Extreme Minimalism – Summer Travels
Seven weeks ago today we left our little Chinese apartment for a summer of traveling. For seven weeks we have been living with buses, trains, subways, airplanes, 2 different countries, a hotel, 2 different jobs, and my two darling kids.
- The first month we were volunteering at Starfish doing office work and photography. This required me to be dressed up most days looking professional enough to be in an office. It required Bryon to bring almost all his photography gear because he was doing several different photography projects.
- The second month we were volunteering in Taiwan at a Christian school and Bryon was doing construction and both of us were doing some teaching.
- The kids are like most kids – now 6 (my boy) and 9 (my girl). They change their clothes all the time and collect all their own treasures they want to carry around with them.
We were trying to combine work (a few different jobs) with vacation in a few different countries.
Traveling internationally in Asia with public transit, trying to get through crowds of people, through cities we have never been to… where we speak (basically) none of the language – all while trying to keep track of two children who are big enough to walk but not big enough to carry much.
This required the tightest packing I have ever done – our ‘simplest’ living yet.
I am sick of the clothes I brought with me, but we made it through the summer and as we pack up to travel home this week I am so grateful we didn’t try to carry more with us.
It feels kinda random to talk about it, but I wanted to share what we did bring as a minimalist travel example. Here is what we carried and lived on for 8 weeks of travel.
What We Brought With Us:
- Enough clothes for about 4 days. I have 2 dresses, 1 skirt, 3 tops, 1 pair of shorts, yoga pants, black shoes, brown shoes, and flip flops. 11 pieces of clothing. I was sleeping in my yoga pants but if I had got around to exercising I could have used them for yoga as well. Bryon has 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of pants, 1 dressy-ish shirt, and some t-shirts. He has black shoes and tennis shoes. The kids have similar looking wardrobes. All 10-15 pieces all together.
- 2 water bottles
- small bag of books and toys for each child
- small first aid kit
- Camera equipment
- Computer bag (forgot to put it in the picture above) that holds our 2 laptops and the ipad.
- 2 reusable shopping bags to carry food or extra things as needed
Travel in Asia in the dead of summer also includes taking a bunch of your own food and drinks for long trips. We had to pack a bunch of this stuff with our luggage as well.
What our trip looked like
We set off from our apartment with 3 carry-on bags and a computer bag. The goal was to take the bus but we missed the one we needed and we ended up having to grab a taxi to make it to the train on time. We found out it is hard to fit 4 people and 3 1/2 bags into a taxi.
Our first train was so crowded we couldn’t get through the car to our seats for close to 20 minutes. There was at least 3 times as many people in the car as there were seats. China sells standing tickets to people after the ‘seat’ tickets are gone so cars are wall-to-wall people in every inch of space. 3 bags seemed like about 5 too many trying to climb through the train car.
While working at Starfish, one of our bags died – the wheel broke. After traveling for the first leg of our trip with 3 bags and struggling with them we decided to mail back everything we hadn’t used in the first 3 weeks of travel. We found a few things we hadn’t used or thought we could do without, put in some gifts and souvenirs we had picked up, and mailed them back to our apartment in China. We were down to 2 carry-on sized bags (one was almost entirely camera equipment) and our computer bag.
Travel with only the 2 carry-on bags was much easier. One of the kids could usually pull the computer bag because it was much smaller.
In Taiwan we have received several care packages from home and are needing to take other supplies back to China with us. We were going to try and replace our 3rd bag but can’t find a good one for a decent price here in Taiwan. We will see how packing goes in a few days while we try and get everything back
- Take as few clothes as possible. People really don’t need that many. Also pack more cotton (or light fabrics) and as little jean (or similar) as possible. Shirts or dresses that roll up small are much easier to squeeze in. Take clothes that will work for multiple occasions. The dresses I took worked for church, work, and even the beach.
- Purchase as much as you can where you are going – shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, etc. These things are heavy and we could leave extras with other people around us.
- Shoes take up so much space! I ended up with 3 pairs (probably didn’t need them all but they were small and packed well), but Bryon and the kids had one pair of shoes and a pair of flip-flops each. If things like shoes or clothes wear out they can be replaced while traveling.
- The kindle is wonderful So light and holding so many books.
- Unless you are camping you shouldn’t need to carry towels.
- Things like make-up, blow dryers, sweaters or anything else you might use once every week aren’t worth carrying around for the time they are used. Lots of these things I used to pack with me. I thought I would use them more, but only used them a few times over the trip. This time I didn’t bring any extra’s and survived just fine.
Traveling light is a pretty good minimalist experiment as well. Not only was it much easier to get around it helped show us how little we really need. We do laundry more often, but nothing piles up either.
I guess it goes to prove that life, no matter where or how, is usually better with less stuff
Have a great week!
Photo: Here are our two bags. Lily loves the pink monkey one This is also a shot from our back yard here. Gorgeous view of green mountains. Everything here in Taiwan is so green!