Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving No Baggage Challenge: Final Thoughts

I returned home from my 5-day experiment traveling with no baggage over Thanksgiving. Overall, I'd call the trip a resounding success and would love to try some form of traveling like this again. Next time I hope for a longer trip involving air travel. I just found out late yesterday that I won a SCOTTEVEST Carry-On Coat in a contest held by Gear Diary. I can't wait to receive that jacket and see how well it works for this kind of a trip.

If you haven't done so yet, read my previous post for a video showing what I brought, thoughts about the experience, and impressions about the gear I used. Below are some final reflections with some tips and tricks for no baggage travel, lessons learned, concerns I had and whether or not they were valid, further impressions of some of my SCOTTEVEST gear, and how I would change my no baggage system.

  • Two Pairs of Socks and Underwear Are All You Need: This is all I used for five days and really all I'd need for a trip of any length, provided I was washing them in a sink every day. I'd bring one extra pair of each (for a total of three) -- just in case. (Ex Officio Travel Boxers and SmartWool black sock liners.) But that's all I require -- a huge saving in luggage space. I can't emphasize enough how impressed I am with the Ex Officio boxers. I find having different colors for each pair is a good way for keeping track of how often each pair has been worn.
  • Layering T-Shirts: The best trick I came up with this weekend is, when cool enough, to wear a t-shirt underneath a SCOTTEVEST Q-Zip with another t-shirt worn over the Q-Zip. (See photos in my last post.) This allows you to bring two t-shirts (all you really need) without having to pack any away and adds visual variety to your wardrobe. By alternating the shirts each day, you give the one worn on the outside a chance to air. If need be, you can wash one while wearing the other underneath the Q-Zip. The SCOTTEVEST Performance T-Shirts and Q-Zips match perfectly for this. I'd recommend two of each for this kind of trip with all of them being different colors from one another.
  • Layering Q-Zips: As I mentioned in my last post, another trick is to wear two Q-Zips -- one on top of the other. This not only adds extra warmth, but also allows you to carry two without packing either of them. Having the inner one zipped up all the way and the outer one unzipped also creates a nice look. (See photos in my last post.) When cool enough outside, there's no reason you couldn't combine this with the previous tip and wear a second t-shirt on top of both Q-Zips.
  • Wringing Clothes In A Towel: When washing clothes in a sink, a good idea is to wring them out in a towel afterward to remove excess water. This helps them dry much more quickly. If you know you won't have spare towels where you are staying, throwing in a medium-sized MSR PackTowl for this purpose might be worth its size and weight in your no baggage kit.


  • Don't Dunk the Detergent: I washed one pair of socks and one pair of underwear each day in the sink using the Sea to Summit Laundry Detergent leaves. On Sunday (my final day home), I accidentally took out one too many leaves. Unfortunately, in trying to get the errant leaf back in the case, I managed to drop the whole pack in a sink full of water -- fusing the whole thing together. Lesson: keep the detergent away from the sink.
  • Substitutes: Following up on my detergent incident, I could have easily substituted shampoo or hand soap for detergent for washing my socks and underwear and hand soap for the shaving soap. These substitutes might not be 100% as good, but I'd be willing to bet they'd be good enough.
  • We Live With a Powerful Safety Net: When traveling in most parts of America (other than hiking in the backwoods), chances are you're no more than 30 minutes away from accessing anything you might need and, between services like FedEx and Amazon.com, you are probably no more than 24-48 hours away from anything you might want (outside of specialty medical or prescription needs). Your safety net gets event stronger when visiting family or friends who can help you out or loan you things in a jam. Getting convinced of this is incredibly liberating and one of the primary benefits of traveling like this. The more you realize how true this is, the less you will feel the need to bring. I'm convinced more than ever than much of what we carry with us when we travel has more to do with psychological comfort than practical necessity.


  • Odor: One of my biggest concerns was that my clothes would begin to smell -- particularly my t-shirts and pants. (I only had one pair of pants which I wore consecutively for five days.) I'm happy to report that everything remained odor-free for the entire trip. If the t-shirts had gotten bad, I could have washed them in the sink, but I alternated between the two I had and smell never became an issue. In fact, it was so not an issue, I wore my SCOTTEVEST Performance T-Shirt again yesterday (what would have been my sixth day) on top of an Icebreaker wool shirt. I had several people compliment me on how nice it looked and no concerns whatsoever about odor. Odor ended up being a completely non-issue.
  • Bulk: Carrying my iPad in my SCOTTEVEST Tropical Jacket/Vest makes the jacket incredibly bulky if I pack anything (clothes, cables, etc.) in the pockets behind or in front of the iPad. The opposite side of the jacket gets bulky if I try to compensate by moving more items over to it. It's manageable to wear, but borders on looking ridiculous. I am exploring some ideas for how to pack and keep things more slim, but carrying the iPad in the "pub pocket" limits my options. I hope the Carry-On Coat I just won will do a better job of holding clothing without looking ridiculous. Bulk was a legitimate and ongoing concern.
  • Monolithic Wardrobe: One of the disadvantages of traveling so light is that it necessitates wearing the same clothes repeatedly for many days. Besides the odor/cleanliness issue, the other drawback is looking the same -- day in and day out. As I mentioned above and in my last post, layering the shirts in different combinations and mixing them with the jacket and windstopper vest made this a minimal concern. Also, if my future travels are like my former adventures, I tend to stay on the go a lot -- minimizing this concern. Overall, wardrobe variety was a non-issue.


  • SCOTTEVEST Tropical Jacket/Vest: I really like this jacket and it is the core of my current travel kit. However, as I mentioned, the pocket design on it causes it to bulk up if I put my iPad in the largest pocket. The jacket would be far more versatile for this kind of travel if it had a second "pub pocket"/document pocket on the right side of the jacket in lieu of the sunglasses/camera pocket. I would prefer that arrangement much, much more. At a minimum, it seems the camera pocket could be deepened and a mini-pub pocket could be put above/behind it without any more pocket layering than on the left side of the jacket. The current design practically dictates the left side of the jacket will always be overloaded relative to the right side when used for no baggage travel. I'm concerned the Carry-On Coat may share n this design by placing both the iPad pocket and toiletries pocket layered on the same side of the jacket. Adding a second pub pocket on the right-hand side would make SeV jackets far better for carrying an iPad by allowing owners greater versatility for distributing weight more evenly across the jacket.
  • SCOTTEVEST Hidden Cargo Pants Pockets: These pants far exceeded my expectations for multiple days of wearing. After five days of continuous use, there were no odors whatsoever. The more I used the layered front-pockets, the more I fell in love with that design. Basically, both the right and left side have normal front pockets like you'd see on regular khakis plus an additional deep pocket which is accessed through a magnetic closure at the top. (The placement of the magnets give me minimal concern about them affecting credit cards and electronics.) This combination of two layered pockets on each side make it much easier to organize items and keep your pocket from getting cluttered, the deep pockets are a great place to carry a pocket digital camera, and the magnetic closures should keep pick-pockets at bay allowing the deep pockets to substitute for a money belt. These are quickly becoming my favorite pair of pants. (The only problem is with my recent weight loss, the pants are quickly becoming to large for me.)


  • Pants: I love my SCOTTEVEST Hidden Cargo Pants and would certainly travel with them again. However, I think for a trip of any longer duration, a second pair of pants would be preferable -- or at least some lightweight shorts or a bathing suit -- particularly so one pair could be worn while washing and drying the second set (or simply giving the second pair a chance to air).
  • Leave the Computer at Home: Between my iPad and access to my parent's computer(s), I really had no need to have my laptop with me. (To be fair, the only reason I bought it on this trip was to show it to my brother.) My iPad will do ~ 75% of what I want a computer to do -- an in a pinch, my iPhone will probably do ~ 75% of what I want my iPad to do. My MacBook Pro was the only item I brought that did not fit into my jacket and I could have easily left it home. For anyone traveling without a computer, I strongly recommend using Dropbox and LogMeIn for remote access to your files and your computer respectively. There are apps for both services on the iPad, although you can use either through any standard web browser and any modern computer with Internet access.


  • Kindle? If I have my iPad do I really need to bring my Kindle too? I'm torn on this issue. I use both on nearly a daily basis. I am an avid reader and find the Kindle much less obtrusive, useful for reading outside, better for one-handed operation, useful for reading while walking, and with far better battery life. It's also single-purpose, limiting the potential distractions which might pull me away from reading. Given the quantity I read, the Kindle is one luxury item that probably justifies bringing it along. Having said that, the iPad works great as an eReader too, making the Kindle somewhat redundant. In a pinch, I can also use my iPhone for reading books.
  • iPad? I love, love, love my iPad and use it for a myriad of purposes. It's a great eBook and PDF reader, wonderful for looking up maps and information about new locales, allows me to do research, send and receive e-mails, write-up blog posts, etc. However, it's also by far the largest item in my travel kit and the one piece most responsible for the "bulking" of my jacket. It creates the most problems for packing without any luggage which begs the question of whether or not it should stay in my kit. During my last week-long trip to New York City in August, I used my iPhone nearly non-stop but my iPad less than expected. There is also something to be said for going "off grid" from time to time -- something I admittedly struggle to do. For now, I would say my iPad stays, but this experiment and recent experience has me questioning this.
  • No Baggage or Low Baggage? Finally, the question comes up if "no baggage" is worth the hassle of traveling over "low baggage"? Bringing a small bag -- even something as simple as a cinch sack or small shoulder bag for the iPad -- would help solve the issue of jacket bulk. It would also make it easier to set my gear down if needed, remove (or check) my jackets, etc. Candidates for good bags for low baggage travel might include items from Tom Bihn such as the Synapse, Buzz, or Western Flyer. Or even something more simple like the Tom Bihn Packing Cube Backpack or Eagle Creek Packable Daypack. I've made four recent trips -- including a week in New York City and two trips to Kansas City with only what I could fit into a North Face daypack. Using a SCOTTEVEST jacket and techniques from this No Baggage Challenge, I'm confident I could whittle this down to a significantly smaller pack. I'll give the no baggage vs. low baggage more thought after I receive my SCOTTEVEST Carry-On Coat and get a chance to play around with seeing how well it packs.


In a heartbeat. I love the simplicity this kind of exercise forces me into. There is little room for excess gear and the size and weight of every small item matters. Whether my next trip is no baggage or low baggage, this experience has helped underscore that I can bring far less than what I am accustomed to and still have an enjoyable journey. In fact, many times bringing less means experiencing more. I'd like to experiment with no baggage on a trip where I'm more mobile for the entire journey to really get a feel for the freedom (and potential headaches) traveling this way would bring. The only way to discover this is to hit the road and give it a try. I can't wait!


Kevin said...

Obviously if you win the challenge, no bag! However, for everything else, low baggage, it'll give you a spot to stash personal items or other things that might be a tad more socially acceptable than pulling out deodorant stick to get whatever. Then again, no bag does keep you from the dreaded 'man purse' look. :-)

Mr Lonely said...
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