Travel Without Luggage: The Sane Person’s Guide to Urban Caching for Travel

Jessie Beck

For places that I frequently visit (which isn’t many) it’s nice to have a stash of essentials waiting for me when I land. Usually, it isn’t much — just some clothes, basic toiletries, and maybe a book — but it allows me to travel without luggage.

Like a lot of people, I currently keep a stash of warm clothes at my parents house in Washington D.C. and typically just bring some underwear, a toothbrush, phone charger, and a spare outfit when I visit them.

Similarly, when I lived in Costa Rica and then later Madagascar, I had stashes of clothes and toiletries in each of their respective capitals. Since I was living in rural areas but visited the capitals often, it made sense to keep my “city clothes” in the city, rather than schlepping them back and forth — especially in Madagascar. Since I could only bring what would fit on my lap or between my legs in a cramped Malagasy bus seat, I preferred to use that space to bring back hard-to-find food (like bread and powdered milk), not clothes.

I never realized that what I was doing had a name: Travel caching.

Travel Caching: A Spin-off of Urban Caching

The concept of urban caching is perhaps best known among survivalists who want to prepare for such worst-case-scenarios as nuclear bombs, major natural disasters, and — obviously — zombies. Urban cachers will put boxes of survival items (e.g. food, knife, clothes, blanket) at strategic points between work/home and a safety point so that in the case of an emergency they can drop everything and go.

I personally hadn’t heard of it until a friend brought up a blog post by Tim Ferriss about packing light. He had repurposed the idea, named it travel caching, and now uses it as a way to avoid carrying luggage to places he visits frequently. Similar to urban caching, travel caching is the practice of stashing a bag or trunk of items in a place you visit frequently so that you can travel without luggage every time you visit.

Travel Caching During Long Term Travel

After reading Ferriss’ piece, I realized that I had been travel caching for years but never put a name to it. In fact, when I travel long-term I’ll often look for opportunities to make my bag lighter.

Another example: When I was traveling in Vietnam and Laos, my friend and I started in Hanoi at her good friend’s house. I knew I’d be returning to Hanoi to fly to Tokyo. So, instead of bringing everything with me (which included some cold-weather clothes we’d used in Ethiopia and mementos from our travels), I left about a third of my luggage at said friend’s house. Lightening my bag felt great.

However, when I left a travel cache in San Jose, after a 6-month stint living in Costa Rica, to go to Nicaragua, I felt like my stash of stuff was preventing me from choosing another route home. Instead of meandering up to Guatemala and changing my flight to go out of there, I felt obligated to return to my stash in San Jose (and did). My travel cache made my travel plans more rigid.

Why Would You Use Travel Caching Instead of Packing?

Obviously, travel caching only works for places you return to frequently or (like in the examples above), a place you know you’ll return to. For most leisure travelers, that might just mean visiting relatives. That’s usually my case, since when I travel I want to see a new place every time.

However, business travelers and digital nomads are more likely to have spots they return to consistently and expectedly.

Are you taking business trips to L.A. once a month? Or, do you regularly spend part of the year in Hong Kong? Then you might have a case for travel caching.

Using Travel Caching to Travel Without Luggage

If you’ve followed me so far and don’t think this is a totally outrageous idea, here’s how to execute travel caching:

  1. Put together a bag of clothes and other essentials that you usually need in your destination. Try to use items you already own but won’t miss.
  2. Find a place to stash it. A lot (but not all) hotels will have a luggage storage area where they can hold your bag until you return. Just note that some will charge you and some won’t offer the service at all. Email, or call around, to make sure your hotel offers this service as you’re making reservations. If you have friends or family in the area, that’s another obvious place.

Pretty simple, right? However, one small thing to keep in mind is the matter of laundry. Tim Ferriss pays the hotel he stashes his travel cache at to do his laundry and return it to the trunk afterwards (sounds like great service!). Otherwise, you might want to make sure you carve out time the day before leaving to wash your things and avoid coming back to a smelly gym bag situation.

What to Store in Your Travel Cache

What goes into that bag or box that you’re leaving at your destination to return to?

TL;DR

Travel caching, adopted from the survivalist method of urban caching, is the practice of leaving a bag of essentials in a destination you visit often so you can travel without luggage. Although it sounds extreme, there’s a good chance you’re already doing it — especially if you live far away from your family and keep a stash of stuff at mom and dad’s.

While most of us will only use this while visiting relatives, business travelers and digital nomads could consider it as a way to lighten their luggage load when going to their most visited haunts.

To do travel caching, pack a bag with essentials that you don’t mind seeing for awhile and find a place (e.g. a hotel, friends, or family) to store it while you’re away.