Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
“Where’s your luggage?”
“It’s all I got.”
This is always how it begins. This is always what security officers in Israel’s Ben-Gurion airport say when they see me — sometimes with a tiny backpack, sometimes completely bagless — flying abroad. If they don’t recognize me from Destination Poon‘s Hebrew edition, I have to disarm suspicions and convince them I am neither a lunatic or a terrorist. So I send them to this page.
What’s this page, you’re asking?
It is your travel guide to serendipity, freedom, and the joy of life.
You see, for the past decade, I’ve traveled the world almost nonstop thanks to my online money-making tree. And what I’ve constantly noticed was how much of an impact your belongings have on the joy of your trip. I quickly realized that minimalism is truly a privilege of the rich. The gurus weren’t lying! So I began to gradually minimize my belongings, carefully sculpturing my travel gear to a point where it offers maximum comfort and peace of mind. The result?
After a ton of field-testing trips and about 50 countries later, I managed to refine and squeeze my gear to a point where I don’t even need any backpack anymore. I call this No Bag Travel.
Introducing No Bag Travel (NBT)
The art of traveling so light you can basically pack all your travel gear inside the pockets of your pants. May also be called ‘No Baggage Travel’, ‘No Luggage Travel’ or even ‘Pocket Traveling’.
The only times I’ll carry a (tiny) bag is when I go on extended periods and need my laptop for work. But regardless, I am always as mobile as a bird.
Minimalist Travel Is About Simplifying Life
It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer. (William of Occam)
Know that classic “backpacker” look? Come on, you know what I’m talking about. Those colorful bracelets all over the arms, that massive Lonely Planet in the hands, and that huge NASA rocket harnessed on the back. What the heck do they fill it with? To me, that’s insanity. Back in the Israeli army, I had the fetid privilege of spending months in the harsh desert. The funny thing? Neither myself nor my fellows ever carried so much “luggage”.
The joke becomes even more ridiculous when travelers see how better equipped I am. They can’t believe it at first. How can this guy carry so much less and still be ready for anything? The “secret” is elegantly simple: You can only wear one set of clothing at any given time, so why not maximize the efficiency of this one set and ditch the rest? Why not pick something that never stinks, barely needs laundry, and just looks great?
Less indeed is more. That’s what this minimalist travel gear guide is about.
Benefits of Traveling Light
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run. (Henry David Thoreau)
- Less frustration and wasted time. You won’t have to wait at the airport for your luggage, or worse, become frustrated when you lose it (more common than you think). Going on and off airports will go blazingly fast.
- Cheaper flight fares. Most low-cost airlines charge additional money for anything more than a tiny handbag. Under my philosophy, you’ll either go completely bagless, or with a tiny backpack that will fit low-cost airlines onboard luggage policies. In other words, you’ll save money. (Related: How to Find Cheap Flight Tickets)
- Flexibility and comfort. You won’t have to waste time and energy carrying heavy luggage, or finding a place to accommodate it while you’re out to take a walk. You’ll have less back pain and be less exhausted. You’ll do much less laundry. Traveling light is pure beauty. It allows you to jump on opportunities and adventures as they come. Serendipity will find you. This, my friends, is total freedom. Stick to the golden rule of travel: What doesn’t help you, hurts you.
- Better merge with the local culture. There is some degree of disrespect when you come all the way to a Third World nation and look like a walking spaceship from the West. This is also the reason why I never carry a big DSLR, and settle on something more modest in size. Because of this, you’ll be more inviting and attract more interactions with the locals.
- Less risk. Because you’ll be traveling with minimum gear, you won’t look like the average tourist. Vendors will be less likely to rip you off, because you’ll look more like an expat. More importantly, malicious people will be less likely to rob you because, well, you’ll look like you don’t have much. (Related: Best Way to Take Money Abroad and Avoid Being Robbed)
- You just don’t need more. I give you my word. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was known for his disrespect to the lack of human efficiency at managing resources. His ‘Parkinson’s Law’ suggests that “work expands so as to fill the time available to its completion”. Likewise, luggage expands so as to fill the bag available to its storage. When your boss gives you eight hours to complete a task, for some reason it tends to take eight hours to complete it. But if he says you’re free to go home if you finish it in two hours, I bet you’ll find a way. Likewise, no matter the size of your bag, you’ll always find a way to fill it up.
- You begin to appreciate simplicity. Before embarking on my first long minimalist trip abroad, I had given my entire wardrobe to charity. I won’t lie, giving everything away did itch. But it was a great lesson, a reminder of the enormous amounts of trash the human race accumulates. And shortly after, I learned a refreshing lesson: An unnecessary item you owned quickly loses its meaning once gone. You forget it ever existed. When you travel without physical burdens, I find that you’re more focused on your surroundings and the simple joy that they bring.
Minimalist Travel Gear Packing List
You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. (Fight Club)
Again, my philosophy is not to stink like a barefoot hippy. It is being efficient. You want to gear up intelligently. We’re going to carry only a few items, so it’s super important to make the right choices and make sure we’re as lean and efficient as possible. Therefore, our hero is this:
The most blatant mistake I see on the travel trail is the fabric of choice. Most people travel with cotton or synthetic ‘special travel gear’. The latter may dry quickly and wick sweat away, but it stinks like a mofo. The former not only stinks, but also gets sweaty, takes ages to dry, and doesn’t regulate body temperature effectively. And so our savior is wool.
- Doesn’t stink. Wool is naturally anti-microbial and odor-resistant, and it quickly evaporates sweat into the air. That means you’ll rarely have to wash it. You can go weeks with a single shirt and a single short. When you do wash it, it’s going to be because of food stains and not the sweat stink.
- Properly regulates body temperature. Wool is both naturally breathable and insulating. This means it excels in both keeping you warm in winter, and cool in summer. And again, it quickly evaporates sweat which is important in all seasons.
- Dries incredibly fast. This feels like a superpower. Imagine being caught under a tropical monsoon. With wool, you’ll be dry again before you know it. With cotton… good luck.
- Doesn’t wrinkle. Wool is naturally resistant to wrinkles because of the structure of its fibers. This means no more wasting time ironing, if you’re a business traveller.
Specifically, we are going to use merino wool from New Zealand. You can use Cashmere too if you want, or any type of wool really. I like Merino. It’s an extremely soft type of wool, and it doesn’t itch like those sweaters your grandma knitted for you when you were a child. So, without further ado…
Best Travel Gear: Minimalist Packing List
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less. (Socrates)
These shirts are expensive, yes, but I believe your freedom is worth it. As I said, you’ll rarely have to do laundry, so you can only go with one. Originally, I was traveling with an Icebreaker. It was great. But it was stolen from me recently, so I replaced it with a great-looking Wool & Prince polo. They also have a beautiful button-down version, which looks so good you can wear it even to your friends’ weddings. I feel like I should also give credit to Icebreaker’s incredible customer service and transparency of production. I can say only great things about them.
If you don’t give a shit about visuals, you’re good to go with any 100% wool shirt really. It’s the only shirt you’ll ever need. Guaranteed. Whatever you choose, wear it for a couple of days straight, and then do the same with cotton. Smell the difference? Unbelievable.
Pants: Wool Jeans / Wool Shorts / Nylon Swimming Shorts
In the past, I used to travel with a brushed nylon convertible travel pants. The problem was that the ‘aroma’ difference between them and my wool shirt was very noticeable. Luckily for me, Wool&Prince then came up with their wool shorts, which I now use. Not so luckily for you, these shorts have since been discontinued. My advice: Go on eBay/Amazon and hunt for any shorts/jeans made out of wool. They’re very rare, so good luck. If you can’t find anything wooly, just go with any light, pocketed swimming/surfing shorts, which I actually prefer when I’m off to a hot tropical destination. If you’re off to a cold climate, convertible brushed nylon trousers can also work, as well as Jeans. Jeans is sturdy, and sweating isn’t much of a problem in the lower body for most people anyway.
P.S: I highly recommend stitching an internal pocket to safely keep your money and credit card. That’s the best way to take money abroad.
I used to travel with the famous ExOfficio Give N’ Go briefs, but I moved to wool now. The reason? ExOfficio took more time to dry than the rest of my wool gear. I now use a pair of Minus33, which I’m satisfied with. For those of you prone to chaffing, I recommend going with boxers and not briefs.
If the idea of wearing only one underwear is repellent to you, you can pack two and alternate between them. Wear one while you wash the other.
The Umara-Z Trail are the most amazing footwear I’ve ever worn. We humans have evolved to walk, run, sprint, jump and climb barefoot, right? These shoes work with our nature rather than against it. Normal shoes make you ‘heel strike’ the ground first, damaging your posterior chain (Your back!). When you’re barefoot (or practically-barefoot, like with the Xero Shoes), the ball of your feet lands first, providing natural shock absorption. Basically, they allow your body to function naturally, while still providing protection from modern hazards like broken glass and polluted roads.
Oh, and they’re perfect for travel! The Xero Shoes allow your feet to ‘breath’, minimizing the chance for bacteria to develop on your nails, something that tends to happen inside normal shoes where it’s moist and dark. Another benefit of the Xero Shoes (and other barefoot shoes) is that your fingers and feet surface have more room to spread. This gives you as stronger, non-trapped grip on the ground. And last, they’re just cool! Travelers always comment on them and strike a conversation.
I previously wrote a Xero Shoes review, but many of the benefits also apply to Earth Runners. However, I like the new Xero Shoes Umara Z-Trail the most. They’re lighter and more comfy. If you’re going somewhere cold, buy wool socks for them. If that looks too dorky for you, get a pair of VivoBarefoot Gobi II, which is what I travel with whenever I need to be wearing closed shoes.
P.S: If you have small children, let them wear barefoot shoes/sandals from young age. When I was traveling Cambodia, I had the privilege of witnessing the Pounongs in the Khmer mountains. Many of them grew barefoot, and their feet were very wide, strong and healthy. Modern shoes hinder feet development.
Smartphone: Any (I use an iPhone)
I didn’t use a smartphone on my first trips. I now always do. Really, it’s a super-device. You can use it to book flights and train tickets, read books, log your workouts and dives and vaccines, etc. You can use it as a clock. You can use it for music, maps or Skype. You can monitor your business from the road if you wish. In need, you can easily go online without unpacking a clumsy laptop. You can store ideas and notes whenever luck strikes you. And if the camera is good enough for you, you just saved yourself the space of a separate camera. Smartphones can also help you keep in contact with new friends (and hot chicks) you meet on the road. They are immensely powerful devices.
HOWEVER, the easiest way to ruin your travels is to constantly check your emails, browse Facebook and get a false sense of home. It can bring back old habits and corrupt the sense of adventure of your trip. Unless you’re one of those digital nomads who travel 365 days a year, I recommend using your phone on airplane mode most of the time. Oh, and never take it with an international SIM. Self-discipline is overrated. Also, if none of the benefits appeal to you, you might not need a phone at all.
What makes sweat stink is not the sweat itself, but your underarm bacteria. Regular anti-perspiration deodorants are dangerous, toxic and leave disgusting stains on your clothes. The solution is either baking soda or Potassium Alum, a ‘crystal stone’. Both of them prevent bacterias from growing. Baking Soda is lighter and can be a bit more messy, Potassium Alum is more comfy to apply but weighs more. If you go with the stone, careful not to take Ammonium Alum instead. Ammonium is the synthetic one, and it seems to be less effective. As for me, I now use baking soda exclusively, even when I’m home.
Another option: Just go caveman.
Camera (optional): Sony RX-100 IV
I love photography, but I never travel with big DSLRs. They’re heavy, clumsy and make you stand out like a sore thumb. If you’re a National Geographic employee out for a photography venture, surely I can understand a DSLR. But if you’re just an enthusiast in no need of crazy zooms, the new Sony RX-100 IV is perfect. Sony came up with this technology not too long ago, and it’s an absolute breakthrough. It lets you take DSLR quality photos in a camera the size of a tiny compact. It will blow your mind. However, new smartphones take exceptional photos these days, and for many people (including me), that’s enough.
Towel (optional): MSR PackTowl Ultralite
This towel is beyond amazing. It’s so thin and tiny it easily fits your pocket. And it’s so effective that (before I lost it) I used to be using it back home too. I let my sister have it in her first few weeks in the army, and she was shocked when she took a shower, dried herself, hung the towel on a clothesline, went to buy something from her base’s grocery store, and came back less than ten minutes later to find the towel completely dry.
The sizes are really small, so take a bigger size or two than you think you need (I’d take XL). Personally, I tend to stay in fancy hotels these days, and most places have towels, so I don’t travel with the MSR anymore. However, I sometimes find myself in the wild for a few days, and I always wish I’d brought it. But then I just shake convulsively like a wet dog and let the sun dry me off. Had I gone to a long trip in the wild, I’d definitely carry an MSR PackTowl.
Flashlight (optional): Any small Fenix flashlight.
I used to carry a small Fenix in South East Asia. It’s a great, sturdy, powerful and waterproof flashlight. The weight:power ratio is amazing, and it’s very useful in blackouts, remote islands, and jungles. That being said, I no longer use one. It was stolen from me and I didn’t bother to get a replacement. Today I just use my smartphone’s flashlight function when needed.
Whistle (optional): FOX40 Safety Whistle
Taxi running away? Lost your friends in the middle of the jungle? Macaque monkeys threatening you in a cave? Diving boat left you and you’re now lost in the ocean? Fox40 to your rescue. It’s the crème de la crème of safety whistles, a high-pitche bastards in a tiny package. Who knows? It might just save your life one day. Personally, I no longer bother to take one.
Though it doesn’t smell as good as normal soaps, Dr. Bronner magic soap is nice. It contains only plant based, organic substances, and you can use it for almost anything. Also, it’s so concentrated you can use a droplet or two for a shower, so it can last for ages. If you take it, use a GoToob to contain and seal it from leaking all over your clothes. Personally? I no longer use it. Most places supply soap bars, and I don’t need a shampoo because my head is shaven.
eReader (optional): Kindle
Ever since I got my first Kindle, a paperwhite, I’ve never read a physical book again. The Kindle is absolutely amazing, and even more so for travel. It lets you carry thousands of books (Among them… Destination Poon!) in your pocket while weighing less than a paperback. And since book delivery is instant, you can read a lot more books per year.
What’s more amazing is that the Kindle lasts for weeks on a single charge. I took it to the Caucasus for a month, read almost every day, and didn’t even bring a charger. Also, reading on the Kindle feels much like reading from paper. Thanks to their e-ink technology, you can read under direct sunlight with zero glare. It also has built-in light, so you don’t need a lamp if you read before sleep. And the device shuts itself down after a few minutes of inactivity, so you’ll never fall asleep with the lights on. Also, your eyes won’t strain because the light shoots front to back.
More benefits? You can take notes and highlights and comfortably retrieve them in your Amazon account online. There’s a built in vocabulary. You can change text size (useful if your vision isn’t great). The books are stored in the cloud, so if you ever lose your Kindle they’re safe. Why not just get a tablet? First, their batteries suck. Second, their backlit screens are uncomfortable for long reading sessions. And third, there are too many distractions on them. The Kindle eliminates social media and other crap and lets you get soaked into your reading. It’s awesome.
I usually carry my Kindle for long vagabonding trips. For shorter ones where I’d just like to ‘unplug’, I won’t take it. Also, if you have a big smartphone and don’t read much, it could replace your Kindle. If you do take the Kindle, I recommend the cheapest (Wifi-only, With Special Offers) Paperwhite or Voyage. The special offers don’t bother AT ALL, and wifi is enough to buy and download books.
Headgear (optional): Wool Buff
This thing is AMAZING. I use it to cover my eyes in flights, defend myself against mosquitos in jungle areas, and warm my head against windy and cold climates (balaclava style). It can also work as a scarf or a warmer for your ears. Or as protection from the sun. If I go on long vagabonds, I’ll always take it.
For the vast majority of people, I do NOT recommend taking a laptop on their trips. It is completely unnecessary. I only bring it whenever I go on very long trips where I relocate for a long period and plan to do some work. If you’re not a writer, a ‘digital nomad’, or a business owner relocating – you’ll do yourself a great favor by not taking a laptop at all.
I like to see my trips as ‘unplugged’ time. If you still need a machine, I highly recommend the new Macbook if you’re a writer. It’s thin, light, has a huge battery, and has a huge resolution (2304×1440) which is the most important factor for productivity. If you need more power (editing videos?), take the Macbook Pro Retina. If you’re a devout anti-Apple zealot, just take a light Windows laptop with a similar resolution.
I used to own Windows machines, but I now use Apple exclusively because of its operation system and sealed ecosystem. It gives me speed, ease of use and reliability over bloatware, viruses and blue screens.
Bag (optional): Tom Bihn Synapse 19
Again, you do NOT need a bag if you don’t take a laptop. All the above gear, except for the laptop, can easily fit your pockets. If I go on short, 1-2 months ‘unplugged’ respites, I’ll never take a bag. But whenever I relocate for half a year or so, my weapon of choice is the brilliant Tom Bihn Synapse 19. If you decide to take it, go on and take an extra shirt and undies. You’ll have plenty of empty space anyway
I travel mostly to tropical, warm areas. Everything I listed is enough for those regions. However, if you plan to travel Iceland or something, you’ll want two more layers. One as an insulating layer, like a fleece or down jacket. Or just a merino wool sweater if the cold isn’t too bad. If it’s going to be extremely rainy, snowy or windy, pack a Marmot windbreaker too. Though expensive, the Marmot is very effective and lightweight. Notice that without a laptop, you still don’t need a bag, even with this extra gear.
THAT’S EVERYTHING?! IS THIS ALL YOUR TRAVEL GEAR?!
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. (Confucius)
Yep, that’s about it. Add a small toothbrush and some toothpaste and you’re gold. On my last packing, for an unplugged month in Ethiopia, I packed only 1x merino wool shirt, shorts and undies, and took a smartphone (with no internet, of course) to use as a camera. Everything fits my pockets. No need for neither a bag nor a vest.
But Regev! What about a Lonely Planet?!
I’ve never in my life used a travel guidebook. This kind of books brings you into a passive mode. Instead of approaching people, interacting with your environment, building your own ‘legend’, you’ll find yourself staring at a book. Another problem is that the places listed there quickly become flooded with tourism. Go out there, explore, and your unique path will mold itself organically. Nothing feels more refreshing than being the only foreigner in a far-away place.
But Regev! Am I going to wear the same thing every day?!
Yep! Know what’s cool? Nobody’s going to notice. People are so busy with their own appearance that they never remember what someone else was wearing when they saw them. Once you detach your ego from your belongings, everything else becomes just a little bit easier. A positive side effect: people appreciate you more once you explain to them the philosophy behind your minimalist travel gear.
The Minimalist Travel Approach Is Now Yours to Enjoy
I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters. (Henry David Thoreau)
That’s it. You now have in your disposal the only minimalist packing list you’ll ever need. Go out, use it, and enjoy freedom. I wish you loads of sexy adventure, and the safest of travels.