One Frequent Flyer's Minimalist Travel Secrets

In this monthly Travel Checklist column, we ask entrepreneurs to open up their carry-ons and share the items they can't leave home without.

On a recent trip to New Zealand, where he was consulting with a major incubator called The Icehouse, Rob Adams decided to ditch his business suit for an afternoon -- and bungee jump off the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It’s just one of the many overseas adventures he’s had, including attending a Masai tribal wedding in Kenya, breaking an ankle on a volleyball court in Brazil, and finding himself at Bangkok’s airport in the middle of a military curfew. The serial entrepreneur and investor, who serves on the faculty at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, spent several years as a kid living in Tokyo and fueled a lifelong zest for travel, which his international consulting practice provides plenty of today.

“Everyone tries to be online all the time, but just like learning to ski, you can’t learn by watching videos,” Adams says. “At some point, you’ve got to step out and go places.”

In his role at UT, Adams oversees the Texas Venture Labs Investment Competition known as the "Super Bowl of investment competitions," now entering its 32nd year. He's hosted teams from India, Thailand, Chile, and beyond -- and working with them has only fueled his wanderlust. Over the past five years, he's touched down in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland, Queenstown, Amsterdam, Kristiansand, Winnipeg, Oslo, and New York. On average, he clocks “easily 75,000 miles” a year.

His packing philosophy, like many of our entrepreneurial road warriors: “If I’m traveling for a few days or a few weeks, I keep it minimalist -- both simple and light,” he says. Just days before he embarked on a motorcycle trip from his home in Austin to Sturgis, South Dakota, we caught up with Adams to take a look inside his well-worn bag.

One Frequent Flyer's Minimalist Travel Secrets

Here are the ways Rob Adams keeps his carry-on so light.
Image credit: Rob Adams

1. Tumi roller bag. “One of my only two pieces of luggage, this is the extra-wide kind for trips up to a week and is (barely) carry-on legal. Plenty of space, holds big shoes, has a great suit-and-shirt holder that minimizes wrinkles, and an extra-long handle for tall users, so you don’t have to be lopsided rolling your bag through the airport.”

2. McCombs School of Business backpack. “Business appropriate and in black. For carry-on items, you want access to in-flight, things like your laptop, books, headphones, and any other entertainment. Also, if you’re forced to check a bag, I either wear or stuff in this any critical clothes I’ll need. Nothing is worse than flying all night to lead a session and trying to buy business clothes early in the morning in a foreign city.”

Related: What a Travel Boutique Owner Packs in His Carry On

3. Sonicare toothbrush. “Makes your teeth fill dentist-office clean and holds a charge for two and a half weeks.”

4. Rolex GMT Master II. “This a classic analog watch that looks great for business and tracks three time zones without requiring a PhD. But leave it at home when traveling to economically unstable areas.”

5. MET-Rx meal replacement bars. “These are lifesavers, as they’re both nutritious and filling on an erratic eating schedule. I pack one per day of travel and always have a stash accessible in my backpack.”

6. Melatonin or Ambien. “This stuff gets your sleep cycle on the local time zone quickly. Melatonin is over-the-counter and Ambien requires a prescription. When you’re flying all night and need to be fully present when you get there, these are essential.”

7. “A good, old fashioned, engaging book.” (Right now: Fingerprints of God by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, which is about the search for the science of spirituality). “The kind that doesn’t have an on-off switch. Ultimately, traveling is a hassle and I’ve found this to be the best, always-accessible way to engage your brain and fend off traveling stress.”

Related: Traveler Packs Trillions of 'Dollars' and Veggies in His Carry-On

8. Brooks Brothers non-iron shirts. “In my mind, Brooks Brothers has cornered the market on the non-iron, semi-custom fit shirt. These things feel like pure cotton, are hard to wrinkle, and don’t absorb body odor. I take them to the cleaner and get them pressed before leaving and they will still look great after multiple wearings.”

9. Asics running shoes and quick-dry workout shorts and shirt. “Almost every hotel has a gym and you never know when you can squeeze a quick workout in, so you need to always be ready. This stuff weighs almost nothing, the new materials don’t absorb body odor, and the running shoes are super light and can be squeezed down and double for use on long-haul flights.”

10. Old-style baggy Levis and a fleece. “When you’re heading across the Pacific, it’s always a long-haul and several flight changes, so dump the designer jeans, pick up some loose fitting Levis, a fleece, and put on those sneakers. My fleece is black, of course, so spills don’t show, and it’s comfortable across a wide range of temperatures. A plane is never the right temperature.”

11. Minimalist shaving kit. “I keep an independent shaving kit -- razor, deodorant, and a brush -- in each travel bag. I use the hotel shampoo, and remember, that soap can double as shaving cream. That leaves toothpaste as about the only liquid you need to pack. Simple and light rules here.”

12. Mesh laundry bags. “These things make for the fastest and most-organized packing and unpacking you’ll do and take up no space. I bring four, each a different color, everywhere I go -- one with underwear, one street clothes, one gym stuff, and one dirty clothes. Easy to pack and unpack multiple times and you always know where everything is in a hurry."


Tips from a Million-Mile Man

  • “Avoid checking a bag unless your trip is longer than a week. A lost bag can ruin an otherwise productive trip and dealing with airlines can be frustrating, so avoid checking whenever possible.”
  • “Westbound flights work with your circadian sleep rhythms and reduce jetlag. You don’t always have a say which direction you can fly, but on a multi-stop trip, this technique can be valuable. Also allow more jetlag recovery time when eastbound.”
  • “U.S. cash is the universal lubricant of sticky international situations -- so always be packing. If you’re going to be overseas, you have to understand that U.S. standards don’t hold up around the world.”
  • “Carry the address of your hotel with you -- the key card holder or hotel stationary work well. After you’ve been on the road for an extended period, it’s easy to confuse cities, hotels, and locations when you go out for that walk or run.”
  • “If you’re in a loud hotel and want some white noise to make things a bit quitter, turn the thermostat fan from ‘automatic’ to ‘on.’”
  • “Duty-free stores are seldom bargains compared to U.S. retail prices.”
  • “Guard your passport more than your wallet -- you can get back into the U.S. without a wallet. If you lose your passport, you have to get it replaced in the country you’re in before you can leave that country or get back to the U.S. Last time someone I know had to do this, it took five days in a western European country to replace it, so it can ruin your trip.”
  • “Always have paper backup of international itineraries. Most of the world still runs on paper, and having printed documentation, for some reason, carries significant legitimacy. Also, you frequently won’t have network access when you need the information.”
  • “Walk and take the stairs as much as you can when switching flights or on a long flight. Lounging is the 21st century version of smoking, so when flying, get as much activity in as you can.”