How Travel Teaches Minimalism

Credit to micmol @ flickr

This time next week, all my possessions will be in boxes and backpack again as I prepare to leave Seattle. Yet, last night when I invited a few friends over for a party — all my things still happily lapping up fresh apartment air on shelves and floor space — several of them joked about how little I owned. Regardless of the fact that I moved to Seattle via airplane (and therefore a restricted amount of luggage I could bring) and with the intention of staying less than a year, minimalism and living with fewer possessions has been one of the many unexpected lessons of vagabonding.

Through traveling we learn to be resourceful. We are forced to dump our backpacks out on hotel beds and create “need” and “don’t really need” piles. When you carry your home on your back, buying anything suddenly becomes a weighted decision. Do I need this enough to carry the extra bulk? Is it worth the money I could be spending on a nicer meal or putting towards sleeping in a bed instead of a tent? Couldn’t I use my [insert item here] that I already own for that purpose instead? After enough time, most travelers, especially of the budget/backpack variety either wittingly or not become minimalists. We want versatile, multi-purpose items. We want less. At some point we realize that we’ve lived perfectly fine without most of our old possessions for X months, years, on the road, so why would we need to accumulate just because we’re stationary again?

This is how the travel mindset seeped in to my stationary life and I came to have nothing but a table, a futon, and a milk crate full of books in my apartment. (Minimalist or not, books are still a guilty purchasing pleasure I attribute to my parents buy-whatever-book-you-want attitude when I was a kid.) In part, I wanted to get off the road and post up somewhere for awhile so I could indulge in the aspects of a stationary life, of which not caring about the total weight and space of my possessions, own an herb garden and a nice large french press, was one. But somehow in despite of this I never really accumulated. Herb garden and french press, check, but then that was it. Once a traveler always a traveler I suppose, and sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever stop avoiding a car purchase like the plague.

Long term travel teaches us a plethora of habits and mentalities we carry with us into every day life. Seriously rethinking material possessions was a major one for myself, although I do have daydreams of someday owning a bed AND a couch… *shhh*