01 Dec Minimalism and Travel, why less is more
The Christmas before we left the UK in 2012, Andrew and I announced that we didn’t want gifts and we weren’t going to buy any. Instead, we donated money to Shelter and took some groceries to the local food bank. At the time, we were in the midst of sorting through our tiny one-bedroom London flat, trying to narrow down our possessions so that they’d fit into two backpacks for our new life of travel. That was the start of our journey towards minimalism, and we haven’t looked back since.
Shedding your possessions is an oddly liberating experience. I got addicted to watching our junk sell in online auctions and passing our old items onto people who needed them. We even made over £2,000 in the process. There was satisfaction in sifting through old folders of paperwork, shredding and recycling, of bagging up bin liners of clothes for the charity shop. The only thing I truly struggled with was getting rid of books, and I still have several boxes of my favourites in my parents’ loft, along with documents and cold-weather clothes.
We eventually left the UK with enough possessions to fill just two 35-litre backpacks, and you know what? We don’t miss a single thing that we left behind. The fact is that when you travel, you simply can’t own too much stuff, because you have to lug it around on your back and constantly repack it. I’ve never been the most materialistic person ever, but travel has still taught me that I don’t need much to survive and that life is infinitely simpler when there are only a handful of clothes to choose from and you wear flip flops every day.
Nowadays, we embrace minimalism. Our most valuable possessions are our laptops, which we use to make a living, a camera and kindles. I have just one bra that I barely use (bonus of working from home!) and we literally wear our clothes until they fall apart. At this very moment, Andrew is sat in a pair of shorts that are full of holes, not that I’d recommend this look or anything. Our apartment here in Chiang Mai came fully furnished and aside from buying some extra cups, we’ve had no desire to fill it with random crap. I struggle to imagine exactly how people manage to cram whole houses with stuff.
Valuing experiences over possessions
Today we still travel with our original backpacks but we have added a few luxuries like a bigger laptop and a travel hairdryer. However, we still think carefully about every new purchase we make. We spent most of this year taking photos with a camera lense that got scratched at a fire-dancing festival, where a chunk of my hair also got burnt off, (thanks for everything, Spain!) before we finally bought a new camera. I don’t have a workable phone, we clothes shop maybe once a year and my poor old laptop is on its last legs, but I’m holding off as long as possible before I replace it.
Instead of spending money on stuff, we buy experiences. Over the last few years, we’ve skydived, trekked through jungles and rice terraces, scaled volcanoes and relaxed on tropical islands. We’ve learnt about genocide and seen natural disasters, celebrated at lantern festivals and joined in with giant water fights. We’ve visited 19 countries, watched the leaves change colour in New England, explored ancient Eastern European cities and so much more. In the process we really have learnt that for us, experiences are more valuable than possessions.
Another side effect of living a minimalist lifestyle is that having less makes what you do have more precious. I was ecstatic recently when my mum sent me two parcels full of treats like Marmite, Earl Grey tea-bags and a Christmas pudding. For my birthday I’m looking forward to a massage and meal at my favourite Italian restaurant in Chiang Mai; simple experiences that make me truly happy. Same goes for messages, Skype calls and summer visits to see family and friends in the UK. Right now, we’re working hard to earn money online, which will buy us the freedom to take a month off and explore Nepal next year, as well as continue to live nomadically.
A note about consuming less
Minimalism suits our nomadic lifestyle but I know we could live even more simply, and in the process, further minimise our impact on the world. Let’s face it, the survival of our planet depends on us all consuming less. I don’t want to sound all preachy and I’m not trying to suggest that Andrew and I are perfect, because we’re definitely not. However, we could all make an effort to buy a little less junk, eat less food (particularly meat which has a huge carbon footprint) and use less energy in our everyday lives. After all, how much do we really need to live a happy life?
Do you live a minimalist lifestyle? Would you like to? Share your thoughts in the comments below.