Once upon a time I had a 1500 square foot, three bedroom, two bath house with front and back yards, complete with furnishings from top to bottom and front to back. I had subscription to Costco, a huge grocery chain that sells in bulk; hence, I bought in bulk every week. But I lived alone. I had the house for 10 years. “Had.” I sold it.
In those 10 years, I spent majority of my time hiking, backpacking, trekking and whatever else one does with their feet in the outdoors. During perhaps the most defining moment of my life, I summoned up the courage to leave my career for a year, my house in Washington, D.C. and the comfort of my daily routines and obligations, so to speak.
I lived life on the road. Specifically, I trekked in the mountains of Asia and Europe, mostly by myself but also with others as the opportunity arose. My home then was all confined within a 65 liter Golite backpack plus another compressible day pack. Both packs carried mostly hiking gear that allowed me to trek in all weather conditions, in addition to a few other personal items. For the record, this was the most minimalist I had ever been in my life, but the lessons learned from the experience are too many to count. However, here are some of the lessons worth highlighting:
I learned from this experience that minimalism means what we truly need in life doesn’t take much space as we are conditioned to think from a young age.
I realized that owning a car is unnecessary. During the one year that I was away, I relied only on public transportation and moved around as a local. In contrast to the typical driving life in D.C. where you find yourself stuck in heavy traffic, getting around like a local was a refreshing change. In fact, I found myself much more productive sitting in buses, trains, boats, jeepneys, tricycles, scooters, water buffaloes, camels, and horses, to name a few of the local transports. The time in transit allowed me to reflect and clear thoughts in my head without the stressors of dealing with the chaotic nature of road traffic. Looking back, these were special moments; hence, I never took any of it for granted. My car, a Toyota Echo, is now 15 years old, which I only use on weekends. When it stops running, my replacement will be the local transports just like when I’m on my travels – an extra routine to add to my workout. Same goes for one’s shelter. Living in tents, cabins, huts and hostels taught me we don’t need much space if our goal is to experience life as much as possible outside the confines of the four corners of any room.
I learned from experience that we don’t need to overindulge in the usage of certain products, some of which can last a while if we use them minimally.
For instance, washing your hair daily is really unnecessary. Putting on make up became less of a needed routine because on my travels, I did mostly trekking so there was no point wasting time and energy on that. Likewise, minimalism creeps in when it comes to the usage of clothing. How many times can you wear your hiking pants before washing, you ask? A lot, actually. But if you wish to be sort of scientific about it, you can often answer that by doing the “smell” test. Generally, outer layers can wait a while before they get washed. The undergarments, however, will need washing in a much lesser time period. The usage of clothing changes drastically when on the road compared to being in one place. Keep in mind though that if you change clothes everyday, the inconvenient repercussion would be having to do the washing more frequently than necessary, which for some can be a burdensome task.
I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road can transform our daily routines into their simple and basic forms.
For one, you’ll have to learn how to wash clothes by hand. As much as you’d like to think that in this day and age most cities will have machines you can use to wash your clothes, think again. Some cities may only have washers accessible. In Chengdu, China, the hostel I stayed in had washing machines but drying clothes required sunlight and good drying weather. As a hiker, you’ll have to shift your thinking completely as the small towns along the way to the trail heads are unlikely to have any washers or dryers. At times, you maybe lucky to have washing service at the hostel or guesthouse you’re staying at but AT ALL TIMES be prepared to wash your clothes by hand – your hands to be exact. If you haven’t tried washing clothes by hands, I urge you to give it a try. It’s not as bad as you think. I honestly can say that washing clothes by hand can be such a meditative experience. If you love nature enough, washing clothes by hand is like being close to nature…living in the moment of feeling the water and the suds touch your skin as you smell the fragrance of the soap. Sure, it does require a little bit of imagination but you get my drift. You may not like to hear this but when it comes to bathing in countries like the Philippines, you will need to manage without hot showers and shower heads. You’ll be using a bucket of cold water instead to wash yourself. You may have to eat with your hands in Cambodia or Mongolia in lieu of utensils. Again, approach it as meditation like I do because going back to basics like this can provide you with the rare chance of experiencing humility at its purest form. These are the smallest of things that can truly leave a mark in a traveler’s life.
I learned from the experience that minimalism on the road entails minimizing our friendships, only to create more ties along the way.
I gained, and then quickly I lost the same people I met just days ago. This taught me to love without being attached, which was a difficult task to do repeatedly. I had to learn to say “hello” to a stranger who became my friend, but soon enough he or she also became my ex-traveling companion – a process that can happen in as little as 24 hours. But letting go only means paving a new path for another “hello” and a newfound friend to open up the upcoming new chapter on the road. You realize, however, that you hardly lost anyone. You actually have been gaining all along – the people and the memories. What started out as such an emotional process overtime became an enlightening one for me where I learned first-hand about trusting in the flow of life.
I learned from the experience that minimalism entails indulging in experiences, not things.
It’s true. There are many things that are free in life – and they’re what we call experience. While in the town of Pokhara in Nepal, I had the option to go souvenir shopping or do a day hike nearby for free. I chose to experience life, and hike. This led me to discover the historic village of Ghandruk where I spent a night at a guesthouse and indulged in the views of the Himalayas. Similarly, in Croatia, I decided to go hiking in the Velebit mountains instead of spending the rest of my time in the cities. Hiking in Velebit was free and when I reached my hut for the night, a local family was having a family reunion which entailed tons of food and drinks. I was invited and included in the merriment which allowed me to try authentic local dishes while getting to know more about Croatia and the locals’ daily lives. All that experience cost me nothing. Had I stayed in the touristy areas and focused on shopping, I would have missed out on these memories I gathered from hiking – the part of my travels that truly mattered the most.
I learned from the experience that minimalism affords you joy from simplicity.
Because I was on a tight budget from the start, I managed to stay in hostels when in the cities and tents or huts in the mountains. I rarely stayed in hotels, which in my view deprives one of the realness of the experience. Staying in hostels provided the opportunity to meet people from various parts of the world. Oftentimes, they became my travel or trail companions for days or weeks, which added meaning to the experience. After days of trekking together, we were no longer just friends. To me, they were my family. Likewise, the art of hiking is simple. Whether you walk solo or with others, you immerse yourself in the lure of nature with its snow-capped peaks, emerald green lakes and hidden valleys. Walking in the mountains bestows upon you a world filled with nature’s masterpieces, simple and yet extravagantly beautiful.
I learned from the experience that minimalism allows me to appreciate the beauty of solitude.
When it comes to numbers and company on the road, we gravitate away from “solo.” Don’t. When you get a chance to be alone on the road, don’t hesitate to give it a try. You may discover the power of being “one” and the beauty of your own companionship. Seriously. Don’t let solitude intimidate you. When my journey ended, I brought home with me a whole new set of myself – someone I truly got to know and learned to fully love in the end.
Falling in love with yourself starts with the moments you have in solitude. Take advantage of it when you’re on travels or better yet, when you’re in the mountains. I found nature combined with solitude as one of the most organic and powerful experiences to be had in our lifetimes. Don’t pass up the opportunity to trudge on that path towards self-discovery and self-love. If you’re venturing out for the first time as a solo traveler or trekker, see this article for tips, 8 Ways (7 Really) to Mentally Prepare for A Solo Adventure.
While I minimized many aspects as noted above when I was on the road, ironically this led to an increase of joy and abundance in my life. That increase included my circle of friends, the trails I have trekked, the mountain peaks I experienced first-hand, the number of stamps on my passport, the happy memories with fellow humans and even furry friends (I hiked with a dog and spent time with cats), and best of all, the love and gratitude I had within me.
Indeed, minimalism brought an overflow of love in my life, which brings me to the present. I sold my first house almost a year ago now and traded that with a 400 square foot studio. People wonder if I’ve lost my mind to transition back to a studio after owning a house for a decade. To date, I’ve not experienced even an ounce of regret over my decision. You see, my studio holds everything that is important to me now- my furry friends, my trekking and travel gear, my passport, my laptop, among a few other items. Other than that, everything that matters and holds meaning in my life is tucked away safely and kept close to my heart, which suits me well knowing that I’ll never have to worry about losing any of it.
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