The first time I encountered the term “minimalist”, I was living in a Florida housing cooperative. I had 7 roommates in a shared house with a ton of communal belongings. The line between what was “mine” and what was “everyone's” was extremely blurred. I liked living this way. It allowed me to detach myself from “stuff” and appreciate the value of people and experiences.
Someone in my cooperative invited me to attend a minimalist meet up at Bandit Coffee in St. Petersburg, FL. At that time, I didn’t know one of the original founders of the Minimalist movement actually co-founded Bandit Coffee and wanted to host a small speech about minimalism that evening. When I show up, I was amazed at the nearly 80 people who squeezed into this coffee bar to hear the words of Joshua Fields Millburn. He is one side of the Minimalist duo; the guys famous for popularizing the minimalist movement in the US.
Josh captured everyone’s attention by sharing the original intention of the minimalist movement and what impact it had on his life. I was particularly touched by the way he shared the story of his mother’s recent passing and how he was faced with the hundreds of sentimental items left by his mother. Those items did not fit with his values for minimalism. So what did he do? He sold everything, donated and gave away all but a picture of his mother and another small item. Following the event, I wondered how he could be so detached from things that seemed so sentimental. I asked myself, “what do I have to lose by giving up my ‘stuff’”? What do I have to gain by embracing things that are less tangible and more impactful on my life? This was the moment I adopted minimalist principles.
Fast forward three years. On the brink of my huge trip to Europe in Fall 2018, I am faced with a dilemma. What to bring on my trip and how to organize my life to ensure I have the most amount of freedom on my journey. I stare blankly at my room. All I could think about was the word “nothing”. I want to bring absolutely nothing on my trip. I scanned my room searching for meaning. I found it in very few items. I looked at my painting supplies and ukulele. Check, they are definitely coming on the trip. I looked at my favorite sweater and running shoes. Check, I’ll need those for comfort and warmth. I look at my cosmetics and became overwhelmed. I didn’t want any of it. “I can make half of these products myself”, I thought. And so I did.
In September 2018, I packed a few comfortable clothes, some artistic tools I loved, supplies to make my own cosmetics and two pairs of shoes. That’s it. I walked out of my house with my 34 liter camping bag and didn’t look back for 5 months. There were a series of minimalist habits that I incorporated on that trip that allowed me to rewire my brain and take the most important things on my journey.
Living Out of My BackPack
For 5 months, I only brought what I could fit on my back. The few items I brought were my favorite things. There was nothing in my bag that I didn’t like, enjoy, use or would use while I was abroad. All of the things I packed were items that I felt good about, gave me strength, confidence and supported my creative edge. The things in my backpack were my lifeline. I needed to make sure I had no regrets with what I brought and left. This level of intentionality is what gave me so much freedom. I wasn’t worried about lugging around two suitcases of useless stuff. I focused on one bag that had what I needed. Nothing more, nothing less.
I Remove Barriers That Prevent Me From Traveling
My next mode was to remove things that held me back from traveling. When I moved away from Florida, I got rid of 75% of my stuff. I managed to fit my whole apartment into four buckets and space in my backseat for my bike. At that time, I knew that my plants, furniture, pets, old clothing, etc were all unnecessary for the next five months abroad. I couldn’t take those things even if I wanted to. They didn’t fit in my backpack and whatever was in my backpack, was all I had. So, I removed it. I had already developed a detachment for stuff anyway so getting rid of these items wasn’t painful. One aspect of minimalism is to detach yourself from items. It’s not the items that make you emotional, it’s the meaning behind them. There are some items I kept, like pictures of my grandmother, my favorite books, and the handmade jewelry my friend made me. But most items were just holding me back. I needed to get rid of them for financial and space reasons. Selling my items helped me source hundreds of extra dollars that I used for my travel adventures.
I Only Purchase Things That Matter
On my trip, I acquired a few items that wouldn’t fit in my bag. I had a dilemma. Do I get another bag to hold the new items or get rid of old items that no longer served me? While I was in Russia, the weather turned sour much quicker than I expected. The days became shorter and shorter. The rain became stronger and more frequent. The winter was coming. My jacket wasn’t big enough to keep me warm in the cold and my running shoes weren’t enough for the snowy weather that was soon to come. I felt that I needed a sturdy pair of boots and a great rainproof winter coat. I invested in those things and later realized they were too bulky to fit in my backpack. I decided that buying more luggage wasn’t the answer. I got rid of the items I had previously brought on the trip. They no longer served me. They were too lightweight for the environment I was living in. I traded those items out and made space for the new. These days, I still shop once or twice a year for things I truly need. That way I’m always prepared with things that are relevant and that I’ll definitely use.
I Put Experiences Before Stuff
The greatest benefit to traveling is the ability to live in the moment. Every experience is special and unique. You can hold the memories of your travels and they don’t have to clutter your physical world. A lot of people collect memories by accumulating stuff. This is not sustainable when you travel. Room in your luggage runs out quickly when you have to purchase a souvenir at every pitstop. Instead of buying a $12 souvenir that may not last 5 years, why not spend $12 on an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower? Or a boat ride through St. Petersburg, Russia? How about surf lessons in Bali? Instead of collecting stuff, collect experiences. Minimalist travelers value experiences over “stuff”.
Traveling Slow & Taking My Sweet Time
I travel at the pace of a turtle. I like to be in a place for one week to three months. I take my time to appreciate the smalls things in a place before moving on to the next. I do volunteer opportunities, couchsurf and stay with friends so my time feels better spent and more rewarding. It’s costly and unnecessary to hit a million places at one time. Minimalism has taught me to take things slow and enjoy them in the moment. There is no need to feel rushed or that I have to fit in tons of things in a jam packed schedule. Some of the best places I’ve visited came about accidentally or by pure coincidence. The small things matter. Moments where I can take my time and live in the moment are the most powerful moments of all. I always remind myself that less is more.
As you pursue your minimalist travel, keep in mind the things I've mentioned above. It’s always best to travel with less, collect memories and take your sweet time. Minimalism is all about appreciating what you have in the moment and living for the things that matter. Enjoy your time without clutter and other distractions. Keep it simple, go minimal.