Today we welcome a guest post from Chris Guillebeau. He is a writer and world traveler who publishes The Art of Nonconformity. He has an amazing plan to visit every country in the world (113 down, 84 to go) before his 35th birthday in four years. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisguillebeau.
Here’s the basics: In a personal quest to visit every country in the world, I regularly pack up and hit the road for two weeks at a time. On any given trip, I’ll probably visit at least three places on at least two continents.
Much of my travel involves round-the-world flights, so I frequently have to think about going from Africa to Eastern Europe, Northern to Southern hemisphere, and other regions that are considerably different from each other. I also have to work wherever I go, so I can’t leave the laptop or paper notebooks behind.
I’ve been doing this kind of travel for a while, and I’ve noticed something interesting: less is more.
Yes, I know, this concept is hardly novel, especially for readers of Unclutterer. What I find interesting is the relationship between stress and stuff. After visiting more than 100 countries (I still have 80+ remaining, so I’m far from done), I’ve come to believe that the more I take with me, the more stress I’ll encounter along the way. To cut down on the stress without cutting out stuff I really need, I’ve learned to adopt a few principles.
The overriding principle is take less, but here’s how it looks in more specific terms:
- Fewer Clothes. Generally speaking, I need more shirts than pants. Most of them are t-shirts or polos, but bringing a dress shirt helps me out when I need to have a business meeting or talk my way into a hostile country without a visa. (You never know what will come up.)
- Nothing Big in the Bag. No matter what I have to take, I want it to be as small as possible. The only bulky items I bring along are my running shoes, due to my habit of trying to squeeze in marathon training at many of the stops. Otherwise, the smaller, the better.
- Travel Is an Art, not a Science. I don’t have a spreadsheet that tells me where to put each item, and my packing list is quite loose. Since I avoid the engineering approach, I try to take the less-is-more approach: if I don’t need it, it doesn’t go in the bag.
- Combine Items or Multitask Whenever Possible. I can charge my iPod while syncing, so why bring the wall charger? My laptop has a built-in microphone, so out goes the USB mic I used to travel with.
- Leave Things Along the Way. After I finish a book, I leave it behind for someone else. Hostels are great locations for drop-offs, but I’ve also left books and magazines in restaurants, airplanes, and buses. If I’m unable to do laundry, I’ll recycle an old t-shirt somewhere and buy another on the street.
Some travelers are anti-cotton, on the grounds that cotton is hard to wash along the way. This is probably true, but I don’t usually worry about it. For me, the most important quality for clothes is “easily packable.”
A Few Things That Help
I try to be low-tech, because if something doesn’t work, I’m not good at fixing it. That said, these technologies have been helping me a lot lately:
- Gmail Offline. I love the new Gmail Offline feature (it’s in Labs) so I can process my email no matter where I am. If you use Outlook, of course, you already have this option – but as a Gmail fan, this feature rocks my world. On a typical 10-hour flight, I’ll reply to 200 or more messages, which will then zip out the outbox as soon as I land and connect to wifi. To get it, check out this short tutorial from the Google team.
- Verizon MiFi. At least in the U.S. now, I have my own wifi hotspot wherever I go. I can also share it with up to four others, which I like to do in airports that don’t offer free wifi. Coming back to Grand Central Station from Hastings, New York recently, I was able to work online for 40 minutes, and I shared the signal with my friend Ishita so that she could work too. When I set it up last month, Verizon told me that an international version is in the works – something I’m deliriously excited about.
- MacBook Camera. I recently started making videos while traveling, and by using the built-in camera on my MacBook, I’ve avoided the need to get more gear. Once you learn to look at the top of the computer instead of the screen (it takes a few tries), it works great. My videos aren’t Oprah-quality – at least, she hasn’t called yet – but they’re easy to make and I try to have fun with them.
The more I unclutter, the less stress I encounter when traveling. Your experience may be different, but if you’re looking to see the world without lugging a suitcase, rest assured that it’s doable. Now, if only I could find a way to avoid leaving my iPod behind in the back of a taxi, I’d be set.