It’s possible to travel long distance for business with very limited luggage. In fact it’s incredibly liberating but it isn’t without its challenges.
18-months or so ago I was at Newcastle Airport en route to Amsterdam when I caught up with Twitchhiker-author and traveller Paul Smith. He’s the boss of the successful ignite100 startup incubator in Newcastle.
Paul was travelling to New York for a week with a small courier bag. I was heading to Amsterdam for three days with a suitcase and 30-litre shoulder bag.
The difference in our travelling styles has frustrated me ever since. We live in a digital, global economy without borders. It surely should be possible to travel without luggage.
Encouraged by Paul, and another friend and likeminded light-traveller Dan Howe, I headed to Chicago and New York last week for work with a daysack and a #LuggageHack experiment was born.
Originally I thought about travelling without any luggage at all but with client and internal meetings I decided that it would be too high risk and, frankly stressful.
So I settled on a daysack and set two rules: anything that I didn’t have I’d either do without or buy; and anything that I couldn’t carry home I’d ship back.
Here’s how I got on.
Travelling in the winter to the US East Coast isn’t conducive to travelling without luggage. The #LuggageHack experiment would be a lot easier in the summer. Instead I carted a North Face jacket, hat and gloves. But it was cold in both Chicago and New York so they were most certainly mandatory, and I wore them wherever I travelled.
When you set yourself a challenge like this and share it, your network steps up. A couple of emails generated suggestions for places to buy clothes. The only items I really needed were a shirt, socks and underwear, purchased from Uniqlo. Google would have found the answer but personal networks with local knowledge are much quicker.
There’s a point of diminishing returns. There’s no point in buying kit for the sake of it if you’re duplicating stuff that you’ve already got at home. But equally venturing into local shops means you discover new places that you wouldn’t have if you’d stayed in your hotel.
Dry cleaning in a hotel is expensive but it’s the price you pay for traveling light. In New York there’s a laundry in every neighbourhood and they’re relatively inexpensive (few dollars per item). In my case a tube of hand washing detergent was sufficient to carry me through.
Shipping laundry to the UK is prohibitively expensive. It almost broke the experiment. I was quoted $150 for a 2kg package. Cheaper options are almost certainly available but I bought a $20 bag for the trip home instead. Several people on Twitter warned me of the possibility of custom charges for shipping goods.
Trust your kit. I stripped back to an iPhone, PC, Kindle, headphones with integrated microphone for calls, a US dual USB charger and US/UK adapter and cables. If you look out for USB slots you’ll find them everywhere from airline seats to the televisions.
Avoid carrying paper. It’s bulky and unnecessary. Use cloud based services to store documents and if you need to print copies you can do that at your destination. Aside from tech, my work stuff consisted of a notebook, pen and box of pencils.
The exercise taught me that nothing is really essential. You could almost certainly travel with nothing and get everything you need, including luggage to carry it home, at your destination. My essentials for the trip included underwear, shirt, trousers, jumper and a jacket. Next time I’ll almost certainly take less.
#LuggageHack is a state of mind. It’s the same mindset that chooses public transport over a taxi ($12.50 vs. $50 from Newark to Manhattan, and a lot quicker), or an apartment booked last minute in an out of town neighbourhood versus a central large hotel (much cheaper). The Internet and your networks are your authentic guides.
The premise of #LuggageHack and travelling light is liberating.
It puts you in the frame of mind of a local rather than a business traveller; it means that you can move quickly, local transport is easy to navigate; and it’s a load of fun sharing stories along the way with friends and colleagues.
I’ll certainly do it again having learnt from this experience. I reckon a slightly larger rucksack would easily carry me through a week and back home.
Finally, for the record and reassurance of my US colleagues and the Internet, I did not go ‘commando’ at any point during the #LuggageHack experiment.
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