacation time. But is his journey really so outlandish? The challenge of packing less is sure to appeal to those of us who are sick of paying the airlines’ ever-increasing baggage fees, and it’s also an intriguing experiment to see how much stuff we really need when we travel.

We want to hear your opinions: Is Potts’s suitcase-free sojourn a heroic stance against consumerism and airline baggage fees — or is it just silly? Would you ever want to try traveling without a bag?

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47 Responses to “Look Mom, No Luggage!”

  1. LSKahn says:

    This is silly and is a publicity stunt for the travel vest.

    Now I do really pack light. I just traveled to Australia and NZ for 6 weeks with a suitcase between 24 and 26 inches. I had 2 pair of shoes (hiking boots were the second pair), 3 pairs of pants, 5 shirts, 2 sweatshirs (one of which was the liner to the jacket I brought), 5 changes of underwear and socks, 1 nightgown and one jacket with a zip out lining (which also was one of the sweatshirts). I was there in winter. If I go in winter again, I would reduce the luggage to 4 changes of underwear and socks and 4 shirts and increase by a second nightgown. Not sure if I would bring the hiking boots again. I did have one hiking pole–which I did not use but always bring for safety (During the one difficult hike I did, the company provided 2 hiking poles and I used those).

    Of course, I home exchanged and had immediate access to a washing machine and dryer. I took a largely empty carry on bag as well. Since I am not a shopper, the bag was still largely empty when I returned.

    Purchases: 4 t-shirts, 1 cheap necklace, 1 fleecelined jacket/sweatshirt, 1 CD, 1 cheap kangaroo pin. I’d rather save my funds for the next trip rather than load up on trashy souvenirs I do not really need. On second thought, I probably could have done without the 4 t-shirts, but the fleecelined jacket/sweatshirt came in handy in colder areas.

    Remember: What you pack, you have to schlep!

  2. Aja says:

    This might prove to be a bigger problem for women. In theory, I love the idea, but c’mon what about hair products?!

  3. SeaMarmot says:

    I think it would be more amusing if he wore his entire wardrobe rather than packed everything it in a suitcase. Now that would be EXTREME packing!

  4. Brenda says:

    Absolutely NOT – i don’t even like to wear the same clothes twice….

    • Millie says:

      That is the exact same as me! I have rule because of my extensive wardrobe I never let anyone apart from my immediate family see me in an outfit more than once. I am a very heavy packer and I am trying to cut down.

  5. Michigan says:

    I, as women, have worn several layers of clothing to the vacation that then became part of my wardrobe. I had a small piece of luggage as well, but it might be possible to do it W/O any. Interesting idea. We’ve gone with “throw away” clothes and came home with nothing. Literally everything we took we left behind, including the luggage. I carried my purse home. That was liberating.

    • ROBIN says:

      brilliant!!! Throw away clothes…I am inspired by that as a packing concept for my 3 week Hawaiian island hopping adventure this fall…thank you!!

  6. susan says:

    This is a little much, and I can’t imagine a trip where I could successfully carry it off. However, I would really like to improve my packing skills to the point that I never again have to pay for checked luggage.

  7. Helen W says:

    Great idea! I think we should all try to travel lighter. I’m sure most people don’t use half the stuff they take. We travel light – one small bag weighing no more than 12kgs and a small day sack – and we still have too much and that’s on a 2 to 5 months trip.

  8. Jackie Van Willigen says:

    I traveled without luggage for a total of 7 days, thanks to the airline losing my bag. I was cold and felt grimy, but it was easy to get around.

  9. Rama says:

    I once spent 10 days in Paris and was able to get by quite nicely by “roll” packing one pair of pants, two tops, 3 changes of underware, a nightie, and assorted hair and hygiene products in a large purse. That, with the pants, shirt, jacket, and shoes that I wore on the plane were more than enough and…everything taken was actually used! Long straps allowed the purse to be used as a backpack when riding those little yellow motor bikes. This Winter’s 20 day destination is Spain and Portugal…only luggage will be a rolling backpack.

  10. Harwich says:

    This can be done with the right clothing. Although not so extreme my husband and I generally travel for a month at a time all over the world with only a carry-on apiece. It’s no hardship to wash things out at night, and if they’re made of “travel” fabrics they’ll be dry in the morning. Hotel bath gels or shampoo works just fine as detergent. I usually take 4 pairs of pants (black, dark grey, navy or all black) or 4 pairs of shorts or capris depending on the climate, six shirts (2 short sleeve, 4 long, or reversed if the climate is hot), a sweater, a denim shirt, 4 pairs microfiber panties, 2 bras, 2 light cotton nightgowns. Maybe a scarf or a necklace to dress things up if needed. One extra pair of shoes, 4 pairs of socks. A raincoat that doubles as a jacket. This all fits easily and neatly in a 21 inch carry-on. Basic toiletries, medicines, camera, ipod touch, books in tote bag that I call, for the sake of the airlines, a purse. (My hair is “wash and wear”.. no dryers, no products, not even a comb most times). While it’s not bag-free, it’s quick on and off any plane and I won’t lose my luggage. I’m not going to be rated on my fashion sense here, just making sure I have a good time adequately clothed!

  11. laura loo says:

    definitely easier during the warmer months! What a fabulous challenge! I’m not sure if I’m brave enough for THIS, but will take the challenge to travel much later next time.

    good luck!

  12. aleta says:

    I am a minimalist and try to travel without check in baggage, but no backpack might be slightly difficult for me. Need at least one change of clothes, wouldn’t you think?

  13. Phil says:

    Interesting idea, albeit pretty pointless. Where is the harm in taking a ruck sack or small travel case? Both can be taken on flight as hand luggage and to my knowledge is not charged by the airlines? I recently took a 7 day trip and took only a 40L case, including my laptop (business trip). All went in as hand luggage and i was in and out of the airport in no time, no check in queues (online check-in) and no baggage collection. I had plenty of clean underwear for the trip too!

  14. Brinky says:

    I had a client travel with a group I was leading to Peru. She brought one backpack with pj’s, one change of clothes and a few toiletries. When I’m meeting with my groups before trips, I always talk up the importance of traveling light. Most people glaze over during the discussion, but this lady really took it to heart. And you know what? Nobody really noticed or cared what she was wearing!

  15. Parrot Mom says:

    YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING!!! Maybe a man can get away with, but no woman would or should..Granted I am not the lightest of packers but I’m trying even for our cruising and on the ships that have no washing machines..It might be move believable if he had a backpack.. Great publicity stunt though

  16. Jade says:

    This sounds EXTREME. However, if one can travel light, one should do so ‘cuz it’s much easier to get around unencumbered by luggages. After my recent European trip, I promised myself to travel light as much as possible with no checked-in luggage. But then, even carry-ons are limited in size and weight nowadays. The European airlines like Ryanair, etc. are small and they are very strict with the size and weight of your carry-ons.
    Maybe, it’s best to take the bus or train while in Europe.

  17. adrienne rosenthal says:

    We travel with a carry-on only no matter how long the trip, (did this even before the checked baggage charges). It would be quite a challenge to do this without a “purse”. BUT to do 12 countries in 6 weeks sounds difficult. Would you please publish his itinerary???

  18. Diane says:

    I’d be more interested in someone who traveled with just a carry-on, still free on MOST airlines. Even Spirit allows one carry-on if it can go under the seat….like a backpack. This story is just a stunt, but it would be interesting to know how and what someone would pack in a small piece of luggage or a backpack for a 6-week trip. It’s a LOT easier when you’re going to WARM places! Warm sweaters and jackets take up a lot of room. The other problem I have when traveling to Latin America is all the BOOKS I have to take! I read a LOT. I’m going to solve that problem by buying one of those Kindle readers. OTHER suggestions for packing more in less???

  19. carie says:

    Im planning on going to Paris in OCt, it sounds like an intriguing idea, I will consider it….no luggage…I think I would need at a purse…but then if I am in Paris–I might have to go shopping and come home with luggage.

  20. Okay, I am a mother of 3 small children including twins. I travel more than 6 times a year with 3 kids and 2 times a year with 5 kids. For a week or more time you only need 4 outfits per person maximum. This includes something for evening, 2 sets pj’s for kids. I can travel with 2 15 kilo bags with 5 kids no problems. People who still go away once a year for a holiday still book a bag for everyone which makes vacations with Ryanair etc expensive as you need to add on so much baggage which you don’t need. Everyone does not need a bag.

  21. admin says:

    @adrienne: Potts’s route can be found here: http://www.rtwblog.com/2010/08/no-baggage-challenge-the-route/

    @Diane: Our “What Not to Pack” story has some ideas for how to pack more efficiently: http://www.independenttraveler.com/resources/article.cfm?AID=808&category=9


  22. I think it’s wonderful. I admire him, and his innovative use of a jacket.

  23. I think it is a publicity stunt but ok with me if he takes nothing. I have traveled with every thing but “the kitchen sink” years ago aa a tour maaner but now I just take a carry on. You learn to pack the more you do it. I’m amazed at those who take several heavy gym shoes WHICH BY THE WAY, make us stand out as American tourist. You do need to take a small bag to make purchases and help the local economy! We should leave something (money) and not just take in the view.
    If we could afford to go we need to share a little of what we have. Or give something from our country. I’ve traveled in 76 countries many of them several times.

  24. Michael Jago says:

    I traveled for work for 5 years and the worry of lost luggage and the need to speak publically drove my bag drag to epic proportions. Just for fun I cut myself down to wearing my speaking suit and a briefcase for a 3 day trip. I recommend bringing a 1/4″ rope about 10′ long and a few cloths pins or you will be doing a lot of ironing! I camp with Boy Scouts and those kids can go a week on one set of cloths – it helps if everyone else is with the same program! Pew! Travelling needs to be fun. Go with whatever keeps your stress down. I like the suggestion of tossing all the clothing you bring – go to Goodwill and have fun with that on your next vacation.

  25. jen c says:

    Packing lighter is a great idea, but I think packing nothing is something only a few could manage. Packing lightly enough for only a carry-on is the best way to go!

  26. I admire him for being able to pack so lightly! It’s astounding, everyone over-packs, its a fact but it seems he may spend more time finding his stuff in all of his many pockets, and washing his undercrackers, then enjoying the travelling!

  27. Wouldn’t it be lovely to travel with so little. Did he have the t-shirts in the vest I wonder? Seems a bit odd and bulky though. As a flight attendant, I can pack a lot into a small space. One can even purchase space bags to pack that suck the air out and therefor offer more for less in the way of packing. As a flight attendant I also despise checking a bag and never count on it actually being at my final destination. There, I said it.

    I definitely know that people pack way to much and agree on the idea that you should lay out what you think you want to take and half it. Leave the “body bags” where they belong…in the store!

  28. Travel Zim says:

    I am a male and it is easy for me to travel light. I wear microfiber underwear (4 pairs), socks (4 pairs) and slacks (2 pairs) as well as Under Armor shirts (4) which can be washed in a sink at night and will be dry in the morning. I also wear no-iron cotton shorts (2 pairs). I take two pairs of shoes, one loafer style and hiking shoes. I also take a light jacket. My only other needs are a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and hair brush. These and all other things can either be bought or are furnished where I stay, native B&Bs, agritourismos, little inns, villas, and apartments in Europe and hotels, motels and condos in the U.S. I don’t always do this depending upon whether I am traveling by plane, car, train, or boat to get to and at my destinations. I could actually see how it is done. My wife could never do this though. Whatever you choose, safe travels to all.

  29. Kevin says:

    I’m going to be traveling to Europe in the fall w/out luggage, inspired by this concept. I hate lugging stuff around, and can’t wait for the freedom from the entourage of excess ‘stuff’.

  30. Murray says:

    For many years my wife and I have been doing what you are wanting to do. We decide to have some fun and start a blog describing what we do and some of our travels.
    Hope you enjoy it

  31. Light traveler says:

    I LOVE it! I’m a normal woman in her 40s and last year I did a cruise and a tour of Italy with just a backpack. in COLD weather! the backpack was also a carry-on sized case with wheels. High Sierra brand.

    Here’s how I did it:

    TOILETRIES: For toiletries, ladies, no one is more into them than me when I’m at home, but I allowed myself a sandwich ziplock bag ONLY. Best item: small tube of shampoo/conditioner is soap, detergent and of course shampoo. I have long hair and it was ponytail-time most days. A small can of hairspray and that scarf discussed below can do wonders as well as a really cute newsboy hat with a brim which kept my hair out of my face, the sun out of my eyes and kept my head warm. A good comb is all you really need. choose wisely. An emory board snapped in half, a tiny container of clear nail polish, minimal makeup in sample sizes–enough to get you through the trip. Chapstick. For lotions, get a good sunscreen/moisturizer for the face and use it for all your lotion-ing needs. medication-fit into a tiny ziplock inside the sandwich bag. My inhaler I stuck in my bra. Tiny deoderant, samples of perfume, small toothbrush, tiny toothpaste. I got sample pouches of conditioner for hair but did not use them. Don’t forget you can buy stuff as needed–I got a cold–tissues, cough drops, etc. Somewhere along the way I picked up a free disposeable razo in the hotel and when I needed to I shaved my legs and tossed it.

    CLOTHES: Washing clothes (in sink, with hotel provided soap, hang to dry overnight) and re-wearing is the key. Thin layers in coordinating colors (for me it was grey, black and purple). One pair of (purple) earrings that works for all looks, a good bu thin silky pashmina in…purple. Alternate walking shoes and sneakers–I brought some sparkly sandals at a thrift store for the cruise and tossed them at the end of the cruise when the land travels began. Jacket that zipped apart into two jackets, 1 pr jeans, 1 pr leggings, 1 pr grey khakis, reversible long eleastic wasit skirt, 2 pr socks, 2 bras, wrinkle-free white cotton shirt, tshirt for layering and pajamas, thin long sleeved shirts in purple and gray. pair of thin flip flops you can toss after the cruise or wear if its warm. Additionally, you can bring old stuff or thrift store stuff and throw it out as you go through the last few days, freeing up space in your bag for all the truffles, chocolates, and gourmet items you buy on the way.

    Let go of your attachments to certain “things” and embrace the experience of travel. I did not care that I was wearing the same color eyeliner for the 10th day in a row when I was gazing at Michelangelo’s David ALONE in a deserted gallery in the off season. I am pretty sure he did not care, either.

  32. David says:

    Some of these writers criticising Rolf Pott’s sponsored little venture, have to make one laugh in how their descriptions of their own travel gear is in reality such an antithesis of the concept of independent or lightweight travel ~ to wit: carry on luggage, a suitcase (!), heaps of clothes, daily access to a washing machine, multiple pairs of boots and shoes ~ even one woman who can’t wear clothes twice !?!

    Methinks some of those softer and more self-centred critics have actually found their way onto the wrong site here, as they are far from being “independent” travellers, but rather are in truth highly dependant travellers !!

  33. Bob Ghandour says:

    This sounds like pure heaven. I would love to see how how the challenge is doing. Any tips on travelling light with kids. Their pockets are much smaller and so they cant fit a much in, but i guess their clothes are smaller too

  34. Garreth cashmore says:

    Lats year we did 17 days cycling holiday in southern spain with our 3 sons, their ages 5,7 and 9. we had done practice minimal packing trips here at home for weekends.

    we were collecting bikes once we go there worked out cheaper than shipping five mountan bikes from the UK to spain.

    each of the boys traveled out in Jeans and tshirt and lightweight waterproof kagool type coat and trainers, in a small bag was 2 tshirts a pair of thin nylon running shorts, underwear for the trip was Nylon speedos.

    my packing list was similar only i had things like a razor and the toothpaste and brushes in my small bag.

    the wife took a little more but in total our luggage weighed in at 18KG for 5 people which was good.

    we wore swimwear as underwear for the whole trip this had the benefit of being lightweight and we could go swimming whenever we got to a beach, we used the hotel soaps to do laundry each night. most things dried overnight. we bought things like sun oil as we ran out, we found spay oil for 3 euros which lasted us all for about a day and a half. all the family totally enjoyed the trip, where tech gadgets were limited to just a mobile phone and charger and bike lights. medical items were just the basic remedies for tummy upset or headaches plasters and antiseptic wipes (luckily none were needed this time).

    this year we are doing three of the canary islands over 15 days cycling again.

  35. WEG says:

    I certainly couldn’t do it! But I read a good tip on another independenttraveler.com article: pack for only a week, no matter how long you’re traveling. Laundry once a week, just like you do at home. I may just try it!

  36. Tony says:

    I agree with light traveller; pack light weight clothes that dry fast and wash overnight

  37. john says:

    gotta agree with weg above, pack for a week and use Laundary facilities where you can

  38. Frank says:

    I did a twelve day trip to India with only a carry-on. I use hotel soap for laundry and use two blow-up vinyl hangers for drying. Polyester and nylon. Poly sock liners so get more use out of socks themselves. Reduced my shave kit to bare minimums and used zip lock for it.Clothes are all rolled to lessen wrinkles. Even took along my Tilley hat! Light weight shorty pj’s.
    A small hair dryer if clothes don’t dry completely.

  39. Bailey says:

    I do not like idea of shoving everything into your pockets (has this guy ever been thru an airport with TSA agents and really pissed off passengers who are tired of waiting for him to take all his stuff out of the many pockets). Here is my tips it has worked for me and I’ve only flown a few times in my entire life 1) Take a 15 inch backpack (it sounds big but it’s not my backpack is a regular Jansport type (not Jansport another brand I got off eBay) it has one small inside pocket that is holding my sleeping wear, underwear, towel, socks, and led battery powered tiny lantern (if it gets here in time before my maybe upcoming trip it’s in case the power goes out at the hotel), it has one big main backpack that is holding my clothing (2 tank tops, 1 jeans, 1 boots, 1 sweater, 1 very lightweight rain jacket (I might be going to the Pacific Northwest), toiletries, first aid kit, Eton radio, my purse (because your purse is consider another carry on so if you bring one carry-on and your purse you have to shove your purse in your carry-on), snacks, 2 tiny flashlights, AAA batteries for my flashlights and lantern, snacks and it still has room, 2 water bottle pockets on the outside/side part of the backpack which will be carrying 2 empty Brita water filter bottles (because we all know the 3-1-1 or at least some of us do), medium sized pocket on the front of the backpack holding my I.D. (my wallet will be in the main pocket because it has 2 zippers so I can lock that pocket up for safety), gift cards to various places I like to eat (I don’t want to pull out my cash every time), pain medication, lots of gum (my ears hurt stupid altitude), plane ticket and flight schedule, digital camera, extra digital camera batteries, extra pro duo cards for my digital camera, cell phone, map of the cities I’ll be going to, hand sanitizer, small snack bars, and some change/cash for vending machines/taxis/tips. Because I’ll be wearing 1 jeans, 1 tank top, 1 sweater, shoes, socks, underwear I don’t need to pack that much clothing and you can usually find stores that sell clothing if you need something at your destination but if you’re visiting a nudist colony then the only clothing you’ll need is the ones you’re wearing (you’re wearing clothes to the airport right) all of this sounds like a lot but put your small/light clothing in Ziploc bags or those bags you can squeeze air out of without using a vacuum and voila more room. Leave the books, magazines, electronic games if you are traveling by yourself or without kids (I’m single and don’t have kids) but a book/magazine in the airport and for me I don’t need games I’ll be taking so many pictures that those things will not be used. Sorry for the long post I said tips not a tip.

  40. Bailey says:

    Sorry I forgot to space the rest of my tips with the numbers whoops!

  41. Mollymoos says:

    For me there are few things worse than schlepping luggage all over the world. I see many different opinions on this in the replies to the “No Luggage” article. Clearly the article was to prove a point about the clothing he was touting. So let that go. For us mere mortals who travel and don’t want to be tied to luggage conveyer belts, lost luggage lines and outrageous charges for bags, carry-on is the way to go. I’m 67 and have traveled the world for years in a 21″ rolling bag. That coupled with my large “purse” that goes under my seat has taken me for 3 1/2 months to Europe, 6 weeks to Australia and New Zealand and trips to Africa, Central America, Canada, Asia and South America. Yes, the sink in your room is your best friend each evening, but how long does it take to wash out some undies and a shirt? When I’m traveling people say to me all the time, I cannot believe how many great outfits you have … I just smile.. Do you really need 10 outfits? Just be creative with a few scarves, pieces of costume jewelry and you’re ready to go. Cold weather, layer up the garments in your bag and top with a windbreaker. Hot weather that’s easy. If a garment can’t be used for a minimum of three things, it has no place in your bag ;-)(undies excepted) A pareo can be used for a wrap on “formal night”, a picnic table cloth, a beach coverup, tie it and it becomes a bag for the farmer’s market, roll it behind your lower back on long plane flights, etc. Think about multiple ways to use things before you pack. Only one use… toss it. I too give away clothes along the way. As soon as I don’t have a use for it anymore, I give it to someone who could use it, the taxi driver, the maid, someone I’ve just met that admired whatever it was. I give it to them. They are happy, I am happy. Loved the idea of the Brita water filter bottle… I’m going on line to get one now. Thanks and travel lightly.

  42. Pityke says:

    I think that the lot of stuff he was carrying in the vest is unnecessary. You don’t need all these, just a passport, money/credit card and maybe an extra pair of underwear in your pocket to avoid washing every night. You won’t miss the rest and will easily find a solution to any issues comes in your way.
    In my experience if you have cloths made from wool helps a lot, as it won’t stink after half a day and dries easily when you wash it after a couple of days of use. However you can buy cheap clothes almost anywhere in the world, or where it is not an option, you will still better with your one set of cloths than the locals…

  43. bob says:

    I’m 61 years old and in two weeks I leave for a month to CR, France and Italy, in part to retrace my father’s WWII journey. Total ‘luggage’ is a pair of gym shorts, a toothbrush, a passport, a smart phone & charger, earplugs, and a 6′ piece of string (for a clothes line). Staying in hotels/hostels, so washing each night should be no problem. Have traveled short trips this way before and am looking forward to the freedom of it all.

  44. Alice says:

    I’m female and could easily do a round the world trip in warm and cold climates using only one carry-on bag. I couldn’t do much souveneir shopping, but that’s another issue. One pair of nylon twill pants, one pair of leggings that could double as long underwear or sleepwear. pair of shorts that could double as sleepwear, probably a black knit tank or t-shirt dress that could double as sleepwear, button down shirt, t-shirt that would double as long underwear or sleepwear. Swimsuit? A silk sarong/skirt? A sweater or closely fitting jacket that is heavily water resistant. iPhone substitutes for camera, computer, and guidebook. Pair of heavy duty black or brown walking shoes, plus my orthopedic sandals, which may work as dress sandals. possibly foldable ballet flats. 3-4 pairs of underwear, 2 bras. If travelling with someone else, share a washer/dryer load every couple days. warm wool socks cause I can’t sleep with cold feet. In order to wash in sink at night, can’t take thick stuff or cotton. Silk might be okay.

  45. pamela thomsen says:

    I think too many people angst over what to take and so on and so on. That it really makes for a tense vacation/trip. Who cares if you wear something more than once? And if need so, you can stop at a thrift store, or Kohls etc…
    and get what you need.
    just chill, if you are flying economy,,, doesn’t that answer it all.
    95 of all the planes I’ve been on are just that, people looking for deals, not so much comfort. So I see his way is very freeing. Thanks for publishing it.

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