Waiting at bagan train station

How Travel Taught Me Minimalism

One morning, I’m flicking over one of the weekly shopping brochures. It is from a furniture store not too far away and a reasonable sized wardrobe caught my eyes. We’ve been looking for a wardrobe for a while now but due to our uncertainty over where we’ll be living in the future, we’ve been putting off the need to purchase one. But still, our makeshift wardrobes are now bursting at its seams. Out of sheer practicality, our situation is actually dire.


But my typical backpacker self thought instead: Do I need it? Would I die without it? Would my life change if I get one? Old habits die hard.


I’ve adopted this line of thinking for most of my time as a nomad. Buying large and expensive things fire off all sorts of cautionary alarms in me. What if I need to up and move again? What am I going to do with it? That’s why, up to this point in life, I’ve never had many possessions. And my need for a variety of clothes and accessories were minimal, so I never had to get a wardrobe. Ever.

In fact, most of my needs when I travelled, were little. Apart from specific toiletries that I needed for my skin issues, everything else were practical purchases which were made when needed, and replaced when it was finished. Whatever clothes that I had, were usually worn till the point of tearing. I usually couldn’t have more than what I needed because

a) I couldn’t afford the excess.

b) I couldn’t carry them.


My back is a great measuring tool to what I own. My earthly possessions were whatever that I could carry on my back, and as someone so tiny, I’d say, not much. Even when I moved to Germany, I came with a 45L backpack–not 2x30kgs of suitcases.


Ah, so you’re a minimalist, someone might say. Perhaps, I am. But minimalism these days, sold to us via social media is a trend–something to aspire to, something else to buy–instead of a philosophy or concept that one adopts out of efficiency and practicality.


No, I don’t need minimalist furniture; I just need less furniture.


Minimalism should bring you freedom and joy, not more stress. And travel has hammered those benefits into my head.

 backpack minimalism

You Get To Save More

If you’re on a 2-week vacation, you can bring as much as you want. Your two weeks of lugging around everything may be a hassle but hey, it’s only for 2 weeks. You might even pay for a taxi ride or two so that you can transport your luggage conveniently. And then you’ve to pay for excess baggage fees at the airport because, well, you carrying too much.


However, when you’re travelling long-term, you may be more sensitive toward expenses. A taxi ride could mean 3 meals elsewhere. That additional baggage fee could be a ticket to a national park. That means, when you take less with you, you can afford to spend on things that matter: like nourishing your body and seeing more.

You Can Always Start Over

The beauty of having a home that you can carry around is that home is wherever you’re at. You are free to always start over in a place that you love. You’re free to move, free to start a life anywhere you want, free to leave, and free to stay. If this job or place isn’t working out, you won’t hesitate to move. Fear of moving or the anxiety of having to relocate usually stems from the thought, “What I going to do with all these stuff? Now I must start all over again!” But with less, you’re flexible. There is always room for possibilities. Don’t let things weigh you down.

Prioritising Experiences Over Things

I’m one of those who hardly buys souvenirs because I wouldn’t know what to do with all those things until I get ‘home’. One keychain here, one fridge magnet there, eventually it’ll all counts. It’ll all end up adding additional weight to the luggage which would only make me less flexible with mobility. I’d have to stress over parcel sending or buying temporary storage somewhere.


The only way to remember all those places that I’ve been to is to have incredible experiences in each place that I visit. That fresh apple that I ate at the market or that horseback ride through the desert would essentially remind me of the places that I’ve been to more vividly than a keychain or a cute purse ever will. Plus, they make better stories too.


tiny wanderer backpack philippines


You Don’t Lose Things

Sometimes, the benefit of travelling light isn’t obvious. Because you have the physical and monetary means to carry many things with you, it wouldn’t occur to you that losing 5kg of what you currently have could be an advantage. Until you start losing or misplacing things. A friend once left a camera in a bus because he was rudely interrupted in the middle of the night for a sudden drop off. In his groggy and surprised state, he only took what he’d kept in the luggage compartment and what he had on his lap. He’d forgotten about the extra things that he’d stored in the overhead compartment. When he realised it, the bus had long disappeared into the night.


When you travel with less things, you only need two bags. One for the valuables, and the other for everything else. When you carry more stuff, you might find yourself having more than two bags, and that’s where trouble lies.


You Get To Be More Creative

Travelling with less always made me more creative. I started inventing secondary functions for my things. For example, the scarf could serve as a sarong, a blanket and a picnic blanket. That dental floss could serve as a clothes line. Ziplocs could work as packing cubes and toiletry bags. Soon, I was carrying less because my things served other purposes too. But the biggest upside was, I was really pleased with myself for feeling so innovative. Whether I was or not, was besides the point. The pleasant feeling that arose from using creativity to solve a problem–even the most trivial of a problem–was enough to empower and motivate me.

You Ask People For Help

Since you don’t carry everything, there might be a thing or two that you might find yourself needing. For example, a comprehensive guidebook. Or a tripod. But instead of worrying about not having those things, why not turn them into an opportunity to connect with people?


You ask for help. You approach people for directions or recommendations, or to help you take a photo. In return, you find yourself meeting people and making friends. It will also inadvertently offer you sense of connection to the place that you’re travelling in and open you up to experiences that you might have otherwise missed, should you be an island.


The moral of the story? Minimalism isn’t a hype, it isn’t self-help. It’s a lifestyle that I’ve adopted while I travelled. Less is more, less is simple, less is joy.


It has served me then, and I’m most certain that, it’ll serve me now too.


Are you a light or heavy packer?



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Ying Tey
Ying Tey Reinhardt (Piccola Ying) is a Malaysian writer and copywriter based in Germany.

In her vagabonding heydays, she's backpacked to many countries, lived in a few, funded her wanderlust by teaching English to sailors on Italian cruise ships and making coffees in hipster cafes.

Her work has appeared in Marie Claire, Roads & Kingdoms, Bootsnall and OffAssignment.

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  • peachcaffeine 29/12/2016   Reply →

    I have the same mindset as yours! “Do I need it? Would I die without it? Would my life change if I get one?”

    Quite proud of myself bringing a 40L backpack + an almost similar size backpack for working holiday, and ended up able to fit everything into my 40L backpack by end of 8months working holiday!
    Travelling does really taught me I dont need much, and possess lesser things help to build my relationship with everything I own!

    • Ying Tey 29/12/2016   Reply →

      I think if we ask ourselves those questions more often before buying something, we’ll end up with less things. Yay..I’m proud of you! So much better to have less on your back than more, isn’t it?

  • Indochina travel 03/01/2017   Reply →

    Thank for your sharing.

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