Minimalist Travel: A Beginner’s Guide to Traveling Lighter
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Minimalism at its core is living with intention. It lends meaning to our possessions, relationships, and experiences. Most importantly, it allows us to drop out of the rampant consumerism that is today’s culture. We can slow ourselves down and experience the world. Minimalist travel is the ultimate way to practice intentionality, and it’s more achievable than you might think.
Before launching into the specifics of minimalist travel, it’s important to understand minimalism as a philosophy. While not everyone can take the full plunge, employing some of these techniques can lead to happier journeys.
Simply deciding to become a minimalist is often the biggest hurdle. Once you’ve committed, the hardest part is already done. Click To Tweet Simply deciding to become a minimalist is often the biggest hurdle. Once you’ve committed, the hardest part is already done. While it can seem like constant sacrifice, minimalism actually presents amazing gains. First, you gain freedom from consumerism and the mania to possess. Next, you recoup valuable time maintaining fewer things. Finally, you de-clutter both physical and mental space, allowing you to pursue your true passions. Best of all, these benefits transfer directly to travel!
While not an absolute requirement, minimalist travel is easiest if you already live simply. Having fewer possessions is the norm and you won’t feel deprived while away from home. However, making the conversion doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There are varying degrees of minimalism and each situation will be unique. Ultimately, you have to find what works best for you.
Eliminate Excess in Your Everyday Life
Although minimalists typically have significantly fewer things than most people, they aren’t without comfort and amenities. Minimalists simply strive to remove clutter and excess. Click To TweetA common misconception about minimalism is that it’s all about reducing possessions. Although minimalists typically have significantly fewer things than most people, they aren’t without comfort and amenities. Minimalists simply strive to remove clutter and excess. They are intentional and own only items that are useful and meaningful to them.
As such, quality over quantity is key. For example, a minimalist is better served by one high quality winter jacket that will last for many years, than several cheaply made jackets piled in the back of a closet. To put it simply: less, but best.
Minimalism isn’t always about saving money either. Instead, it’s about investing in a limited number of high quality items that will last. Spending less on frivolous and excessive things often leads to overall savings in the long term.
Clearly, reducing and de-cluttering is still necessary and every minimalist, to some degree, must do it. It’s easiest to start by donating or selling unused items. Consider giving away anything in your home that you haven’t used or worn in over a month. Obviously, you don’t want to throw out all your winter clothes if you do this in the summer. So, you’ll likely want to repeat this inventory seasonally.
Another common starting point is a month-long “Minimalism Challenge” activity. You get rid of one item on the first day, two the second, and so forth to 30 items on the 30th day. If that seems like a lot, take a look in your kitchen. You probably have miscellaneous Tupperware, unused gadgets, or an extra set of silverware lying around.
Pare Down Your Travel and Adventure Gear Too
If anything doesn't fit, is worn out or is of low quality, get rid of it. There's no sense hanging on to any of this. Click To TweetThese exercises translate directly to minimalist travel. They require the same discipline and lead to many of the same benefits. However, while keeping a tidy home is nice, carrying less stuff when traveling is amazingly liberating.
To start, it’s a good idea to gather all of your travel-related items and lay them out on the bed or floor. Then, take a mental inventory and determine which items are no longer relevant (for example, if you no longer ski, get rid of your alpine gear). Then, remove each of these unused items and put them into one of three piles: sell, donate, and recycle.
Next, move on to duplicates. After all, who really needs four backpacks and eight water bottles? Pick out the one (or two, if necessary) of each that work best for you and will serve you well. Distribute the rest into the same three piles as before.
Finally, after you’ve cleared away your extra and no longer used items, take a hard look at everything left. Now, consider the size, condition, and quality of the remaining items. If anything doesn’t fit, is worn out or is of low quality, get rid of it. There’s no sense hanging on to any of this. Again, put these items in one of the three piles.
Now, you should only have the very best gear you own that still fits well and will last. Everything else will be in the sell, donate, and recycle piles. Next comes the easy part. Check out our Where and How to Sell Used Outdoor Gear article for more information. If you need a little extra help, here’s a nice template you can use to categorize your gear.
Not Everything Has to Go
Minimalism doesn’t require shedding your personality or sense of style; rather it’s about creating the physical and mental space needed to pursue personal growth and explore your relationship with yourself. Click To TweetWhile you don’t technically “use” art, it can provide pleasure and mental clarity, and hold sentimental value. Minimalism doesn’t require shedding your personality or sense of style; rather it’s about creating the physical and mental space needed to pursue personal growth and explore your relationship with yourself. Keeping the art on your walls can make your home a sanctuary and provide Feng Shui; so don’t feel obligated to have a totally spartan existence in the name of minimalism.
Once you’ve eliminated the excess, it can be challenging to keep clutter at bay moving forward. However, there are several easy ways to combat this:
- Each time you buy something (excluding items like groceries and toiletries of course), sell or give one item away.
- Politely inform friends and family of your minimalist lifestyle. Request any holiday or birthday gifts be consumable or experience-based. This will eliminate the guilt of throwing away or donating gifts of ‘stuff’ that don’t fit into your lifestyle.
- Don’t accept free stuff, unless it’s REALLY something useful. We’ve all come home from a street fair or festival with a bag of freebies that we’ll never use; save yourself the trouble of throwing them out by not taking them in the first place.
Simplify your life by eliminating unnecessary possessions and living intentionally. This will benefit you many times over by reducing clutter in your life, allowing you to focus on relationships and yourself. Most importantly, a simple life leads to meaningful experiences and travel.
Embracing Minimalist Travel
Now that you’ve simplified your everyday life, it’s time to start thinking about traveling as a minimalist. It’s really not as bad as it seems. However, just as with the general minimalist there are varying levels of minimalist traveler. Some go to the extreme like this man who traveled the world for six weeks with no baggage. We prefer a more moderate approach, carefully selecting every item we pack. This all starts with picking the right gear.
Building Your Gear List
While it might seem counter-intuitive to begin amassing gear after purging your whole house, just remember that you are being intentional about these purchases, and each item will be useful and functional. We go into much greater detail in Build a High Quality Adventure Gear Collection, but this will give you a good overview.
Start by making a list of basic travel gear – for instance, a quality suitcase or travel backpack, walking or hiking shoes, etc. Add any specialty gear for your favorite activities, like a photography bag or a crag backpack for climbing. Then, fill out your list with necessities – travel shampoo, up to date passport, toothbrush, and so on. If this sounds overwhelming, check out our basic packing list templates for a place to start.
Once your list is complete, check off the items that you already have, and start shopping for the rest. Do your research, shop sales, and buy quality so you’ll only have to buy it once. Planning ahead and shopping from a list allows you to budget and buy only exactly what you need; plus, you’ll have your shopping and packing lists in one.Planning ahead and shopping from a list allows you to budget and buy only exactly what you need; plus, you’ll have your shopping and packing lists in one. Click To Tweet
Where to Find Quality Gear
REI Deals, Amazon Outlet Deals, and steepandcheap.com are great places to shop for outdoor and travel gear. You can read product reviews, check the specs, and place your order. Another option is to try before you buy, either by renting or borrowing items. REI has a great rental program with seasonal options, that allows you to not only try a new activity, but also test different types of gear without fully committing. Renting locally can also be useful for large equipment like paddleboards or skis that aren’t easy to travel with or store in a small apartment.
Local Buy Nothing groups can also be an excellent resource for borrowing gear short term, or getting free gear! These are Facebook groups for micro-neighborhoods, where you can gift, lend, borrow, or ask for items while getting to know your neighbors in the process. These can be useful for when you’re purging your home as well – your excess might be just what your neighbor needs.
Gear swaps are another option for buying lightly used quality gear at a discount. Essentially garage sales, these may be organized by a third party, usually an outdoor outfitter or recreation company. Since the organizer typically regulates the event, you can expect mostly high quality items. Check social media or Google for a gear swap near you. If you have a lot of friends or neighbors who are into travel and outdoor activity, you could consider organizing your own gear swap as well.
What to Avoid
Use common sense when buying used gear – don’t buy any safety equipment (helmets, climbing harnesses, ropes, first aid equipment, etc.) second-hand. You don’t know the condition of these items or how many impacts or falls such gear has already endured, so don’t risk your life to save a few dollars on these items. However, clothing and travel gear like backpacks and sleeping bags are perfect items to buy used!
Amassing your gear slowly allows you to spread out the cost and budget for bigger purchases. Strategically shopping holiday sales can save you tons of money, and it forces you to plan ahead. Shopping this way allows you to still be spontaneous – since you haven’t blown an entire month’s paycheck on gear, you can still afford to go on a spur of the moment weekend trip!
Research Your Destination and Route
You can take a minimalist approach to travelling regardless of your destination. While tropical locales typically require the fewest articles of clothing and may seem most appropriate for this type of travel, you can be intentional about packing for even the coldest and most remote places. It’s all possible with the right information and planning.
Research the area to which you plan to travel, looking specifically at seasonal weather conditions, terrain, and culturally appropriate dress. Plan for activities that require specialized clothing or equipment. See our article Maximize Travel with Minimalism for more on this. And don’t forget to consider the route. There may be particular challenges in reaching your destination.
Talk to Locals
Whenever possible, ask locals or friends who have traveled to your destination for must-visit places, things to see, and critical items to bring with you. Locals can provide inside information that you can’t always find online, which is extremely helpful for a meaningful and authentic experience, rather than just playing a tourist.
Avoid Resort Areas
Avoid resorts whenever possible. Resorts are generally the antithesis of minimalism. And being surrounded by crowds of tourists makes it difficult to get the true feeling of an area. Look for places off the beaten path, as there are so many amazing destinations often overshadowed by nearby tourist traps. That way you will save money, avoid crowds, and still see beautiful features of your destination.
Learn from Experts
In most cases, people have already been everywhere you want to visit. There are travel websites dedicated to just about anywhere you want to see. A quick Google search opens up a world of possibilities. However, you can’t go wrong with traditional travel guides. We like several.
Lonely Planet offers some wonderful travel resources. Check out their website for inspiration and be sure to consider their fantastic guidebooks for detailed, location-specific information. They come in print version, or better yet, as eBooks, which makes them very easy to take with you. They even offer electronic versions of specific chapters at a significant discount.
As archaic as it sounds today, physical guidebooks like Fodor’s or Frommer’s are still excellent resources for finding “secret” destinations, and they include pictures and detailed directions. While some may be out of print, you can often find these valuable guides at used book stores. You can also check them out from a public library. The fair-use exception to copyright law may allow you to make photocopies or take pictures of certain portions for research purposes, but please check copyright laws in your country.
Consider how you will travel to and around your destination as well. In some places, while it’s feasible to rent a personal car, you will miss out on the most basic human interactions that you can only experience while traveling en masse. Additionally, shared transportation allows you to look out the window instead of focusing only on driving, and you might just meet an interesting local with superb travel tips!
The direct route isn’t always the best route. In the spirit of slowing down and enjoying the journey, the scenic route is often worth it. Be open to changing your plans or cancelling them altogether if something draws your attention.
Think Experiences, Not Souvenirs
As Eleanor Roosevelt eloquently stated, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” Our experiences have the capacity to shape our lives and make us who we are, much more so than any possessions ever could.
Travelling is all about experiences that broaden our worldview and create memories to last our whole lives. Photos and journal entries are far more evocative of memories than cheap mass-produced souvenirs. And in today’s digital age, they won’t take up any space in your home. Plus, how often are you really going to wear puka shells outside of Hawaii? Experiences are much better remembered with photos and written words.
An excellent way to find adventures is to meet and talk to locals. Chances are, they have a recommendation for you, or might even invite you on an adventure! When this opportunity presents itself, say yes (within safe reason). Whatever you had planned for the day can probably be done tomorrow. However, having a local show you around their hometown can prove to be a one-of-a-kind opportunity. You get an authentic experience and learn about the area.
Another fantastic way to see an area is by walking tour. Many of these are free and may include parts of a city you might not otherwise experience. While technically free, the guides are happy to accept tips. Check out FreeTour.com for options all over the world.
Meet Other Travelers
Meeting other travelers is also an integral part of minimalist travel. Whether you meet them at a hostel, “boondocking” in the woods, or at the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, you already have some shared experience and can trade tips, favorite destinations, and stories. Plus, you can make new friends from all over the world, which can be an invaluable resource in the future!
Freecampsites.net is a wonderful resource for finding free or inexpensive places to stay all over the world. It is a crowd-sourced website with reviews and ratings, which makes it easy to choose an appropriate place. Since it is widely used throughout the world, you are likely to meet other travelers from interesting places at any one of the campsites.
Social media is a great way to connect with other travelers while you’re on the road. It allows you to follow each others’ travels and get in touch in the future. Some of the most meaningful and deep friendships are those made on the road. Instagram is wonderful way to see photos of your new friends’ travels and stay connected with the messaging feature. Whatsapp is also a great option if you are travelling internationally and don’t have data or texting service, since it operates on WiFi.
Reevaluate and Purge
One final consideration in minimalist travel is maintenance. It is very easy to fall back into old ways. Remember, this is a continual process that you can and will master, but it takes practice. Try these techniques to ensure happy future travels.
- After each trip, evaluate your luggage for unused items. If you didn’t use it on this trip, you most likely won’t on your next trip. Remove these items from your packing list. If you were traveling for an extended period of time and didn’t use something, ask yourself if you really need it at all.
- Your packing list will constantly evolve as your interests and needs change. You will learn more about yourself and your preferences as you go, and fine-tune your list based on experience. If you decide an activity is no longer for you, don’t guilt yourself into keeping unused gear. Sell it or trade it for something you currently enjoy.
Minimalism will change the way you think, live, and travel. It opens up possibilities for authentic experiences and relationships, and allows you to focus on the things that matter rather than possessions. Click To TweetMinimalism will change the way you think, live, and travel. It opens up possibilities for authentic experiences and relationships, and allows you to focus on the things that matter rather than possessions. Small day-to-day adjustments can lead to lifelong benefits!
Keep traveling simply, my friends!