It is futile to do with more things that which can be done with fewer.
William of Occam (1288-1348)
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944)
“Where’s your luggage?” asked me the Israeli security officer. “That’s all I got” – I replied, a little bit stressed of the very real possibility of missing my flight. I received a lot of confused looks in my last 7 months in the far east, and I wish I’d take a picture of every person I had told that I’m traveling with basically nothing.
I still get emails from plenty of continents, all from people I stumbled upon on my journey, thanking me for inspiring them to minimize their travel belongings. Minimalism is truly a privilege of the rich, and I believe in it with all my heart. Or as my fellow Filipino friend Nolan said to me: “It’s not about your clothes – it’s about your heart”.
In October 2011, whilst peacefully living in the Philippines, this was the status proudly standing out on my Facebook wall:
Now, that’s Hebrew which you probably don’t understand, but what I actually said is:
“Four months already with a single shirt and a single pair of pants, and life was never richer. Every day, I keep thinking of the enormous amount of trash being accumulated by the human race. Instead of a house that will shackle me down, a car which I’ll worry lest scratched, clothes which I’ll have to select every morning and waste valuable time, and a cell phone that’ll consume my health and patience — I’ll take life, and even a smile or two.”
We all know the somewhat-classic look of ‘travelers’ abroad. Bracelets on their arms, a Lonely Planet on their hand, and a huge NASA rocket on their back. Luggage, they call it. I find it much crazier traveling with all that ‘equipment’ than traveling with absolutely nothing. What the heck do they put inside?
Back then in the Israeli army, I got the fetid privilege of spending months in the desert, and Mother Hummus be my witness – neither I nor my fellow soldiers ever carried that amount of luggage that I see harnessed on the back of innocent travelers all around the world.
This joke becomes funnier when I prove them how better equipped I am, while still carrying around twenty kilograms less. You can only wear a single set of clothes in any given moment, and I’m more on the side of maximizing the efficiency of this one set, and forget about the rest. Less is more.
Stick to the golden rules of travel – if something doesn’t help you – it hinders you. Additional clothes will require additional laundry, carrying and caring. Not even once in the last 7 months did I regret not taking more. Don’t get me wrong though – I don’t recommend on stinking like a dog (Army style), but I do recommend equipping yourself smartly and efficiently.
I got to think a lot about the whole concept of minimalism during my travel, a concept which was fueled a lot by the writings of philosopher David Henry Thoreau. It might be a little suspicious to be attending the airport carrying nothing, but you’ll feel as free and mobile as a bird on any given moment. As Thoreau said, I believe the true cost of things is not the money you spend for it, but the time, effort and life you have to spend later on worrying, cleaning and deciding what to do with it.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
I have given my entire wardrobe to charity before I left Israel. All my materialistic life during my travel squeezed down to a shirt, one pair of pants, two pairs of underwear, and a laptop from which I was building a money-making online machine. Today I can safely say that minimalism feels like a life improvement (for me) compared to the materialistic alternative.
It’s amazing how quickly a ‘thing’ loses its value and meaning once you forget it ever existed. That said, I’ll have to admit that I was a little bit emotional about letters from the past and just couldn’t get rid of them. Sissy me.
Benefits of Traveling Light
- You won’t have to wait at the airport for your bag, or even worse – get frustrated when its lost (it happens more than you think). Generally speaking, going on and off the airport will go flash-fast, and you’ll sometimes even get the privilege of ordering a ‘carry on luggage only’ cheaper flight ticket. Yay.
- Flexibility and comfort. You won’t have to waste time worrying, making laundries, having back aches, tiredness, and finding a place to accommodate your luggage each time you want to go somewhere. Traveling light, you’ll be able to take your ‘stuff’ anywhere you go, without ever thinking about all of the above. That, my friends – is what I call total freedom. You’ll love it. You’ll be ready for any adventure within minutes if not seconds.
- You’ll merge better with the local culture. There is some sort of a disrespect in coming all the way to a far-away land (and usually poor as well) and look like a walking spaceship from the western world. That’s also the reason why I never carry a big-ass DSLR, and settle on something more modest. If you come with minimum gear, you won’t look like the average tourist screaming ‘Rip me off!’. You’ll look more like an expat or something.
- You simply don’t need more. I give you my word. Cyril Northcote Parkinson was known for his disrespect for the lack of efficiency of the human race to manage its resources. he was the one to come up with ‘Parkinson’s Law’, suggesting that ‘the work expands in such a way that it takes away all the available resources for its completion’. Meaning, we have this weird natural tendency to stretch the amount of time we have to put on a task for completing it, to the amount of time that is actually available to us. Here’s a daily example.
Your boss gives you a task to complete in 8 hours. Your natural tendency will be to complete it in 8 hours. If that same boss tells you to finish it in two hours and go home – it’s very likely that you’ll find a way to finish it in two hours. Humans are just not efficient at managing resources, and it means something to us travelers, too. No matter what size of a bag you’ll take – you’ll always find something to fill it up with. The things you didn’t take – most chances are that you won’t even notice you need them (cause you probably don’t). Humans are a funny creature.
How Did I Circle South East Asia With Close to Zero Carry On Luggage?
So, as I said – you want to gear up intelligently. You’re going to be carrying very few items, and it’s important to make sure these are as efficient as possible. One of the mistakes I see travelers doing over and over, is the choice of fabric. The vast majority of people comes with gazillion cotton clothes, some even show up with fancy ‘special traveling gear’ made out of stinky synthetic fabrics.
Cotton is devil. It’s a very bad fabric for almost any weather. You want something that will wick sweat away quickly and efficiently, which cotton falls badly at. You want something that will keep your body warm when it’s cold outside, and something that will dry very quickly when wet. Cotton is a bad choice for each one of the three, let alone all of them. Every Israeli soldier you’ll meet can tell you how bad cotton performs under training – it stinks, feels very ‘sweaty’, and doesn’t keep your body warm in winter (Hypothermia, anyone?).
The answer is not as common as you’d imagine: Wool. Wool has antibacterial properties by its nature, which gives you the privilege of not washing it every day, without it stinking. I usually wash my wool shirts once every few days of travel. They just don’t stink. It also dries up quickly and wicks sweat away effectively, and regulates body temperature very effectively. The only disadvantage is the price, but you get what you pay for, right? For me, it was well worth it, since that’s the only shirt I was traveling with for quite a long time.
Special thanks to Tynan who helped a lot with the travel clothing and trip packing list. He’s the one who introduced me to some of the travel wear items below.
Minimalist Travel Gear Packing List
Basic Merino Wool Layer: Icebreaker Bodyfit-150 Atlas S/S
Icebreaker is a brand from New Zealand specializing in 100% merino wool clothing. Merino, if you’re wondering, is a type of sheep from the mountains of New Zealand. I’ve made a little online research before going on my journey, and Icebreaker looked like the leading brand when it comes to wool. The shirt is a little bit expensive and cost me around 40 to 50 US dollars.
In fact, that’s the only shirt I was traveling with for the first four months, and it was really more than enough for me. I sent it back to Icebreaker for a replacement (awesome service, they have) and continued with a cotton tank-top I received as a gift from a fellow Filipino dude of mine from a village I was living in. The difference in ‘aroma’ was very noticeable.
At first, I used to wash it every day, but quickly discovered through trial and error that it’s not necessary and moved to about once every 4 or 5 days, even though I was sweating a lot in it. This shirt’s a wonder, and every time I was inside a frozen bus/train/plane – I felt grateful again for buying this shirt.
I also went for the Icebreaker brand since it was very important for me to buy ‘ethical’ wool. Icebreaker are very transparent when it comes to the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of the company, and you’ll even get a green ‘baa-code’ with every product, with which you can source the wool farm location and see videos from there.
It’s the only shirt you’ll ever need. Guaranteed.
Buy either from Icebreaker itself or from Amazon.
Pants: Brushed Nylon or Wool (If you can find it)
I personally used a basic pair of convertible travel pants by Wildcat, an Israeli brand. They were very cheap, good-looking and effective at the beginning of the journey. The smell-difference between them and the wool shirt became very noticeable, which is why I’d recommend trying to find some sort of a wool pair of pants. It’s pretty rare to find good-looking ones, as the vast majority of them will make you look like a baron from the seventeenth century.
If you cant’ find any wool pants, I’d recommend going for brushed-nylon pants, just like me. Sweating is more of a problem in the upper body region, and the merino wool shirt takes care of that. It’s less of a problem in your legs though, but still.
I also highly recommend buying a pair of pants with an internal pocket where you can safely keep your money and credit card. This is the best way to take money abroad. If you don’t find any – you can visit a local tailor and do it cheaply.
There are loads of brushed-nylon pants on Amazon.
Underwear: ExOfficio Give N’ Go Briefs or Icebreaker Merino Wool Briefs
I personally used two pairs of ExOfficio undies, and I’m very, very satisfied with them. I bought them in Israel, and they cost me around $20 each. Well worth it if you ask me. However, I’ll be curious to try Icebreaker merino wool briefs as well, I bet they will perform just as good as their shirts, and my shirt always dried up quicker than the ExOfficios.
ExOfficio briefs wick sweat away very effectively and don’t smell nearly as bad as the regular undies. They are also the most comfortable undies I’ve ever put. That said, I’d still try Icebreaker and see how they compare.
For those of you prone to chaffing, I recommend going for the boxers version to minimize rubbing.
Towel: MSR PackTowl Ultralite
This thing is beyond amazing. This towel is so tiny that you can easily put it inside any pocket, and is so effective that I was using it even in my own home instead of the regular heavy classic towels we all know. I let my sister use it too when she was in army, and she called me one day, extremely shocked by the fact that she’s just finished a shower, used the towel, hung it outside, went to the Shequem (Hebrew word for a small store of daily groceries inside military bases), and found the towel completely dry when she came back after 8 minutes. Yes, EIGHT.
You can buy the towel from amazon, and I really recommend going for the L or XL sizes, as the sizes are really small for some reason. Amazing towel. Highly, highly recommended.
By the way, I lost the towel somewhere in Cambodia and continued the journey without it. Remember ‘Parkinson’s Law’ we were talking about earlier? That’s exactly what happened. Once I lost the towel, I never felt the need for it again. Somehow, I always found a way to dry myself (towels from the guesthouses or people I was staying with, or just shaking myself like a wet dog under the ceilings full of Asian gecko lizards). I used a number of microfiber towels before, and MSR is by far the most effective yet lightest one. Get it.
Footwear: XeroShoes Huaraches
The most amazing ‘footwear’ I have ever worn. I have been exposed to the science behind barefoot running last year, and it only made my feelings stronger. What feelings, you’re asking? I always found it pretty reasonable for humans to walk, run and jump barefoot. That’s how we all evolved, right?
The huaraches are the traditional sandals of the Mexican Tarahumara tribe, and the XeroShoes are a modern take of them by Steven Sashen. The original ones were made out of a thin leather or rubber sole that was tied to the foot with similar materials.
Say hello to the XeroShoes Huaraches. This ‘shoe’ allows you to keep the natural functionality of the human foot, while still providing protection from ‘modern things’ like broken glass and similar stuff. I personally prefer running completely barefoot (usually in the beach), but would definitely consider the huaraches if I’d run on asphalt or rocky terrains.
Even more, these sandals are totally cool. I had a lot of curious faces looking at them in the last year. I highly recommend them for the health of your foot. When you walk, jog or run with ‘regular’ shoes – you ‘heel-strike’ the ground first, which causes a bad, bad impact on your posterior chain (Your back!). When you’re barefoot (or practically barefoot, huaraches-style) – the ‘ball’ part of the foot touches the land first, acting as a kind of a natural shock absorber . Embrace evolution, shoes companies be mad.
Not only that, but your foot will have more ‘air to breath’. and you’ll minimize your chance to develop bacteria on your foot nails, something that is usually caused by the moisture and darkness inside a closed shoe. Your foot is also ‘spread properly’ with the Huaraches, allowing your foot to have its natural grip, with the proper space between each toe – unlike a regular shoe that traps them all inside.
As I wrote in Xero Shoes review, I felt a little illuminated when I lived with the Pounongs in the Khmer mountains for a few days and noticed how different their feet were compared to the western ones. Much stronger-gripping, wide-spread and overall healthy looking. These were barefoot dudes out there. That’s right, shoes hinder your foot development from an early age.
Anyway, get those Huaraches while you can. They’re healthy, cool and affordable footwear, and I never looked back. Worth every penny. If you’re going somewhere too cold for sandals, try buying special merino-wool socks for the huaraches or just buy some winter-friendly barefoot shoes/boots. I never tried Terra Plana, but many people recommend them.
Deodorant: Crystal Stone Aluminum-Free Deodorant or Baking Soda
In other words: Potassium Alum. This natural salt mineral will kill every god-damn aroma-causing bateria in your underarm or any other area of the body. Very effective, and non-dangerous (unlike the regular anti-perspiration ones). Also, it doesn’t leave any strange stains on your clothes, which is a huge plus.
Keep in mind that two kinds of crystal stone deodorants are sold: Potassium Alum and Ammonium Alum. Potassium is the natural form, whereas Ammoniom is the synthetic one, which seems to be less effective according to online rumors.
You can also go for baking soda instead. I’ve used it in the first two weeks of my journey and it worked like a charm as well. The only issue is that it is a bit messy compared to the stone, but a lot lighter as well on the other hand. Both will work.
Waterproof Fenix LD01 Flashlight
I’ve read and heard a lot about Fenix. They are known for their awesome ratio of light-power to size. I was looking for a flashlight that will easily fit my pocket and the Fenix LD01 was perfect. The elite police deparment in Israel use Fenix as well, by the way. They’re super sturdy, reliable, powerful, waterproof and very effective for their size.
I thanked myself a thousand times for buying it when I encountered the very common blackouts in South East Asia. It’s not nice walking alone in the darkness of a deserted Cambodian ally. Fenix be your savior.
Titanic Revisited: FOX40 Safety Whistle
Whistle to the bus. Whistle to your french friends after you lost them in the Khmer darkness in the middle of sneaking to the Angkorian temples. Make Macaque monkeys run away when you’re alone in caves. Whistle for help when your ship sank, à la Titanic. Whistle when you’re stuck in the toilet. I’ve done it all, there are many uses to carrying a whistle, and FOX40 is the crème de la crème of safety whistles. The’re high-pitched noisy bastards that might save your life one day.
The GoToob is essentially a small silicon container for liquids. We all know the frustrating feeling that accompanies a random look at your bag, noticing that the whole shampoo bottle is open and leaking all over our clothes. That’s exactly what GoToob comes to prevent. This bottle literally seals the liquids, and is made out of a substance that doesn’t react chemically with other common substances you might be using. You can even ‘stick’ it on the wall using its vacuum holder. Highly recommended if you got some liquids to take care of.
I have used these bottles to accomodate the soap I was using – Dr. Bronner Magic Soap All-In-One. That’s the best soup you’ll ever use. It’s organic and contains only natural plant-based substances (without the industrial chemicals and stuff), and you can use it for 18 different purposes. The bottles and labels are made out of recycled materials, and the Broner family itself is proud to be a part of the Fair Trade supporters worldwide. Highly recommend this soap, it’s so concentrated that you can make it last for ages. One droplet is enough for a shower.
Travel Camera: Olympus XZ-1
I’ve already stated why I hate traveling with big DSLRs. They’re heavy, clumsy, and makes you stand out like a sore thumb and look way above the poor locals. I have researched the subject a lot before I ventured out to Asia, and the Olympus XZ1 seemed like the most solid choice for a camera. Its image quality was the closest I could find to a DSLR back then (in the ‘compact camera’ family), although it’s quite large for a compact (275 grams).
It’s image quality is beyond AMAZING, it’s aperture stays at 1.8 (!!!) to 2.5 at a focal length of 120mm approximately. A-m-a-z-i-n-g. The size is the only issue (still pretty portable though). I’d also like to thank Jeff Sarris from Spyr Media for taking the time and helping me out with my neverending emails. Thanks, Jeff!
UPDATE 2013: I no longer use the Olympus. Fortunately for us travelers, Sony came up with the INSANE RX-100. The technology is an absolute breakthrough, and will let you take DSLR-like quality photos in a camera the size of a very small compact. It’s much smaller than the Olympus and the quality is much closer to DSLR. You can buy it here. It will blow your mind.
Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
Confucius (551-479 BC)
Yep, that’s about it. All of the above equipment perfectly fits my pants pockets. No need for neither a bag nor a vest. I haven’t listed the laptop I was carrying (for which I tailored a special carrying sack in Cambodia), but I highly recommend going without a laptop if you don’t need one. If you’re an author or writer, like me, a laptop is very useful though.
I also had a small foldable toothbrush and some toothpaste, of course. And also carried a Light My Fire Spork which wasn’t worth its size.
What Happens When It’s Cold?
If you’re traveling in tropical or other hot regions (Middle east?), there’s definitely no need for anything else. If, however, you plan to go to Iceland or something – you’ll need a waterproof windbreaking layer. Check out the amazing Marmot windbreakers for that. They’re very effective and lightweight, but expensive as well. You may also want to consider a layer of fleece between the windbreaker and the basic Icebreaker shirt. Regarding shoes, try to look for closed barefoot footwear, like Terra Plana.
What About a Smartphone?
One more thing – today I understand the major benefits of carrying a smartphone when traveling. Even though I never had one, I’ll surely buy one soon, and I recommend you pick one too for your travels. Here’s why:
You can shove in a translation application inside this little bastard, as well as books or travel guides if you’re into that, and even a log for your workouts/diet diving/vaccines or whatever you’re tracking. Include an alarm clock, some music, maps, GPS, Skype, train and bus times, flight search engines and statistics applications for webmasters (Google Analytics, etc), and you’ve got the most powerful device you could ever ask for.
You’ll be able to log in the internet quickly (without unpacking your clumsy laptop), and write ideas and notes whenever you feel like it, instead of carrying a pen and paper which pack larger than a smartphone only by themselves. See where I’m going?
You can also use the smartphone camera if the quality is enough for you. One little super-powerful device, and that’s without even talking about the ability to shove in a local SIM card wherever you are.
Update, September 2013: I found the PERFECT smartphone for traveling, and yeah – it’s waterproof. Read my new Sony Xperia ZR review to understand why it’s so awesome for the Mark Twains of us. You can buy it from Amazon.
No Lonely Planet Handbook?!
You don’t really need a guidebook, in my opinion. Even if you do – you can shove a digital one inside your smartphone. These kind of books gets you into ‘passive-mode’, instead of otherwise approaching people and do the most basic thing humans can do – ask questions and socially-interact. That’s how you build social intelligence and self-confidence out of the comfort zone.
One of the side effects of these popular books — the places listed there quickly become flooded with tourists. So, basically, you invite yourself to the same place everyone else is going to. This site is here to make you throw away the lonely planet and go explore on your own, discovering places you never imagined existed. And guess what? Good chances you’ll be the only traveler there.
I’m Gonna Wear The Same Clothes Every Day?!
Yep! And you know the cool thing? Nobody will notice. I guarantee. People are so busy with themselves that they pay no attention to their surroundings, let alone the clothes you’re wearing. Once you detach your ego from your belongings, everything else becomes just a little bit easier. From my experience, people will be inspired if you tell them you wear the same clothes, and the philosophy behind it.
You are not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.
The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
I also have in mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.
Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
That’s it. I’d love to read your thoughts (and maybe personal packing lists?), and your’e welcome to use the comment box below for just about anything ;)