What I’ve learnt about minimalism in travelling

Photo by Christian Chen on Unsplash

I laid everything I own on the floor. Shit, that’s a surprising amount of stuff. As I walked through the clothing strewn on the floor, I thought to myself, why did I ever pack so much shit?

I’ve always packed light. At least I thought I did.

I’m the carry-on kind of girl. Nothing that exceeds 10kg and whatever dimensions of the airline I’m flying with. There’s also my observed competition between backpackers. I always felt irrationally proud of how little I pack because it felt good to be called out.

But the problem was, I always pack my bags to the brim. I carried a full 40-litre backpack for my two-week trip to Thailand. For my ongoing Euro trip, I packed a full 55-litre backpack. About 4 months in, the seams of my backpack literally burst. That was a wake up call. Even though people have been telling me that I don’t have a lot of stuff, I’ve somehow managed to have too much stuff.

I put my sandals in the box. I throw in two books that I’ve been meaning to read but never got around to it. Then there’s the maps that I’ve painstakingly collected throughout my 5 months on the road.

I repack all my stuff into my bag and had a feel of the weight. I took everything out again and stared at them again. As an afterthought, I tossed my summer clothes and swimsuit into the box. Then I repacked again.

It’s liberating when all that extra weight was shed off my shoulders, both in the physical and metaphorical sense. There were instances where my baggage stopped me from doing things. I skipped Hunedoara castle (one of the biggest in the region) because I couldn’t bear carrying my backpack up the castle. Many times, I’ve got lost with my backpack weighing down on my shoulders. I couldn’t enjoy the journey because it hurt too much. I lose my curiosity when this happens; I just want to get to wherever I was going.

I’ve gained and ditched a few things. Instead of carrying 3 coats, I left one in Arad, Romania, gave one to my sister in Ireland, and stuck with one. Instead of carrying 9 pairs of underwear, I threw away 4. I bought some jumpers and t-shirts but threw away old sentimental ones. I threw away the remaining of a body lotion that I bought in Budapest because I would never finish it.

It seemed like such a waste to throw things away, especially if they mean something to you. But it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t make me happy to wear those clothes anymore — it made me feel frumpy and unkempt.

Travelling with a limited capacity made me realise that there has to be value to whatever you’re bringing with you. I sold my iPad but took my sister’s old laptop with me. It was heavier, but it was more useful for me. I barely used my iPad when I was travelling. Now, I write from my laptop almost everyday.

It’s a mentality that I try to apply to my life nowadays. Minimalism doesn’t only mean living with as little as possible. It also means living with as little as possible with as much value as possible. It’s okay to add additional weight if it’s going to bring in more value than it weighs.

No matter how hard I wished, I couldn’t add 10 litres to my bag. Limited space is limited space. I’ve got to sacrifice some space to carry things that makes me happy. It puts into perspective what’s important to you. I had a scarf from my mother that I rarely wear, but I have it in my bag anyway because it reminds me of home. In exchange, I got rid of two pairs of boxer shorts. Even though the boxer shorts cost more, snuggling with my mum’s homemade scarf made me far happier than those shorts ever would.

As I sealed the box with the excess from my backpack, I sighed in relief. It was a hard lesson to learn, especially when I care about a lot of the stuff I had packed away. But I knew that it was necessary. I don’t need two pairs of shoes. I don’t need three dresses that I don’t wear. I need peace of mind. I could achieve so much more without the extra weight.

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