Around the world in just his clothes

Around the world in just his clothes

Twelve countries, six weeks, zero baggage. Writer Rolf Potts takes the term traveling light to its minimal extreme
Rolf Potts explores Thailand with only the clothes on his back. Here, he chows down on creepy crawlers from a Bangkok food stall.

Last August, travel writer Rolf Potts asked the blogosphere: what would happen if he globe-trotted across five continents, carrying absolutely nothing?

One pair of pants. Two of underwear. All personal belongings stuffed into his vest pockets.

Some called the concept heroic. Others said it was idiotic. Quite a few were concerned he’d smell like a skunk.

Potts threw down the gauntlet and visited 12 countries in six weeks, including Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Along the way, he kept a fascinating blog about the struggles and revelations of a No Baggage Challenge.

Rolf Potts explores Thailand with only the clothes on his back.

A Thailand homecoming

The heart of Potts’ itinerary was revisiting Thailand -- where he used to live and work -- for the first time in seven years.

“It’s not until you come back to Bangkok to walk its streets and smell its scents (good and bad) that you realize how emotional your connection to a place -- and travel in general -- can be,” he says.

Potts was so moved by the city that he extended his stay by two days. Unfortunately, this left him little time to discover Malaysia and Singapore. However, he says the “slight, teasing taste” of these countries, paired with a terrific Indian meal in Penang, has him eager to return.

Bizarre adventures in Bangkok

The journalist’s quirkiest tales take place in Thailand. As a “nightlife test,” he tried to enter an upscale club called Bed, dressed in the same clothes he’d been sleeping in for a month. The outcome: an entertaining video on how to sneak past the velvet rope.

Another memorable adventure came from eating street food in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Potts took a cue from Andrew Zimmern and gulped down grasshoppers, ant larvae and dried frogs. “The experience turned out to be a lot of fun. It reminded me that it’s always memorable when you can bring yourself to be daring in unfamiliar places,” he says.

A major highlight of the tour was riding the scenic second-class sleeper train from Bangkok to Malaysia. Potts describes, “The dining car in particular is like social roulette -- you’re never sure who you’ll end up talking to, but it’s always interesting.”

The psychological freedom of traveling light hit home when he met a passenger struggling with nine bags, including a “60-kilo monster.”

Baggage-free Potts helps a passenger lug her nine swollen suitcases.

Lessons learned from an ultra-light voyage

Potts found it unexpectedly easy to travel without baggage. He fell into a routine of washing himself and his clothes daily in the shower, which eliminated the much-feared odors. Although a laptop would have made Internet updates easier, he didn’t long for extra belongings, and even threw out unneeded items such as a flashlight, bandanna and earplugs. 

For Potts, the greatest benefit of having no luggage is that it keeps travelers nimble. “Southeast Asia is a user-friendly place -- good food, inexpensive transport and lodging, rich cultural and activity options.”

Tourists can easily buy any additional necessities, such as toothpaste or flip-flops, on the cheap.

The biggest barrier to baggage-free travel in Southeast Asia? The humidity. Potts’ vest, stuffed with his only possessions, turned into a mini-sauna. He ended up taking off the garment at every opportunity.

The author hopes his No Baggage project will help free travelers from the security blanket of hauling around material goods. He doesn’t insist that everyone forgo luggage, but encourages people to focus on their surroundings and improvise, rather than fretting about what to pack. He concludes, “I found that bags or no bags, you don’t need to bring much to have a good time on the road.”


La Carmina writes about Harajuku pop culture and all things spooky-cute. She is the author of three books about Japanese pop culture and food, including "Cute Yummy Time" and "Crazy Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo" -- for which she did all the photos and illustrations. Both books were released in October, accompanied by a U.S. major city book tour.

For more, please visit her website.

Read more about La Carmina