Minimalism meets Nomadism

Sophia Cheng / 6 min read / Digital Nomad Days
23 March 2018
Applying the principles of minimalism to the digital nomad lifestyle

In many ways they’re natural friends; nomadism enforces a certain amount of minimalism. Strict baggage allowances mean hefty levies if you want to bring the kitchen sink. And unless you’ve been focusing on your core strength for a number of years your back and spine will not allow for those ‘just in case’ extras.

But it’s not just a physical mindset – there’s a psychological element to it also. As a society we have grown accustomed to the inanimate objects we surround ourselves with – anthropomorphising them. We’re often ‘in a relationship’ with our stuff; pledging yourself to a nomadic lifestyle means a series of breakups with many of your belongings. It’s not you it’s me, I want experiences, not things.

If you want to go far…start slow

When I knew we were heading for a nomadic lifestyle I sought out The Minimalists for some much needed handholding and to initiate the break-up with my stuff. Their encouraging words motivated me to action. But I didn’t take the radical approach – I went slow and steady.

I’d take two or three books, the odd un-used kitchen utensil and the un-touched-but-well-meaning gift to the charity store, taking time deciding which cause to support. Then I’d mull over it and literally let the dust settle, assessing for any internal damage (there was never any). Next time I upped the ante and took 6 books, 2 utensils and 3 knick-knacks etc. I asked friends who had just bought new homes, family members starting uni – evaluating the right pieces for the right new home. Each time I would ramp up the numbers feeling more emboldened.

I allowed 6 months for this, slowly reducing and depleting my belongings and releasing them for their next adventure.

The beauty of a long-term loan

Of course there was the odd piece or two I was loathe to part with but one phrase saved me – ‘long-term loan’. I handed over my road bike to a friend knowing that it was better being used than sat collecting dust but that ultimately I could have it back if and when my circumstances changed. This caveat made all the difference for those few key items.

Minimalism doesn’t end when you’ve packed your bags

We started out in Slovenia and then Paris for a month, well over 2 years ago now. And looking back – we were not being very minimalist. We had brought along a Peruvian throw to make every place we stayed in feel consistent and homely; a poster for the wall, familiar cushion covers, a few lucky items for the bedside table. And a lot of notepads. I mean a lot. I used to travel with one large old-school backpack, a wheeled carry-on and a small backpack that was my mobile office. I did it for 2 months. NEVER AGAIN.

Now, we go through a regular ritual of shedding before we head anywhere. Re-evaluating what we have and why we have it. I now have it down to 1 checked piece, 1 carry-on backpack that is my office and 1 practical-sized handbag. It all totals 22kgs.

Work out your non-negotiables

On the road, minimalism needs to be functional and after 2 years there are some things that I won’t negotiate on.

  • My workstation: laptop stand, bluetooth keyboard, mouse – this set up means I can maintain a good posture while I work at my laptop for long hours.
  • Good sound: Comfortable headphones for those long Skype meetings and a good quality speaker.
  • Travelling comfortably: my memory foam neck pillow is now a staple. Eye mask and ear plugs too.
  • Capturing our surroundings is not just about the memories, it’s now flourished into one of our main creative activities; we travel with x3 good quality camera lenses. (Check out our Instagram to take a look at a few photos)
  • Ready for play: We travel with some games: Carcassone, playing cards, Exploding Kittens and sometimes Perudo. These portable games give hours of fun, from killing time at the airport to a great icebreaker with new people.
  • Tea time: global travel can be a risky game when it comes to tea consistency. I take no chances and regularly travel with jasmine tea, picking up new types along the way
  • No excuses for not having a healthy routine: we now travel with a good quality yoga mat. Being on the move doesn’t mean a healthy lifestyle is easy, often hindered by the lack of routine and facilities in your surroundings.
  • Cutting down on single-use plastic: I travel with a water bottle, reusable cup and cutlery, you can read more about it in my next post.

Embrace your weaknesses

I am not militant about minimalism. And for me my main weakness is books. I love books, especially second-hand books. I am in love with the idea of books being well-travelled, ever since I stumbled across a science-fiction book that had travelled the opposite way around the world than me, readers had left a little note of where they had read it. I now justify taking a stash of second-hand books with me on the proviso that I leave them in different places along the way – hoping they’ll find a reader who will take them on their next adventure. After 9 years of doing this on and off – I have now found my tribe: book fairies. (More about that in another post coming soon)

If you have a weakness – don’t repress it, don’t resent not taking something. Embrace it and find a creative adaptation for the road.

For me minimalism is not a complete denial of ‘stuff’ but a love of the things I have consciously chosen to bring into my lifestyle. I later learned the definition of ‘materialism‘, I am a minimalist materialist.

Minimalism and…

But minimalism on the road is so much more than the stuff you do or don’t take with you. After being part of a recent Minimalists London Meet Up (see the photos here), I reflected on this further. Minimalism has pervaded many other facets; to quote Oliver from the meet-up, it’s a ‘gateway’ for so much more. It’s an entry point into finance and banking, ethical consumption, how I shop, how I give gifts, how I donate to charity, how I approach relationships, cutting out meat and dairy in my diet, how I use social media, which apps I use, my photography, making space for meditation, mindfulness and mental health, digging deeper and reckoning with my demons.

I am so grateful that what started as minimalism by necessity has evolved into a transferable philosophy for every aspect of life.

More on this in the near future.

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
More from Sophia Cheng
Related posts