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A leading name in the world of travel and vagabonding, award-winning travel writer and author Rolf Potts gives Matador a peek into his backpack before heading off to Genoa, Italy to claim his much-deserved Chatwin Prize for travel writing.

Photo credits: Rolf Potts

I’m not much of a gear-geek — and I tend not to bring much with me when I travel — so my selections are pretty simple.

Eagle Creek Voyage 65L

I’m a big advocate of packing as little as possible. In Vagabonding, I advise people to take a very small pack — one they can fit into the overhead bin of an airplane.

This Eagle Creek bag has worked best for me in this regard. It’s small and simple, and it has a removable daypack that I use constantly.

It doesn’t fit much unnecessary gear, and that’s kind of the point. Last summer, I traveled through Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia with this pack, yet I never felt like I was missing anything.

Canon PowerShot SX110

I went through a phase where I didn’t take many photos on the road, since I felt like the camera was getting in the way of less self-conscious interactions.

I missed having the visual record of my travels, however, and now I tote a camera again. This one is small but powerful, and it seems to suit my needs well.

Moleskine X-small soft-cover notebooks

For well over a decade, I’ve been carrying small notebooks in my pocket — not just to record travel notes, but to keep notes at home as well. These Moleskine notebooks are small and flexible and durable — great for keeping in a pocket for weeks at a time.

They’re also kind of expensive, but most stationery stores in the developing world stock an equivalent — usually a plastic-covered variation of the pocket-notebook that works just as well.

Nylon stuff sacks

These bags are cheap to buy in camping stores (you can even make your own, if you know how to sew), and they help me keep my backpack-gear organized. They also fit into a pants-pocket when they’re empty — which makes them good for impromptu shopping trips, beach excursions, and such.

Ziplock bag full of vitamin C and multivitamins

This is a new addition to my gear, but I find it useful for keeping my health in order. The multivitamins help supplement my diet when the on-the-ground food situation is less than ideal. The vitamin C is good for fending off illness — I tend to take two pills a day if I’m taking a long plane ride, train or bus trip someplace.

More on Rolf Potts

Rolf Potts has reported from over fifty countries for dozens of major venues, including National Geographic Traveler, the New York Times Magazine, Outside,, National Public Radio, and the Travel Channel.

Rolf is perhaps best known for promoting the ethic of independent travel, and his book on the subject, Vagabonding has been through ten printings and translated into several foreign languages.

For more Matador Network interviews with Rolf, check out the articles below:

About The Author

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström

Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström is a MatadorU faculty member and Network contributor. Her work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Vogue, BBC,, and many more. Follow her photoblog at

  • Michelle Schusterman

    Ditto on the vitamins…I used to take that Airborne stuff with me everywhere until I read it had petroleum in it.

    Great piece!

  • Paul Sullivan

    Good old Eagle Creek backpacks. Swear by ‘em. Good call on the vits too, though ultimately anyone on a normal Western diet should be taking them daily anyway (according to the nutritionists)…

  • Nate maingard

    awesome little peek into a master traveller’s inventory!
    One thing about vit C and other vitamins pills. etc…
    Usually, if they’re synthetic or even if not they don’t have the hydrogen molecule attached which allows the body to recognise and absorb said vitamins.
    It’s a better idea to try to source plant-based, organic supplements, such as Camu-Camu berry for vitamin C (it’s got the highest vitamin C of any food thus far discovered, something like 50 times the amount i oranges). Also, it’s bio-available, meaning it’s in the form our bodies can easily recognise and absorb:).
    If you want to know about any other sources of nutrients, just get in touch!
    Looking at one of those eagle bags now and imagining…

    • Madison

      Nate, you have to remember that vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. So whenever we ingest more than what the body needs at a time (or more than the daily value needed) the rest will be excreted from the body as waste. So it doesn’t really provide any extra service to your health if its over the needed value. Just a little info for you!! Otherwise, I do agree with the organic vitamin options you listed!

      • Carlo

        I’m no expert, but from what I read of Nate’s comments, he’s saying that the body won’t even absorb the vitamin C from many of the synthetic supplements. Not that it will absorb too much.

        • Madison

          I’m not an expert either, I was just commenting about the vitamin content of the fruit he mentioned. I agree with what he says about the synthetic vitamins. That’s all :)

      • Nate maingard

        madison, thank you for your comment and thanks Carlo, that is what I meant:). If we eat a vitamin in a synthetic form, our body doesn’t recognise it at all and so we urinate out about 98% of it.
        I’d rather eat a high vitamin C food and let my body at least utilise what it needs:)
        It”s funny how we get sold these massive 1000mg vitamic c tablets, but we’re lucky if we will the tiniest fraction of that.
        Hope that clarifies for you, Madison, thanks again for the feedback

  • Nate maingard

    hi Rolf!

    As far as the eagle creek backpack goes, it looks as though the Voyage 65L is no longer in service? Would the Thrive 65L be the replacement and does anyone know about whether it’s a worthy descendant of the Voyage?

    Thanks again for the awesome post:)


  • Nate maingard

    my aplogies, that last comment should have been for Lola, who in fact is the author of this post:)

    • Lola Akinmade

      Hi Nate,

      Rolf is actually the author of the post. He shared his must-have items with us. I would imagine the newer Eagle Creek brands would suffice as well if the Vogaye is no longer available.

      You can direct questions to him at rolf [AT] rolfpotts [DOT] com.


  • Meghan

    I’m bringing echinacea with me in hopes it will ward off illness. Not sure if it’s just psychological but I hope it helps!

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