If you needed to pack for a trip tomorrow, what would you take? When faced with imminent travel plans like these, many of us choose possessions we know will definitely provide us comfort. A lot of them. There are an infinite number of things you might need, for every possible instance of bad weather or sickness or good times (or bad times).
And yet, ironically, it’s the time and energy we spend carting around all this stuff that always seems to cause the most stress. It can also make us stick out, uncomfortably, from the rest of our surroundings: like a couple of backpackers in Europe with massive packs, eager to see the world while carrying a kitchen sink from America.
Longtime travel writer Rolf Potts ventures overseas with a slightly lighter hand; he only carries a small daypack. He also challenged himself to take this minimalist philosophy further in 2010 by venturing on a 6-week world tour through 12 countries on 5 continents with no baggage at all, his only possessions stuffed into carefully-placed pockets hidden in his clothes. Sound unreasonable? He thinks he packed too much.
Keep reading for his insights into the benefits of minimalist travel and how to apply its principles to living simply, mindfully, and more happily—at home.
What do you take with you when you travel?
I take a few clothes and a few toiletries, plus a smartphone and a charger. If traveling on business I’ll also take a laptop, but everything can be fit into a daypack that fits in an airplane overhead bin. The benefits are huge—I have little to slow me down, little that I have to pack or unpack or store or keep watch over. I am extremely mobile, and I can focus on the people and experiences I find in my travels; I break the ties with all the “stuff” that binds me to home and immerse myself in my new environment. The challenge with the smartphone is balance—using it enough to inform my trip without using it so much that it distracts from my trip.
How can someone relate habits like that to the way they live at home?
The heart of my travel philosophy—and, really, my life philosophy—is that time is your truest form of wealth in life. Too often we tally our wealth in terms of money or possessions, when in fact time and experience is a far more valuable commodity. Abiding by the principles of simplicity can help you live in a more deliberate and time-rich way:
How much of what you own really improves the quality of your life?
Are you buying new things out of necessity or compulsion?
Do the things you own enable you to live more vividly, or do they merely clutter up your life?
Scientific studies have determined that new experiences satisfy our higher-order needs in a way that new possessions cannot—that taking a friend to dinner, for example, brings more lasting happiness than spending that money on a new shirt.
How do you apply philosophy like that to your own home life?
I try to slow down, to seek experiences over possessions, to keep things simple and to not set limits on what can be experienced in a day. Home is a place where habits and routines can make life more efficient, but I try not to let those habits and routines take over my life.
What do you try to improve on?
Balancing my desire to be in the moment with my various professional ambitions. I like work, and it brings me a lot of satisfaction, but it can begin to wear on me if I’m not taking the time to enjoy my day (or parts of my day) in a non-goal oriented manner.
Do you have any other insights into how travel has taught you how to simplify your life?
I think that fear is one of the things that gets in the way of living simply. We think that the comfort and happiness we desire is tied up on owning more, seeking more, desiring more—when in fact the opposite is often the case. Travel is a good way to confront these fears—to strip down your possessions, get away from home habits and realize how simple it is to live fully.
You can only take so many things with you on the road, and you put yourself in a situation where you can experience the world in a transient, non-habitual way. If you travel long enough, this rhythm becomes ritual, and you can incorporate this new attitude into your life at home.
I might add that this kind of simplicity involves cutting back on your addiction to gadgets and online diversions. Often what is cluttering our psychic world at home is our addiction to constant information online and through our smartphones. Knowing how to unplug from all this on the road can remind you how pleasurable it can be to get your information and enjoyment from your immediate surroundings and experiences.