I still can’t believe Rich got me to agree to this crazy travel experiment.
“Remind me again why it will be fun to travel without any luggage whatsoever,” I said recently.
“The freedom to move through the world unencumbered,” he replied, growing a little starry-eyed. “To get on a train with nothing but a toothbrush and a passport…”
For twenty years Rich has been bringing up this idea, and for twenty years I’ve refused even to consider it. But then last May a friend sent us an article by poet Clara Benson, who traveled for three weeks through eight countries and 3500 miles without luggage — in the company of Jeff, a guy she barely knew. Reading Clara’s article, I realized that luggage-free travel didn’t actually require hitting the road with nothing but a toothbrush and a passport. Clara carried toiletries, an iPad mini, and other bits and pieces in a handbag; Jeff stuffed his pockets with necessities. Additional research confirmed it’s possible to undertake such journeys without abandoning all standards of hygiene and decent grooming. When veteran travel journalist Rolf Potts went around the world in the No-Bags Challenge, his multi-pocket jacket held a spare t-shirt, socks, and underwear along with soap and other sundries. In a video shot on the road he says, “I take two showers a day.” Like me, Rolf refuses to degenerate into abject squalor simply for the sake of a travel experiment.
“OK,” I finally said to Rich. “I’ll travel luggage-free. But just for one weekend!”
Rich was delirious with joy. “Where shall we go? We’ll travel by train, of course, and we should cross an international border. How about southern France? You pick the place — somewhere that would be fun to write about on your blog.”
And that’s where I got into real trouble. Because after sifting through various options with heaps of charm, great food, and easy access, I stumbled across one that sounded way more fun to write about: Rennes-le-Chateau. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t either, but as it turns out, this tiny village has more mysteries and secrets per square meter than anywhere else on earth except possibly the Bermuda Triangle. It’s got everything: buried treasure, occult conspiracies, secret codes embedded in ancient parchments, weirdly demonic church art, mysterious tombs, the Knights Templar, the last of the Merovingian dynasty — yes, those guys, the French royal family some claim were descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Sound familiar? Yep, this is where Dan Brown got his ideas for The DaVinci Code. Do I believe any of this? Does it matter? Clearly it’s a real ripsnorter of a tale, and I can’t wait to burrow into it further.
"Getting there won’t be easy,” Rich said, frowning as he tapped on the iPad. “Or quick.” Transporting ourselves to this remote mountain village in one of the most sparsely populated areas of France requires a complicated series of trains with sporadic schedules and awkward connections, and at the end we’ll have to go the last five kilometers on foot. “Now aren’t you glad you aren’t bringing any luggage?” Rich demanded triumphantly. All in all, we expect the round trip to take five or six days.
So I’ve had to figure out how to survive for longer than I’d planned with minimal possessions. Thanks to modern science, everything I’m wearing, except for my jacket and shoes, can be washed and dried overnight. If/when I can no longer bear the sight of the old t-shirt I’m starting out in, I’ll replace it along the way. My 17-pocket vest will hold cash, travel documents, a small notebook and pen, my Kindle, my camera, and very basic toiletries. I have agreed to let Rich use my toothpaste and sunscreen. In return, he’s agreed to carry his iPad (which fits into a pocket in his jacket) so we can navigate using his vast collection of apps.
When I mentioned our plans to Spanish friends, one said, “Oh yes, your trip without clothing.” Wait, what? I turned to Rich. “Are we traveling nude and you forgot to tell me?” He hastily reassured me that it was a mistranslation of our intentions. But I could see a speculative gleam in his eye.
So there you have it. We embark in a few days. Don’t look for a post next week but be sure to tune in on October 16 for a full update, with photos. I’ll be the one wearing grubby trousers and the “I (heart) Rennes-le-Chateau” t-shirt. Or possibly nothing at all.
Which brings me back to my original question: Are we nuts?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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