Online Entrepreneur Mark Whitman Shares His Best Tips for Packing Light

Adventurer Mark Whitman

My name is Mark Whitman. I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where I spent the first 24 years of my life. After my bachelors, I left South Africa to pursue further education at Cambridge University in the UK. I started my career in London, working as a management consultant.

After six years in the rat race, I quit my job and moved to SE Asia to launch an online business. This was 2013. Location independent work / digital nomadism was just starting to take flight. Since then I have travelled to 39 countries, many with my wife. We ascribe to the slow travel movement and generally stay in a location for three to six months before moving on. We are currently living in Malta on a small neighbouring island called, Gozo.

Adventurer Mark Whitman
Mark with wife in Mexico

How and why did you get into adventuring and traveling?

From my early teens, I remember dreaming about starting a business. Alas, one is very much the product of their environment and the people they spend most of their time around. Hence, by the time I completed university I was convinced the “right path” was to follow a corporate career. From the very first day, I started work in the summer of 2008 I knew that the corporate world was not for me.

However, it took me three years and a lot of soul searching to come to realize that, and another three years to properly extract myself and go it alone. Key things that helped me get ready to leave my career and start out as a “digital nomad” were reading Tim Ferris’s blog and book The Four Hour Work Week, and joining a forum called, the Dynamite Circle, which is a online network of digital nomads. I was also fortunate to negotiate a freelance contract with my employer that ensured that I had some income before I quit my job.

Adventurer Mark Whitman

How do you prepare for your adventures?

We generally wing it. Nowadays travelling without a set plan is actually super easy. Accommodation can be found quickly and affordably on platforms like Airbnb or Couchsurfing, and there is no end to advice and tips from travels blogs/forums online. My wife and I like to travel light. We take a minimalist approach to gear and only use carry-on luggage. Access to reliable WiFi is one of the most important things we look for before we travel. We like to build outdoor excursions into our travel plans, so frequently we will go to a place, for example Cusco, Peru, where we will set up base and then take a week or so to go do some outdoor activities, like hiking the Inca Trail.

Adventurer Mark Whitman

How do you finance your adventures?

When we started out in 2013, I had secured a freelance gig at my previous employer, which provided enough money to survive and both my wife and I had save up about a years runway should our income completely dry up. For us the priority was less about travelling and more about building a sustainable business. Having the freedom and money to travel full time was merely a by-product of building a “successful” business. Living in SE Asia is about 2-3 times cheaper than London so effectively moving out there to start our travels bought us time to get our business off the ground. Today, almost five years on, our business is very stable and profitable, which allows us to fund our travels and some.

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

In the early days, we were on a very tight budget so we would look for the cheapest local accommodation we could find and would eat locally. For example, in Bali, my wife and I managed to rent a place for £75 a month!! As our business grew we adapted our budget and lifestyle. Today we stay in very nice long-term let Airbnb properties (3-6 months) and split cooking/eating out about 50% of the time.

Mark Whitman

How do you bring your things with you?

We travel very light. We both use Tortuga travel bags, specifically designed to carry just enough luggage to fit in a carry on. We can’t stand waiting for luggage in airports and we find that the most we ever need can be carried in two small bags. Tortuga bags are great as they have compartments for laptops, and are designed to maximize space in a relatively small bag.

How do you organize things in your bags?

We do carefully pack our bags to ensure that we optimize the space available. The trick is not so much in the packing though, but in deciding on what to take or leave behind. As we aim to stay very light we are generally brutal on cutting out most items. Our philosophy is that in all likelihood we won’t need the item and if for some reason we do find we need it we can always buy it.

Adventurer Mark Whitman
Climbing Kilimanjaro

How do your bags and gear hold up?

The Tortuga bags that we use are pretty robust and have served us well over the years. However, I do a lot of outdoor adventure trips, for example climbing Kilimanjaro or hiking to EBC, and for both of these trips I used a North Face duffel bag as it’s 80L capacity and heavy-duty water-resistant membrane is ideal for multi-day hikes.

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

As a minimalist, I’m always trying to figure out how to take less, not more. So there really hasn’t been any occasion where I have thought I should have taken more. However, I will say that one of the best things to use are packing cubes. These allow one to source separate ones clothes and gear. Packing cubes are a definite must!

Mark Whitman

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

Apart from the packing cubes mentioned above, I would also include my Kindle, Buff neck scarves, my Incase MacBook pouch and portable charging device from Anker.

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

I’m not sure whether this is advice, but a quote that I like and often use as a lens to view whether I should do something or not is: Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.

Adventurer Mark Whitman

What will the future bring?

My wife and I have many more adventures we want to undertake. Trekking in Patagonia and the Dolomites pop to the top of my head. But next on the agenda for us is having a child! 

Mark has been travelling with his wife full time since 2013. They run a number of online businesses, including Mountain IQ, an online guide to some of the most popular mountain destinations around the world.

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