Freedom From Materials: How I lived Out of A Backpack For Two Months (And How You Can, Too)
Living a minimalist lifestyle saved my bank account, my back and gave me a new perspective on what I needed (and didn’t need) in my life.
Before studying abroad in Europe for a year I was a collector. I had shelves full of CDs, DVDs, movie posters. Heck, I even saved voicemails.
When I came back to Canada from Europe, it came as a surprise to my friends and family that I only had a backpack, a few pairs of underwear, some pants and shirts and a blank postcard from Vienna. I had next to nothing. But that was all I needed.
Backpacking for two months taught me to get rid of the inessentials. It gave me an exhilarating sense of fulfillment ridding myself of burdens that I once convinced myself were essential to enjoyment in life.
Here are the essentials I used to live out of a backpack for those two months on the road in Europe:
I used a North Face Terra 45L backpack, which is small compared to most bags for backpacking. The smaller the bag the more daunting the challenge, I thought. But not necessarily so.
Having a smaller backpack encouraged me to pack only the most important things that would be absolutely essential for the next two months. It served as a little piece of self-discipline for my packing and encouraged me to leave behind items that would be only extra weight down the road.
The key to any backpack, no matter the size, is the back support (I was walking for 10km a day on average with this lugged on my back). Don’t forget the pockets either. Side pockets were useful for the water bottles, maps (yes, 21st century travellers still use these) and chargers and cables for my electronic devices. My backpack also had straps on both sides that could unbuckle, so I could tightly snug my towels and shirts to the side of my bag safe and sound. Just because you can’t fit something inside your tiny bag doesn’t mean you can’t fit it on the outside!
Lastly, one of the most important elements of this little backpack: It’s waterproof. One wet backpack means everything else inside the backpack gets the same treatment. Keep yourself dry and make the investment in a waterproof bag.
I learned you only need three things you absolutely need in life: Water, a good pair of running shoes and good underwear. One of the biggest revelations of my life was learning about nylon underwear and I unashamedly say that with pride.
When my best friend was coming over to backpack with me, he asked me what he should bring along in his own backpack. My first answer was — and will always be for future backpackers asking for advice — nylon underwear.
Cotton underwear is heavy. It gets damp from sweat, especially in the summer months and takes ages to dry. For someone who is on the go and is sharing their backpack with other clothing items, the last piece of clothing you want is cotton underwear.
Nylon underwear is snug, breathable and dries within minutes. The underwear dries so well in fact that it can be used as a pair of swimming shorts as well, which saves space in your pack.
Almost a year later, my friend and I are still praising nylon underwear. We’ve replaced our drawers entirely and left everything cotton in the trash. There’s no going back.
A Rain Jacket
A basic essential. I used a Helly Hansen rain jacket that I bought on clearance during the winter months. I’ve been dry ever since!
Aka, my bank account, email and camera all in one pocket. Smartphones take up absolutely no space and have many of the same functions of a laptop. Phone plans are considerably less expensive in Europe compared with those in North America so I recommend purchasing an inexpensive unlocked phone before going on your adventure. WIFI is widespread in Europe so there should be no issue if you don’t have data on your plan.
The trick to packing light is using items that serve more than one purpose. Convertible pants are just what they say they are. They’re almost as good and essential as the nylon underwear, but not quite. During the summer, convertible pants can become fashionable and practical shorts. During colder or rainier days, you can just zip up the legs and have pants. They’re quick-dry, breathable and easy to roll up in the backpack. I used them for three weeks on a hiking trip in the French Alps and on weekend hiking trips in Austria. They’re very easy to hand wash, too.
A Toiletry Bag
It’s the sort of thing grandma preaches about before you travel, but this is an important one. I’m a disorganized person by nature. I lose stuff often — my friends and family can attest to that. Backpacking is fast paced and it’s easy to neglect small items in your backpack and to drop them or leave them in hostels or trains. Organize yourself. Invest in a toiletry bag to keep your toothbrush, soap, shaver and deodorant inside one compact place. This also prevents accidents, like a bottle of body wash being squeezed and exploding between the shirts in your bag. It happened to me; don’t let it happen to you.
A Flannel Shirt
Hi, I’m a stereotypical Canadian. No, I bought this shirt at an H&M in Stockholm and, since then, this shirt has followed me to Rome, Vienna, Budapest and many other locales all the way back home to my own closet.
Flannel shirts are not only stylish, they can also be used year-round. Although they’re most often associated as a fall and winter shirt, I used my flannel shirt comfortably in the summer months as well. Just roll up the sleeves. It’s easy.
Name brand or not, a plain tee of any colour will never go out of style. I went for neutral colours, like black and white which practically went with each one of my pants. Remember: items with more than one purpose. Tees can be purchased cheap for less than ten dollars each, which makes them easy to replace.
A Nylon Towel
Cotton is a backpacker’s number one enemy and it’s no different for underwear than it is for a towel. Nylon towels are quick dry and if left out on a balcony or outside a hostel when you’re out travelling during the day, they’ll be fresh as new when you come back. Nylon towels are also made of a thinner material, which makes them not only less heavy but also easier to roll up and pack than a cotton towel. Most nylon towels come in a breathable bag that can easily be buckled to the side of a backpack or snugged into the bottom.
3 More Helpful Tips
–Spare some time during a day each week to go to drop off your clothes at a local laundromat. Travelling requires you to do a bit of work on the road. If you’re going to live a minimalist lifestyle, you gotta wash the little clothes you have.
-I threw out plenty of stuff along the road. This included sweaters, water bottles and many more small items. You’ll be throwing out a lot of stuff on the road so bring inexpensive items that you won’t get too attached to.
-Never carry around too much cash. ATMs are common and fees aren’t typically expensive. This goes out to the people like me who lose (or misplace) stuff far too often.