Traveling with (mostly) the clothes on your back

Growing up, I loved to watch MacGyver. Seeing him go on an exciting adventure every week with just his leather jacket, a Swiss Army Knife, and a roll of duct tape ignited a desire to travel light and be ready for anything. Lately, we have been watching reruns of MacGyver on Pluto TV, yet I can’t remember an episode off the top of my head where MacGyver brought any real luggage on his adventures, aside from the pilot where he said this about the empty bag he had, “The bag’s not for what I take, it’s for what I find along the way.” TV and movie heroes don’t need to worry themselves about luggage and packing when they can simply change and re-equip themselves off-screen, right?

Despite my interest in traveling light, I was not always successful in practice. My nadir was when I was in college studying abroad in Paris, France; I remember lugging two suitcases, a garment bag, a laptop case, a dual-cassette radio, and a backpack with me for four months. Thankfully, in recent years, I have been one bagging with an Ivar Revel backpack on multi-week trips.

One of my suitcases in France

Last month, I went to Colorado for the wedding of my good friend from high school and current Governor of the Centennial State, Jared Polis. I had photographed the final weeks of his successful Congressional run back in 2008, and I was thinking about bringing my full camera kit again with me. He encouraged me, however, to leave it behind and just enjoy myself. This provided the opportunity for me to do a very low baggage challenge.

The primary goal was not to bring the backpack, so along with the clothes on my back, I brought just a small Eagle Creek waist belt pack — which I held more as a clutch than I wore around the waist or cross body. Here’s a list of everything that I either wore or brought with me, with comments to follow:

The Eagle Creek waist pack that I brought on this trip.


  • Ralph Lauren Sport Coat (black)
  • Wool & Prince spread collar shirt (blue)
  • Ministry of Supply pants (blue)
  • Wool & Prince V-neck t-shirt (black)
  • Two pairs of socks*
  • Ex-Officio underwear
  • Belt
  • Tie
  • Rockport shoes


  • iPhone 11 Pro Max
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • AirPods Pro
  • Apple Watch USB-A charging cable*
  • Lightning to USB-A charging cable*
  • 12W Power Adapter (single port)*
  • Selfie stick*


  • Wallet from All-ett
  • KN95 mask
  • Cloth mask*
  • Full-size Toothbrush
  • Travel toothpaste*
  • Tissue wrapped around toothbrush
  • Floss*
  • Comb*
  • Rubber band*
  • Hair band
  • Eagle Creek waist belt bag

* Denotes items stored in bag.


Since this was a one-day trip, I didn’t bring a change of clothes. The wedding called for semi-formal attire at the rehearsal dinner and mountain casual for the wedding the next day.

The outfit


So instead of taking one of my two Scottevest jackets (Essential and the older version of the Pack Windbreaker), which would have allowed me to conduct a true no baggage challenge, I brought my Ralph Lauren blazer. I have had this jacket for a while now, and while the years have been generally kind to it, I think it’s time to replace it with something more functional.


I love the look of the Wool & Prince spread collar shirt over a button-down. The wool shirt resists wrinkles, allowing me to wear it many times without having to wash it. Last year, I completed the company’s 100 day challenge of wearing one of their shirts for one hundred days. I started this challenge right before the pandemic lockdown in the SF Bay Area, so the challenge wasn’t too bad for me to complete while at home.

I also wore one of W&P’s black v-neck shirts underneath the spread collar shirt. The weather was somewhat warm in Colorado, but I never felt like I was overheating during the two days, even when wearing the jacket. I could have benefited from some sunscreen or a hat.


The Ministry of Supply pants are sleek and dressy looking, but quite a bit tight in the thigh area. And, anything you put in the pockets are going to be highly visible, unlike the Hidden Cargo Pants from Scottevest whose pocket structure conceals stuff much better. The problem with Scottevest again is the sizing. They don’t have anything smaller than a 30, and its clothes are typically sized larger than the number would indicate. Since I plan on reducing, not adding, inches to my waistline, Scottevest’s pants don’t work for me anymore.


The shoes, on the other hand, were painful after two days of walking in them. I felt like Ted Lasso’s Dani Rojas in the 10th episode from Season 2. I didn’t get a chance to break them in before the wedding, but I suspect that even if I had, they would have remained uncomfortable. MacGyver tended to wear white tennis shoes or boots throughout much of the series; I don’t think that would have went well with my outfit. I wish there were shoes that could feel great, look classy, but still allow me to go on a run if I wanted to.


On trips where I’m one-bagging, I would get in the habit of washing one set of clothes in the sink or shower and wearing the other set. The next day, I would repeat the process in reverse. This method served me well when I was touring Autumn Gem with my wife for weeks at a time between 2009-2011. Since this trip was just one night, I didn’t have to wash anything.


I can’t live off-grid like Jack Reacher; I rely on and need tech to stay connected and do my work.

Back when I was living in France, I brought a dual cassette tape radio and boom box, a Macintosh PowerBook 180, a Newton MessagePad 100, a 35mm point and shoot camera, and an analog watch. What would I bring if I were a student today? Probably variations of the same things: laptop, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. And if I weren’t taking any engineering courses, I might go iPad-only and skip the laptop.

Tech in Paris, circa 1995.

Camera and Phone

In place of the big Canon camera and multiple lenses, I had my iPhone 11 Pro Max. The camera systems on the iPhones keep getting better year after year, but I am generally satisfied with the image quality on mine, as well as the performance of the phone running iOS 15. My current plan is to wait for the iPhone 14 next year before upgrading.

I did treat myself to bringing a selfie stick, which proved useful for taking group photos or getting certain shots that would have been difficult to get handheld.

Need to work on my selfie stick technique.

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch, on the other hand, felt like a luxury item to bring, and I may have been better off leaving it at home. This would have saved me from bringing the special charging cable for the Apple Watch. I still had to bring an AC adapter with me and Lightning-to-USB cable for my phone. I brought a bulkier 12W charger instead of the tiny 5W one that used to come with all iPhones.

I could also have looked into Apple’s MagSafe Duo charging pad. It folds up and can power my iPhone or my AirPods via Qi charging, and my Apple Watch.

AirPods Pro

My AirPods Pro are nearly two years old, so it’s unlikely the battery life will last 24 hours anymore. It was enough for this two day trip, however, and since it charges via Lightning, I could always top it off. They are very convenient, though, and I do like the noise cancellation features of the AirPods Pro. That said, I could have skipped them in favor of wired ones, especially since I already was bringing the Lightning to 3.5mm dongle to use with the selfie stick.


You can’t travel without taking care of your hygiene, so I brought a simple toothbrush, a small tube of toothpaste, and a single strand of floss. I would have preferred bringing my electric toothbrush, but it’s way too bulky for a day and a half trip. The full-sized toothbrush fit in my jacket pocket, but I took it out when I arrived at the hotel. My six month dental checkup happened a few days after I returned, so I ended up throwing the toothbrush before I checked out of the hotel.

The ongoing pandemic meant I brought a KN95 mask with me, along with a backup cloth mask. I should have brought my foldable brush instead of my comb. Finally, if this trip was longer than a few days, I would have brought my razor as well.

The Next Trip

I’m currently getting ready for my next trip to NYC. It’s for work, so the parameters of what I need to bring are different from those for a vacation or a destination adventure. I have since purchased several new products for this trip, and will be discussing them in a followup post.

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