How Travel Turned Me Into A Minimalist
Although I have been lucky enough to visit many different countries, personally, I have never taken a sabbatical and traveled extensively for a period of time. But I love the idea of taking a single backpack and moving freely and frequently. So I’m excited to share this guest blog by the founder of Smash Your To Do List. Megan is a freelance writer offering content services to kickass entrepreneurs and small businesses. She loves travel, cups of tea, sloth memes and crushing people’s to-do lists one tick at a time.
The concept of “how to pack light” was one I’d never considered a few years ago…
Packing for a week’s holiday in the sunshine usually involved cramming belongings into my suitcase until I hit the luggage limit. Never a huge shoe fanatic, I still managed to fill my bag with enough clothing options to last me a month, full-size toiletries and goodness knows what else that left me heaving and hauling a heavy suitcase and dreading the airport check in.
At my holiday destination I would unpack my array of now wrinkled clothing.
The vast majority would go unused as I spent my days in the same pair of shorts and evenings in a sundress.
At the end of my time abroad everything would go back into my case – most of which was still unworn – now crinkled and smelling slightly of sun cream and salt, so all requiring a wash at home.
Does this sound familiar?
This pattern continued without me even questioning it. It just seemed the right thing to do. My biggest irrational concern – even though I confess I’ve never been one to keep up with fashion trends – was to get somewhere and feel that I ‘didn’t have anything to wear’.
The unintentional minimalist
It wasn’t until I made the big decision to quit my job in 2011 and embark on a solo backpacking trip that I really focused on exactly what was going into my bag.
My initial trip was supposed to take me neatly around the world in 11 months. I got five months into my journey and realised I was loving it too much to rush it. I cancelled my onward flights and my adventure morphed into five years of living and working abroad.
During this time, my attitude towards clothing and belongings in general has shifted drastically. I now realise that travel has taught me about living a simple life and – most importantly – how to pack light.
How to live minimally: just go travel
Straight away, the limitations of extended travel imposed themselves upon me.
How was I supposed to fit a year of possessions into just one backpack? If 15kg was my average weekly weight limit for a beach holiday, how on Earth would that stretch to multiple seasons, climates, cultural dress and activities?
As I researched my destinations and created packing lists, I failed to realise that I was already being taught the basics of how to live minimally.
With space at a premium and weight limit needing to be as low as possible in the name of practicality, everything that ended up coming with me on my first backpacking trip was heavily vetted.
If it didn’t have a use, it wouldn’t make the cut.
Or so I thought…
It wasn’t until I got out on the road did I realise that I’d fallen victim to the easiest trick in the book. As a fresh faced, newbie traveller I’d bought several gadgets that were completely unnecessary – such as a pegless washing line with hooks at the end. (What’s wrong with hanging clothing over the back of a chair to dry, really)?
Challenging my preconceived notions of comfort and necessity was essential for allowing me to refine the contents of my bag.
- Did I actually need this item? Actually, no.
- Could I simply change the way I did something to render it surplus to requirements? Most of the time, the answer was yes.
Living with less stuff
As I hit my travel stride I found myself constantly reviewing my small amount of clothing and possessions.
There’s nothing like having to pack and repack a bag on an almost daily basis and lug the thing with you on trains, planes and local buses to make you appreciate the motto “less is more”.
And it wasn’t just the physical weight of having to carry my world on my back that encouraged me to travel light. It was also the ease at which I could pack up and go, travel wherever I please and focus on the experiences around me that made me appreciate living a simple life.
With less possessions to worry about, I felt unencumbered by the trappings of everyday life. It was just me and my backpack. Everything I needed to sustain myself – minus food, shelter and money, of course – was contained inside its fabric walls.
I realised that this was enough for me.
The biggest perk of minimalist travelling
As I travelled I became less interested in popular culture or advances in technology. I didn’t have time to watch TV so I didn’t mind that I was missing the latest ‘must- watch’ shows let alone care that I didn’t own a TV.
It didn’t bother me to wear the same pair of trainers until they fell apart, or to dress from the same limited selection of clothing day in and day out. I packed a small amount of underwear and stayed on top of daily washing in the sink so I never ran out of a clean pair.
I didn’t even miss my hair straighteners like I thought I would.
Less choice simply meant less time spent worrying about what I was going to wear. I quickly found I was not precious about wearing items of clothing more than once and for more than one purpose.
With the focus shifted from things to experiences, missing inanimate objects and the clutter of everyday life just didn’t register.
And if you ask me, I would say that the enjoyment of living simply in the moment is my greatest joy from minimalism.
Travel minimalism extending into everyday life
I’ve hit pause on my full-time, nomadic lifestyle for the time being. There’s no doubt in my mind that I will continue to travel extensively in the future, and with a much more careful eye on my baggage weight limit.
There’s no denying that living out of a backpack for years has influenced my attitude to life at home. It was never my intention to become a minimalist, but since I’ve come home I’ve got stuck into reviewing all of my old belongings.
If I haven’t used it, worn it or thought about it in the years I’ve been away, what purpose does it serve in my life?
It’s an incredibly cathartic process to go through boxes of possessions and strip out the excess that just doesn’t need a place in my home.
My top tips for minimalist travel
I thought I’d end on a few takeaways I’ve learned from five years of travel. Living a minimalist life can easily extend to your travels. If you’re in the place I was six years ago then use me as proof that it can be done.
Research your destination
What is the weather going to be like? What activities will you be doing? What religious or cultural dress codes should you respect? Use this knowledge as the basis of your packing list.
Ask yourself “do I need this”?
Scrutinise each item that goes into your bag. Refer back to the research you’ve done on your destination and if it doesn’t ‘fit’ it’s not making the cut.
Wear, wash, dry, repeat
If you’re going for a fortnight’s holiday, don’t pack 14 pairs of socks and underwear. You really don’t need that much. Instead, pack a small tube of travel wash and spent five minutes on a little hand washing. The same goes for bigger items of clothing, too.
Multi-purpose items are your friend
Pack items that can be used for more than one different activity. For example, a sarong can be a beach cover-up, a picnic blanket, a beach towel, a wrap for religious buildings/sites or a scarf or shawl for chilly transport.
Create a capsule wardrobe
Just as items need to pull their weight and be used for more than one thing, all the clothes you pack should blend together to form the perfect capsule wardrobe. There’s no point in packing clashing colours or prints if things can’t be worn together. Make sure your clothing works together so you get as many pairings out of them as you can.
Resist the temptation to throw in the just-in-case items
You know you won’t end up using them and they’ll just add weight to your bag. If you fear you’re going to lack something on holiday, remember it’s likely there will be a shop where you can buy a second bottle of moisturiser.
Review your entire contents before you back – and reduce the quantity
I know you’ve all heard the ruthless advice out there that tells you to reduce your packing by half. I’m not going to tell you to do that, but I do urge you to review your the entire contents of your bag before you finally pack it. Then I want you to remove at least five items overall: got six tshirts? Reduce the number to five. Got four pairs of trousers? Take one out. I guarantee you will not miss them.
I’d love to know whether travel has helped you become more of a minimalist. What’s your relationship between holidays and over-packing? Share your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to pass this on to someone you know is a serial over-packer!