My love affair with travelling started in 2009 when I took my first solo trip to Thailand, alone. I was going through a tumultuous breakup and discovering the person who I am now, and in that chaotic mess of a human emotion I was, I chose to disassociate myself with the mentality that San Francisco had brainwashed in me and finally mustered up the courage to live life on my terms, even if it meant letting go and selling off a whole house-worth of items. It isn’t easy trying to live a minimalist lifestyle and I’ve worked hard on this for the last 5 years since I’ve moved away from San Francisco.
I remember packing for my trip to Thailand and thinking about how much stuff I needed to take with me in order for me to be comfortable and prepare for the worst. I was more fixated on bringing my “comfort level” with me to a country that wasn’t going to guarantee comfort, so I packed my 50L backpack to the brim, feeling so safe and so sure that I would be totally OK, but of course, as fate would have it in my cards, the moment I landed in Thailand reassured me that what had just happened to me in San Francisco (and in my personal life) wasn’t going to escape me once I got to Thailand–no, life was going to make sure I knew how to live with the only belonging that mattered: my self. The airline lost my baggage (what’s new) and for a whole week I had no more than the clothes I was wearing, a spare shirt, toothbrush and paste, money, cellphone, my camera, and my passport. I was upset that I had to go a whole week without anything, but after a day of cursing the universe, I had accepted that perhaps this could be some kind of lesson to learn and grow from. To my surprise, this lesson has carried on and taken its own life in how I like to lead my life now.
I am proud to say that after 3 cities and 5 countries, I have narrowed my belongings to a very minimum of 2 medium boxes filled with sentimental items, art and books, 1 large box of clothes and shoes, an electric guitar, and skis. When you move around a lot, you begin to learn how to live with less, and in that living-with-less, you begin to realize what you truly need and what really sustains your well-being. It wasn’t easy to let go of the many books I had read and acquired or my first acoustic guitar as these had serious sentimental value to me, but I began to look at giving and selling my stuff away as wanting to share the value and experience I had with these things I loved with someone else who could find love in them and become inspired. I think that we become so attached to our belongings and items because we feel they are rewards for our efforts.
While I don’t condone people who like to have nice things and plenty of it, I do believe there is a high correlation to unhappiness and the amount of attachment that people have with their material possessions. Research has shown that people are happier when they spend their money on experiences rather than material items. In the first week of my first solo trip in the first country I had travelled to that wasn’t the Philippines, I did not have the comfort of all the items I had packed, and this forced me to live outside of my comfort zone and learn to be comfortable with what I had. I had to learn how to collect experiences by exploring without the help of my guidebook or english-to-thai translation book, and create moments with other people without trying to connect over something I had, but rather what stories I could share.
Travelling is seriously, and I mean this, a truly beneficial experience that everyone should have the privilege to do. When you travel lightly, you only have the foundation of who you are and the substance of your stories to share when you experience the richness of connecting with others and the world outside of your own. People don’t want to know what new technologies you have or clothes you wear, they want to know if you’re able to tell the truth about yourself and the story you’ve lived thus far. Doing this is part of creating an ecosystem of culturally aware global citizens. I am sensing that our world now, seeks more than ever, truth-tellers who can do this without the comfort of hiding behind our shiny screens and false façades.
To travel lightly teaches you how to accept what you have, make the most of it, and be mindful about how you carry your life. It doesn’t mean that you should live frugally or travel on a super tight-budget, but it does mean that you should become more aware of what makes you happy in the long run: a nice new $1000 designer bag or an experience of a lifetime. I will be honest, however, that I personally, have a refined taste for quality products. I will spend more money on items that I feel will have longevity in supporting a lifestyle that is both mindful and minimalist. For example, if you need to spend $300 on a good pair of hiking boots because they will last for 5-7 years, then absolutely invest in them. I think of purchases and packing as an investment. I ask myself these questions when I am figuring out what to buy or pack:
Is what I’m buying going to be something that will last a few years?
What experiences do I see myself having if I buy/pack this?
Will this add to my overall happiness when I collect experiences?
Will this item allow me to spend more time on the the things I love? Like does this item make it more efficient for me to make the time I need to do what makes me happy? (i.e. 5 pairs of the same shirt because why take 2 hours getting ready when you already know what you’re going to wear).
Will this item be useful to me in other situations/environments in the next year or two and will I use it? (This one is tricky because we will try to convince ourselves that we will NEED this or that in a few months or years, but it has to come down to a 5 second decision of: YES I need this or NO I do not).
and last but not least,
When the novelty of having this item goes away or has finally worn itself out, will I be able to easily let go of it?
Living lightly and travelling lightly is not an easy task because it demands that you begin practicing a lifestyle that requires you to seek within yourself and ask, what matters to me? How will this benefit my well-being and soul? I’m sure you have read articles about what the dying wish they had done differently in life, and the answers all have a similar theme throughout. My favorite takeaway:
“Money and material possessions are an illusion. You think you need so much. In the end, you don’t really need any of it. Prioritize people and experiences over possession.”
Part of packing lightly requires that you start to think mindfully about what kind of life experiences you want to have. The same goes for living–what kind of experience do you want to have in your life if say, you don’t buy that 40″ plasma TV? Maybe spend more time reading and writing or going for hikes or to a local jazz bar to hear music? You do not need a lot to have a great time or live well. In fact, when we reach our dying hours in life, all we really have are the memories we’ve shared and stories we’ve created with the places and people we have had the chance to experience life with. Isn’t that worth living/travelling light for?
Travelling has always been an enriching experience full of surprises and new directions. This particular trip, however, is a little bit more than just a holiday for me–it’s the beginning chapter of a new path that has been waiting for me to experience and write on for years. Now, since I’ll be travelling to S. East Asia in 10 weeks, I am beginning to make the mental preparations (for now) needed to make sure I can position myself to have luck and opportunity happen. If there’s one thing you should take away from this piece, let it be this: that when you start to get rid of the clutter and things in your life that take up space, you give yourself the precious gift of time to do and experience what you have always wished to discover.