This is the sixth installment of my No Baggage Challenge for Charity. Read about why I am traveling to Japan for ten days with no bags here and see exactly what I have with me here. My first post on arriving in Japan can be read here and my exploration of Kyoto's Nishiki Market can be read here. My visit to Bar High Five, the best cocktail bar in Asia, can be read here.
I returned to Washington DC on Saturday morning, two hours before I left Tokyo after ten days of traveling in Japan with no bags and only Scottevest clothing. The trip was incredible - I primarily split time between Kyoto and Tokyo, though I did day trips to Osaka, Nara, and Nikko as well. I've had a little bit of time to reflect on traveling with no baggage...here are my thoughts:
The two items I brought with me to document my trip were an iPhone 4, which I used to take pictures, shoot and edit video, and an iPad, which I'd intended to use to write my blog posts. Data costs from AT&T were very high, so I elected to just use these as WiFi devices to post on my trip. Unfortunately, there is almost no open WiFI in Japan. The main reason behind this is that WiFi was never a needed development for mobile devices due to the country's incredibly fast cellular data networks. People have long been able to use their cell phones to browse the web at fast speeds - there was no need for WiFi to be widely used and so it isn't. I was able to find open networks at a couple of my hotels and there were also some Starbucks (and McDonald's, though I didn't use them) which had WiFi. But for the most part, this meant that I relied primarily on free computers in my hotels' lobbies or business centers. The iPad was basically superfluous for most of the trip. Unless I were to buy a local mobile data plan, I wouldn't bring an iPad with me again. This would actually save a lot of space in my kit, which I'll address below.
One unstated challenge was that Japan is an incredibly formally dressed country, at least as far as Tokyo and Kyoto went. Most working age men who aren't in the service industry wear suits. While I had success getting into a couple very high-end cocktail bars wearing my Scottevest clothing, I often felt underdressed for where I was. This isn't a no baggage issue nor a Scottevest issue, though. Had I packed as I normally do, I still wouldn't have had brought a business suit or two with me. It's just not my style; so in any event, I would have likely felt underdressed in Japan.
The only other challenge came when moving locations, with my Scottevest Carry-on Coat fully loaded with all my stuff. I'm not sure what it is, but most indoor spaces in Japan are kept at a fairly high temperature, including train stations, subway stations, and train cars. While I didn't have any problems with body temperature while loaded and outside, I sometimes got quite hot wearing the Carry-on Coat, loaded, over the Scottevest Tropical Jacket. Of course the beauty of traveling with no baggage is that when I got hot, I could simply take off my overcoat and carry it by hand. The clothing I had with me ended up being largely well-suited for the climate and beyond the few times I was in transit, I never really felt overheated or uncomfortable.
The clearest success of my trip with no bags had to be my ability to move through airports at the beginning and end of my trip. Security was never an issue and I wasn't stopped at Customs on either side of the trip. Not having to carry a bag around the airport was really freeing and easy. The same carried through while taking trains around Japan, though it also freed me to help my girlfriend and my mom carry their suitcases up or down flights of stairs. The peace of mind of not having to worry about where my bag was or if it was safe was a welcome development in my no baggage travel.
Obviously odor was a big concern going into the trip. I only had two t-shirts, three pairs of underwear, and three pairs of wool socks with me. I washed whatever I wore each night, as well as periodically washing my Q-Zip and Travel Pants (due to how I wore them, I didn't wash the Flex Cargo Pants nor the TEC Shirt). I was also showering twice a day - in the morning and usually in the early evening, while regrouping at the hotel before dinner. I kept checking with my girlfriend and my parents, but they never noticed me or my clothes smelling bad. I think this is a testament to both the quality of Scottevest clothing to resist odor and value of washing clothes immediately after wearing them to minimize the chances of odor sinking in. I also have to say that bringing a travel clothesline was a life-saver. Two of my hotels had built-in clotheslines in the bathroom, but the rest didn't. Being able to properly hang the clothes ensured they were dry each morning and ready to be either packed or worn.
The last, biggest success was that I packed really well. Everything that I brought with me, excepting the iPad, was used every day. There was no real wasted stuff in my kit. Had I left the iPad home, I would have saved a lot more weight and been less bulky. I'd definitely recommend ultralight travelers think about whether they will be able to unplug enough to rely only on communal computers or internet cafes to go online - if so, tech gear like an iPad is really unnecessary.
The Big Question
The big question is obviously, "Would I travel with no baggage again?" It really depends on the situation. I can definitely see myself going with no bags for trips by myself or trips that are shorter than this one. I felt really comfortable traveling with no bags and enjoyed the freedom that came with it. That said, while I was able to have a great trip with no bags in an advanced, formal country with my girlfriend and my family, I'm not sure I would do it in these circumstances again. I did feel a bit underdressed in Japan, but also underdressed compared to my travel companions. The good news here is that Scottevest is coming out with a sports coat soon, which would be a solution to the level of dress problem.
The more important point of traveling with no bags is that it really showed me how much less stuff I can take with me when I travel. I may not have plans to do this same sort of trip again in the foreseeable future, but the lessons of it will carry through immediately - to upcoming trips to Oklahoma, New Orleans, and Chile. I do plan on taking a bag on these trips, but it will likely be substantially smaller, with less stuff than normal.
After doing this no baggage challenge for charity in Japan, there's really no situation in which I can't comfortably function with no baggage. I look forward to trying travel with no baggage again, particularly if I can do it under a different set of circumstances, like a business trip or on a more outdoors-focused trip.
I highly encourage readers to try their own no baggage challenge. I didn't think I could do it when I first read about Rolf Potts' no baggage trip around the world. But once I set my mind to trying it, I had no problems. Scottevest makes great clothing that suits no baggage travel well. Between Rolf's trip and my own, I hope that you have some sense of how achievable no baggage travel is and you're ready to go travel with no baggage. Trust me, you can do it and you'll have a blast.
Disclosure: My No Baggage Challenge for Charity trip is being done in collaboration with Scottevest. I received some of the clothing I am using, including the Carry-On Coat, Tropical Jacket, TEC Shirt, Travel Boxers and Flex Cargo Pants for free. I am also using other Scottevest clothes that I've purchased myself: Q-Zip, Performance T-Shirts, and Travel Pants. Scottevest is making a $1500 donation to Students for a Free Tibet in honor of my trip and will raise their donation to $5000 if videos I shoot on this trip reach 10,000 views. I am covering all other trip costs.
If you would like to make a donation in support of Students for a Free Tibet, please click here.