Magazine article Geographical

No Bags, Will Travel: Rolf Potts Embarked on a Six-Week Journey around the World, Taking with Him Nothing but the Clothes He Stood Up in (as Well as a Few Items in His Pockets). Here, He Describes What Helped Him to Survive without Baggage

Magazine article Geographical

No Bags, Will Travel: Rolf Potts Embarked on a Six-Week Journey around the World, Taking with Him Nothing but the Clothes He Stood Up in (as Well as a Few Items in His Pockets). Here, He Describes What Helped Him to Survive without Baggage

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

My first act on arrival in Morocco was to mispronounce the name of my destination while arranging a long-haul taxi from the ferry port at Tangier. My plan had been to hit Chefchaouen, a picturesque old backpacker haunt with a reputedly laidback vibe.

While negotiating for taxis, however, I made the mistake of saying 'Chefchaouen' with two syllables and Anglophone pronunciation ('Chef-chwan') instead of the more accurate three-syllable. French pronunciation ('Shef-sha-wan'). When the taxi driver replied with the name of another two-syllable town, 'Tetouan?' ('Tet-wan') I nodded optimistically and we were off.

In less than an hour, the cab driver steered me into a medium-sized city not far from the coast and asked me where I wanted to be dropped off. I told him a gate to the Chefchaouen medina (old city) called Bab Souk, and when he replied 'Bab Tout?' I shrugged at the monosyllabic simplicity of the word and answered in the affirmative.

I entered the medina through Bab Tout and wandered the old city, looking for my hotel for upwards of an hour before a Belgian traveller named Jean-Marc informed me that instead of arriving at the town of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains l had landed myself in the city of Tetouan, near the Mediterranean Sea.

Jean-Marc went on to explain that although less popular with foreign tourists than Chefchaouen, Tetouan was fascinating in its own right: it had an extensive old market and medina studded with low, cube-like white houses; it was surrounded by almond, orange and pomegranate orchards; it had a historical reputation as an operating base for pirates preying on Mediterranean shipping; and during the l5th century, it was rejuvenated by Muslims and the Inquisition. Moreover, he said, my timing couldn't have been better, since farmers and merchants from the surrounding mountains were taking advantage of a once-a-month tax break for ethnic Berber vendors: Tetouan's narrow market alleyways were jammed with women in colourful costumes selling little piles of spices, onions and goat meat.

Under normal circumstances, I might not have been able to stay and explore the charms of this accidental destination. I was due in Chefchaouen that evening, and dragging luggage through the crowded alleys of the Tetouan medina for four hours would have been tiresome for me and annoying for the vendors.

Fortunately, however, I happened to be travelling without any luggage: no suitcase, no daypack, no bum bag or man-purse, not even a plastic bag full of socks and jocks. On that journey--which had started in New York a week earlier and would eventually take me around the world over the course of the next five weeks--I had reduced my gear to a handful of small items that fit into the pockets of my travel vest.

Thus unencumbered, I was able to able to make the most of my foolish travel mistake and spontaneously explore Tetouan for an entire afternoon, watching woodcarvers and leather craftsmen at work, charting with Berber vendors in rudimentary Spanish, and (as is inevitable for any Western traveller entering a Moroccan medina) having tea with carpet salesmen.

Although I eventually moved on to the gentrified old hippy haunt of Chefchaouen that evening, my spur-of-the-moment Tetouan adventure proved to be my most memorable experience that week. And it wouldn't have been possible had I been burdened with baggage.

CHILDHOOD FANTASIES

My initial decision to travel around the world without luggage sprang from a desire that went back to the travel fantasies of my childhood. When I was a kid dreaming of faraway places, I didn't imagine what I would pack--I imagined what I would do.

When I got older, I eventually learned that world travel was cheaper, easier and more life-changing than I had ever imagined, and I shared these lessons in my first book, Vagabonding. Going light is essential to the notion of vagabonding, and the more I travelled, the more I became intrigued by the idea of giving up luggage altogether. …

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