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Matt Kepnes Headshot

Becoming a Minimalist Traveler

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I like to think of myself as a minimalist traveler. I travel without clutter, simply and efficiently. That doesn't mean I just travel without stuff, it also means I travel a different way. When I am at the airport, I'm amazed by the people I see lugging giant suitcases, two carry-ons, and clutching enough paper documents to have come from half the Amazon jungle. They seem flustered and stressed. The experience doesn't seem one of pleasure. Yet I sail through the airport and my travels content, happy, and with peace of mind.

What is a minimalist traveler? To me a minimalist traveler is someone who carries very little luggage, doesn't stress about planning, has unplugged from the world as much as possible, and uses technology to help manage their trip and expenses.

Travel can be a stressful experience, especially for people who aren't used to spending most of their time in airports like I am. Travel doesn't need to be stressful, though. While it's easy to head off with your backpack and bankcard in hand, most travelers only learn this the hard way, through tough experience. It's not intuitive. It's intuitive to plan, pack, and over-plan our travels.

I started traveling in July 2006. While I was never as bad as some people I see in airports, I was by no means the minimalist traveler I am now. My journey to a full minimalist traveler took time and it took experience. I used to clutch stacks of documents where I went and brought the proverbial kitchen sink with me. I used to stress. I used to over-plan. Yet as time has gone on, I've gotten more relaxed and, in the process, I've become more minimalist.

It is all about being in the right mindset. It's about getting rid of the clutter -- not only physically, but mentally too. It's also about focusing on the small stuff that is important. What does one need to do to become a minimalist traveler?

Travel with less. The obvious part is minimizing the stuff you take. I pack very little for my trips. The more I travel the more I realize that I don't need a lot of stuff. I once had a friend travel Africa with just a school backpack. That's minimalist. The more you travel, the more you realize you don't need 10 pairs of pants or a dozen shirts. It's ok to wear the same thing over and over again. Pack for your trip and then take out half of what you've packed. You'll find that even what is left is more than what you'll need.

Pick up stuff on the way. If we plan for every disaster, we end up over stressing over everything. We pack every type of medicine, bandage, jacket, raingear, etc. We plan and stress about rainy days. But stop thinking about all those 'what ifs.' If a rainy day does come, you can always find what you need wherever you are. The more we worry about the future, the more we stress ourselves out.

Digitize your world. That person in the airport that I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the one with all those papers? That's not me. All my important documents sit in a folder on my computer and in my email. I carry PDF versions on my iPhone and I use electronic receipts. By eliminating all the paper from my life, I worry a lot less about making sure I have a folder full of papers I need or if they are going to get lost, crumpled, or ruined.

Automate your travels
. Becoming this way is more than just losing your stuff. It's about minimizing the time you spend dealing with your stuff. I use TripIt to keep track of all my flights and itineraries so I don't have to deal with looking up information. It's all in one easy app. If you don't have or want a smart phone, there is also an online version you can use. When I do need to book online, I use Momondo for flights and Hostelbookers for guesthouses and hostels. I know these sites have great prices. I don't need to spend hours making sure I found the best one. I go there, find what I need, buy it, and move on.

Pick one card. Put everything on one travel credit card. I don't want to manage different bank accounts or have to deal with bills. After I automate all my bills, I put them all on one credit card and use one credit card while traveling. You can use Capital One, Chase, or Discover credit cards when you are overseas to avoid paying a foreign transaction fee.

Don't plan
. When you over-plan, you tend to lose out on the unexpected events that are bound to happen during your travels. It's the unexpected adventures that tend to be the best part about travel. Life is unexpected, and we can never plan for it. The same is true in travel. To avoid the stress of over-planning but also the stress of under-planning, I outline a general direction and some places I want to visit and just go with the flow.

Unplug. The Internet can be all-consuming, especially if you are working on the road. Being plugged in all the time can really add a lot of stress to your life. Set a specific time of the day and place a time limit on it so that you can ensure that you'll also have time to enjoy your travels.

When we travel, we sometimes take more and do more than we need. I've learned over the years that the best way to travel is to travel light. I carry few things, don't stress about the little things, and go where the day takes me. Travel becomes a joyful act not a stressful vacation. It takes practice but when you let go and reduce the clutter, you deal less with the actual act of traveling and more with the act of just being where you spent all that time wanting to go.