Since Siu On came into my life I’ve made a conscious effort to reduce the amount of stuff I own and mindlessly spend my hard earned money on. Siu On has always been on the minimalist side of my chronic hoarder fence, and as we’d talk about trying out long term travel in the beginning of our relationship, it became clear that I had to do something about my inability to stop accumulating things before, during and after our travels. Looking back over our various travel experiences (including our six month around the world and our five months vanlife stint across Australia), I’ve noticed how far I’ve come to being content with owning less, and how those changes has impacted the way that I now live and travel. Travelling with and owning less stuff has made my own travels a richer and lighter experience, and they’re changes that anyone can apply to their own travel plans.
Start at home
1. Reduce your belongings
I’m sure you already know that it takes a lot longer to create a habit than it does to break one, so to give yourself a fighting chance to succeed as a minimalist traveler you should start well in advance of your holiday.
Start small by going through a drawer or section of your home or a room, and sort through items into three piles; a bin, donate or keep pile. I would repeat this process over a few weeks until I got my ‘keep pile’ down to a level that Siu was happy with, but if you don’t have a minimalist partner to help guide you, you can set a reduction target such as a percentage of your keep pile that is realistic and comfortable for you. I started with a 20% reduction in my ‘keep pile’ and would go multiple rounds of reducing by 20% until I got the thumbs up from Siu.
2. Learn to dress with less
As I slowly reduced my belongings I set myself a challenge to wear a combination of clothing into as many different outfits as I could, as a way to see what I wore the most and could wear in different combinations. As the keep pile got smaller this became more and more challenging, but in the end I had whittled my wardrobe down to clothes I knew I was comfortable in, and could wear all the time.
A side bonus from that exercise was that I learned a lot about my own personal style preferences, from the colours I liked the most, the kinds of materials that felt good on and even the fit of items that were most flattering on me.
3. Pack smarter and with purpose
I’m a very organised person, and with minimalism action has come mindfulness practice in the way that I consume and use. Packing isn’t a throw anything and everything into a bag the night before exercise, it’s a methodical and thought out process where I take into consideration the place I’m going to, and the most likely activities that I’ll be engaging in to dictate the items that make it into my bag.
I recommend sticking to a simple colour palate where everything can be mixed and matched, dressed up or down. For example, I like wearing black and always pack a lot of dark coloured clothing because I’m comfortable in it, black goes with anything and it hides dirt. I also pack a lot of multifunctional clothing to save on space, such as bringing a dress that I can also wear as a top, or shorts that double as swimming shorts.
On the road
4. Use a smaller pack
I used to have a really big oversized backpack which always hurt my back. Since I’ve downgraded the overall size of my backpack it’s forced me to pack better and is much kinder on my back.
Knowing what I can fit in my pack means that I can choose what goes into it wisely, and has made it easier for me to say no to buying things. The only time I’ve bought something on the last threes years worth of trips were to replace items that I had lost, broken or actually needed; and to be honest, nine times out of ten I didn’t replace the item because I valued having the extra room and less kilos in my pack. .. that and Siu On flat out refuses to allow me to put anything in his backpack!
5. Travel to see and do, not buy and over spend
If you wanted to shop you could do that at home and online. Unless your purpose was to go on a shopping trip and you’ve brought an empty suitcase with you and paid for the additional luggage on the airline, then shop til your hearts content! However, that’s not what this article is about.
Do you want to know what I did with most of my travel souvenir from my early twenties? They got binned and all I could think about was if I hadn’t spent so much money on crappy trinkets, I could have travelled for a little longer. My two big pieces of advice is to avoid the gift shops and don’t tell people that you’ll bring them back something. Your family and friends should be content that you come back in one piece, alive and well. That in itself is an awesome gift I think.
6. Find a focus for your trip
Choose an aspect of your trip or destination and focus on that. It could be that you want to learn about a culture, practice a language you’re learning, or you may want to improve on a skill you have; having a focus can help steer you away from the pangs of spending money and time looking for things to buy. I am always trying to improve my travel photography skills and get so caught up in photographing and observing things that I don’t bother with going shopping, as I choose to photograph the shop or market scene instead of browsing it.
Back at home
7. Reflect on how you did
Spending time to reflect at the end of the trip to assess how I did has helped me to solidify my resolve for the next trip. As I unpack I put into a pile the things that I rarely or didn’t use at all, and seeing how much lighter I could have gone makes a big impact. It gives me a better idea on what I actually need, and I always remember for the next trip to be more confident with leaving things at home. If in doubt, set aside some money for your future trip in case you genuinely need to purchase something to combat that ‘just incase I this’ fear.
8. Have a minimalist travel goal
I personally have a long term goal to travel with a carry on back pack. This will save me money when travelling with a budget airline as I don’t have to pay extra for luggage, and also means that I’ll be able to skip airline baggage queues and get to my destination faster. I am alway inspiring myself by reading about and following others that have demonstrated that minimalist travel can be done, and it helps me to do better with each trip.
Need some inspiration?
There’s tonnes of resources and DIY minimalist travel hack articles out on the internet, but here are some of my favourites to get you started.
- The Craziest OK Cupid Date was one of the earlier minimalist travel articles that I read which really inspired me to change the way I travel. It sounded so crazy but crazy enough to be doable, and though I’m yet to get to this level of minimalist travel, I’m confident that I will one day.
- The Minimalists Podcast on Travel talks about many of their own travel experiences and offer lots of tips to make minimalist travel easy and enjoyable.
- Man vs. Bag: Minimalist Packing for Maximum Flexibility has a great weather matrix which I have found helpful when traveling across seasons.
Other tips and tricks
- Set money aside to send things home when you no longer need them, or give them away. I’ve given clothing away in hostels before, as well as paid to ship heavy snow gear home mid trip to save room.
- Try to travel in the same season to reduce the amount of clothes. During summer and spring you can get away with a light wardrobe, whereas during winter and autumn, a good coat means you can wear the same jumper and shirt underneath for weeks on end and no one would notice.
- Swap clothes with your travel partner. Although Siu hates me wearing his clothes, I still borrow a shirt here and there from him when I’m desperate.
If you’re already travelling the world on less than 10 kg of luggage I’d love to hear some of your pearls of wisdom, so leave a comment on our Facebook page! And if you want to follow along with our adventures then find us on Instagram (search for @thetravelleur) for more.
Happy travels everyone!
Jelena and Siu On
Photography by Siu On Auyeung and me! Jelena Stipanicev.