Editor’s Note: This is a post in the series, Simplicity in Action.
“Hey, want to go to India?” my friend Franklin asked me, “Yes. When?” I replied, and that’s how it all started. Ever since I road-tripped around the country with my family when I was 10, my feet kicked up on the dashboard, probing my dad with questions about this and that, my curiosity and fascination with travel has been intense. So the idea of a caution-into-the-wind trip to the other side of the world with one of my best friends sounded great, and eventually evolved into a three month trip through India and Southeast Asia.
During the time leading up to my trip, I was reading a lot of things all across the gamut: Thoreau, George Orwell, blogs, short stories, political magazines, etc. And for whatever reason, ideas of simplicity and minimalism began to take hold of my sensibilities, particularly in terms of my upcoming trip. After much reading and meticulous research, Franklin and I decided we were only going to travel with 20 liter backpacks. (For non-gear nerds, that looks something like the backpack that your 9th grade kid/brother/friend takes to school.) We would bring only what was necessary, and each item that made the final cut into that backpack was chosen because of it’s utility to size/weight ratio (as useful, but as small, as can be).
Our initial rationale behind traveling so minimally was that we wouldn’t be checking a bag at airports. It would be easy to pack everything quickly, and we wouldn’t be bogged down by rocket-pack sized backpacks or big rolling suitcases with tons of clutter. All of these positives proved to be true and immensely valuable. Traveling over an extended period of time can be physically taxing; the more you have to haul along with you, the harder you are making it on your body. And that’s before you factor in sleep deprivation, unexpected illness, the mental exhaustion of navigating foreign territory, etc. Now when I see people with tons of luggage, I wonder “what could you possibly need that requires that much space?”
Even more beneficial than the actual tangible lightness of traveling minimally, though, is the state of mind that comes with it. In general, simplifying your life, particularly ridding yourself of clutter, paves the way for a clearer head-space; stripping down unnecessary junk, furniture, financial commitments, electronic devices, activities, vices, etc. helps clear mental bandwidth, a finite commodity that often times ought to be allocated elsewhere (family, friends, nature, mental/physical health).
While traveling, because the density of memorable experiences is heightened considerably, the benefits of a living in the present, with available mental energy, are more invaluable than ever. The fact that my belongings were minimized (but their utility maximized) helped put me in a space where I had the ability to encounter each moment with awareness and remain open to opportunity. In India and Southeast Asia, places that are far different (and far away) from my prior life experience, it was important to me to be able to remove myself from excess comforts and accessories in order to actually exist in that very experience, in that place, that I may never return to.
As a result, my travels didn’t feel broken up into stops. I didn’t fly one place, hunker down in a hotel, until I was to go to my next destination. It didn’t feel like that. Whether I was hopping a train from Mumbai to Kerala in the southern tip of India; narrowly escaping death by motorbike on the almost 200 kilometers from Saigon to the Mekong Delta in Vietnam; or exploring a night market in Taipei with everything I own on my back because we hadn’t figured out where to stay yet – it was one adventure. It was a cohesive set of moments, uninterrupted by the mental and physical weight of belongings and obligations.