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.
Nikki TPosted at 14:26h, 01 December
Great post! I too am a fan of minimalism. Minimalism + frugality = freedom. I can’t understand why people choose to become a slave to a corporate master and work away the best, most physically-able years of their lives to buy stuff that is all just “future garbage.” The American comedian Seinfeld has a hilarious skit on youtube about how all things are future garbage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfYzlSNHapA (skip the first minute). It’s sad so many people today choose material possessions over freedom and experiences.
AmyPosted at 03:38h, 02 December
Hi Nikki, great video, so true! I really don’t like the consumerist aspect of life back in the UK and I shudder to think of all the junk people are going to be buying as Christmas comes around again!
Sarah McAlisterPosted at 15:30h, 01 December
Love this post Amy! Having only planned on bring away for a year we have SO much stuff to sort through when we get back. I can’t even remember most stuff we have so it can’t be that important. Ha! It will be interesting though to see how we feel getting rid of things permanently rather than just packing them away…Like your books I think I may have to keep my record player & records. Sx
AmyPosted at 03:52h, 02 December
Hi Sarah, good luck with the sorting, hopefully it will be a cleansing experience. I’m excited to see what you guys end up doing next year 🙂
PattiPosted at 15:41h, 01 December
It’s so true, Amy. As you know in the past 5 years we’ve made 3 big moves and every time we sold off a bit more. When we moved from Oregon to Maryland, we got 33 years of life together down to just 1 16′ truck, which for us was quite an achievement. We’re back living in a house and have furnishings, but our personal “stuff” is minimal and I love it. Neither of us has much of a wardrobe, we wear summer or winter clothes until they are threadbare and then we replace. I stopped buying souvenirs when we travel and that alone is a big difference. There are lots of ways to cut back without ever leaving home! p.s. I have books that I cannot part with either. 🙂
AmyPosted at 03:54h, 02 December
Hi Patti, glad I’m not the only one with a book obsession! It sounds like you guys have a great balance. I really don’t get why people have loads of clothes, back in the UK I never had a big wardrobe, but I still wore the same things all the time and had other items I never touched! It helps that I hate shopping though, well, unless it’s for books 🙂
JoPosted at 15:49h, 01 December
You guys are a constant inspiration on the minimalist/budgeting front!
Dairy also leaves a massive carbon footprint – trying to cut down and always looking for viable alternatives. It’s still way too hard for people to obtain these though, even in London! x
AmyPosted at 03:55h, 02 December
Thanks Jo! Yep, you’re right about dairy and I think I could cut out milk and butter but would seriously struggle with cheese. Just had a horrible thought about how big the footprint is on the cheese we buy here in Chiang Mai, which I think is imported from Australia…
Gilda BaxterPosted at 09:54h, 02 December
I enjoyed your video with some great ideas on things to pack, in particular the electronics. Like Amy I can’t be without my travel hairdryer. For us 2017 will be our time to downsize and start collecting experiences rather than stuff. Some big changes ahead?
AmyPosted at 11:51h, 02 December
Oh, so exciting Gilda! I can’t wait to hear more about your plans and I hope you find the process of shedding your possessions therapeutic too 🙂
Louisa klimentosPosted at 22:03h, 23 December
Very good post Amy,as alwayskeep your posts comming,love always Louisa
AmyPosted at 03:21h, 24 December
Thanks Louisa 🙂
Angela HornPosted at 16:59h, 07 January
We inadvertently became minimalists (I didn’t know at the time there was such a thing) in 2008 when I threw a mild tantrum at the thought of our impending move. I literally couldn’t face the idea of all that packing and unpacking. So we sold everything and moved into a furnished apartment. Best. Decision. Ever.
I’m 100% with you on the consuming less and living more mindfully front. We may not be perfect but we try.
I didn’t see Africa on your list of travel destinations. If you ever make it to Cape Town, look us up! 🙂
AmyPosted at 12:44h, 11 January
Hi Angela, glad you’re enjoying the minimalist life too! We are actually planning a South Africa trip this summer! I’ll let you know if we make it to Cape Town 🙂