What Are the Joys and Advantages of Minimalist Travel?
You can travel first class and spare no expense. Pack a whole new wardrobe in a pile of suitcases, visit every high-traffic venue, and commemorate your once-in-a-lifetime experience with plenty of souvenirs. This requires careful planning, a lot of money, and someone to schlep all that luggage.
Or you can travel light, with a backpack or a carryon, prepared to interact with your destination as authentically as possible. As you walk the streets, or ride on public transit, you can be curious, observant, and free to follow a whim.
You can be weighed down, or you can enjoy the agility of minimalism.
I love the minimal completeness of packing for travel. You consider carefully which clothes you'll need, which toiletries and accessories. You might bring a book or a journal; you'll probably bring your phone. But you carry only what you've chosen to take with you. It's the ultimate in decluttering.
It's liberating to live with a fraction of your possessions. You've mindfully curated a collection of the things you won't be able to do without, whether that's clean socks and comfortable shoes or your favorite necklace and a beautiful pashmina.* And because you travel so lightly, you can be ready and on your way with a minimum of fuss.
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If you travel this summer, take the opportunity to go through your closet and remove items you don't love or wear regularly as soon as you return from your trip. When you live for a week with a small suitcase of clothes, you're reminded of how little you truly need, and how much freedom you gain when you live with less. You've traveled with clothes that fit well, flatter your body and your coloring, and are comfortable and easy-care. So now you can pare down your wardrobe with confidence.
There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.
But maybe you agree with Jane Austen. Maybe you're not a fan of crowds and security checks, layovers and long waits. I actually find long car or plane trips extremely uncomfortable. Since I have sciatica and Restless Leg Syndrome, the confinement can be unbearable after more than a couple of hours.
I can relate to feelings shared by Coco Chanel, who said, "Traveling is so complicated. There are so many people everywhere. I make my best journeys on my couch."
Yes, armchair travel can encompass the world, and books can also take me into the past, or on a voyage to imaginary realms.
And when I stay closer to home, I can afford perks like theater tickets or visits to art museums. I'm fortunate to live less than an hour away from my state capital, and just a two-hour drive from the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area, a travel destination for people from all over the world. Why would I need to go further? There's wine tasting, all types of world-class musical performances, historic sites, pro sports, hiking, picnicking, strolls on the beach at sunset, and a lot more.
I know there are those who live for travel, but I'm not one of them. Even though I went to England during my junior year of college, while there I lodged in a small town in Leicestershire. For ten weeks, it was my home away from home. From that base I made day trips to ancient villages, churches, castles, writers' homes, and beautiful gardens.
Making the most of the least is one way to be happier every day.
But I think it's one of the secrets to happiness.
Because I don't have to wait until I can afford a first class ticket around the world, and I don't have a huge bucket list of must-see destinations, I can enjoy smaller adventures quite often. How many of us long to travel to the tourist spots of the world, yet have not experienced many of the attractions that are practically on our doorsteps? I know there are hundreds of places and events in my part of the world that I have yet to enjoy.
I loved the sense of history in England that is so much deeper than what we have in the U.S. I loved the rolling green countryside crisscrossed by footpaths, and the weird and wonderful place names. I love British English, the fantastic literature, and yes – the weather!
I may never travel there again, but I can still make a big mug of Earl Grey tea, find gorgeous photographs online, read travel memoirs such as Susan Branch's A Fine Romance or Bill Bryson's The Road to Little Dribbling, listen to music by British composers and bands, and binge-watch Foyle's War or The Crown.
But if I want to travel, a night at The Pelican Inn (one of my favorite spots) near Muir Woods and Muir Beach will give me a little flavor of England, and it's only 135 miles from home.
And for that, I only need to pack a tiny bag, including my indispensable travel items – something to read and something to write in. Even if I went for a week I wouldn't need much more, as previous experience has taught me.
If you want to try short jaunts nearer to your home this summer, there's a wonderful resource called Within Hours that can provide suggestions an hour or two away, or within a couple hundred miles. (By the way, the website is international, not just limited to the U.S. and Canada.) I'm sure you'll find interesting places you've never been.
Travel light and enjoy the adventure.
Updated June 2023