Updated: Jul 27, 2022
The closest thing I've met to a "true" minimalist was a fellow traveler who didn't even have a bag.. he spent his days strolling the beach with just his shorts, shirt and sandals..
Me: "Wait, so that's all you have?"
Him: "Yup! Everything I have is on me.."
Me: "Buuuut... sorry I'm confused.. what do you do..? How do you get around?"
Him: "Oh I just chill on the beach most days, or hang at the hostel... don't really need much, the weather is perfect, I walk most places and rent a scooter if I need to.."
Me: "So you don't have any other clothes? Or shoes..??"
Him: "Nope! Don't need 'em.. I wash my clothes in the shower.. they dry off in a few minutes in this heat.. but most days I'm in my swimsuit all day and don't even wear a shirt..."
And on and on and on...
Hiking? He'd gotten used to hiking in sandals.. (if that's even possible..)
Eating? He made food at the hostel or, more often, ate out..
Passport? Either on him or locked up in a locker..
Phone? Charger? Headphones?! Oh right, he forgot he had a phone, he pulled it out and shook it.. "I usually just leave it at home.."
Showering? Oh... he confessed, he did have a bag, a plastic bag for his toiletries..
I was shocked.. I'd probably spent a thousand dollars on gear in preparation for my six month trip, and here was this guy, living the dream, not worried about a thing.
Granted, not everyone can live as simplistic as he did.. and not every place has consistently nice, year-round weather... but seeing his approach to life and material things was eye-opening; and it got me thinking.. how much stuff do you really need for long-term travel, or even just living?
"Something amazing happens when you stop caring about what people think and stop caring about the things you have.. it's this incredible sense of freedom.."
When you realize you don't actually need anything to be happy, see new places, meet people, or experience something new - all the things most travelers set out to do.
This guy understood a few things I didn't understand prior to long-term travel..
1) Nobody cares what you're wearing or how you look - you're in a different country - whether it's by your clothes or your complexion or the constant look of confusion on your face - you already stand out.
2) Everything you need is available for purchase - often for very cheap - so yes, you could hop on a plane right now, with just your passport and a bank card.. it's really that simple.
3) Almost every place you visit will have electricity, running water, food, shelter, clothing, etc.. the basic necessities are universal - this may sound obvious, but people have a tendency to pack for "what if" situations, and it's almost entirely unnecessary.
4) Especially in regards to long-term travel, what you pack just doesn't matter that much - the contents of your bag will change, the clothes you bring will wear out, the sandals you bought will get lost, that life-saving portable charger will get soaked and die; it doesn't matter - when you're traveling long-term - the less you pack and the less you've invested in clothes/tools/gear; the better off you'll feel when you have to replace it.
I don't share this to say "extreme" minimalism is the ideal way to travel. I wouldn't expect many, or anyone, to hop on a plane to the nearest tropical island with no bag, no plans and nothing but a passport.. but you could, if you wanted to... that's how little you actually need, and it took - at least for me - seeing it in person to fully wrap my head around it.
And while I'd rather keep a small bag with a few useful items versus no bag at all, it's nice to know what's possible, with the right mindset and the right environment.
Keep Reading: Check out What IS Minimalist Travel? for a personal and philosophical take on the definition of minimalist travel; The Benefits of Minimalist Travel for a comprehensive list of the benefits of minimalist travel or Is Minimalist Travel Right For You? for a list of questions to ask yourself if you're considering minimalist travel.
And as always, happy travels.
Note: After my return, I started researching "no bag" travel and found a few noteworthy links..