One of the great things about trying something new is the ability to experiment. Minimalism has been an experiment for me in being able to find balance in my life and focus more on experiences and people than on things. One of the more drastic ways in which I engage in this experiment is through travel.
The origin of the word vacation means to break away. Vacations are appealing because they are a respite from our everyday life. When we go on vacation, we have a break from our everyday responsibilities, which includes all our stuff. You only take what you need to survive and you leave all your other belongings at home without having to worry about cleaning or transporting them.
The past few times I have traveled, I have made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of luggage I take with me. To illustrate, perhaps the most extreme example of my tendency to over pack comes when I run a full marathon. I remember a race, maybe 5 or 6 years ago, to which I traveled and had 9 pieces of luggage.
Nine pieces of luggage.
My reasoning in this was: “26.2 miles – what could possibly go wrong?” I packed all the things. Every single bit of running gear I owned I took with me, because I was uncertain of the challenge I was facing and wanted to be prepared. It was like an episode of preppers for the insecure athlete.
I am happy to report that since that time of packing nine pieces of luggage for a full marathon, I have been able to pare down significantly. I flew to Chicago a few years ago for a 4-day trip and took only a backpack and my purse. I had no checked luggage. Given some of the transfers I had to make in certain airports, I was thanking my lucky stars I had no checked baggage to keep track of as well.
Not only did I take only one backpack, but also that bag had room to spare. I was able to take a few gifts for my hosts in that bag along with the essentials I needed for the trip. Before you gasp in shock and exclaim that this is an exercise in self-deprivation, it was nothing of the sort. I did not repeat a single outfit the whole 4 days I was there and even had an outfit for a more formal outing.
Back to running. Carrying nine pieces of luggage is challenging and problematic. It is even harder trying to deal with so much luggage when you have just ran 26.2 miles and your legs are oscillating between feelings of warm Jell-O and leaden concrete. Sometimes, your legs give out, other times they lock stubbornly, but either way, having to contend with nine pieces of luggage in this state is not happening.
I am happy to report that the last time I ran a half marathon; I was able to decrease my luggage count significantly. The last time I ran a half marathon, I had one backpack (the same one I had taken on the Chicago trip), and one cooler on wheels. I always have a cooler on wheels when running a race as I have multiple food allergies and it is helpful for me to have food and snacks on hand in case I have trouble finding food I can eat that won’t kill me right away.
The more challenging concern than packing for a half marathon was packing for a full marathon. The race I just completed I had two pieces of luggage plus the cooler on wheels. I had the same backpack, plus one additional small size boat and tote bag. I consider this to be a significant improvement from nine pieces of luggage. I was able to take everything from the car to the hotel in one trip and had fewer belongings to keep track of. How many times have you left something in a hotel room because you simply had too many things to remember to repack?
I am happy to report that with a backpack, boat & tote, plus the requisite cooler for food allergies, that I had everything I needed to not only be out of town for 3 days but also to run a full marathon. 26.2 miles what can possibly go wrong indeed? I learned that all I can do is prepare the best that I can. In 26.2 miles there are many things out of my control such as weather and course conditions. The only thing I can do is pack for what is reasonably expected and hope for the best.
In streamlining my packing, I have learned to be more mindful of what I am packing. Rolling clothes instead of folding them allows me to fit more. Rolling underclothes and putting them in large Ziploc bags keep them organized, easy to find, and dry. I say dry because I also used this packing method on my last two camping trips, and when you are camping in the middle of nowhere, dry underclothes are tops on the priority list.
I have learned to pack more tops than bottoms. The jeans I wear to travel someplace can be worn again on the trip back. If you do wear the same pair of pants two days in a row, no one is going to care. Even if I do spill something on myself, most places have laundry facilities onsite or nearby. Plus, there is always the old spot clean in the sink method.
When I would pack for a race with nine pieces of luggage, I learned that I was so focused on what could potentially go wrong and ensuring that I was prepared for every scenario that I failed to enjoy the actual experience I was there to have. The best memories are not often the ones where you arrive impeccably dressed and have a mediocre time. The best stories often come from the times when you were so connected with your experience you were having that it didn’t matter what you were wearing or those times when things went so wrong that it was hilarious.
I consider my new methodology of packing to be trial runs for my ultimate dream of being able to backpack through Europe. I have a passport that has never been stamped, and if I ever get the opportunity (read: have the funds) to cross the Atlantic, I want to be sure that I am fully engaged in the experience and not worrying about the luggage I am dragging with me across a continent.
My new method of traveling with simply a backpack (and sometimes the food allergy cooler depending on the scenario) has given me more freedom to be more present in my experiences, more freedom to actually explore new locations, and has gotten me asking harder questions about the state of belongings in my home.
If I can survive for 3 or 4 days with only a backpack, what items in my home are really necessary? What could I get rid of or live without if that magical moment ever came where I had the opportunity to do a large inter-state or cross country move?
Traveling with less is a safe way in which to experiment with living with less in general but also with having a smaller wardrobe specifically. Having a smaller wardrobe means less laundry, less decision fatigue, and less stress in the mornings as I no longer stand in front of a closet with “nothing to wear.”
If you are looking for ways to experiment with simplicity in your life without making a full commitment, then travel may be the option. Think about how much luggage you typically have on a trip and think of ways in which you can cut it down.
I did not go from nine piece of luggage to one backpack overnight. It was a gradual process over the past few years (and marathons) that I worked to cut it down. I went from nine piece of luggage to seven, to five, and on down. At one point, I fit everything into a medium size duffel as my one piece of luggage. Then, I reduced the medium size duffel to a small size duffel, and finally a backpack.
How much freedom would you have while traveling if you could transfer planes or simply come off the plane without having to wait for baggage claim? You just grab your bag and explore the new place where you have landed. There is a lot of freedom in that. You can explore your surroundings immediately without having to check in to a hotel right away or trying to find someplace to store your luggage while you wait for it to be check in time at the hotel.
Let your next trip be an experiment in living with less. This is not about self-deprivation. This is about freedom. What do you really need to survive?