I spent last week on the road with nothing but a BlackBerry Torch and some essential toiletries for No Luggage Week — an experience that proved both liberating and productive. Few people would ever duplicate the exact experience, but it does have plenty of lessons for anyone who travels regularly for work.
Like many of my Lifehacker projects, No Luggage Week was deliberately extreme: every work task had to be completed on my BlackBerry, I couldn't take any change of clothes, toiletries were kept to the absolute bare minimum, I didn't stay in expensive hotels, and I changed cities every single day. The point is that if I could survive and thrive for a week under those circumstances, almost anyone should be able to shrink down their luggage and technology requirements when travelling.
Luggage and laundry lessons
Spending a week travelling through Australia's major airports proves one point: Aussie travellers are addicted to luggage. There was a constant battle to claim overhead space on board, and many people had two on-board bags plus a computer case. Even if those people didn't have any checked baggage, they were taking a lot of stuff. Not being one of their number felt really liberating. Even when I took trains, I was amazed at how much stuff people were routinely lugging around. I've been in that category in the past (I've transported mattresses via public transport before), but I know which side of the fence I'd rather be on.
Managing laundry was a more interesting challenge. Having just one outfit to wear is, in truth, pretty restrictive, even though the outfit itself held up extremely well. If I had taken just one other change of clothes, I'd still have needed to wash every night, but I'd have something to wear while that outfit was drying. Getting a serviced apartment with a washer and dryer would make that process more accessible, but also more expensive; the apartment in Brisbane I had cost twice as much as anywhere else I stayed.
For future trips, I can easily see myself packing perhaps two main sets of clothing, and some PJs to lounge around in otherwise. That's not something I could stuff entirely in my pockets, but it would still all easily go in a very small shoulder bag that I'd never need to fight for space on a plane — especially if I didn't lug a notebook PC and other gadgets with me.
Everyone knows that modern smartphones are powerful, but few people take the step of relying on them exclusively. What surprised me a little was just how possible it was to switch from using a PC — something I've been doing in my day job for close on two decades — to only using the BlackBerry. Yes, there were moments when I found myself wishing I could type faster, but they were pretty few and far between, and my work processes didn't have to undergo massive changes.
As with any undertaking designed to improve productivity, advance planning is the key. Having the right set of apps on-board made a big difference, as did knowing the main shortcuts for navigating around the device.
Obviously, the extent to which you could do this depends on your own job. However, for short-haul trips, I find it hard to imagine that many people couldn't organise their time so that any tasks which did require a PC (or any other office equipment) weren't required to be completed in that particular period.
What would I do differently? For long days on the go, I'd definitely pack a spare battery — I never actually ran out of power, but I did have to make sure I got to a charger every so often. BlackBerry batteries are small, so I could easily have thrown a spare in my pocket. And I might pay more attention to picking hotels with a Wi-Fi option (even a paid one), so that I'd have something to use if the 3G provider had an unexpected glitch.
I don't know that I'll ever entirely forsake luggage to this extreme again. But I can absolutely see myself going for a very minimal shoulder bag of items for brief trips, and dumping even my low-weight netbook in favour of the BlackBerry.
For the No Luggage experiment, Angus Kidman did his normal job while travelling Australia for a week with not much more than a BlackBerry. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker