Travelling Without Luggage (A Challenge)

by Brenna Holeman

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Shopping street in Pisa, Italy

If you’ve read this blog long enough you know that I am not a light packer. I mean, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years as I consistently travel with carry-on only around Europe, but those trips are always only a few days, maximum one week. I just can’t help it – I love clothes and I love being prepared. While part of me envies those people who can travel around the world with one tiny backpack, the other part of me is quite happy to carry a few more kilograms if it means I get to have options. To each their own, I guess. I’ve also been very lucky (touch wood) that I’ve never lost a suitcase for good. I’ve had items delayed, but I’ve always had them returned to me within 24 hours.

On the flip side of all this, I’ve always wanted to try arriving somewhere with no luggage whatsoever, and then having to buy everything from local shops and markets. I’ve often talked about doing it somewhere in Southeast Asia – I think that Thailand (especially Bangkok or Chiang Mai) would be fairly easy and fun locations to test this out. Me? I chose to test it out in Italy.

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I’d had some correspondence with MoneySuperMarket before, both in working with them as well as purchasing their travel insurance for a trip abroad. They got in touch in March and challenged me to travel on my next trip without any luggage in order to highlight the importance of travel insurance (which I always purchase before travelling) as well as how inconvenient it is to lose a bag. So, I had to travel with nothing. Not one piece of luggage. All I could bring was my passport, wallet, and mobile phone. Because I was heading to Cinque Terre – one of the most beautiful places in the world, if you ask me – I brought my camera, too. But then – this girl who likes to be prepared and who likes to have an outfit for every occasion – had nothing else for five days in Italy.

I have to admit it was quite exhilarating to get on an airplane with nothing but a small and pretty much weightless backpack; I felt like I was part of some grand scheme of intrigue and espionage, and that any moment someone might ask where all my luggage was. Predictably, nobody cared at all, but it was still pretty amazing to waltz through the airport unencumbered.

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However, I knew that as soon as I landed in Pisa, I’d need to purchase some essentials. Toiletries and pyjamas were first on the docket. I checked into my hostel and immediately ran to the main shopping area in town, hoping to beat the closing doors of the shops. I actually stumbled upon an H&M right away, one of my go-to shops for cheap travel clothes, and ended up buying quite a bit of my wardrobe there: pyjamas, two short-sleeved shirts, one long-sleeved shirt, a pair of culottes (they’re fashionable, I swear), a maxi dress, sunglasses, an umbrella (I’m still that girl who needs to be prepared, damn it), earrings, socks, underwear, a pair of shoes, a small purse, and a large cloth bag to put it all in. I then headed to a nearby pharmacy and purchased all of my toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, soap, lotion, sun cream, and deodorant. Then it was on to Sephora to pick up a few items of makeup: concealer, powder, mascara, eyeliner, and blush. At this point, travelling with no luggage no longer felt exhilarating; it just felt exhausting. I was also not pleased with how much money I was spending on things I had at home.

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The next morning, after wandering around Pisa for a while and checking out the Leaning Tower (my second time, and I was still in shock at how much the damn thing actually leans), I had to go back to the shopping area to find both a jacket and some comfortable shoes for hiking. Cinque Terre is known for its hiking trails, and the shoes I was wearing wouldn’t cut it. I also realised I’d need something warmer than my denim jacket, as I was staying in a hostel in the mountains, where temperatures were likely to drop to around 8 degrees Celsius at night. I ended up purchasing a faux leather jacket from Zara and some trainers from a random sports shop.

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Hiking the Cinque Terre Trails

All told, I spent over €300 on things I already owned some version of. While it was cool to travel without any luggage, in the long run I’d say this challenge was, well, actually quite a challenge. As much as I love shopping when I travel, I didn’t love that the shopping was dictating my plans. I also imagine that doing this challenge in a country that didn’t have the ease of shops like Sephora, Zara, and H&M would make this extremely difficult – I can only imagine losing my luggage in some of the countries I’ve been to, and what stress that would cause. And even though MoneySuperMarket was reimbursing me for the items I purchased, I still felt guilty about spending money on things I already essentially owned (except for that faux leather jacket, which I’m totally in love with).

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In Riomaggiore

That being said, my purchases ended up being (nearly) the right ones, and I used/wore everything I bought at least twice. While in Cinque Terre I definitely could have used another long layer (it really was cold in those mountains) and I did have to purchase bandages as my new trainers gave me blisters on the long hikes and I had to eventually switch to the cheaper H&M version I had also bought just in case. I probably would have had those things in my suitcase had I packed at home, but it was easy to overlook them when I was shopping in a rush. Overall, it was a fun thing to do… but a thing I’d like to only do once.

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In Monterosso

If you’re curious about the other bloggers who did this challenge around the world, check out this page. If you scroll down, you’ll see all of the tweets from my time in Cinque Terre and how I tried to navigate my way around Italy without luggage.

Some tips for lost luggage/preventing this situation:

-buy travel insurance, obviously. It’s often super cheap and it really does help in the long-run.

-if you are checking a bag, pack your essentials and your valuables in your carry-on luggage. This is especially the case with prescription medication.

-if you’re checking a bag, always pack a change of clothes in your carry-on bag as well. If you are heading to a beach destination, definitely pack your swimsuit in your carry-on just in case!

-always have your luggage clearly labeled. I also put a copy of my passport inside any checked luggage.

-when the attendant is checking in your bag, take a quick peek at the destination tag to make sure it’s labelled correctly. I actually (nearly) lost a bag when they sent it to Copenhagen instead of London.

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Hiking near Vernazza

I’ll be posting my tips for travelling through Cinque Terre on a budget very soon, as well as more photos from the trip, but for now… does this challenge appeal to you? Would you ever intentionally travel without luggage? Do you regularly purchase travel insurance? Have you ever lost a bag while travelling?

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Ellie Quinn May 2, 2016 - 8:53 pm

I was following your trip on social media and from what you were posting it made it sound quite hard but i felt stressed just reading this haha!
I also like to be prepared and organised and often take things for the ‘just in case’ moment and i think it wouldn’t be until you have to literally buy everything that you realise what a pain it would be if you did completely lose your luggage!
Although i’ve thought about packing an extra outfit and underwear in my carry on i never actually have but maybe i will going forward! 🙂

Brenna Holeman May 2, 2016 - 10:19 pm

Yes, I agree! I had no idea how difficult/annoying this challenge would actually be (despite the fact that it’s called, you know, a challenge). I would definitely recommend packing another outfit in your carry-on, it’s helped me before. Thanks for your comment, Ellie! 🙂

Victoria May 3, 2016 - 2:11 am

Sounds appealing, but only if someone else is reimbursing me! haha 🙂 hopefully losing luggage for real is something that will never happen to either of us!

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 10:48 am

Ha ha, fair enough! Yes, let’s hope it never happens to either of us. 🙂

Erin May 3, 2016 - 3:31 am

i LOVE H&M!! 🙂 It is my go to place for a dress! For any party etc

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 10:48 am

Yes, I love it, too! I can always find a good basic there, or something to wear for an occasion. Great travel clothes.

Our Wanders May 3, 2016 - 8:48 am

Wow, what a challenge! We are definitely with you when it’s about careful packing. 😀 Though we’ve never ever lost a luggage, we always travel like we would next time (meaning packing every essentials in our carry-ons, like underwear, some pair of socks, swimsuit, chargers…) And we have a lot of ‘just in case’ items in our luggage – and we are always happy that we have. What would be the most painful for us in such a challenge is that when we travel and arrive somewhere, we want to start exploring the place immediately. Spending hours looking for shops and doing shopping instead of that? Hate even the thought of it. 😀

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 10:49 am

Yes, that would be quite annoying! It sounds like you are really prepared, though. 🙂

Katie May 3, 2016 - 12:36 pm

The faux leather was such a good buy! I bought one years ago and still get compliments when I wear it. I’ll admit I had to google “culottes.” Ha. Anyway, I could weirdly relate to this post because Lufthansa lost my luggage for 5 days when I went to Italy — spending money on replacement items was NOT fun, so I agree that the insurance is a good idea.

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 4:02 pm

Yes, I actually liked the jacket so much I bought it in a different colour here in London. 🙂 And oh god, losing luggage is so annoying. Five days! Ugh!

Emy May 3, 2016 - 2:07 pm

I have never lost my luggage either (thanks lord &touch wood) but this is one of my biggest worries actually. And on my my last trip to Japan both my sister’s my suitcases were late to arrive. Thankfully we were staying at a friend’s place and she had all we need+could wash&dry our clothes during the night.
I am a terrible picker and buyer, I don’t think I’d be able to choose the good items in case I had to…
And finding vegan /cruelty free make up would be difficult as well.

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 4:03 pm

Yes, touch wood!! I did find it quite difficult to buy the right things and, you’re right, it’s really difficult to buy speciality items. Hopefully we never lose our luggage. 🙂

Angela May 3, 2016 - 3:32 pm

This sounds silly – but when you’re traveling alone how do you take pictures of yourself? Do you ask a stranger to take it for you?

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 3:49 pm

Yes, that’s exactly what I do 🙂 I usually look for someone with a “nicer” camera around their neck, although that’s no guarantee of a good shot. I also usually ask someone who is travelling with their family or another backpacker, as they seem less likely to run off with my camera or phone.

veena May 3, 2016 - 4:00 pm

oh man, this stressed me out! i love the idea of travelling unencumbered, but i would hate to lose an entire day – possibly more – having to run around and pick up all of these things, especially, as you mention, in a country where you might not find familiar brands or where shops might be spread out. i am a big proponent of shopping locally, but there is also something to be said for already knowing how things will fit and the like. great story, but i am hoping i won’t have to do the same! 🙂

Brenna Holeman May 3, 2016 - 4:04 pm

Totally! I wish that I could have bought all local products, but when in a bind… what can you do? I barely had any time to complete all of it before heading to the coast. It was indeed quite stressful, so here’s hoping we never lose our luggage. 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

Jolene May 4, 2016 - 11:24 am

When I was much younger my sister and I shared a luggage to Florida and it took its own trip to California where I didn’t see it for over 48 hours. It had basically everything in there. After that trip we always carry at least 2 days worth of clothes in our carry on. It was kind of fun shopping for new clothes and bathing suits but it was still a bit exhausting.

Brenna Holeman May 4, 2016 - 2:11 pm

Yes – I can imagine that shopping for bathing suits is very exhausting!!

Emily May 6, 2016 - 11:41 am

I actually have been stopped at an airport and asked where my luggage was. I rarely travel with more than a weekender-sized shoulder bag, and I was hassled leaving customs in the US about where my other bags were.

When I hiked the Inca Trail, there were a mother/daughter pair in our group whose bags had been lost and they had to outfit themselves for 5 days of hiking and camping the day before. That is my worst luggage nightmare.

Sarah May 6, 2016 - 6:14 pm

I learned to pack a destination appropriate change of clothes in carry-on the hard way when I arrived in Johannesburg in October years ago in sweatpants and a long sleeved t-shirt (heading out to a remote area for volunteer the next day) and our luggage was stuck on the plane. 4 days later, I got my pillaged bag delivered to the gates of the reserve but that was a long and hot 4 days.

Zalie May 25, 2016 - 4:14 am

This would definitely be a challenge for me as well! As much as the idea itself sounds exciting, I think that as you mentioned, it is far more exhausting, not to mention more expensive to have to go out and try to find items that you need for a vacation!


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