No Baggage Challenge Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned

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Having wrapped up my summer in North America, so too ends the No Baggage Challenge wrap-up. After preparing for the monumental challenge of traveling with no baggage, I then took to the skies to fly with no baggage and enjoy (endure?) a week in hot sunny Florida (with varying degrees of success). My second no-baggage adventure was to take the train to Quebec City.

Many of my learning curves with this style of travel would be specific to women, from pocket layout to toiletries to the ever-present “what to wear” conundrum. But I also learned a few things about my current entourage of luggage that I expect will be very enlightening (in every sense of the word) in the future.

Here’s what I learned:

This post was originally published in 2011. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 


Some no baggage travelers might suggest that you only need one outfit. Wash it at night, and it’s dry the next morning. I see two problems with this scenario: first of all, what do you wear to sleep? Although I’m not a total prude, I’m pretty sure my house hosts wouldn’t have appreciated a naked Nora traipsing through the house at night while my clothes were drying. (Heaven forbid I should have stayed in a guesthouse with shared bathroom facilities).

So with a requirement to have two outfits, I did my best to layer what I could while traveling. By the time I left for Quebec,  I also discovered extra room in the back of the Women’s Essential Travel Jacket for some clothing to sneak into, saving me the uncomfortable bulk of wearing it all.


I don’t consider myself to be a princess (by any stretch), but I do have certain needs in terms of toiletries. And my poor little pockets struggled to fit everything.

In Florida, I thought I was smart by substituting shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and even toothpaste for Dr Bronner’s multi-purpose soap. But after a couple of days my face was dry, my hair was unmanageable, my mouth was reeling from the soapy taste, and my mood was miserable. The stuff is great as soap – but only as soap.

Even as a Professional Hobo (or perhaps especially as a Professional Hobo) there are a few comforts that I generally require to feel human – and one of those comforts is a proper allocation of toiletries. (Thank goodness I was staying with a friend and not in a hostel, as I was able to borrow a towel along with my sorely missed toiletries).

In Quebec, I had a slightly easier time of it because I didn’t have to contend with carry-on guidelines for liquids. So I took the bare minimum of toiletries in the smallest containers I could find. On a long-term basis, constantly replenishing tiny containers (especially if you’re picky about using high-quality natural products, as I am) is impractical. But for short trips, it works out fine.

Note: Since writing this article, most of my toiletries are now solid. Click here to see my updated Packing List for long-term travel!

Getting Used to Jacket Pockets

Most women’s clothing has no inside jacket pockets. So we just aren’t used to keeping things in there, especially things we really need. For items like wallets, phones, and knick-knacks, we carry purses; it’s almost instinctual. So getting used to everything being in a jacket was a learning curve that many men don’t go through, but which I found challenging.

Given my comfort with carrying a purse, having things in the pockets felt like a security compromise. What if I’m frisked by a gaggle of pickpockets? What if I want to take the jacket off? How do I open the jacket to fish out my wallet without revealing everything else to onlookers? Although it would technically be easier for a robber to make away with a purse, I’ve become accustomed to having one, and not traveling with any sort of bag left me feeling a tad naked.

Women’s Clothing and Pockets

As a reader pointed out in my Florida post:

“I think, like a lot of things, the design/idea works for what it was originally intended to –men. Women have more dips and bumps, and fitting stuff around them without looking lumpy or odd is tougher.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I love the look and feel of the Women’s Essential Travel Jacket when it’s empty, but once I loaded it with stuff, I felt bulky and, well, fat!

I think this is why we don’t see more women’s jackets with inside pockets; they just don’t play well with our curves.

Two caveats here: One is that I probably overloaded my pockets (my not-too-big-but-not-so-small camera was a sticking point); the other is that Scottevest Women’s Trench could likely have solved many of these issues with lots of pockets lower down, and a belt to accentuate the waist.

Wearing Other Clothing with Pockets

By the time I left for Quebec, I knew better than to rely solely on the Women’s Essential Travel Jacket as the sole mule of belongings for the trip. So I wore a few items of clothing with pockets to complement the jacket.

But even then, the additional pockets weren’t particularly functional. I guess women’s clothing designers are keen to our curves and know pockets aren’t complimentary, or they know most of us carry purses so they don’t bother with the extra material. We women seem to be unwitting victims of fashion over function whether we like it or not!

Eliminating What I Don’t Need

I learned pretty early on in my full-time travels that the weight of your pack is directly correlated to misery on the road.

the contents of my first trip with the No Baggage Challenge

And although I generally travel pretty light to begin with, the exercise of emptying my purse did bring to light that I still carry more stuff than I need to. And seeing that I’m soon to embark on a crazy train trip involving lots of movement, the lighter I pack, the happier I’ll be.

So as a No Baggage Challenge wrap-up, these trips have been instrumental in my taking another critical look at my bags and seeing how I can further reduce what I travel with. If I haven’t used it in a year (and don’t expect to in the foreseeable future), it’s staying behind. And although I really like the clothing I have, duplicates (ie: two of any kind of clothing like pants, t-shirts, etc) have been eliminated. It’s easy enough (and fun!) to replace and refresh my wardrobe as I go.

Would You Do It?

Female or male, pocket-savvy or not, would you do it? Would you take a No Baggage trip? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.

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31 thoughts on “No Baggage Challenge Wrap-Up: Lessons Learned”

  1. Nope! But I am a typical vacation traveller and just leave everything in a hotal room. Generally, I am a classic over-packer but one time I went to the DR for a week with a carry-on. At the time, I felt quite free without having to deal with checked luggage. But the sparse clothing and shoe options left me pretty stressed all week.
    I would like the Travel Jacket once I’ve arrived somewhere and would like to wander the streets or go to a market. It’d keep your hands free to explore, no purse to shoulder all day and no worry about someone grabbing all of your belonging in one quick snatch.
    But I guess packing the jacket and using it only to hold your wallet and camera goes against the principle…

    You are a trooper, thank goodness I can live vicariously through your adventures! 🙂

  2. Absolutely not!! I need all my stuff. I have to write on the road too, so I need all my techie gizmos. However, I have learned to travel much lighter than I used to. And on the next trip, I have decided to leave a lot of toiletries at home and use what are provided. We’ll see how that goes.

  3. “Would [I] take a No Baggage trip?”

    Absolutely! After a lifetime of travel – with each trip I’ve whittled down my baggage a bit more. And each smidge I dump – ah but it’s ever so FREEING!

    Though not (yet?) technically “NO baggage” (i.e. only layering and what fits into pockets), I nonetheless now travel only with a single small carry-on. This, for trips up to a month-long (incl. silk long underwear for freezing nights sleeping under the stars in the Sahara).

    Indeed, I honestly believe that a week, a month, a year on the lam – no matter. A week’s worth of “stuff” (clothing, toiletries, electronics) is all you’ll ever need.

    Ah but lately… speaking of “electronics” (and my love/hate “affair w/ same) – I’m finding that for my move (yep, lock, stock ‘n barrel) to Vietnam, my growing techno-toys ALONE fill up my usual carry-on. The laptop, the netbook, the Kindle, the iPod Touch, the P&S camera and the DSLR (not to mention the potpourri of batteries, chargers and cords that keep them all buzzing) – I mean, what’s a lass to do?

    Still, I think I could dump them all (save my beloved, and oh so travel-handy iPod Touch), and go utterly baggage-less – with but layering a pair of shorts, long pants, a couple of T-shirts, a fleece, and tucking the silk underwear plus a few toiletries into a pocket.

  4. @Miki – I think you can use the jacket however you wish! And practically speaking, Scottevest gear is best used for exactly what you describe – stashing a wallet and other necessities and hitting the town. The No Baggage Challenge is a fun experiment in taking the gear to extremes as far as I’m concerned.

    @Jan & Dyanne – Ah yes….electronics. This is the ultimate factor that will forever hold me back from becoming a full-time no-baggage traveler. But carry-on only baggage is mighty appealing…

  5. I’d like to think I could do it, but probably not. I need too much gear. Most of my stuff is photography related, so there’s a certain amount of that must go in the pack. I must say that I have never been on a trip where I thought that I didn’t have enough stuff.

  6. Congrats Nora! What an accomplishment for female vagabonders everywhere! Your challenge made me realize that I CAN fit my life in a backpack next year.

  7. @Matt – Yes, photography gear is one of the biggest culprits for taking up space. I hear ya!

    @Meg – You absolutely can fit life into a backpack! I’ve done so for almost five years now. Keep us posted! 🙂

  8. I work for an all organic, all handmade cosmetics company called Lush, so this is a little bit of a plug, but the reason I started working there and the reason I got addicted to this brand in the first place is because they have the BEST travel stuff. Their solid shampoos (hockey puck sized bar of soap) can be used on hair, body and clothes, and one of them was all I needed for a three month trip to India. Lighter, more functional, and more long lasting than any travel sized cosmetic!

    I love traveling light. I used to be the most high maintenance packer, but it really detracted from the pleasure of traveling.

    • Yes! Took a Lush bar to Spain for 3 weeks and you are correct….I could’ve left two other items at home…Plus, my hair still looks good with Lush; unlike using some hotel shampoos. Also took a Bee Bar solid lotion, which worked out fine because it was warm and Spain is also moister than my skin is used to. Worked great on dry hiking feet as well.

  9. I doubt I could pull it off, solely because I’ve gotten married to my camera and computer a bot while traveling. That’s pretty sad, but it’s fact.

    Other than those two items, sure I could.

  10. Hello,

    First of all congrats for traveling with no baggage! Blimey, not sure I could. Very good article, which has given me much to think about. However I think for now I’m going to stick to my backpack.

    All the best


  11. @Erik – Hey wait a minute – we’re married to the same thing (laptop)! I guess polygamy is rampant in the tech world. 😉

    @Ariana – I already have my Lush shampoo and conditioner bars – way ahead of you! 🙂

    @Nancy & Shawn – I’m not even sure how to define “backpacker” any more. Travel has so many different faces.

    @Andrew – Glad this gave you something to think about! I’m happy to return to my own bags as well. On to the next adventure!

  12. Do it all the time – don’t want to pay for the privilege of checking a bag, so use a back-pack. I have a travel vest as well that carries most of my stuff when walking around the area I am visiting. I usually wear the heaviest clothing and layers on the plane and put the lighter stuff in the pack. I look for things that roll or pack flat. Additionally, I use clothes that are double duty or layer. With a Kindle, I have several books with me and with an iPod touch I can check my email and surf the web. I will be in Istanbul Labor Day weekend and the backpack it is.

    It can be a bit more difficult the longer you travel, but I believe I could go a week with my backpack…and have for both professional and leisure travel (combined, even!).

  13. @Deserat – Good for you! Yes, I traveled for 6 weeks once with nothing more than a small carry-on backpack (which included my laptop; the folks at customs were stunned), and I realized that once you’re packed for a week or two, it could easily be a month or two.

  14. I find it incredible that you managed this! I am planning to travel long-term for the first time next year and I have already read countless blog posts about travelling light so I intend to do my best and work with a smaller backpack than I was planning to. I hope I manage because I can easily understand how having a really heavy pack will cause quite a bit of misery!

  15. @Hannah – There’s a little-known principle for packing for a trip: lay out everything you want to take, then remove half of it. Pack it up. Then unpack it again and lay everything out, then take away half again! NOW you’re ready to go! 😉

  16. Here’s a good idea: try a one-bag challenge instead where you don’t have to mooch off of those who DO travel prepared, and see if you can still stay fresh and clean-smelling. THEN I’ll be impressed…

  17. @Meh – Ooh…ouch! Thing is, I don’t mooch off other travelers, I mooch off the people I’m staying with. Does that count? 😉

  18. I don’t know about the no baggae challenge but am testing out just using a carry on on the plane to Tenerife in a few weeks time.I normally have checked a bag in before but because you have to pay baggage allowance have decided not to do that this will be a challenge for me but I’m gonna give it a go.

  19. @Angela – Traveling with carry-on only is the way to go if you’re just going somewhere for a short-ish time. I lasted 6 weeks with carry-on only, and I could have gone for longer. The challenge comes if you’re traveling through many climates, or through cold climates. As long as it’s summery, you’re golden!

  20. I will definitly try this and see where I can go and what I can…The only thing is the smelling so need to find a solution, but this idea is just AWESOME… I definitly will try it, and when I will do, I will let you know… Thanks for sharing with us

  21. @Tunimaal – I’m glad you like the idea of trying out no baggage travel yourself! Let us know here how it works out, and anything you learned!

  22. My in-laws went to Singapore and Thailand on a two weeks tour with absooutely no luggage whatsover…they juat had money, plastic and a camera….eventually they acquired a back pack in some shadySingapore or Thailand market and used it to keep an extra set of clothes change…amazing stuff

  23. @Baron’s – When I went to Thailand a few years ago I’d heard that it’s a great place to get cheap clothes, so I culled most of my stuff and went with very little. But I couldn’t quite manage no baggage….not as a hobo!

  24. I just got onboard with the whole no baggage thing. I have always traveled light (if it didn’t fit in my backpack, it didn’t go.) I decided to take the next step and go baggage free for (of all things) a business trip. I am lucky that my business trips are usually casual, I am unlucky that my business trips require me to carry a ton of tech gear (I am in IT). I purchased the SeV men’s travel vest, loaded it up (including an 11″ Macbook Air), and off I went for 5 days in Puerto Rico. When you get past the fact that you are traveling with NO BAGS PERIOD, the feeling is awesome. I had some extra sets of light clothes and my tech stuff. I will never travel the same way again. It is important to note that having quick dry clothes and clothes that help with odor (anti-microbial agents), really make light traveling much easier. You pay a premium, but it is totally worth the expense IMO.

    Happy Traveling!

    • Hi Dean – I’m glad you’re having fun – and success – in traveling with no bags! I still can’t wrap my head around it; even for just the laptop, it’s nice to have a bag that keeps the laptop and adaptors etc out of your pockets.

  25. I too struggle with the idea of only one bag or none. That’s what I’m doing today,research, modeling, planning…Europe in 2015…

    I use the Hobo Roll concept: Lay out a spare set of clothes [hand washable and quick dry] and insert small objects and gear and then roll it up tight and secure all with a D-Ring strap that’s long enough to make a hand loop back through a 3-bar slide[about 30 to 36 inches]. I’ve used this on a trip to Alaska and PNW and Eastern Caribbean. Works! Usually about 5 pounds. NO BAG!

    I use a Gossamer Gear RikSak for the rest. About 4 to 5 pounds.
    I like pockets too. My Jacket must have big ones! I wear pouches on my belt for cash, credit cards, phone and a blister kit. I secure the flaps with big fat rubber bands I cut from a bicycle inner tube. No wallet so no pick pockets!

    The clothes you wear. A duplicate set of the clothes you wear. One pair of shoes. Medicines and cleaning/washing items. A little gear [gadgets] and a cane [defense and locomotion].

    Can I check back for more tricks and tips here?? Two of our kids live on opposite coasts so we’re going to be traveling a lot now.

    I also have eliminated the 311 baggie. If you want I’ll tell you how.

    • Easy Traveler –
      It’s funny you should mention the HoboRoll concept…as one of my favourite pieces of travel gear (and one that allows me to travel full-time with carry-on luggage only) is called the Hoboroll! You can find it here:

      Good on you for traveling so light! I’m not quite that disciplined; I like a little more variety, but then again since I travel with everything I own I figure I’m entitled! 🙂

  26. I use the McNett MicroFiber Towel [Amazon] as a wrap for my Hobo Roll. This item has about 6 different uses: Towel. Shawl [Muslims]. Airplane Blanket. Sun Shade. I use it to roll my wet laundry up so it drys faster. Roll it all up with your clothes and stand on it to extract as much water as possible. Hang it all up to dry overnight! One thing six uses! Works!

    I have NO 311 bag. Here’s how: The excellent solid stuff from Lush! Archtek Toothpaste Tablets. Get them at Amazon. A bottle of 60 will last a month! “Repel” brand insect repellent, solid stick. Mitchum Solid Deodorant or your favorite. Alcohol swabs in foil packs for hand cleaner. [TSA “dry”]. I like Kirk’s Castile bar soap. It’s solid, dry and very “natural” and cheap too! I use Purex brand “Complete 3-in-1 Laundry Sheets. They’re “dry”. Get them a Amazon while they’re still available. NO 311 baggie! I use the little “sample” stuff in the Hotel room too. Ask for more. Then there’s “local procurement” when you get to where you’re going. It was FUN looking for soap in Barcelona…

    Have a look at and their 8 oz. “Zero” Backpack! Get it with the dry bag roll top, haul loop and the mesh outer pocket. Ask for longer shoulder straps too! I got the medium size which is huge. Also check out for their excellent “RikSak” excursion backpack! Light as a feather and very useful. I like the little mesh bags from 5 X 7 inches. Draw string top. Two will hold toiletries and small “gear” items so they don’t get all over the inside of your pack. They have cinch straps too.

    About 14-15 pounds and I can go for as long as I can re-supply my expendables as I use them or my clothes wear out!
    Maybe not “no bag” but my travel stuff is cut to the bare minimum! So much more fun than doing “manual labor” with too much stuff and too many bags!

    Thanks for your time.

    • Hi Easy Traveler,
      Awesome recommendations! I too love Lush’s solid products (shampoo, moisturizer), and I use crystal deodorant. I’m not completely liquid-free in my entourage, but very close!
      I love Gossamer Gear’s Rik Sak – it looks awesome! Might be a worthy addition to my entourage….thanks for the suggestion!
      Also – great uses for a microfiber towel….I love them.


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