Jessie Beck
Jessie Beck

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hey hey, Jessie here. I’m an avid cyclist, traveler, food-lover, and owner of Eat Bike Travel. I’ve called many places home — Washington D.C., Malta, Costa Rica, Seattle, Madagascar — and traveled to over 35 others. I now live in San Francisco with my partner, Jon, where we spend our free time eating and biking our way around the Bay or planning our next adventure, be it a 400 mile bike tour through Sweden or a week hanging out with elephants in Sri Lanka.

I’m also an obsessively light packer and minimalist on the road and off. I count two things as my inspiration for traveling and living with less.

First, an impactful poem I read in college. I can’t for the life of me remember the name, but there was one line that said “do you own your things or do your things own you?” It made me think about how much money we spend on taking care of our things instead of ourselves — buying a bigger house to fit them in, buying storage units, paying for a checked bag — and how unnecessary so much of it is.

Second, my two years in Madagascar with the Peace Corps. When you’re surrounded by people who consider a kilo of rice and a chicken essential items to pack for a trip, it really makes you think about how frivolous the insides of our luggage look in comparison.

What’s your favorite destination?

Mentally, I return to the destinations I lived in the most. It’s been 10 years since I left Malta, for example, and this year especially I’ve been feeling a strong pull to go back and see what’s changed. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I also talk about Madagascar… a lot. Like obnoxiously so. Living abroad has influenced me in pretty much every aspect of my life.

Physically, I return to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest often, both because it’s easy to get to from San Francisco and because I credit my one year stint in Seattle with showing me that I could love living in the U.S. Growing up in D.C., I had become so convinced America wasn’t for me — that it was full of work-obsessed people in suits — but moving to Seattle, where there was so much love for good food, beer, coffee, and the outdoors, made me think otherwise.

Otherwise, I’d say Reunion and Uganda are two of my favorite places. They’re both so beautiful, welcoming, and not really part of any “scene”.

What are your “Trusty Three” travel items?

Jessie Beck's Trusty Travel Items
Jessie Beck's Trusty Travel Items
  1. Muji Eye Mask: I can’t sleep on a plane (or anywhere for that matter) without blocking out the light. For flights where I plan on sleeping, my perfect combination is Tylenol PM, a good ambient music playlist, and my eye mask from Muji. It’s not the fanciest, but it’s a soft comfy jersey fabric and adjustable.
  2. Sony RX1 Camera: I used to lug a Nikon D3000 around. I loved it because it was my first DSLR and — in 2010 at least — took way better photos than any other camera I’d owned at that point. The Sony RX1, however, is half the weight and triple the quality. It’s been a huge upgrade in terms of photo quality and packability (a lot of the photos on my Instagram are shot with it).
  3. A Pair of Plastic Jelly Flats: I don’t pack these every time, but they’re always with me on tropical trips. First, they’re so easy to clean, fine getting wet, and they don’t splash mud up your thigh like flip-flops. I still remember this time in Laos when a few tourists and I took a boat to a small island, but it couldn’t get us all the way to shore. Since I had these flats on, I just hopped off (with my shoes on) and walked through the calf-deep water with my backpack, while everyone else had to take off their giant hiking boots and walk barefoot on the rocks.

What's your favorite travel hack?

Since a lot of airlines are moving towards personal device entertainment systems (instead of the back of seat TV sets), a popsocket and the Netflix app have become my new best friends. Before every flight, I download a few episodes of a show and, using my popsocket, prop my phone up on the tray table to watch something.

Are there any pieces of gear or travel technology you wish existed that don’t?

Yeah, definitely. I love to travel with my bike but the whole bike bag/box thing is an issue — they’re really cumbersome and HUGE. I wish there was a bike bag/box for travel that would fold down small enough to fit in a backpack when not in use. I hate that when I fly with my bike I have to take an expensive taxi or Uber from the airport because of its bulky box, rather than being take my bike out of the bag, fold down the bag into my luggage and, I don’t know, BIKE to my hotel. It would also make shipping the bike bag/box to the end of my route a lot cheaper and easier and possibly allow me to go incognito and not have to pay the bike box surcharge with airlines.

What item do you miss most when you travel?

Really, I just miss having clothing options. I'm a minimalist in life, but ultra so when I pack.

What’s the weirdest thing you carry with you while traveling?

Sometimes I get weird with the snacks, I guess. I almost always have instant coffee or tea in my bag (just in case!) but will also pack meals for myself for flights. And I'm not talking PB&J but I'll bring a full on Tupperware full of fried rice or leftover cheese, fruit, and salami from the fridge.

Several times, it's gotten a little… errr… gross — like the time I forgot to eat some leftover yogurt dip on the airplane and by the time I made it to my hotel in San Antonio (in August) the heat had curdled it. I spent 10 minutes in my hotel trying to rinse the smell out my container!!

What's the weirdest piece of travel gear you've seen?

Once, at a Travel Massive meetup, I met a guy who was trying to develop a vest that could replace a carry on. Naturally, he was wearing it, and it really just looked like some cross between a bulky safari vest and a life jacket.

Any closing thoughts or advice?

After blogging about packing tips for Tortuga Backpacks for well over three years, the most important piece of advice I still stand by is something I heard from a Colombian Astronomer who hosted me as a Couchsurfer in Geneva: “If you want to pack lighter, get a smaller bag. You'll always fill the space you have.”

Since then, I've gone from a 60 to a 42 to a 25 liter bag and it's so true. A smaller bag is the secret to packing light.

Follow Jessie's travels on Instagram!

June 7, 2018

Pack Hacker