A Geek’s Conundrum

Lately I’ve been pondering the relationship (if any) between minimalism and frugality. I’ve received some comments from friends and colleagues about my minimalism and the fact that I do buy certain things that they consider to be “not minimalist”. There seems to be a pervasive image of the minimalist as this ascetic, lifeless, joyless, boring person. I don’t know about you, but that’s not me, and I don’t ever want it to be me. Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist wrote a very good post titled Addressing Minimalism’s Misconceptions, that goes into great detail on this topic. It’s a definite must-read.

I love Serena’s tagline at Everyday Minimalist: Living With Less, But Only With The Best. Yes, that sounds like me.

Leo Babauta, one of my early minimalist inspirations, defines a minimalist lifestyle as “A life that has been stripped of the unnecessary, to make room for that which gives you joy.” Now, that tells me that it’s possible to let go of those things that are extraneous and are not giving us joy, but to keep those that do make us happy. We are all different, and all of us have different visions of what make us happy. Some travel all over the world. Some enjoy the best food they can afford. Some donate to charity.

In my case, technology has always been one of my major passions. Following the latest trends in technology, for me, is not about being cool or having the next great toy, but about envisioning how technology can make our lives better. And in my evolving view of technology and how I want to live my life from now on, I’ve decided I need to replace my (aging) desktop computer with a laptop. I want to spend more time writing and developing this blog and turning it into a community of like-minded souls that come together to challenge each other and learn from each other along the way. I feel I can better accomplish this by becoming more mobile. But there’s a problem.

My desktop computer is a Mac. I love Mac OS X. Conversely, I hate, hate, HATE Windows. I’m forced to use it at the office, but if I had the choice, I would have a Mac there too. (Did I mention I really HATE Windows?). Anyway, I’m in the market for a new laptop, and since I recently became debt-free, I can finally afford a nice laptop with some bells and whistles, and I would love to get a new MacBook Air 11″, with maybe an upgraded 128 GB Solid State Drive. Yes, I could buy a $300 Windows netbook, but I think I would end up hating it, besides, netbooks are not known for being good desktop replacements. I need my new laptop to handle anything I throw at it. That said, I don’t need it to be blazing fast, I just need it to be stable. Mac OS X is stable. I could buy a laptop with more RAM, more (conventional) hard drive space, and with an optical drive for about half the price, but it runs Windows. It’s a conundrum. Part of me wants it and wants to justify it; part of me says it’s extravagant and yes, not minimalist.

Most of the digital nomads I follow online do have Apple laptops. I’m sure this is because of their stability and long-term useful lives. Again, this is NOT about status symbols or being cool. I don’t want to have to buy a new laptop for at least 3 years, so it has to last. The only drawback I can see with an MBA is hard drive space, but that’s what portable hard drives are for, right?

I guess I’m asking for your input, fellow bloggers and readers. Can you tell me if you use a desktop or a laptop, what brand it is, and what platform it runs? In the case of bloggers, what is your main writing machine, so to speak? If you use a laptop or netbook, is it your main computer, or do you use it just for writing?

I need to make a decision within the next month or two, so there’s no immediate rush. I would love to hear your opinions on this matter, and what you recommend I do, and why. Thanks!!!

3 Steps To Minimalist Bliss

Let Go. Minimize. Be Free.

The more my eyes are opened to the real danger of material possessions and their power over us, the more I realize that this is a battle that we are waging. I feel more and more like a warrior going out to fight every time I step out of my apartment and into the “real world” – full of mental land mines, visual booby traps, and subliminal marketing attacks. Those of us who have always lived in urban areas are so unbelievably numbed to advertising and marketing displays, that we simply tune them out. And by doing that, we believe they don’t work on us, but they do, oh how they do! It’s been proven that subliminal stimuli goes directly into our brain and are processed without us even realizing it, or actually engaging with it. There’s a good reason advertising agencies work hand in hand with psychologists and other “people-experts” to learn what makes us tick, what makes us BUY.

We justify everything we own, we fight and defend our “right” to own this and own that. And of course, we NEED everything we own, I mean, come on, I might need it some day! Believe me, I was there. I was the most selfish consumer you could ever imagine. I *deserved* everything I owned, because I had worked hard for it, dammit, and I was going to spend my money on whatever I wanted. And yes, I needed it all, and I justified it all. Even if it ended up in a corner of my closet and remained there for years, sometimes only a few weeks after buying it.

Only after years of going through this cycle, and going into debt more and more, did I start realizing that there could be another way to live. Being the inquisitive, ever-curious guy that I am, I began to research and read books on the topics of simple living and most recently, minimalism.
I am convinced that the real beauty of minimalism is how it can be adapted to every person’s individual style, stage in life, and level of commitment. And it can grow with you once you’ve started on this amazing journey. I’ve been thinking of a simple, straightforward, and (why not) radical approach to adopting a minimalist lifestyle. I do believe it happens in steps, and each step is different for everybody. Now, in true minimalist style, I will not come up with the “20 Steps To Becoming A Minimalist”. No. It’s a very short list of steps, and this is the system that is currently working for me:

1. Let Go

2. Minimize

3. Be Free

Pretty simple, right? Maybe not so much when you start breaking them down. Let’s do just that, shall we?

1. LET GO

Ahhh, this is the tricky part, and also the part that comes AFTER researching, reading, and asking questions about becoming a minimalist. And of the three steps, this is the one that is mostly mental in nature. In our society, we’re told from day one that material possessions will make us happy, by virtue of making us popular or envied, and that the more toys we have, the more people will love us, and hence, the happier we’ll be. It’s a mental indoctrination that starts the day we’re born. The first years of our lives are spent among gifts and toys and nice things that are just that – nice. Not very many of those things are crucial to our survival as human beings. It’s sad to see a young child gleefully opening a happy meal bag and pulling out the cheap, plastic toy (made in China, of course), and then tossing aside the food (not that it’s *that* healthy to beging with). But you get my point. It’s MENTAL. In order to let go, we must shift our mental perception of *things* and realize that they’re just that: THINGS. When you start delving into the incredibly amazing fountain of energy that is a human being, it becomes apparent that a THING cannot make us better people or happy or feel accomplished in life. Letting go is releasing the hold that the item in question has over us. We were once told we needed these things, and therefore we took them. Now it’s time to let them go, and loosen the hold they have on us. When you finally realize that everything you need to be happy is within YOU, suddenly those cheap (or expensive) trinkets start to look silly and unappealing. Learn to let go of the extraneous, and look into yourself for your happiness. As I was telling a friend on Twitter the other day – letting go is both terrifying and exhilarating, but is so worth it!

2. MINIMIZE

Once you learn to let go, which again, is mostly a mental process, the physical manifestation of that process is the removal of the excess clutter in your life. This is the physical “noise” in your life, if you will. It’s weighing you down, pushing you back, preventing you from being the awesome human being you want to be and KNOW you can be. It’s time to purge. Armed with what you learned during your research and with the power you just discovered by letting go, now is the time to cull the excess and keep only those intimate, crucial elements that are essential to YOUR happiness, not mine or anybody else’s. If it’s important and brings you absolute joy, then keep it. But you must be RUTHLESS, and truly question EVERYTHING before giving it a pass. Some things, such as physical clutter, will be easier and quicker to deal with (selling on eBay or Craigslist, donating to Goodwill or your local charity, or tossing those broken, useless items), and some will take longer but are equally cluttering (debt, toxic/co-dependent relationships, a job you truly hate but could never bring yourself to admit it, a car that’s costing you way too much money and not bringing you joy in return) and must be dealt with individually. This process can take some time. But with the “little things”, you can see actual progress which will motivate you to continue. Once you get a taste of what minimalism can help you accomplish, you won’t want to stop!

3. BE FREE

Ahhh, the reward of getting rid all the clutter (physical, emotional, mental, and financial), and forging on with your true life. Becoming a minimalist should not be an end unto itself, but rather a propelling system that will help you blast away the things that are weighing you down, so you can be free to pursue your life dreams. How many of us (I know I’ve been there!) have wanted to travel, see the world, go to school, move to a new city, take a sabbatical, write a book, etc.) but couldn’t do it because we were so bogged down in debt that we could see no way to follow those dreams? After letting go and minimizing, now is the time to DO what you’ve always wanted to do. No debt and a minimal set of possessions can be a powerful motivator to just go out there and live your dream life. It will take hard work and determination to get to this point, but you will know when it’s time. You will know when you’re ready. This step will also be different for everybody. Some will quit their jobs and hop on a plane and see the world. Some will start their own businesses and enjoy the entepreneur life. Some will keep their jobs and finally have the time and resources to delve into their favorite hobbies. And some will get involved in their neighborhoods as volunteers or community leaders. Again, the beauty of minimalism is that it allows all these wonderfully different human beings to flourish and give meaning to their lives.

And where am I in this process, you might ask? I’m firmly in Step 2, but quickly making my way to Step 3. I’ve only been a proper minimalist for a few months, and every day, I’m learning something new. The flood of useless trinkets flowing into my life has finally stopped, and the purging is still in full effect. This is a process, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the challenge.

You never truly *stop* being a minimalist, not after you’ve learned what can bring you true happiness, not after you’ve broken the shackles of those useless trinkets that you thought you owned, but actually owned you. Living light and free and open to new experiences and new worlds, can make you a more fulfilled, caring, and open-minded person. And yes, it can also make you a HAPPY person.

So what about you, faithful reader? Which step are you in right now? Do you have any questions or would you like to share your story? Shoot me a comment, and let’s start a conversation! 😀

Car-Free and loving it!

I have had cars for a long, long time and I’ve enjoyed the mobility and freedom they’ve given me. I had always felt that having a car was a good thing. But upon moving (back) to Chicago in the fall of 2007, I realized for the first time in my life that owning a car could actually be considered a curse.

Here I was, living in Edgewater (far north side of Chicago), close to just about everything I need, be it by walking, taking the train or bus, or the occasional cab if all else failed (not likely), all the while making payments on a car I was not using. Why was I not using my car? Parking is a hassle in the city, and it seems that the city is always looking for ways to get a few dollars off everybody via parking tickets and booting cars. It almost seems like a city hobby. The amount of parking tickets I got when I moved here from Florida, probably due to my ignorance of local parking laws, was ridiculous. I started resenting my car and for the first time I flirted with the idea of letting it go. But it was just an abstract concept in my mind and I did not take action. To be honest, it was a little frightening. It seemed too extreme. I did start reading blogs and books about people who had taken the plunge, including couples and even families with small children. It was very eye-opening to see so many people enjoying life to the fullest without having to pay a fortune for the luxury of owning a metal box with four wheels. And mind you, these were people who could afford to own cars, and very nice cars, too. But they *chose* not to. I was intrigued. But I was still not ready.

After paying off my car last year, I once again thought of getting rid of it, but I was still not comfortable wih the idea. I have some relatives who live in the suburbs, about 1.5 hours from the city; how would I be able to visit them? One of the wonders of the city of Chicago is that so much of it can be enjoyed wihtin walking distance of an “El” station, or just about any of our bus lines. And since some of those trains and buses run 24/7, it’s a no-brainer to let someone else drive when you’re out partying and enjoying a few drinks with friends. When I finally decided to sit down, calculator in hand, and add up all my car-related expenses (gas, maintenance, city sticker, plates, registration, parking at my building, parking fees at meters/pay boxes), it because painfully clear that I was just throwing my money out the window on something I did not really need or, at this point, even want, any longer. As a single man, my transportation needs are very few, and this city is so accessible, that it become something I could no longer ignore, lest I wanted to continue wasting all this money (and time) I could be using in other, much more productive, ways.

So I called Carmax and inquired about the process of selling my car to them, and though I wil not go into the details, the process was so painless it was ridiculous. I can’t believe it took me so long to so this. I was still somewhat nervous, and remembered how I felt when I got rid of my telephone landline several years ago. But it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The money I got from the sale of the car, plus the money I saved from not *owning* the car allowed me to pay off 5 credit cards in one fell swoop, and I am now completely debt-free, with the exception of my student loans, which are currently in deferment and will be dealt with at a later time. I feel so free and happy. It’s amazing how much more I can accomplish now without the burden of that car. No more car expenses and no more car stress. I don’t regret doing this one bit.

So how do i visit my relatives in the suburbs? Our suburban train system (Metra) reaches their area and my cousin picks me up at the station, and he offered to do this and actually encouraged me on my quest for car freedom because he used to live in the city and agreed with me in that I didn’t need the car. So I’m lucky in that I have a good support system and friends who understand my reasons for doing this.

Of course, none of this would’ve been possible had I not discovered minimalism. Minimalism is about letting go of things that may not be as important to us as we once thought they were. The spark of light and awareness that was ignited in my head forces me to constantly question my need for everything I own. The big items are the most obvious, hence, the car was front and center in my mind as something that most likely needed to go. I don’t own a house, and I feel incredibly fortunate for that, even though it may sound crazy to admit. Now I’m working on the little things, the details that may not seem important, but are the ones that add up. I am well on my minimalism journey, and things are looking great. The freedom I’ve discovered is one thing I will not let go of.

Oh, one more thing. I refuse to tell people I am “car-less”. I tell everybody I am “car-free“, which is NOT the same thing. Rather than focus on the “inconvenience” of not having my own set of wheels, I choose to focus on the many advantages of not being a slave to what I call a metal box with four wheels. I love my car-free life!

How about you? Have you let go of your vehicle in order to have more time for yourself or your family, to get more exercise, to save money? Would you like to do it? Tell me all about it in the comments section and let’s discuss! 🙂

Be Your Own Fortune Cookie

be your own fortune cookieI had Chinese for lunch the other day (I love Chinese food!) and I always get a fortune cookie with my meal. This has been a habit of mine ever since I can remember. As a child, going to a Chinese restaurant and not getting that fortune cookie was like not going at all. It completely defeated the purpose, at least in my young mind. Now, it’s so ingrained in me, I still do it. Mind you, some of my friends get the cookie just for the fortune. Not me, I actually like the taste of fortune cookies! Yeah, I’m unique; I could’ve told you that earlier. But I digress.

On my last Chinese joint visit, my fortune was: “You are the life of any party”. Now, I don’t know how accurate that assessment is, but it got me thinking. Why do we so eagerly want to know what a cookie thinks is our fortune? I mean, I know nobody REALLY believes that a cookie can tell us the future (I hope not!) but there’s a certain element of anticipation right before cracking that cookie in two and pulling that little strip of paper. Sometimes we laugh at how stupid the fortune is, but sometimes we just stare at it because it’s so creepily accurate. But is it? Or are we just conditioned to look to something outside of ourselves for our own fortune? I think about that a lot. How we can we learn to look within ourselves for the wisdom that can guide our lives in a better direction?

We all have life experiences, some more than others. Some (like me) have lived long enough to have amassed quite the collection of life stories that can guide ourselves and others, through giving considerate advice when others seek it, or though sharing our stories with others through online channels. Others, perhaps much younger, can look to friends, family members, and even (why not?) blogs and other online resources to glean that knowledge that they have not been able to live through yet. Some may be lucky enough to not have to live through some painful experiences thanks to the advice of others, while still learning from their experiences. If you have a mentor in your life, either formally or through following someone’s life experiences online, consider yourself lucky. Of course, your life is your own, and some things you will have to experience yourself in order to appreciate them. And we all know that nobody is perfect, which we’re reminded of periodically when some celebrity or politician or other public figure does or says something so spectacularly stupid that we’re forced to question how they got there in the first place. But I digress again…

My point? You don’t need to look to a cookie (or a celebrity or politician or psychic) to see what’s in store for you. You can search within yourself, listen to that small voice that some people call instinct, and make your own decisions. Life is not easy, and the hard questions will come soon enough, but armed with your intuition and the advice of those people close to you whom you trust and who genuinely wish the best for you, you can be happy and fulfilled. And if your gut feeling is telling you something needs to change, change it. Look for alternatives to those things that are not working for you. Be happy. Be fulfilled. Be free. Life is too short to waste it wishing you could be somewhere else or do something else, which will only ensure that later in life, you will regret not making those changes when you were young and/or able enough to do so. Do it now. Listen to your wise self and take action.

Be your own fortune cookie.

From Debtor to Minimalist

One nasty side effect of our obsession with stuff is that pesky little thing called debt. Oh yes, that four letter word that follows us around and doesn’t ever go away. Consumer debt practically fuels American society, and over and over we’re told that in order to be good little American boys and girls who help their country, we have to buy buy buy. Of course, if we can’t afford to actually pay for everything (because who can?) then we charge it. How convenient!

In my case, debt was my middle name. Ever since my early adult years, I remember using credit to get whatever I wanted. At one point, it became a fact of life – if there were things I wanted, I used credit to get them. Simple as that. And the sad thing us that for many years I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that philosophy. In fact, I really didn’t *think* of it, or consider it a way of life. But it was slowly killing me from the inside out, forcing me to work jobs I hated more than anything, and making me thoroughly miserable in the process. I became a greedy, needy consumer. I wanted more. I would buy something new, feel that rush for a day or two (literally), and then start itching for something new. And it certainly didn’t help matters that my “thing” was tech and gadgets; we all know those are not cheap! But it seemed like a rut I could not get myself out of.

Years ago I discovered the “simple living movement” and it instantly felt like something I would like to try. Just reading about how these people had discovered a way to live mindfully and without tons of material possessions was very interesting. But the main thing is that they seemed genuinely HAPPY. They did not look deprived, sad, or jaded. Instead, they looked alive and full of purpose. How refreshing. For several years I dabbled in simplicity, buying books and magazines about it (there I go buying stuff again!) and trying to live a simple life. For a while, it (sort of) worked.

Then, I discovered STORAGE! Wow! Now I could have tons of stuff and it was okay, as long as it was all neatly stowed away in color-coded boxes and bins with neat little labels. Who cared if you used any of it, just keep it nicely organized and you’re good to go. But there was a problem: I was still in debt and getting deeper. Something was not working. Something had to change.

I kept looking. And I discovered this website called Zen Habits by a blogger from Guam named Leo Babauta. Although I found it via Google while looking for something totally unrelated, as soon as I started exploring this site, something clicked. There was a wealth of information on all kinds of ways to live simply AND embrace minimalism and mindful living. Just reading his life story (which I recommend you do) was a real eye-opener. Here was a man who completely turned his life around and he was telling everybody how he did it. For free! And he had these amazing guest bloggers and great commenters and the breadth of knowledge everywhere was just insane. I took it all in and started to see a different path that was indeed possible for me. It s not easy and it required some hard choices, but it was what I needed and wanted. I started to follow him and those bloggers he recommended, and before I knew it I was reading about minimalism and thinking it was the greatest invention in the history of humankind. It was then when it became clear: if I pared down my material possessions to just those things that were really important to me, I could then start working towards digging myself out of the hole I was in, and start making different life choices to reach my goals and my dreams in life. How simple yet how powerful.

I started paring down, purging stuff, pulling out boxes that been sealed for years (yes, years) and began the process of streamlining my life. In the midst of this process, I began to not WANT to accumulate stuff. These things that I used to want to have, became things that were heavy and would weigh down my life if I kept them. It’s hard to describe how this happened, but it was a shift in my mental perception of material things and my need for them. Reading about all the incredibly brave people who had quit their jobs and traveled the world and wrote books and were living their lives on their own terms, just made it even more desirable for me, because it was clear that it was attainable, it was doable. If they could do it, why not me? I think that’s when I started calling myself a minimalist. It’s not a “label” as such, but a daily reminder to myself that life is too short to waste on banal crap that will never make me happy, and it also makes me accountable for my actions. People who know me know how I feel now, and if I slip, they will take me to task, and that’s okay. It keeps me real.

The main conduit to my becoming debt-free was selling my car. I finally took the plunge into becoming car-free (NOT car-less) in November 2010 and it’s a classic case of “why didn’t I do this sooner?”. I will go into full details in a later post, but this is what set the ball rolling, so to speak, and allowed me to pay off 3 credit cards in one fell swoop and start me on my quest to become completely debt-free. By this time next month, if all goes as planned, I should be fully debt-free except for my student loans, and those will definitely be dealt with soon. I feel free already, finally able to breathe. It’s a wonderful feeling. It’s also a little sad because I can’t help but think of the years I wasted away wallowing in debt and feeling sorry for myself while mindlessly buying more useless crap. But the past is gone, and the future is bright. I feel really good about my life now, because I am on my way to creating the life I want (and deserve) and not what society says I should do with my life.

The Conflict Within Me

There is a fight going on inside of me.

On the one hand, I am a minimalist, and I revel in keeping things simple, at the bare minimum, clean and sparse. This brings me immense joy and copious amounts of satisfaction. It gives me peace.

On the other hand, there is the part of me that lives in the real world, the real American world, if you will. This is the part of me that is constantly being bombarded with ads and jingles and flyers and billboards and images and words that promise me that I will finally be happy and everything will be perfect if I just buy Product X or Product Y or drink this beer or wear this cologne or drive this (very expensive and very fast) car. It’s amazing how, when your eyes have been opened to how marketing campaigns really work, you actually notice the sheer level of gimmickry that you’re being bombarded with on a regular basis. It’s truly amazing that we have any money left to pay our bills at the end of the month! No wonder when the month is over we’re left wondering where all the money went. This is the monthly curse of too many people.

Minimalism has tought me that I am not the sum of what I own (or owe, as is more often the case), and that my net worth as a person, as a human, comes from what is in my heart and mind. This is easy to understand in principle but sometimes hard to practice on a daily basis. Unless we’re in full-on alert mode (also knonwn as being MINDFUL), it will be very easy for us to fall prey to marketing ploys acting all around us. I am constantly trying to remember that I’m being led to believe someone else’s vision of what my life should be like and I must resist that every day. If I actually NEED an item, I will purchase that item, and if I want quality, I may pay a high(er) price for that item (minimalism is NOT frugality; we’ll discuss that in a later post) but it will be MY decision, my choice.

I guess that as a minimalist, I’m constantly thinking of ways to do more with less, to live a better life with the minimum amount of contraptions, and usually as a result, with the least amount of debt or waste. You can’t “un-learn” something once you’ve learned it. Ignorance is no longer bliss. I am on to those who would try to deceive me into giving in to their vision of happiness, always in exchange for my hard-earned money, of course. Once you know, you know. And you’re all the better for it.

Don’t let others tell you what to do. We stand for personal freedom and democracy in this country but all too often we are being enslaved by giant corporate interests that only want to take our money (in exchange for cheap trinkets that we don’t need), and our time (countless hours wasted in front of the TV being bombarded by ads telling us to buy even MORE cheap trinkets we don’t need). Do you want to go through life that way? There’s a better path. Trust me, it’s much better and it’s waiting for you.

Very soon I will be incorporating links on this blog to other blogs that will show you and inspire you to live a life of mindful purpose. These are people whose blogs I read on a regular basis and they have helped me grow as a minimalist and a mindful human being. I’m still learning, and learning is something we never stop doing, nor should we. We are all finding our way, but if we band together, we can make it. Keep visiting this blog and soon this info will be available for you.

Let’s continue on this journey together. I always like to say that we are all “perfectly flawed”, and I truly believe that to be a wonderful thing. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness, our beautiful humanity.

On Minimalist Travel

I’ve always been fascinated by the main character in the movie “Up In The Air” with George Clooney. The way he just up and leaves at a moment’s notice is pretty amazing, and he’s very efficient in his life and his use of time and resources. True, he may seem a bit cold at times and he may not be the best example of how to handle relationships, but you can’t deny the fact that he gets the job done and doesn’t waste time. I also read the novel (after seeing the movie, that is) and found that I could really identify with the main character. I love to travel and generally prefer to fly if I’m presented with the choice. The scenes that showed how he packed and unpacked and just seemed to glide through his trips were just fascinating to me. It’s very clear that Ryan Bingham is a minimalist. There’s no way he could pull that off if that wasn’t the case. He keeps his possessions down to a minimum and seems completely at ease with his life choices, although clearly he gets a lot of grief from just about everybody in the story.

But why am I bringing this up? Because I will be flying next week, from Chicago to Puerto Rico, to attend a family event. Again, I love flying, and I always look at it as an experiment in how little I can get away with, how minimal I can get. It’s just fun to me. I call this, “channeling my inner Ryan Bingham”.

I own one carry-on size suitcase (with wheels) and usually carry one additional bag for my tech stuff (iPad, Kindle, cords, etc.). Depending on how many tech items I’m carrying, this bag could be a backpack or a messenger bag. I refuse to carry more than this, and I steadfastly refuse to check luggage. Having to deal with luggage is just guaranteeing that I will be thoroughly stressed out by the end of my flight, and I just don’t have the time and energy to deal with that. But the main reason is that that I just don’t NEED more. Of course, sometimes that entails being creative with the items I decide to bring with me, and they all have to serve double duty. My clothing has to mix-and-match. I usually buy travel-size personal hygiene items when I get to my destination, so I don’t have to worry about travel restrictions and weight issues, and it’s one less thing I have to worry about packing (and forgetting). I also carry the bare minimum amount of underwear (including t-shirts) and socks. I might pack two pairs of jeans/pants (if I’m staying for a week, which is usually my timeframe), and 3 or 4 shirts, a pair of shorts, 2 or 3 t-shirts. Most of the time this works splendidly, although sometimes I end up not using some items at all. This allows me to fine-tune my packing list for my next trip, so it’s a learning experience. I have a washer and dryer at my disposal during my visit, so I can wash anything at any time, slashing my need for clothing to a bare minimum. The weather there is tropical also, so there’s no need for bulky sweaters or coats (except, of course, the coat I have to wear to the airport).

One neat trick (among many!) I learned during my military years was how to roll every item of clothing before packing, and it’s amazing how much you can fit in your bag or suitcase by rolling your clothes. Making sure you take advantage of every nook and cranny in your suitcase or bag is crucial. That being said, one common mistake many travelers make is packing too much stuff into their bags. We’ve all seen the funny images of people sitting on their suitcases in order to close them. This is futile for three reasons: 1. It’s almost inevitable that you will purchase at least one item to bring back home with you and you will need space to pack it, 2. Chances are you will receive some sort of gift if you’re visiting family or friends. Hence, you will need some breathing room in your luggage. You should try not to pack your luggage more than 80 to 85% full. You do NOT want to spend money on a new bag or suitcase for items you may not have use for in the first place and which might end up as clutter back home. Also, not having an overstuffed carry-on bag will ensure you will not be hated by your fellow passengers and flight attendants because your bag either takes up too much space or simply won’t fit in the overhead bins, making everybody else’s flight just that much more stressful. You don’t want that bad karma, trust me. And finally, 3. Our friends at the TSA love to open up our bags and see what we’re carrying (that is their job, after all), and they will not take the time to put everything back in your bag in an orderly fashion. Guess who’s going to have to do it? Right! And if you’re running late for your flight, that could be the difference between making or losing your flight. Again, stress will be guaranteed.

When I get to my destination, unpacking takes just a few minutes. I can start enjoying my stay right away. No hour (or more) spent waiting for luggage, or worse, filing a lost baggage claim (been there, done that, several times), or waiting in line to have my ticket/luggage verified. Also, I have never had my luggage picked up and taken home by somebody else, but I do know people who have gone through that, and that is one travel experience I never want to have.

When it’s time to return home, I may decide to purge an item (or four!) before packing, just to ensure a smooth, stress-free flight home. It always works. Traveling light means feeling light, feeling free, feeling like your vacation or trip was worth it, and that you genuinely had a great time. And that, of course, will make it easier to start planning your next trip.

Ryan Bingham would be so proud.