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Dolly Cart to Transport Travel Gear

Dolly Cart Long Term Travel Gear I was smacked in the face by the realization that I no longer travel to see places but travel to live places. There is a big difference. My family now makes temporary homes in serial succession as we trod a slow path around the world, and our travel gear [...]

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Dolly Cart Long Term Travel Gear

I was smacked in the face by the realization that I no longer travel to see places but travel to live places. There is a big difference. My family now makes temporary homes in serial succession as we trod a slow path around the world, and our travel gear strategy needs to meet this change.

In point, we either need to carry all of the supplies that we need to live, work, and travel comfortably, buy this gear over and over again at each stop, or perpetually be at the mercy of restaurants, hotels, and other services providers to obtain what we need.

I don’t like buying things, I prefer to cook for myself, it bothers me when I am not able to reach over and grab what what I want when I need it. I also want my daughter to have a comparable amount of toys, clothes, and other junk as any other kid in this world. The answer was then clear: I needed to quit being an anal wart about keeping my load light, I had to open up and acquire that which was required to make a fully functioning home wherever in the world I happen to be.

“Boy, how you gonna carry a home in that little backpack?”

As I looked over my family’s collection of gear — multi-climate wardrobes for three, computers, phones, a stack of books, shoes, cooking supplies, a portable plastic toilet in the shape of a turtle, a blow up bathtub, a small hillock of toys, a water filter — that laid in piles all over our room in the Casa Madero, I realized that I now have a lot of shit. I also realized that I needed a better way to carry it all.

No way was I going to put this load on my back. I am man, not ox. I am traveler, not Sherpa.

Chaya pulling an unloaded dolly cart

So we purchased a dolly, a small metal two wheeled cart with a basket connected to the front of it, to carry the brunt of our gear. We stuffed our largest rucksack, Petra’s toilet, a pair of boots, as many articles of gear as we could inside of the basket, tied it up, battened down the hatches, and hoped for the best.

How to carry travel gear in a dolly

There is a trick to transporting gear in a dolly, and these devices are often a concurrent benefit and hassle to the traveler. The trick is discovering if the benefits truly outweigh the hassles.

The benefits of transporting gear with a dolly

Transporting larger amounts of gear with a dolly places much of the weight upon the wheels and takes the the load off of the body. Enough said, this is the prime reason for using one of these carts, hands down.

As any long term traveler has probably already found out, having a rucksack on the back for long durations of time at regular intervals starts to take a major toll on the body — the back will start to show signs of problems (some major), the shoulders will ache, the hips start begging for mercy. In point, the back is probably the most efficient area of the body to place a load, but it is also prone to physical malfunction, pain, and injury. I have logged countless travelers that I have met over the years who complained to me of back problems caused from nothing other than shouldering backpacks while traveling.

Mountain of travel gear

Carrying a load that becomes heavy and uncomfortable also has the effect of greatly dampering the traveling experience: for who would want to stop and admire a patch of wild flowers, take a photo of an immaculate building, or even go and chat with a pretty girl when they are straining under the load of their possessions. No, you simply don’t doddle, consider the lilies, enjoy the breeze, and walk slow when you are strapped to the business end of a heavy rucksack: you head to the nearest place you can find to dump the load as quick as possible. An uncomfortable load often dimmers the memory of the transit part of traveling (the hallmark portion of the profession).

So, it is my impression, the traveler has two choices: minimalist packing, where you only carry what you need to keep the load as light as possible, or come up with a maximalist packing strategy that takes into account heaving a load heavier than comfort allows for. I choose to carry everything I need and want, and use a dolly to bear the brunt of it.

Disadvantages of transporting gear with a dolly

The disadvantages of using a dolly to transport travel gear are almost too numerous to list coherently. Choosing to use one of these devices to cart travel gear is not something to consider lightly, as the drawbacks come close to outweighing the benefits in almost any scenario.

1. A fully loaded dolly is difficult to maneuver. There is a trick to pulling a fully loaded dolly, and they take practice to learn how to maneuver them. I have had experience with these things before and I’m pretty good at it, but my wife can’t use one — it keeps tipping over and getting all twisted each time she tries to pull it. In point, strolling one of these carts take a strong wrist and a heightened sense of physical intuition and patience: one foul jerk and the entire load flips over onto its side. Perhaps this is a topic for a travel tip video.

2. Extremely difficult to use on bad sidewalks and roads, over dirt, gravel, grass, and a variety of other rough surfaces. Using a dolly means that you are transporting your gear on the ground surface, and, in most places in the world, this is not a smooth ride. Jagged sidewalks, broken up roads, dirt, sand, rubble, potholes are the rules of pedestrian transportation corridors in the world of travel, and, if you are using a dolly, you need to pull it over top of such surfaces — often a laughable and slightly harrowing experience.

3. Dangerous in cities. In point, the sidewalks of many cities in the world are often so packed with vendors, people, and junk that you need to walk in the road. Walking while pulling a fully loaded dolly makes you vastly less agile and more unable to jump out of the way of a errant car, bicycle, motorcycle, taxi . . . A dolly pulled at your side also makes you a larger target, which you vastly more likely to find yourself in a very tight spot.

The dolly cart makes a traveler wider, not good on crowded streets

4. Hard to use in crowded places. I would laugh hard watching someone try to maneuver a dolly full of gear through the streets of a Chinese city. The sidewalks of many cities are so chocked full of pedestrians that anything which makes you slightly wider that a thin person seems to push the carrying capacity of wherever you step. Extremely annoying. Dollies can also get caught on other people, things, pets, vehicles — just about anything — and often will not fit through the tight places that you need to navigate while walking down the street in a crowded city.

5. Difficult to maneuver inside of places, especially going up and down stairs. It is work carrying a fully loaded dolly up a few flights of stairs. Relatively few hotels rooms in this world are on the ground floor only, and few affordable hotels are equipped with elevators, so regularly going up and down stairs is a reality of travel. This is not often a perilous thing to do with a dolly, but it is an additional hassle.

6. Are easily broken, need maintenance. “They are very delicate,” a well traveled friend told me when he took a look at my new dolly in San Cristobal de las Casas. I agreed with him: pulling a full dolly over rough sidewalks, curbs, stairs puts a huge strain on its wheels and axle, and they can easily break. Being careful when pulling a dolly over rough surfaces cannot be stressed enough, as they can and do malfunction and fall into disrepair.

The wheels and axle of a dolly cart can easily be broken

7. Can leave you in the shit if you rely on it. Imagine having too much travel gear to carry and relying on a dolly for transporting it. Now imagine pulling it over a sidewalk curb and having the axle snap. Now what do you do? Sit there pouting in the midst of you untransportable sea of worldly goods? Pitifully try to carry it all? Give up and leave it all behind and walk away unburdened?

Honestly, you would probably just flag down a taxi, but the point still stands: depending on any piece of travel gear too much can leave you, as my mother says, in the lurch (as my father says, in the shit). All travel gear should be approached as if it is perpetually on the verge of breaking or being lost, alternative methods should always be kept on the back burner.

Travel with a dolly conclusion

Fully loaded cart with travel gear

To continue traveling and living well I need to meet changing circumstances with changing strategy. Carts and dollies are now how I choose to move my home from place to place — the rucksack is no longer my prime choice of travel luggage. There are risks, disadvantages, and additional hassles inherent to transporting my gear with a dolly, but knowing that I can provision my family with more necessary supplies and luxury items than I could otherwise makes its use a good option. We now travel with more gear than we can comfortably carry, so we load it into a cart and pull it.

But if things keep going this way I fear that I may someday find myself publishing an article about traveling with a horse and buggy.

More photos


Filed under: Packing, Travel Gear, Travel Preparation

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3687 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Papa Bay, Hawaii

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  • brandon December 11, 2010, 2:48 am

    I like the idea of the dolly.

    If you were flying though, would you chuck it and buy a new one or check it as a piece of luggage?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 11, 2010, 9:58 am

      Naw, I would get one of those big rachero plastic bags that they sell in the market and just shove it in this. The basket on the front folds up, and it is my impression that the dolly with the bag is not much bigger than anything else people are checking onto airplanes.

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      • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 11, 2010, 9:59 am

        But, if I had to chuck it, I would without many tears.

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  • brandon December 12, 2010, 2:09 am

    Gotcha. They seem like they’re pretty cheap. Not cheap enough to get a new one every week, but like you said, chuck it without many tears.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com December 12, 2010, 10:24 am

      I paid like $10 for it. So I would not be too pressed if I had to ditch it in a bind.

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