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Travelling light: #LuggageHack experiment

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.

chicago

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.

Climate

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.

Research

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.

shirts

Excess

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.

Laundry

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 #fail

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.

Technology

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.

Paperless

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.

Essentials

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.

Mindset

#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.

heathrow

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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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

23 Comments

  1. Interesting experiment, but you don’t really say why. Why did it frustrate you? I’ve tried travelling very light, perhaps not as extreme as you, but almost. And I don’t get it. It’s really not that hard to carry a small briefcase/satchel and small case/rucksack. The ‘mindset’ doesn’t really explain it for me as I usually choose public transport over a taxi (nearly always faster and cheaper) and often choose out of the way guest house type or apartment accommodation. But until reading your post had never really equated either of these with travelling light. You might have inspired me to give it another go to see if I can ‘get it’.

  2. I love that you did this. I’ve varied my luggage routine a fair bit over the years (my Lucozade gig taught me the most mind) and now I can do a fortnight away from home with only carry on.

    Which, #luggagehack aside, is my only real goal :)

    Any habits/lessons you’ll be carrying over from the experiment?

  3. Using the word ‘hack’ in this context makes me very sad. But I can totally relate to it.

    I did a lot of business travel between 2009 and 2012 and quickly learned a few things. Like, if you are going to be in a hurry you’ll regret having checked baggage. That’s the first, and most important one. But there were trips I went on where I was happy having loads of stuff with me. Especially if I was going to be based in one location for a while – why not be comfortable, I used to tell myself.

    On one occasion I flew to New York with two colleagues. One had a massive (checked) suitcase, I had a small carry-on, plus laptop bag, and the third had everything in one of those stereotypical hard briefcases. Everything. o_O

    Once, at Heathrow, I got ‘pulled’ by security as I was about to board a flight to Chicago… “Mr Fleming, you’re flying to the US but haven’t checked any luggage, would you mind explaining that to me.”

    In fact, come to think of it, getting through security at airports was always a bigger deal for me than contending with luggage.

  4. I’m really struggling with the concept behind this. Surely the time and effort of waiting for checked luggage is easier then research, shopping, laundry and shipping? I feel like I’m missing something. From an environmental point of view it’s a disaster – buying something new because you don’t want to carry it both ways. Not to mention the expense. Buying new shirts every time you travel?

    Not sure travelling light is a state of mind – it’s just about being honest with yourself about what you need. And if you over pack it’s still surely better than any additional cost down the line. I don’t see much negative impact anywhere on overpacking.

  5. Stephen, thanks for the post. It brought back fond memories of travelling in my late teens. I lived in India, Thailand and Australia acquiring all manners of paraphernalia along the way. I was due to spend a month in the US so elected to ship back all of my clobber from Sydney. I travelled across the US with only a small sports bag and an Akubra hat (think Crocodile Dundee – a gift from my Oz employers that wouldn’t fit in my tea chest shipped back to UK). Technology wasn’t a problem back then, It was pre-internet, pre-mobile phone. I just needed a stack of airmail letters and a fine-nibbed pen to capture what I saw, did and felt. Fast-forward 20+ years and spurred by the ethos of the Tiny Houses movement my partner plus a 2.5 yo and 6mo elected to undertake something not dissimilar. We moved to Sydney arriving with just four suitcases. We have acquired what we’ve needed along the way. May be a topic of discussion for our 50 coffee’s chat H2 15?

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