Travel without baggage

Kevin Kelly has posted a piece on his Technium blog about four modes of no-baggage travel:

1) Total Nada

2) Just Pockets

3) Day Baggers

4) Minimalist Borrowers

yevin.jpgTotal Nada. In this mode you take your passport, a toothbrush, some cash, a cell phone, the clothes you are wearing, and that's it. It's pretty radical. You have to be in a certain zen state to enjoy this, but like many things, once you jump in it is not hard to do. This mode is great if you are drifting, going with the flow, and not trying to do anything else. If your travel entails producing something, you'll need tools (keyboard, or cameras, or books, or maps, or hand tools), which takes you out of this mode.

But a number of folks sail off this way every year. For one example, Jonathan Yevin travelled for a month in Latin America in Total Nada mode. He wrote of his adventures in Budget Travel. (That's him [above] with all his luggage.):

I just completed a month-long, bag-free trip through Central America. I ran the full length with nothing but the clothes I was wearing: cargo pants, maroon T-shirt, and gray fleece tied at the waist. On my person was an American passport, a Visa credit card, about $50, a toothbrush, a tiny Canon digital camera with extra battery, a Ziploc bag of vitamins, and a copy of The Kite Runner, whose chapters I tore off as I read them. Begging for toothpaste, it turns out, is a great way to make new friends.

...My lack of luggage did raise suspicions, among travelers and government officials alike. Border crossings were particularly interesting. Unsurprisingly, immigration agents were annoyed, as they clearly missed the opportunity to rummage through my bags in search of weapons or smuggled Rambo bubble gum. What about washing clothes? An amused agent asked, "vas a recorrer mi tierra desnudo?" ("You gonna run around my country naked?") A valid point.

...I would recommend a second pair of socks; you can streamline by putting one in each pocket. Sweaty T-shirts and boxer briefs doubling as swim trunks can be dried in transit by hanging them from a car window (assuming the vehicle has windows).

Body odor notwithstanding, I was free to walk anywhere at any time and to completely improvise and revise my itinerary in liberating fits of spontaneity. All of which brought me into more intimate interaction with the people and places I came to visit.

Travel Without Baggage


  1. I think this is slightly more difficult to do if you’re female… Just my opinion maybe. I can travel very light but sometimes there’s just a few things I really need to have with me.

    1. Totally agree, there’s no way you could just hang your undies out the window, or go topless for a while, you’d probably be arrested for attempted prostitution or at least be expected to provide some service to the officer or anyone else who saw you.

    2. I agree, this article assumes travelers are male.

      Not that women cannot travel very light. They can and do. But I’d think that at least 1 change of clothes would be desired at some point. And maybe a small bag for tampons [sorry, but it’s true].

      Unless one plans on buying another outfit in transit, and throwing away the one you wore originally?

  2. Rick Steves just interviewed travel writer Rolf Potts, who recently completed a 6-week round the world trip with no luggage.

    Probably meets the ‘just pockets’ mode.

    Definitely a far-removed step from the packing rule I learned/use:

    1. Divide everything into two piles.
    2. Pack one pile.

  3. I feel slightly cynical about this and can’t help feeling that somewhere Karl Marx is shaking his head at the privileged lifestyles that allow one to spend one’s lesiure time pretending to be poor. I can’t see that this is anything more than an even more decandent version of the Lonely Planet 70s backpacker, forever trying to beat down local traders for every last cent. I bet all the local businesses, quaint restaurants and remaining traditional craftspeople that all these people probably like so much, wouldn’t like it much if more people started doing this…

    1. What’s the correct amount of travel baggage one should carry to win the Flying Monkey Seal of Approbation?

      1. Hmm. You have a good point – do you think I could charge for those Seals?

        Seriously, however much we may pretend to despise (or even really despise) mass tourism and the wealthy flashing their cash around in poor countries, are either worse than the wealthy pretending not to be wealthy for largely ego-satisfying reasons?

        IMHO, the best strategy when meeting people anywhere in the world is not to pretend. Just be yourself. I am not sure what it is about people’s lives in wealthy countries that prompts this kind of alienation and anomie, but there’s a lot of it about – witness all those ‘I lived for a year of X’ books that seem to proliferate now. It seems to hint at a loss of meaning and, perhaps, of a sense of reality.

        I am sure you of all people understand this, Mark, since your (excellent) work is all about people trying to recover meaning through craft, a reconnection of mind and hands and material. That may come from the same disatisfaction and desire to do thigns better, but it seems a rather more genuine response than this kind of playing the poor tourist game.

        1. I think you’re reading a little too much into it. Since when do you have to have massive piles of stuff in luggage to be yourself? Just because you’re rich doesn’t mean you have to have porters following you everywhere with dozens of steamer trunks full of decadently luxurious goods. At any given point, despite my relative wealth, the thing that defines me is simply myself and my interactions with others – same as someone of much lower economic means. I don’t need an iPad in order to interact with others on an honest level, neither do I need a suitcase full of crap.

          Now, I’ve never done anything approaching this level of simplifying when traveling. The closest I’ve come was a couple weeks in Amsterdam with nothing but a small backpack. It was great, and certainly made relocating easier. One thing that helped was the advice of using a hand towel instead of a full size towel for drying after bathing – that saved as much room as a few shirts right there!

          1. You are of course exaggerating to make a point, but then you are correct that I may also be doing the same thing.

          1. Touche.

            I could post some links, but I did not write any of them, nor have any rights to any, so…
            People can “google it”, anyways.

    2. Well I’d rather spend my leisure time pretending to be rich but those guys that work security, you could say they don’t share my appreciation of the finer things.

  4. “Begging for toothpaste, it turns out, is a great way to make new friends.”

    Travelling for a month in a tropical region with no deodorant is a great way to make new enemies.

    1. Travelling for a month in a tropical region with no deodorant is a great way to make new enemies.

      even with daily washings of armpits and groin?

  5. Taking a plane without luggage is a pretty sure way to get “randomly chosen” for secondary screening. Just sayin’

    1. @ Guillaume

      But that secondary screening would still probably take less time than you’d spend waiting for your luggage, or looking for a safe place to put your backpack, on just one day of your trip.

      “You’ve been randomly selected for secondary screening, sir/ma’am. I’m going to have to thoroughly search your… um… pockets. And this paperback. OK, so, uh, have a pleasant flight.”

  6. I love it. I can sort of picture myself doing this. And just bringing a small backpack into which you can put those extra pairs of socks, underwear and a couple t-shirts, you can have 100% of the freedom, with much less of the inconvenience.

  7. This is as stupid and pointless as the guy that use no shampoo or deodorant for years!

    Whats wrong with having a nice little backpack with enough space for deodorant, charger for your camera batteries (because you have an extra one). Charger for your cellphone (you can be ultra smart and get a camera with microUSB so you use the same one).
    ONE extra shirt, boxer. I give you the icebraker no toothpaste idea, but i don’t think you will have a lot of luck if you ask for toothpaste (or friendship up front) if you smell like ass, or if you look like a bum because you spill your food in your shorts and pants last time you ate.

    Socks in your pockets!!?

    1. My thoughts exactly. I agree with the ‘small backpack’ idea. Personally I can’t deal with the thought of smelling/looking like ass when trying to get through border control/customs.

  8. I try to keep my luggage reduced to a weight that I can carry while running between airport terminals, but this is a bit too hardcore for me.

  9. I carry waaay more stuff-n-crap with me everyday, let alone travelling. I left my cell phone at home last week and loved the feeling of freedom.
    I love the term “Total Nada”!

  10. I love reading about people doing this sort of thing, but have to agree that for me this would be a little too extreme. I’ve found a great balance in traveling with a small backpack or messenger bag with a few extra t-shirts, underwear, socks, toiletries, and gadgets (generally cell phone and maybe ipod touch, kindle, or small camera).

    I guess there’s a significant difference mentally between even a small bag and no bag, but for me the added practicality outweighs this. I’d rather not have to do laundry every day, worry about getting my only shirt dirty, or have to ask for toothpaste constantly.

    Still, thumbs up for the people who can manage this.

  11. A step further than I’d care to go. I’d have no problem doing the same with a backpack with less than 20lbs worth of stuff in it though.

  12. Once I check my luggage, I’m always traveling in Total Nada mode. I only need my luggage once I arrive and again when I depart. Some may call this cheating but, coming from the guy who counts “one library” as a single possession, I think I am allowed this caveat.

  13. i feel a little snotty saying this, but i feel like the whole minimalist movement is getting to be a competition. “look how little i have” has just followed in the footsteps of its big brother: “look how MUCH i have”. i know some people choose to pack lightly, good for them. i see the beauty in not letting the “things” of life weigh you down. this total abandonment of every”thing”, though… just feels like a “look how different i can be” statement.

    or maybe i just read too much.

  14. yeah whenever i’m carrying bags i find it next to impossible to sing or spontaneously change paths.

  15. Google “Nakation”.

    With a tip of the hat to Douglas Adams, all you have to pack is your towel. You pick a destination that has a nudist resort and you don’t need to have any clothing packed for the duration of your trip beyond what you were wearing to get there. Travel-lite!

    1. Uh… I can think of some things I’d need at a nudist resort besides a towel. Like SUNSCREEN!

      And the whole deodorant razor soap etc business. And any medication or feminine products you need. If you wear prescription sunglasses, those too – even normal ones are pretty smart.

      Anywhere but nudist camps or hiking-and-sleeping-outdoors, basic hygiene also means at least one change of socks, underwear, and undershirt/tee shirt. Add more changes for more time, with laundry soap as an alternate. And a change of pants (even just PJ pants to wear while washing the others) if it’s going to be more than a few days; still smart in case of spills or rain-soaking even for a weekend trip. Also really wise: umbrella/poncho and hoodie/sweater/light jacket.

      Seriously, if you’re packing too light for basic hygiene and medical/safety needs… you’re packing too light. There really is a line, and showing up stinky, hair a mess, clothes stained, is WAY over it. You can’t go to a decent restaurant in overstuffed cargo pants, either.

      And for women, you can pretty much add makeup and maybe a pair of nice shoes vs comfortable ones, just to be properly presentable everywhere, for overnight-and-don’t-know-if-I’m-going-somewhere-nice-tomorrow or anything longer. And a swimsuit if that’s expected to come up. Standards are higher and clothes less multi-purpose for us than for men. (Though psst, guys, if you’re swimming in your boxers, make sure they have a snap-shut fly! open fly = falling out!)

  16. My prejudice on this is that you should carry enough to keep up personal hygiene,and enough to supply yourself so you don’t become an annoyance or burden on strangers. A ‘nice’ change of clothing so that you can show respect if you are invited into homes or other privileged spaces is also an essential, in my opinion.

    I can see it, though, if your main reason for traveling is to have a really extreme travel story to awe and one-up the rest of the hostel dorm occupants with.

  17. i can’t get past “body odor notwithstanding”…
    i’ve been pretty stinky after a week or two in the woods, but never where there’s access to (at least) rudimentary sanitary facilities…

    and i agree with a lot of the previous posters in that i’m not impressed by minimalistic lifestyles. an ascetic existence is nothing new. it’s and ancient and revered tradition in many cultures and in no way could be considered “radical” except by those whose privilege means they have possessions to leave behind in the first place.

  18. Not to sound crass, but if you have any aspirations to a “chance romantic encounter” while traveling or even getting into a decent restaurant this will not work.

  19. Who wants to worry about where they’re going to hand-wash the ass out of a pair of boxers and socks EVERY night?

    It’s better to carry a small pack containing a few pairs of underwear, socks, t-shirts etc. and only have to deal with that mess every few days. It’s a vacation after all.

    1. “Who wants to worry about where they’re going to hand-wash the ass out of a pair of boxers and socks EVERY night?”

      And about what they’re going to wear while their clothes dry?

      I also don’t see how carrying spare socks in your pockets is more comfortable than having a tiny backpack.

      This isn’t really good advice regarding travel. And is it really so cool? I don’t know, what’s so cool about it?

      It’s a challenge, a set of rules to add difficulty, and way past the sweet spot on the travel efficiency scale.

      I think a small backpack containing:
      1. one change of underwear and one spare t-shirt
      2. phone
      3. wallet and passport
      6. toothbrush, toothpaste and bar of soap/shampoo (hello, Lush solid shampoo!!)
      7. small towel

      and optionally 8. camera/notebook/netbook/journaling tool of choice

      is light enough, and still efficient.

      And the greatest caveat is the climate. It has to be summer wherever you’re going, or else you’re just being silly.

  20. Spent 4 days in Hong Kong with a towel, camera, passport, and credit card … no return tickets. Freakin’ airline lost everything else.

    Traveled another time with nothing more than a drivers license and a ballpoint pen. Not even a credit card. Why the pen? So I wouldn’t travel empty handed.

  21. There sure is a lot of hate in these comments. I say good for him for doing something that we can only read about from our cubicles.

  22. Also, I’m certain people would prefer you brought lots of money to spend in their countries instead.
    And “pretty radical”,”certain zen state”,”drifting, going with the flow”,”a copy of The Kite Runner, whose chapters I tore off as I read them” borders on self-satire.

  23. Traveling ultra-light is fantastic. I have to agree that this extreme is just an attention-grabbing stunt, though. There’s a reason backpackers are disliked universally all over the world, and this just makes it worse. Wearing decent, clean clothes and maintaining hygiene are even more important when traveling than when at home, in my opinion. If you spend your time in a foreign country looking and smelling decent, locals and other tourists alike will like and respect you a whole lot more.

    You don’t need to bring a whole lot to be able to maintain this, just two or three easy to wash sets of good quality clothes that you wash as frequently as necessary. And of course, toiletries… personally I like to buy my toiletries once I get somewhere. It’s a bit of an adventure, depending on where you are, to get the local equivalent of the toiletries you normally use :)

  24. There’s a well known UK bloke called Jimmy Saville thats known to only wear one underwear and wash them in the hotel sink over night, leaving them on the radiators to dry.

    This guy is rich and (sort of) famous so its nothing new.

  25. I read this type of post as, “look at this neat thing that can be done. I did it and it was enjoyable”.

    I don’t read it as a competition or as someone judging how I travel. I feel like the people who complain about these posts are doing so because they are adding in their own judgment, their own anxieties.

    It’s like when a person states publicly that they are gay, and a bunch of people react with, “You don’t have to rub our face in it!!!”

    No one is rubbing this in your face. It’s light travel. Some people enjoy it; some don’t. It’s an idea. If you don’t like it, there’s no need to rip on it.

  26. I’d also like to see someone do the reverse of this; basically travel like 19th century rich people on The Grand Tour with 15 steamer trunks full of stuff.

    Or like Old Rose in TITANIC, who brings her goldfish bowl and pictures along.

  27. TLDR: As a big and tall man, the travel part of traveling sucks huge donkey balls anyway, and is only occasionally improved by a lack of stuff, whereas the being where you’re going part of travel is greatly improved by having the options that a big backpack or suitcase gives you.

    At 6’7″ 300lbs, buying clothes wherever I’m at isn’t really an option, and my clothes take considerably more space on top of that. A change of clothes, a couple pairs of underwear and socks, a sweater (or shorts and t-shirt) and a raincoat just about fill a day bag, leaving just enough room for a computer and some sundries (charging cables, bare minimum toiletries, camera).

    I can get two pairs of pants and three shirts, a pair of shorts, a suit jacket for dressing up a bit, a sweater, a rain coat, three pairs of socks and underwear, a towel, dressier shoes, sandals, a bathing suit, blankets (I like a bedroll of fleece blankets better than a sleeping bag), and a thermarest all into my big internal backpack, and be well-dressed for almost any occasion and any weather, and never find myself wanting for toiletries or a comfy warm place to sleep. Add a smallish messenger bag or something that’ll hold the bare necessities and expensive crap so it’s not the end of the world if the backpack gets stolen, and I’m in a good position to travel indefinitely. Switch one change of clothes and footwear for a tent and a cook kit, and I can go places a minimalist would have to spend hundreds on gear just to get to.

    Sure, it kind of forces me to adopt the model of traveling to a place, finding somewhere to store my stuff, then exploring, rather than just drifting, but I don’t really enjoy not having a plan about where I’m sleeping all that much, and I’d rather spend some significant time in each place, rather than do these whirlwind tours, stinking to high heaven. Of course going super light is SO much easier when you’re hopping from country to country, but you’re spending your time constantly moving. I want to relax, have a base of operations, get to know the locals. Having a big bag with you just isn’t that much of a hassle when you’re slowing down.

    For me, traveling light so that getting where you’re going is less onerous seems like a waste– I’m already going to be incredibly, unbelievably cramped and uncomfortable for hours and hours and hours, no matter what, so who cares if I have to wait a half hour at the carousel and an extra ten minutes at customs and have to hire a taxi rather than hoof it across town with all my crap? There’s very little joy in getting there for me, and once I’m there, I’m exhausted anyway, whether I carried 50 lbs on my back for a few hours or not.

    You spend money buying what you need when you need it, I hire a taxi when I need it and leave my stuff somewhere when I can. Whatever works.

  28. I take the complete opposite approach to traveling. I try and take at least 3 things that are seemingly completely useless and unnecessary on each trip.
    Last time I went on tour, I brought my Uke, a Blender, and a waffle iron. A quick trip to the corner store and every night was ukelele, margarita, and Belgian waffle bliss.

    I fully support all of these minimalist folks in what they do, although it does smack a little bit of privilege and “Hey! look what I can do because I have the relative means to do whatever I want anyway!”. Not to say they are all spoiled rich but just that their minimalist lifestyle, however bereft of things, is still a luxury many can’t afford. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I personally wouldn’t blog about it myself though.

  29. Wow, I was getting worried that the Japan and Libyan crises had scared away all the hipsters.

    I’m obviously not cool enough to carry my dirty socks in my pockets. Presumably, one’s dirty underpants can be worn as a hat to prevent sunburn?

    I’m just one of those mainstream sheeple that stick their dirty clothes in a plastic bag stuffed into the bottom of a backpack or shoulder bag. I must be using too much soap.

  30. One vacation my wife and I had all our luggage stolen. After buying only a few items of clothing we found that the vacation was so much easier and fun without lugging around our luggage from place to place.

  31. I totally agree with comments on both sides of the issue. I was doing this way before it was fashionable. After my pack got stolen I lived out of a tiny day pack for the last six weeks of my travels. serendipity did accrue.

  32. I’m all for experimenting for fun if that’s your thing, so don’t consider this a judgment, but completely going “total nada” just seems unnecessary to me. I love the one-bag methods though that guys like Rick Steves endorse and typically try to minimize everything to carry on.

    My usual plans kind of went out the window though after my wife and I had a kid, but we still pack light and just have to usually gate check a car seat for our daughter.

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