It was my first trip abroad as a digital nomad. Stepping out into the unknown, I was filled with a strange combination of excitement and dread. Would I be able to cope on a relatively low and extremely unreliable income stream from the few writing gigs I had landed? Whilst chasing my dream to become a writer, I had moved into a cheap bedsit and adopted an extremely minimalist way of life. Unlike more moderate forms of minimalism, I was trying to strip my items down to the absolute bare minimum I thought that I needed.


For largely financial reasons, I sold everything I could and stopped buying new stuff. However, this was more than a way to cope with a non-existent income. It was an attempt to give myself the space, both literal and metaphorical, to focus completely on achieving that dream. Eventually, I got to the point of owning fewer than 50 things, all of which could fit into a single, carry-on sized backpack.


As my tenancy agreement came to an end, getting a new flat in my hometown didn’t make much sense when I was now earning a location independent income. So I set off towards relatively inexpensive Poland, with just a single change of underwear and a spare T-shirt in my bag.


A few hygiene products and a laptop later, and I felt ready to hit the road. This was a period of experimentation. By taking the bare minimum I thought I needed to survive and staying in the absolute cheapest hostels I could find, it was a descent into discomfort that would test my assumptions about modern life.



Material Objects Were Contributing to High-Stress Levels

77% of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms of stress. It is an epidemic often caused by long working hours, family breakdowns, or financial insecurity. However, there is one more contributor to stress that can often be overlooked: physical objects.


Every single thing you own requires attention from you. Whether it is refueling the car, washing your clothes, fixing a broken laptop, or dusting furniture, all items take work to maintain. If you own 1000 items, then this is going to take ten times as much time and mental and physical energy than if you owned 100. As I traveled around with my tiny backpack, it became obvious how little stress was being caused by the stuff I owned.


There wasn’t a sudden moment of panic when I realized that I had ten pairs of dirty underpants and couldn’t locate the nearest laundromat. With only one spare pair to keep clean, I just washed them each day during my shower. Getting dressed was merely a case of wearing the one T-shirt I didn’t wear yesterday and re-wearing the same jeans and hoody as I wore every other day.


The only tech I had to worry about was my laptop and my phone. As long as these were charged and working, then I could get about town and do my work without hindrance. Before adopting an extremely minimalist lifestyle, I had no idea how much of my daily stress was self-imposed by owning so many items.


Then there is the knock-on effects of decision fatigue. By stripping down to your essential items, all your basic decisions are made for you. What to wear, which shower gel to use, and whether to watch Netflix on a laptop or tablet are all instantly determined when you only have one outfit, one bottle of body wash, and one large electronic device. This gives your brain a rest so that it can focus on more exciting and life-changing decisions.


My thoughts were able to turn to which publications to pitch to or which article to write first. In the long run, having more energy for important business decisions led to me landing more work and thus lowering stress from employment and income insecurity.


Anxiety is Caused By the Unknown

When heading out into the world, it’s pretty common to feel nervous. Even the most adventurous among us can feel anxious about trying to make a living in an unfamiliar environment. What if everything goes wrong? I know that my mind was full of worries such as losing my belongings, running out of money, or being unable to find a bed one night. This was a spontaneous trip, booking accommodation as I go. This offers freedom and is cheaper and less restrictive than an all-inclusive package vacation, but it offers little in the way of certainty.


A surprisingly effective remedy to this anxiety is to throw yourself in the deep end and discover that you are capable of surviving through the toughest situations. YouTube is full of travelers dropping themselves up in an unfamiliar foreign city and trying to survive for 24 hours or longer without any money. You don’t have to go this extreme, but once you try to live in the dirtiest, most cramp hostels, wearing the same clothes for days on end, and taking cold showers, you will learn your capabilities.


At one point, I checked out of a hostel and somehow managed to leave my only spare T-shirt behind. At this point, the one on my back was all I had. For the next couple of weeks, I simply embraced this even more extreme version of minimalism. It was winter, so I was able to wash my shirt in the shower, then place it on a radiator or heated towel rail. By the time I had finished washing myself, it was usually dry enough to put straight back on. This was truly eye-opening. I knew that I could get by with little more than the one outfit I was wearing.


Since then, I tend to travel with three or four T-shirts and spend nights in slightly fancier hotels. However, I now know that should I lose my job or my possessions, I will be absolutely fine. From my experiment into extreme minimalism, much of my travel anxiety has been relieved. I have escaped the unknown and now have a firm knowledge that even if things do go seriously wrong, I will probably be fine.

The Best Memories are Experiences and Friendship

If the present moment is useful for anything, it’s making memories for your future self to look back on and enjoy. The most meaningful part of travel is the connections you make with the people you meet.


On my trip to Poland, I fell in love with a girl who didn’t care that my clothes were a bit smelly and coffee stained. I became best friends with startup founders who had been living in an overcrowded city center hostel for months on end. This constant connection to others and the experiences we shared made the discomfort of carrying no spare clothes and sleeping on wafer-thin mattresses, an ultimately joyful and transformative period of my life.


Although almost everyone will benefit from traveling with less, most won’t want to be extreme minimalists forever. I certainly don’t. However, spending a month in Poland with the absolute bare minimum taught me some profound life lessons. Not only is taking less more practical, offering greater freedom and flexibility, but it also offers incredible psychological benefits.


As my stress and anxiety levels lowered, I was able to embrace experiences and human connection. Not only was this trip more meaningful, but all future travel experiences will be as well. I now know how little I need, taking the pressure off when packing for my next adventure.