While we were travelling, one of the first things that anyone noticed about us was our backpacks. We spent a whole year living out of a 30L and a 35L backpack. Most other people that we met had 60-70L just for themselves! After settling back into life in the UK and renting out a one bed flat, we are so grateful for the lessons that we’ve learnt about minimalist travel in this past year. It has meant that we can rent the smallest flat we’ve ever seen and still fit every single one of our possessions into it. Except a wedding dress – which I feel needs a whole post on what to do with the most expensive and impractical dress you will ever buy!
It took a lot of time for me to get into the minimalism mindset. I uprooted my whole childhood bedroom into my room in student halls (which was about half the size) without throwing anything away. I bought all the “essentials” that I needed as a young adult starting life on my own. In the end, my room was an absolute mess, and you could never see the floor! It never occurred to me that I was so busy out having fun and studying that I might not need all these things anymore. So they all stayed.
Later, we moved into a big house and bought furniture and decorations to fill each high-ceilinged echoey room. Our stuff somehow magically expanded to fit the space we had available. I was always scratching my head wondering why the house was always messy. It was about this time that I discovered blogs written by American Moms who loved to organise. I had great fun putting all my crap into pretty boxes without ever realising that I didn’t need it!
Anyway, coming back to the point. Minimalism is a great concept to explore whether you have a seven bed mansion or you’re just packing up your childhood bedroom. But it’s most useful to travellers who want to save their back by only carrying what they need, save on airplane luggage fees and always have room to bring back a few souvenirs.
The Attitude of minimalist travel
The most important change is always going to be the hardest. Attitudes based on other people’s perceptions and ‘the way things have always been’ are ingrained and we rarely question them.
What If – This is still the biggest thorn in my paw. I hate the thought of needing something and not having it, especially when I only threw it away a week ago! But in this day and age, you can almost always get something you need in the place that you’re in – except if you’re way off the beaten track. I like the Minimalists rule that if you can get the item again within 20 miles for under $20, there’s no reason to keep it around ‘just in case’
Sunken Cost – Before we left, we bought a sterile needle kit. Whether or not this was necessary is absolutely up for debate, but I still think I would buy it again if I had a do-over. We never did use it and it’s now sitting on a shelf in our flat taunting me with its shiny redness. Anyway, we could have ditched it when we arrived in Australia and had over two months with a little extra space in our bags. “But it was so expensive and we haven’t even used it!”, we cried. This is an example of sunken cost. The money’s already gone – it’s just hurting your bag capacity to keep it around now.
That’s disgusting! – I am going to say a few things in this blog post that make me seem like I live in a bush and don’t shower for weeks on end. That’s not really how I live, at least most of the time. But if I don’t shower for a couple of weeks, it’s not going to kill me, and it won’t kill you either.
There’s this school of thought that after a t-shirt is worn once, it’s “dirty” and needs to be washed. Even if you’ve only had it on for two hours while watching a film in a cinema with air conditioning so high it feels like you’re in the middle of the arctic. T-shirts can go for 2-3 days and jeans can usually last a week, even longer if you’re only hanging out by yourself or spending most of your time in swimwear at the beach.
I think I’d cope perfectly well with two t-shirts, a pair of shorts/jeans, a bikini, a dress and hand full of underwear. Most of which I wouldn’t have to carry with me as I would be wearing it to travel. I do worry that other people see me in the same thing two days in a row and them thinking I’m icky. But who cares what they think?!
I genuinely believe that the only footwear that is necessary are flip flops. You can hike in them and swoosh through flooded streets in them. You can dress them up and down. I used to wear them 12 months of the year in the UK. I also carry running shoes with me when I travel, although I’ve started to see articles about barefoot travel springing up all over the internet.
It is very easy to take way too many toiletries with you. Each thing is usually less than the size of a deck of cards, which you can cram anywhere. They are taking up space in your bag and adding to the weight on your back every time you pack up and travel. It also means you have to fiddle with tiny plastic bags and make sure it’s somewhere accessible in your hand luggage. What a drama.
I am going to assume that you understand why anyone looking to travel with less would not be taking things like anti-frizz serum or eye-shadow primer. So there are only a handful of things to take; soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, razor, shampoo. All essential, right?
Well, no actually.
I’d like to suggest that the only essential in that list is a toothbrush. There’s some research and a lot of anecdotal evidence that says all the rest of it is unnecessary. Some people get by just fine without them. Others shout from the rooftops that their hair/skin/teeth are better for not using them. It’s about experimenting with what works for your body, ignoring the adverts companies spend millions on trying to get you to buy their products and mainly not giving a crap about what someone else thinks is disgusting.
I always spend time daydreaming about how it would have been being an Explorer 100 or 200 years ago. I would love to have the courage to not take a single electronic thing with me when I travelled. But thinking about it, I wouldn’t be able to take a photo of the town map. Then I would get lost after 5 minutes. I couldn’t phone the hotel I was staying at. I wouldn’t be able to figure out how to ask a local for directions without resorting to shouting very slowly in English.
I’m pretty sure that would not be a fun way to travel. Luckily, in the 21st century, we have a tiny device that does all of those things. You probably have one anyway – a smartphone! If your smartphone doesn’t do it, you probably didn’t need it done anyway. A charger and multi country adapter plug are probably two things worth packing.
Ultimately, the secret to minimalistic travel is getting into the right mindset and forgetting all you know about what is normal and what everybody else does. This is a basis to start packing from. I am in no way saying that if you take more than this then you are a failure. I have never taken this little, even if I’m only going away for a weekend. But if you start from this minimum, you can rest assured that every other item you take is a luxury. Then you can really think about whether it deserves to take up valuable real estate in your bag.
What’s your biggest reservation about taking the absolute minimum travelling? Do you have any stories about when you packed way too much? What do you consider the absolute essentials? Let us know in the comments below!
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