Rolf Potts is traveling around the world with no luggage


In a recent Boing Boing guest post, I talked about Neo-Minimalism and the rise of the Technomads. Both terms describe a wide array of practices relating to reducing the stuff you own and becoming more mobile.

In what is potentially the most minimal "technomadic" experiment ever, Rolf Potts (author of one of my favorite travel/lifestyle books Vagabonding) has set out on 6-week, 12-country, round-the-world trip without a single piece of luggage.

His trip is sponsored by ScotteVest (covered frequently here in the past), and yes, it's kind of a stunt. But it's also a super interesting experiment in travel minimalism. Exactly how much do you need to bring with you to get by on a trip like this?

I've written before about how travel is a great way to help you pare down and figure out what you truly need.

This no-baggage adventure will be more than a stunt to see if such a thing can be done: At a time when intensified travel-stresses and increased luggage fees are grabbing headlines, it will be an experiment to determine how much we really need to bring along to have the trip of a lifetime.

What items, if any, are essential to the enjoyment of a journey to other countries? How does traveling light make a trip cheaper, simpler or easier (or more difficult)? What lessons from this no-baggage adventure might apply to day-to-day life—both on the road and at home?
The trip started in New York City, and Rolf has already made his way through Europe. He's posting frequent written and video blog posts on this site tracking the trip. You can also follow him on Twitter. As someone with a growing interest in super-minimalism who travels all the time, this is totally relevant to my interests. I missed running into him in Paris by just a few hours, but with any luck, we'll cross paths at another point on our respective journeys. I'm following along closely to see what issues arise and how he handles them.


  1. No luggage is all well and good unless you have medical concerns. Folks who can travel this light (and not bring exorbitant amounts of medication) are fortunate! :)

    For the record I’m diabetic…

  2. I know the lead singer of Catharsis used to do quite a bit of traveling with the clothes on his back and a toothbrush. I never asked him, but I’m curious how he did his laundry…

    1. Er, it’s always possible to simply find a restroom somewhere that locks from the inside, wash all the clothes you’re wearing in the sink, wring them out with your hands, and put them back on. Eventually your body heat and natural movement will dry them out. Ta da.

  3. Sorry Rolf, but I’ve got you beat.

    I intentionally took a business trip to audit a supplier and only took a pen. No luggage, no magazine, not even a pad of paper. Just the cloths on my back, a drivers license and a pen.

    I unintentionally took a business trip to New Zealand, Hong Kong, and Japan with just a towel, camera, second pair of underwear, credit card, and passport. 4 day trip, too. Credit goes to the airlines for sending my luggage straight to Hong Kong instead of NZ, but losing it too.

  4. I travel regularly between the UK and Europe with ‘no luggage’. It’s not as minimal as Rolf’s jacket-only odyssey but I carry only the same small shoulder bag that follows me throughout my work day anyway. The only addition is some clothing and toiletries. I don’t have extra stuff stashed abroad, either.

    The strict baggage policies and financial penalties of low-cost airlines are excellent training. Eventually, one realises how little one needs.

    Caveat: As others have noted in previous threads, I’m well aware I’m one of the lucky few whose career allows them to engage in this lifestyle.

  5. Peace Pilgrim walked for 25 years around America with no luggage and no facy vests or man pockets. I’ve always wondered what she carried.

  6. He might not have any luggage, but with all that stuff and the vest, he’s still carrying around a lot of baggage.

  7. Well, it is a gimmick, but helps demo how little one needs. Go Rolf! I am always amazed when families think they need so much luggage.

    We travel all over the world as a family ( non-stop since 2006) often for months at a time with just a tiny daypack each & that includes homeschool supplies and 3 laptops! ;)

    We’re in Barcelona now about to circle the world for 8 months and that is all we will carry.

    I think Benny Lewis had the funniest video about packing light. ( Although that Carlin one on stuff is hysterical).

    Minimalism & open ended world travel go together like peanut butter & jelly. ;) The freedom rocks!

  8. I’ve traveled sans luggage twice.

    Once, I went to a two-day conference with a toothbrush, extra pair of socks, and extra pairs of underwear in my pockets. It was winter so sweat wasn’t an issue.

    The other time was for a funeral. I was too devastated to care about luggage then. My friends took care of everything I forgot to bring.

  9. He must be wearing 6 day underwear!


    Six day underwear has three leg holes.

    1. Wear for day one
    2. Rotate using the unused leg hole and wear for day two
    3. Rotate in the same direction by one leg hole and wear for day three
    4. Turn underwear inside out
    5. Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 for days four, five, and six.

  10. Since his discharge from the US Army more than a decade ago, ex-MP turned drfiter Jack Reacher (fictonal creation of Lee Child) has been traveling across America from motel to motel with only his folding toothbrush.

    He buys new clothes (often at a dollar, hard-ware or janitor supply store) every 3 or 4 days and throws out the old ones – still less expensive than being tied down with a job/home/family etc.

    In recent books Child has given Reacher an ATM card (his adventures [eg tangling with neo-nazis, taliban sleeper cells, counterfeiters, soldiers for hire or hook-for-hand fianciers] are funded by the money he recovers from his advesaries)and a passport (now expired) – other than that, Reacher chooses to have nothing.

  11. Watching the videos on his site I’m impressed at how he commits to this kind of lo-fi travel. He’s not using hotel laundries, he’s washing his own clothes. It’s not just some guy on an expense account buying stuff as he goes.

    I have to say, it’s inspiring. I loathe luggage, especially on long trips to multiple locales. You end up dragging some big duffel around for days on end.

    For all the haters who call BS on minimalist for using tech, I can only roll my eyes. The whole point of tech is to simplify complex activities. Like they think that these people aren’t really traveling properly because they are flying and not going by covered wagon on something. Please.

  12. For a long trip, I find it hard to not check one bag. I can’t stand wearing the same pair of walking shoes without rotating. And I hate dealing with the so-called security screen with toiletries..
    I just check all that stuff.

  13. I have had bad “delayed luggage” experiences before and so avoid checking bags whenever possible. This example is a bit minimalist for me — I prefer a change of shoes to avoid blisters — but my son, then 9, and I went to England for 15 days with only a carry on each. At one tiny hotel/B&B in Cornwall, they even did a load of laundry for us! Sometimes you have to be creative though — when we left London for Bath a day early there were no rooms at the inn, so to speak and ended up at a YMCA youth hostel for a night. Found out that cotton t-shirts make a reasonable substitute for towels in a pinch!

  14. hey, if you can afford to be jet-setting around the world, you can certainly afford to pick up a change of clothes and some toiletries at your destination..

    taking much of anything on a plane these days is just asking for trouble..

  15. Cool idea. Seems like it would take quite a while to empty out all your pockets to get through airport security, like the scene in “Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome” where it takes him forever to pull out all his weapons at the weapon check.

    1. I think the point of putting everything in the vest is that he just takes the vest off and throws it in a tray at security.

      I don’t know if this is really practical as in “we don’t need luggage anymore” but it’s an interesting experiment about how much we really need. I’ve been leaving a change of clothes behind in cities I visit a lot, and then next time I go there I need to bring less. I’m down to mostly one carry on for most trips.

    2. It’s actually not a problem if you’ve got a jacket with all that stuff in it. I just traveled for six weeks in Europe with a Scottevest and a carry-on. The nice thing about keeping all that crap in your jacket is you can just take it off and let it go through the x-ray, rather than taking it with you through the metal detector.

  16. Its branding new consumerism! Applization of a guilt-addled consumer base. Those with expendable incomes feel guilty because so many others are forced to go without, scrimp n save, and images of the increasing gap between rich and poor bombard these consumers on their favorite blogs, tv shows, and newspaper headlines.

    The guilt sets in – but somehow their income doesnt shrink! The solution – minimalism, a consumer trend based on purchasing that which allows you to shed possessions. I-pods, designer bicycles, and now, cargo shorts!

  17. OK. Where is his business suit for meetings? Where are the samples of product? Where is his documentation he needs to show his client? Travel like this is nice IF you aren’t really doing anything but travelling. My wife and I did a month in Europe only with backpacks. Nothing much really to see here…

  18. Traveling/living light is great to get people past the “Oh, I MUST do/have this!” mentality. I have friends who MUST sleep with a certain pillow and bundle themselves in a comforter (and then complain about hot summer nights), who MUST take a shower with a fresh towel every day or else “they can’t function at all,” who MUST bring extra books, iPods, game systems, and such in case they happen to get bored while traveling (and then never use any of it because, hey, they’re traveling and doing new things!).

    Getting past that is contagious for stuff around the house, as well. I have a rule that if I haven’t used something for 2 years, I consider putting it on eBay (if it has value). If I haven’t used it for 5 years, I give it away unless it has inherent long-term value (good books, for example). The only exception is nostalgic items, and I find that that’s often where people end up with too much “stuff.” I know people who keep every holiday card they’ve received!

    I try to travel as light as possible within reason because I’ve traveled stupidly in the past. When I was a teenager I would bring extra books and CDs and then felt too embarrassed to actually use them while sitting around with family. I also packed lightly for a 3 week camping trip and discovered how cold it can get in the northern Rockies when you sleep in a tent (the next day I bought thermal underwear). I think that’s a good in-between for most people — pack light, based on what you actually, truly need, but also make sure you have a backup in case things get FUBAR. Packing one pair of underwear isn’t so hot if you come down with dysentery.

  19. I’m incredibly surprised that airport security isn’t hassling him. Lucky he isn’t brown. What do you think would happen if anyone other than average white guy tried to get a plane with only a vest with some random liquids and electronics and no luggage.

    What is wrong with carrying around a backpack if you want to go light? It seems like a backpack would be easier than a vest. I mean what if you get too hot. Where are the extra jacket and vest supposed to go?

  20. I used to treeplant in northern BC,and there was a guy who showed up every year with the shirt on his back. No tent, no boots, no tools. He would sleep in trucks, eat the food provided, and cadge the rest. I always envied the blithe confidence that he would be fine, as I hauled my big rucksacks into the bush. Somehow he became a surgeon.

  21. I suppose I pack on the heavier side, but then I don’t really fly that much either…

    Usually if I’m going on vacation I’m doing so to relax, not do laundry everyday because I didn’t feel like putting a few extra shirts and shorts into a piece of luggage.

    All this minimalist stuff really is all in how you look at it.

    Could a business professional do it? Maybe for a few days, but certainly not for a week. (Are you going to show up in the same thing day after day, regardless if it is clean or not?)

    Or if you were traveling and planned on attending a very nice restaurant or show? Would you wear the same thing you had on the plane?

    Like I said, I usually am going places to relax. That means I don’t really have much of a plan as what I’ll be doing. So I pack what I might need, which might be to much, but I’m always prepared.

    1. Actually “business professionals” are some of the most minimal packers I know, and my own business trips are usually 2 weeks at a time and yeah, doing laundry each night works no problem. Though I don’t stress about wearing the same thing as most of my clothes look exactly alike anyway.

  22. To bad Scottevest products are expensive as hell to buy outside of USA (freight), and i dislike mail order clothes in general as one do not know if they will fit until they arrive.

  23. If you don’t have any luggage when boarding a plane, you’ll get the happy “S” logo on your boarding pass meaning “secondary search.” :(

  24. It seems that most of these “neo-minimalists” think that travel (and generally, exotic travel) is something inherently praiseworthy. Why is nomadism better than staying put?

    I have a lot of stuff at least in part because I want to stay in one place, make it better, and keep it in good repair.

  25. the rich do that all the time,they just buy what they need as they go,or have a flunky do that for them,and toss the dirty stuff.

    1. Seems to be the 4 part Thinkoutside Stowaway, but i am unsure if that keyboard is made any more. Closest i have seen recently is one from Thanko, but then as a usb keyboard.

  26. Yeah, this is dude is quite laughable, i went 2 months to china, and to thailand, twice with less than whats in this picture, and less than $3,000.

    deoderant, toothpaste, some techno-gadget, a flashlight? lol
    looks like some rich dude whos buying his way, like another dave said.

  27. I love these posts and links, Sean… I have to admit, though, it’s because they make me feel like I live in Old Curmudgeon Land, and I’m peeking out at the modern world through some dimensional rift.

    Here’s what I carry all the time:

    1) leather wallet, not too thick
    2) ring of keys and access fobs
    3) leatherman PST2
    4) migraine meds
    5) cheap sunglasses
    6) recently, a funny little toothbrush thingy
    7) usually, some small change from my last purchase

    I normally also have a Swiss Army “unbreakable” pocketwatch, but it’s busted at the moment. I’ll fix it Real Soon Now.

    When I travel, I use a single carry-on, regardless of the length of the trip. If it’s only a day or two, I won’t have to wash my clothes. If it’s a business trip, I’ll have a company-owned ultralight laptop, too, and maybe some exotic cables in that bag.

    This used to be normal. Women carried more, though, which (now that I think about it) probably means it’s more intelligent to carry more stuff.

  28. I know a musician who traveled throughout the 80s with only the clothes he had on and his instrument. Worked great for him (but not so great if you had to sit next to him – pee yew!)

  29. As someone who routinely travels both internationally and inside the US with minimal or no luggage, I’ve learned that having minimal luggage is a nearly direct gateway to some kind of brief secondary security screening.

    Somewhere there’s a script that’s telling the security theatre players that the less junk you travel with the more likely that you’ve got nothing to live for, and are therefore either smuggling rare lizards in your underpants or have a bomb in your anal cavity.

  30. Took a trip to Taiwan. Returning through SFO, someone apparently mistook my bag for theirs, and I thus had no luggage. Thus began a wee bit of conversation with the customs and security folk. Got my bag eventually, about 4 days later. Thus was a relatively simple business trip made a bit more of an adventure.

  31. I have been living with what I can get into one backpack and one piece of hand luggage for the past 3/4 of a year. Sheer neccessity as my job requires me to go to a different country every 1-3 months. I never even heard of minimalist living or techno nomads or anything like that.

    If you have the money to do it it’s not really that big of a deal. A Laptop is more than enough to clutter your life with infinitely many chunks of engaging with something for 5 minutes before moving on.

    If you want a challenge then surround yourself with useful stuff like kitchen utensils or gardening tools, but cut yourself of from the net. I feel like fighting the stuff that clutters up our lifes is fighting a phantom in lieu of facing what it actually is that is bogging you down.

  32. This would be interesting if it was prolonged indefinitely. But not in regards to some guy who can be evac’d or resupplied any time he needs it.

  33. I’m all for travelling light, but without the resources (or a fricking sponsor for that matter), I’ve got to carry stuff. I can’t eat out every meal, and I can’t afford to do laundry every day. Wash my clothes in the sink and let them air dry? Great idea if you have a place to hang out naked, but I’m usually in a hostel and need a change of clothes. Pajamas are helpful too. Travelling through different climates means bringing a sweater, coat, hat etc. I don’t think having a couple paperbacks on me is excessive.

    It’s easy to be carefree when you can pay for it.

  34. So I do the opposite than these neo-minimalists, I have to pack everything because I have almost zero disposable income. I have the wife and kids, home and organic kitchen stuff, ham radio station, nerdy science project stuff at home, DIY junk drawers, beehive, etc at my apartment. But for travel I have a folding bicycle and almost everything I need for sub $1 a day travel even with the family although that usually entails extra bus/train fare for long trips since they don’t like to pedal for ten or more hours a day several days in a row. Pretty much the only expendables we have are food and cooking fuel, lentils rice, spices, salt, and kerosene or ethanol fuel for short trips or unexpected cooking.
    The main stuff I carry:
    Dahon Speed8 folding bike outfitted for touring with panniers
    Hennessy hammock(great for stealth camping or hanging on a friends porch in summer)
    Triangia cook set with alcohol burner
    Packable jacket
    Wool Hat
    Dish soap for washing everything including me
    Flat universal drain plug
    Bungee cords for strapping down stuff or hanging out clothes to dry
    Zaurus PDA with WiFi card, wired ethernet card, and folding keyboard
    bluetooth headset
    LED headlight
    Maps and vinyl bike touring map case
    2m and 40m QRP ham radios for calling home free via repeater network, FM satellite, or bouncing off the ionosphere
    Food (honey, rice, soy sauce, lentils, salt, spices, raisins, peanut butter, tea, sugar, powder cream)
    Electrical immersion water heater
    Solar battery charger for AA, AAA, bike light, phone, and PDA
    Plastic bowl
    Nesting East German army knife, fork, spoon, can opener
    Pen, Pencil, Graph paper notebook
    Shortwave set, Sony SW-1 and wire antenna (not the whole James Bond kit)
    Prepaid mobile phone(incoming calls free)
    First aid stuff, sewing kit, and bike fix tools and spares
    Leatherman Supertool 200
    Butane soldering iron
    Paramedic scissors
    Littman cardiologist stethoscope(the best)
    Microfiber towel (same as the travel ones but sold as a cheap cleanup rag)
    Hostel sheet sack
    Sleeping bag
    Bike lights
    tripod chair
    Water bottles everywhere

    Cheap silk shirts, synthetic zip off pants, cycle shorts for underwear on bike, cotton boxers for off bike, wool socks with spares, brim hat for off bike in sun. My wife does the same but prefers a Sarong type wrap and sandals for off bike.

    For longer trips I skip the triangia cook set and take a MSR set of pots or a Hawkins 1.5l pressure cooker and a MSR XGK stove and larger quantities of rice and lentils. If there is water nearby I use a MSR miniworks filter, boil in the pressure cooker, or the beach I sometimes take a PUR MROD desalinator. Some travel irons make great lightweight travel hotplates.

    If my wife is coming she needs to type with a reasonable keyboard and send in work several times a week so if we will be away from a networked computer she brings an Ubuntu Linux Eee-900, a 25 watt folding solar panel, extra battery, a 3g modem, and a 12v charging cable in addition to the 100-240v AC charger. She brings her own MP3 player and 2m ham radio for free communications between us.

    More kids means more sleeping gear and clothes, they can sit in custom made nylon strap seats on the front or rear of the folding bicycles, but will eventually have their own touring bikes. Kids means taking a tent too, but that just bungees to the bike.

    You would be surprised how small this all packs up with kids clothes taking up the most space, nearly everything except food and pots is quite miniaturized or ultra light.

  35. I spent four weeks in South America, and the people at REI said I didn’t need to take more than a 2100 cu in bag. This shocked me, because I had a 5,000 cu in bag I’d always used for backpacking. That vest isn’t a whole lot smaller, maybe half the size of the bag I took.

    Traveling by plane/train/taxi requires a lot less stuff. Plus you can just buy what you need and discard what wears out on the road. You’re also a lot closer to medical facilities.

    I had a 2100 cu in bag (a more oblong, tougher version of a school Jansport, essentially – but fit in an overhead compartment), and almost half of it was full of novels and 2 spare sets of jeans (it’s hot in South America, shorts take up less space and are cooler). In that bag was also malaria meds (soda can sized bottle) and a netbook, DS, power adapter and plug adapter. If I did it again, I’d use the same bag, but fill it less. There’s no reason to travel with all your possessions strapped to your chest.

  36. It’s easy to travel with no luggage at all. Just bring some of that near-weightless stuff that magically transforms into whatever you wish for.

    What’s it called again? Oh yeah. Money.

  37. I don’t want to sound too snarky, having taken similar trips myself in the past. However, the entire “minimalist” movement seems to consistently forget the scale of infrastructure required for their existence.

    There’s nothing minimal about airplanes.

    The pace of Rolf’s trip reminds me of Dave Eggers’ book, “They Shall Know the Speed of Our Velocity”.

    Again though, as a person who considers himself a minimalist when it comes to travel, I think airplanes count as cheating.

    Foot, wind, or pedal power… that makes the traveler responsible, rather than (much of) the rest of the world.

  38. Whenever I travel by plane, I always try to wear a jacket of some sort, most often a blazer or suit jacket. People tend to bother you less if you are dressed that way. With all the pockets you can just take the jacket off and place it with your shoes in security without having to turn everything inside-out. You can fit a surprisingly large amount in a regular blazer.

  39. Apparently, the great mathematician Paul Erdös didn’t have a fix adress. All his possessions were in two suitcases. But he had a very rich intellectual life, Wrote countless number of mathematical papers, had friends and collegues everywhere in the world. What was important for him was connections: connections between peoples, and between ideas. The Erdös Number summarize these ideas.

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