“Where is your luggage?” I get this question often—from hotel clerks, airline staff, taxi drivers, and friends. “It’s right here,” I say. “On my back.” No matter how long my trip, I try to travel with everything in a leather backpack that I call the JackPack (pictured).
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve never heard of the JackPack. The bag was developed by my brother-in-law Jack and the leather artisans at the J.W. Hulme Company, and I own one of the first models ever produced. But I think Jack is onto something.
I haven’t always traveled light. When Joe Diaz and I went to India on the six-week trip that ultimately led to the founding of AFAR, I had a huge bag. Joe called it my “armoire.” I wanted to be prepared for anything. As it turned out, the armoire never made it to India. It got lost at our connecting airport and was ultimately shipped back to my home in Arizona.
The experience taught me that there’s more than one way to be prepared. I found that, in a pinch, I could get what I needed anywhere. Getting clothes made in Kerala was its own adventure.
So I made the leap to the other extreme, from armoire to JackPack.
Now when I travel, I don’t need to have all the things that make me comfortable at home. Packing for any possibility can actually make me less flexible. When I pack everything into a bag I can carry on my back, I can deal with missed flights, changes in plan, and unforeseen opportunities.
Yes, my hotel laundry bills are higher than they used to be. And sometimes I don’t have warm enough clothes or the right equipment for certain activities. But that just provides a good excuse to shop locally and see how the people in my destination deal with whatever situation I’ve found myself in.
If you’re the type who travels with a big bag, I’m not trying to convert you. In fact, some trips—an expedition to Antarctica, say, or a month in Paris—might get me to dust off the old armoire. But for now, I’m happiest when I’m setting off from home with the JackPack, knowing that even if I’m not carrying much, I’m still ready for anything.
Photo by Dani Vernon. This appeared in the January/february 2014 issue.