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Nomad

By any standard, I am what you could call a modern nomad. Today, I split my time between Singapore (my home base) and Palo Alto (one week every month). And by next month I will also spend a week a month split between London and Paris. At this pace, I will fly over 200,000 actual miles this year. Once you get used to the jet lag, luggage becomes the next challenge, and I consider myself an expert in that area. In fact, I’ve become so good at it that before long, I should be able to carry with me the bulk of my material possessions wherever I go, without ever having to check any piece of luggage in.

This rather aggressive luggage optimization process is part of my Reduce, Rent, Refine project, and is the result of many streams of reduction and optimization. Among them, I could explain how I simplified my wardrobe, which bags I am using to carry my few things around, and what you will find in these bags. Beside these items, I do not own much: a bicycle at my office in Palo Alto, a couple of unwrapped original iPhones in a bank’s safe, a few extra pieces of clothing in Singapore, and a handful of items that I will get rid of before the end of the year.

Clothing

By far, the hardest thing to reduce for a reductionist like myself is clothing. No matter where you live, you need to wear something on your skin. And if you happen to live in society, it is considered best practice to wash it at regular intervals, which means that you need multiple copies of it, unless you like to socialize in laundromats.

To work around this problem, I have fully standardized my attire. Others have done the same for convenience purposes, mostly because it frees them from asking themselves what they should wear on any given day. In my case, this strategy was motivated by multiple factors:

  • Coordinating all possible combinations of clothes
  • Layering clothes to accommodate different climates
  • Ensuring that changes could be acquired anywhere
  • Removing the need for dry cleaning or ironing
  • Enhancing comfort during long flights
  • Reducing luggage weight
  • Reducing packing time

As a result, my wardrobe is entirely made of name-brand items in neutral colors. Following years of experimentations, I have now settled on the following configuration:

  • North Face jacket (warm, waterproof, lightweight)
  • North Face sweater (warm, lightweight)
  • Muji polo shirts and T-shirts (good quality, very low price)
  • Calvin Klein underwear (good quality)
  • Levi’s jeans (good quality, very low price on Amazon)
  • Calvin Klein ankle socks (good quality, small to pack)
  • Campers shoes (lightweight and comfortable, albeit expensive)

Whether I’m in Palo Alto, New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Singapore, Sydney, or Tokyo (all places that I visited this year), I know where to find any of these items. And more often than not, I simply order changes ahead of time, and have them shipped wherever I plan to be next. I also make sure to always carry a folding umbrella on all my trips, which allows me to carry fewer changes.

Bags

Once you have put a wardrobe together, you need a bag to carry it around, and I’m a bit of a luggage freak. Over the years, I must have purchased over 100 different bags and suitcases, small and large. Eventually, I settled on a backpack, for multiple reasons:

  • My standard attire does not include a suit
  • I do not want to check any bag in (faster, less risky)
  • I do not want to roll a large suitcase down the aisle
  • I do not want to worry about an oversize suitcase
  • I want both hands to be free at all times

The only drawback of a backpack is that you have to carry it on your back instead of rolling it. Obviously, this would not be an option for anyone with back problems. But in my case, I found that if I pack light enough, I am fine carrying it around for a while.

With that in mind, I looked for a backpack that would be very sturdy, yet would not look out of place in a high-end hotel lobby. The one I found is made by Brooks in the United Kingdom, and has the extra benefit of being a rucksack. As a result, its variable geometry allows me to use it to carry my entire wardrobe when I’m on the move, or just a few grocery items when I’m at home. And thanks to its innovative shoulder straps, it’s a lot more comfortable than a messenger bag when riding a bicycle. When fully packed, this wonderful bag includes:

  • My clothes organized into three Tumi packing cubes
  • My toiletry kit stored in a smaller Tumi packing cube
  • My workout gear stored in a Tumi toiletry bag
  • My folding umbrella
  • My travel wallet with spare passport, credit cards, and currencies
  • My chopsticks and mug

Beside the backpack, I also carry a small messenger bag, for two main reasons: first, I need something small that I can put under the seat in front of me in an airplane; second, I need something lightweight that I can carry to meetings. Therefore, when selecting this bag, the goal was to find something as small as possible that could contain everything that I need to carry around. After quite a bit of research, I settled an the ONA Leather Price Street bag, which I stuff with the following items:

  • 13” Apple PowerBook laptop and its charger
  • Apple iPad Air 2 tablet
  • Leica M-P 240 with a single lens and a leather case
  • Mini toiletry kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, eye drops, etc.)
  • Slim pouch filled with various cables and SIM cards
  • Bose active noise reduction headset
  • Montblanc rollerball pen

I like this bag, but it’s not perfect. First, it’s a tiny bit too tight for all the things that I must put in it. Second, while the leather quality is great, the design and stitching leave quite a few things to be desired. Therefore, I am likely to switch between a few bags until I find the right one, most likely in Japan.

With my backpack and my messenger bag, I am not just carrying most of my belongings with me, I am carrying them on me, making me not just a nomad, but the nomad’s camel as well. This gives me a sense of freedom that is hard to describe but is quite satisfying.

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