Extreme Minimalist Travel: No Luggage

suitcase-no(Photo: stacy michelle)

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know I like to travel light. I take a small carry-on bag for long trips, and nothing but a large purse for anything under a week.

Author and “vagabonder” Rolf Potts, however, has me beat. He’s traveling the world for six weeks without a single piece of luggage: no suitcase, no day bag, not even a fanny pack!

The only items he’s taking are those that fit in the pockets of his Scott eVest: a handful of toiletries, a few electronic devices, and a couple of miscellaneous items like earplugs, sunglasses, safety pins, and a notebook. He’s also managed to fit some spare socks, t-shirts, and underwear in there. You can see his complete packing list here.

The funny thing is, my husband, brother, and I (all extremely light travelers) have been joking about doing this for years. Of course, our “no luggage” plans are usually hatched late at night in a bar, after one too many beers – and quickly dismissed the following morning. :-)

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I could do this. The Scott eVest has 18 generous pockets that could easily accommodate my toiletries, cell phone, iPod touch, and an extra pair of socks and underwear. The large, zippered pocket across the back of the jacket looks roomy enough for one or two articles of clothing, as well as a few maps.

I think it would be fun to do once, just for the sake of doing it. However, I probably wouldn’t travel this way on a regular basis, for the following reasons:

1. Comfort. It’s too hot to wear a jacket or vest in the summer, or in overheated museums, stores, restaurants, planes, and trains in the winter. I’d end up carrying it, which would be more awkward than carrying a bag.

2. Security. When/if I do take it off, I’m almost certain to leave it on the back of a chair or a bus. In contrast, my cross-body bag is attached to me at all times (even when sitting).

3. Vanity. At the risk of sounding too vain, I’d rather not add excessive lumps or bulges to my figure. ;-) To be fair, the Scott eVest website says that the pockets are specially constructed so as not to bulge – but I’d have to see this to believe it!

4. Convenience. I like to carry some emergency items (like Advil, Imodium, etc) to avoid hunting down their equivalents in a foreign country (been there, done that). It’s easy to buy toothpaste in Tokyo or Thailand, but securing medications can be more of a hassle. Also, while I don’t mind doing laundry a few times during a trip, I’m not sure I want to do it everyday.

5. Hydration. When I’m traveling, I usually carry a water bottle with me. By filling it up in the hotel room each morning, I avoid buying drinks (or using dodgy water fountains) while out and about. While this slips easily into my bag, I’m not sure if it would fit comfortably into the eVest. It does have a bottle holder (an elastic band) in one of the pockets, but I’d have to see about the weight/bulge factor.

That said, while the jacket may not replace my travel bag, I think it might be well-suited to my everyday needs (at least in cooler weather, as I’m not really a vest person). It holds much more than my current coat, and would certainly eliminate the need for a purse.

I applaud Rolf for pushing the boundaries of light travel, and look forward to following his journey. I can’t wait to pick up some new tips (and inspiration) for lightening my load even more!

{If you’d like to read more about minimalist living, please consider buying my book, The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide, or subscribing to my RSS feed.}

Related posts:

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  2. To Drift Like Clouds and Flow Like Water
  3. My Minimalist Wedding Dress

26 comments to Extreme Minimalist Travel: No Luggage

  • beth

    I suspect those vests work better on the gentlemen than us ladies :)

  • i agree with beth above. what woman wants to walk around loaded down with some god-awful looking vest full of toiletries. that sure would be fun sitting at a lovely outdoor cafe in paris wearing that! no thank you. that thing would just complicate my life not enhance it.

  • I love your blog and I bought your ebook and it has inspired me soooo much! I am even starting my first blog( in construction right now)to document my decluttering process. Thank you so much Francine! p.s. little secret I read your travel posts almost everyday I aspire to travel as light as you do one day! Hope you right more posts about traveling light!
    Thanks a bunch!

  • Mama T-Mag

    I dissagree. I love the jacket. It may not work if your the type to sit at a cafe in Paris, but your explorations are less civilized I think it’s perfect.

  • Deb J

    I’m afraid I don’t like the “vest” idea. I hate wearing a coat. Too bulky and confining. I would rather wear light weight thermals if cold because of ease of movement. I would prefer a small bag like you use Francine. I don’t care so much about looks as I do comfort. It’s fine for those who want it but it wouldn’t be something I would pick.

  • Awurrlu

    Thanks for posting this! It looks like I’m in the minority, though – I really like the idea! But I also do a lot of hiking and recreational cycling for fun, where carrying a purse is silly, and a backpack just gets my back all sweaty. My daily “uniform” consists of nice long-sleeve tees and sweaters with casual-but-business-acceptable trousers, so it will fit right in as outerwear.

    This could be great for an overnight trip where you’d just need a t-shirt, socks, underwear, and minimal toiletries.

    They do have a women’s version, which I just ordered. If it works out, it’ll replace a jacket and a vest (the jacket has sleeves that zip off) and a pack I wear when hiking.

  • I laughed out loud at your “vanity” comment. I so relate. I love the idea of traveling this light but I don’t want anything making me looking bigger than I am.

  • Hoang

    Concerning hydration, a flat Platypus or EverNew bottle may be more suitable for jacket carry.

  • Cortney

    Hmm..I think this would make my body feel cluttered to have a vest with 18 pockets filled with stuff wrapped around me all day. For my hiking/camping trips I think I’d much prefer a lightweight backpack, and I definitely wouldn’t want such a vest on less active trips that were more sightseeing/art museums/etc.

  • Cory

    You are very wise, miss minimalist, and have clearly gotten used to judging the consumer wind. This post makes me laugh because I have(had) the woman’s Scottevest. I thought I’d love it. I coveted it for the longest time then snagged it on a rare sale. I couldn’t wait! it was going to solve all my travel organization woes. I don’t remember the last time I wanted a consumer item so badly. The first time I wore it, however, it was abundantly clear that if they had female designers/models involved with the “feminization” of their best selling vests and jackets, they must have been either very skinny or have really small, er, chests(or probably both).

    I love all the pockets, and the pocket design is well thought out and well crafted. And it WILL hold a lot of stuff. But unless you’ve got a really great memory, you’ll find yourself absently patting yourself down all the time. The pockets often lay over each other, and while you know it is in there…what layer is it?

    It is quite warm for summer travel , though I see they are making more “tropical” weight items(none in “women’s” yet). The Ipod/phone pockets are really well placed…if you have no breasts, er, like a guy. But I have an extra inch or 2 of padding there, and the the iPhone hangs straight down as though suspended from the end of my nipple. The “see through” pockets which allow you to operate the phone without removing it are just cloudy enough to mess with eyes that already need glasses , so to use the music function I open the left side of the vest only to discover the vest doesn’t stretch to the end of my middle aged arm. Thus begins the pat down dance for my glasses, which are holding out the middle of the opposite side of the vest at about waist level and are snagged on the elastic band clipped to the eye glass cleaning cloth that Scott includes “free”. Then I have to let go with the hand trying to hold out the iPhone, because I now need two hands to untangle the elastic from my glasses. Releasing that hand allows the phone to bang into my left breast. But because both of my hands are now tangled in elastic, all I can do is cuss. While I wriggle free, the light weight rain jacket I tucked carefully and flatly into the huge pocket on the back is doing what an object does when exposed to jiggling gravity…it finds its lowest point at my already too curvacious behind. With that on my butt and the water bottle in another right front pocket, I stare into the airport bathroom mirror thinking “even Quasimodo would look more feminine than I do right now.”

    Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a form and function kind of gal, a real late 1970′s feminist who distrusts any clothing whose only reason for being is to make me look “pretty”. I didn’t expect to be pretty in my vest; I worshipped the idea of its functionality. I could accept simply looking like a smart traveler even if that means I look like a man…just not the Elephant Man!

    So I wore it to and from Vancouver one time, with the rain jacket crumpled in my lumbar spine, and retired it to a good home. Now the smallest back pack that GoLite makes is in my corner, packed rather similarly to yours(well, your previous version any way). I’ve had neck surgery so any weight I carry must be distributed evenly between my shoulders. But that surgery is what got me serious about ultralight travel, and you just help keep me inspired and focused.
    Thanks
    Cory

  • Other than the security advantage when you are wearing it (harder to steal than a bag) I really don’t see how this is any better than a small backpack or, shock horror, a handbag! I might be a cynic, but it seems like more of a gimmick than something overly useful, especially seeing as a small backpack or really good travelling handbag can be bought for less, and is better suited across a range of climates.

  • miss minimalist

    Thanks for all the great comments — I loved hearing your different opinions on this!

    @Cory, your description of your eVest experience had me on the floor laughing! I always wondered if the pockets on the women’s version were placed more, er, strategically. It sounds like a little more refinement may be in order to accommodate curvier figures. :-)

    I’m still on the fence about acquiring one of these myself — but it sure has me wishing my current jacket had a few more pockets!

  • Darci

    Cory, that vest sounded like a tragedy! v have to admit that I was laughing reading your description, too.

    I’d been thinking of sewing a woman’s travel vest, and it sounds like I should, just so the pockets won’t make my nipples look ipod-tastic! Thanks for the review!

  • Rap

    I have to give a different impression of the Scottevest since my experience with it was resoundingly positive.

    My problem is less minimalist luggage (I checked a bag, ok?) and more that I have to give up my carryon to something that I must have with me, my sleep apnea machine. You really can’t check it because if it breaks you’re screwed. So I got the vest for handling all the stuff I would normally put in my carryon.

    Now to be fair, I didn’t buy the vest as a way to simply not pack, and I don’t think that was its intended purpose. What I thought it was for was to make the security checks easier, and it paid off totally. I had the men’s 2x (I am a woman but I am heavyset and I know from experience that woman’s 2x is not big enough)and I had my cell phone, my itouch, my ipad, a book, my camera, extra wallet, gum, bottle of water, travel papers, medication… everything I would need on the flight or didn’t feel comfortable packing. It worked great! Going thru security, instead of having to unload a bag, I just dropped the vest in a bin and picked it up on the other side. It didn’t look bulky, in fact a guy was really amused when he saw me take the Ipad out because he’d had no idea it was in my vest.

    I will say that it is a bit warm for summer travel but otherwise I had a great experience with it. I didn’t look bulgy (when I got to my destination and started pulling out water bottle, snacks, camera, Ipad, book, my friends were all “how’d you get that in there??”) but I was wearing the male version – I had concerns that the phone and itouch pockets on the woman’s version would be breast popping.

    I could see, if I had been geniunely concerned about not getting my luggage at the other end, easily adding some toiletries and a change of clothes into the mix – I didn’t buy it to travel minimally, I bought it for extra carryon purposes, but I could see it working. It really made my trip easier.

  • Cory

    @natalia, miss mnmlist, darci &rap;
    In all fairness, to you and to ScotteVest, their pocket system is a great idea, especially for someone who isn’t as vain or big as I am. Their jackets and vests WILL sub as a small suitcase, but they cannot hide the fact that you are using it as a small suitcase. They might hide the fact that you are using it as a purse unless you routinely carry a duffle bag as a purse. They distribute the weight well and unlike a big purse, give you a place for everything. You just need to remember where that “place” is!
    ;)
    Despite my witty (sarcastic?) story above, I still think the world of their product line. I am still coveting their lightest (tropical weight or windbreaker) jackets which are not “designed” for women. Since stuffing the pockets full ruins the “design” for women anyway, I’m not sure that matters at all. both of these jackets fold down into their own pockets when empty. the windbreaker is water-resistant; the tropical weight jacket allows you to zip off the sleeves and wear as a vest to boot.

    However, I can also recommend the lovely black Orvis womens blazer that doesn’t wrinkle, and while it won’t hold my water bottle or function as a suitcase, it does have 6 nice pockets and look classy/sleek. However, since menopause hit, its a tad “warm”…

    OK..my minimalist travel Holy Grail…an air conditioned, water/wind proof, multi-pocketed jacket made entirely of recycled material, that weighs less than a pound, folds into itself, allows sleeves/hood/collar to change like a Transformer, and makes me look like Halle Berry!….Now THERE is a business plan…

  • runi

    The vest is a very interesting idea, but I think I’ll stick with my purse. It isn’t even a large purse; it’s medium. In a previous post I mentioned that my “normal” clothes–even when I’m not travelling–are (1) a long tunic that doubles as a dress, (2) a hip length tunic, (3) a pair of slacks, (4) a lounger (like a muumuu but less bulky) (5) a bra, underwear, and those little ped things that serve as socks but are invisible so you can get by wearing them with the dress/long tunic. I also wear those fabric flat shoes–whether I’m travelling or not.

    Am a bit perplexed why people carry soap, toothpaste, laundry soap, with them. All U.S. (and many foreign) hotels provide soap that can be used for all of these purposes. Ditto, the plastic cased deodorant when you can buy LA Fresh deodorant towels in packets (small and thin) and just fit them in where you can. I do take a comb, one of those little travel size toothbrushes, nail clippers and a lip pencil. The lip pencil is usually down to 1.5-2 inches–but I use it because I’m old and pale, and don’t want people to think I’m dead.

  • Darcy

    Ok, I’m totally inspired by your very small travel purse bag thingee. Unfortunately it was out of stock on Amazon, and maybe not edgy enough for my style. But today, I splurged on something which I find to be incredibly cool, though a bit expensive.

    http://hideowakamatsu.com/Hideo-Wakamatsu-Body-III-Ninja-3/M/B002WXFMJ2.htm

    I did a trial packing run and it easily fit in the exterior pockets deodorant, iphone charger, my mini first aid kit that fits in a altoid box, socks, undies, and then in the main compartment a pair of pants, a nighty, and 4 shirts, with room to spare.

    I am going to test it out in NY for Christmas!! Can’t wait, and thanks for the inspiration.

  • Jean Bellinger

    For wearing just one item footwear (one pair of shoes or boots) and bringing no second pair, what kind would you suggest for a woman traveling in the North (Europe or North America) in the dead of winter?

  • Ken

    Anders Ansar has his luggage down to the size of an Ipod nano. I bought his ebooks because I was interested, although I find his minimalist a bit too extreme for me. His website is http://home.swipnet.se/ansar/, and if you scroll down about half way you can see a photo of his ultra compact ‘luggage.’

  • Caroline

    Very interesting – but definitely a guy thing, and as you said, not good for warm weather (and vests? ugh not a fan). I already have a big chest – I don’t want to pile more on :P

  • Caroline

    I forgot to mention I read somewhere that some people buy everything, including their bag, after they get to their destination so they don’t have to deal with airline security. They donate it all before going home. Also an interesting way to travel, but not for me.

  • Inga

    I use my colehaan travel coat as my handbag….so I have one suitcase…tiny for around the world…also, carry wrapped chocolates so we don’t need desserts at restaurants…..just have a tiny bit of the yummy stuff…saves tons of moola!

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