“Do you have any ideas for travel experiments?” Jeff wrote to Clara, a woman he’d never met, in a message on the OkCupid dating site. “I have a few things I dabble in, and I’m going to push one of these experiments to the nth limit in June.” Turned out he meant weeks of unstructured travel overseas with no luggage whatsoever.
Clara found the suggestion “disturbing.” (Ya think?) “And yet,” she recalls, “the idea of moving completely unencumbered through space and time was tantalizing.” The two eventually decided to get to know one another via three weeks of travel that took them 3500 miles through eight countries — without changing their clothes.
“They stole my idea!” Rich said indignantly last week, when a friend sent him Clara’s article The Craziest OkCupid Date Ever. Since the 1990s he’s been trying to persuade me to take off on a journey carrying nothing but a toothbrush, and so far I’ve found the idea utterly resistible. Skimming the article, I said, “Hah! She carried a lot more than a toothbrush. Says here she had a small purse for toiletries, and an iPad Mini.”
There seems to be a general divide between men, who like to jam a few things in their pockets, and women, whose clothes seldom have sufficient pockets to go out for coffee, let alone cross international borders, and instead sling a purse over one shoulder. But let the record show that all of them are traveling with significantly more than just a toothbrush.
When travel journalist Rolf Potts accepted the No Bags Challenge and circumnavigated the entire globe without luggage, he opted for one of those multi-pocket travel vests like the one I took on our railway adventure. “Naturally, my packing list had to be simple,” he says. “In addition to the clothes on my back (cargo pants, boots, socks/underwear, T-shirt) I brought a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste, a small deodorant stick, two small bottles of concentrated liquid soap, sunglasses, a small tube of sunscreen, an iPod touch and foldable Bluetooth keyboard, a small digital camera, a small flashlight, a credit/cash card, and my passport. All of these items fitted, along with a change of socks, underwear, and T-shirt, into the inner pockets of a jacket/vest. All told, my total kit weighed less than two kilos.”
So how did it go? I’ll let Rolf tell you himself.
I was beginning to think that suitcase-free travel was a young person’s game when I ran across the book Freedom from Luggage: Packing Light to Simplify Travel written by retirees Roger and Kyanne Anderson. “We’ve learned,” they wrote, “that packless travel lifts the spirit by eliminating many burdens and adding a sense of adventure.” Among the benefits they describe are some that will particularly resonate with older travelers, such as not having to haul bags up long flights of stairs or hoist them into overhead compartments. “No luggage, no lifting” is one of their slogans. I could get used to that!
After reading Clara’s article last week, I had what I can only assume was a moment of temporary insanity. I found myself agreeing to go away with Rich on a luggage-free weekend, so long as I could take a purse with a few essentials. Rich was overjoyed. Being a purist, he’s planning to live his dream and carry nothing but a toothbrush. Will I share my toothpaste and sunscreen with him? Probably. That’s one of a dozen questions we’ll have to negotiate, along with when we’ll go (most likely in October, as the summer is very full already) and where (we’re thinking north through Spain into France).
I still can’t believe Rich finally got me to agree to this crazy travel experiment. “This guy,” Clara wrote of her first impression of Jeff, “was trouble of the best variety.” And after 30 years, I’m still saying the same about Rich.
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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