“From all your herds, a cup or two of milk,
From all your granaries, a loaf of bread,
In all your palace, only half a bed:
Can man use more? And do you own the rest?”
— Ancient Sanskrit poem
Total post read time: 5 minutes.
Living well is quite different from “doing well.”
In the quest to get ahead — destination often unknown — it’s easy to have life pass you by while you’re focused on other things. This post is intended as a reminder and a manifesto: keep it simple.
This is written by Rolf Potts, author of my perennial favorite and heavily highlighted Vagabonding. In the below piece, I’ve bolded some particular parts that have had an impact on my life.
In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef off the coast of Alaska, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Initially viewed as an ecological disaster, this catastrophe did wonders to raise environmental awareness among average Americans. As television images of oil-choked sea otters and dying shore birds were beamed across the country, pop-environmentalism grew into a national craze.
Instead of conserving more and consuming less, however, many Americans sought to save the earth by purchasing “environmental” products. Energy-efficient home appliances flew off the shelves, health food sales boomed, and reusable canvas shopping bags became vogue in strip malls from Jacksonville to Jackson Hole. Credit card companies began to earmark a small percentage of profits for conservation groups, thus encouraging consumers to “help the environment” by striking off on idealistic shopping binges.
Such shopping sprees and health food purchases did absolutely nothing to improve the state of the planet, of course — but most people managed to feel a little better about the situation without having to make any serious lifestyle changes.
This notion — that material investment is somehow more important to life than personal investment — is exactly what leads so many of us to believe we could never afford to go vagabonding. The more our life options get paraded around as consumer options, the more we forget that there’s a difference between the two. Thus, having convinced ourselves that buying things is the only way to play an active role in the world, we fatalistically conclude that we’ll never be rich enough to purchase a long-term travel experience.
Fortunately, the world need not be a consumer product. As with environmental integrity, long-term travel isn’t something you buy into: it’s something you give to yourself.
Indeed, the freedom to go vagabonding has never been determined by income level, but through simplicity — the conscious decision of how to use what income you have.
And, contrary to popular stereotypes, seeking simplicity doesn’t require that you become a monk, a subsistence forager, or a wild-eyed revolutionary. Nor does it mean that you must unconditionally avoid the role of consumer. Rather, simplicity merely requires a bit of personal sacrifice: an adjustment of your habits and routines within consumer society itself.
“Our crude civilization engenders a multitude of wants… Our forefathers forged chains of duty and habit, which bind us notwithstanding our boasted freedom, and we ourselves in desperation, add link to link, groaning and making medicinal laws for relief.”
— John Muir, Kindred and Related Spirits
At times, the biggest challenge in embracing simplicity will be the vague feeling of isolation that comes with it, since private sacrifice doesn’t garner much attention in the frenetic world of mass culture.
Jack Kerouac’s legacy as a cultural icon is a good example of this. Arguably the most famous American vagabonder of the 20th century, Kerouac vividly captured the epiphanies of hand-to-mouth travel in books like On the Road and Lonesome Traveler. In Dharma Bums, he wrote about the joy of living with people who blissfully ignore “the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn’t really want…general junk you always see a week later in the garbage anyway, all of [it] impersonal in a system of work, produce, consume.”
Despite his observance of material simplicity, however, Kerouac found that his personal life – the life that had afforded him the freedom to travel – was soon overshadowed by a more fashionable (and marketable) public vision of his travel lifestyle. Convertible cars, jazz records, marijuana (and, later, Gap khakis), ultimately came to represent the mystical “It” that he and Neal Cassidy sought in On the Road. As his Beat cohort William S. Burroughs was to point out years after his death, part of Kerouac’s mystique became inseparable from the idea that he “opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levi’s to both sexes.”
In some ways, of course, coffee bars, convertibles and marijuana are all part of what made travel appealing to Kerouac’s readers. That’s how marketing (intentional and otherwise) works. But these aren’t the things that made travel possible for Kerouac. What made travel possible was that he knew how neither self nor wealth can be measured in terms of what you consume or own. Even the downtrodden souls on the fringes of society, he observed, had something the rich didn’t: Time.
This notion – the notion that “riches” don’t necessarily make you wealthy – is as old as society itself. The ancient Hindu Upanishads refer disdainfully to “that chain of possessions wherewith men bind themselves, and beneath which they sink”; ancient Hebrew scriptures declare that “whoever loves money never has money enough.” Jesus noted that it’s pointless for a man to “gain the whole world, yet lose his very self”, and the Buddha whimsically pointed out that seeking happiness in one’s material desires is as absurd as “suffering because a banana tree will not bear mangoes.”
Despite several millennia of such warnings, however, there is still an overwhelming social compulsion – an insanity of consensus, if you will – to get rich from life rather than live richly, to “do well” in the world instead of living well. And, in spite of the fact that America is famous for its unhappy rich people, most of us remain convinced that just a little more money will set life right. In this way, the messianic metaphor of modern life becomes the lottery – that outside chance that the right odds will come together to liberate us from financial worries once and for all.
“Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing…”
— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
Fortunately, we were all born with winning tickets – and cashing them in is a simple matter of altering our cadence as we walk through the world. Vagabonding sage Ed Buryn knew as much: “By switching to a new game, which in this case involves vagabonding, time becomes the only possession and everyone is equally rich in it by biological inheritance. Money, of course, is still needed to survive, but time is what you need to live. So, save what little money you possess to meet basic survival requirements, but spend your time lavishly in order to create the life values that make the fire worth the candle. Dig?”
Dug. And the bonus to all of this is that – as you of sow your future with rich fields of time – you are also planting the seeds of personal growth that will gradually bloom as you travel into the world.
* * *
In a way, simplifying your life for vagabonding is easier than it sounds. This is because travel by its very nature demands simplicity. If you don’t believe this, just go home and try stuffing everything you own into a backpack. This will never work, because no matter how meagerly you live at home, you can’t match the scaled-down minimalism that travel requires. You can, however, set the process of reduction and simplification into motion while you’re still at home. This is useful on several levels: Not only does it help you to save up travel money, but it helps you realize how independent you are of your possessions and your routines. In this way, it prepares you mentally for the realities of the road, and makes travel a dynamic extension of the life-alterations you began at home.
“Travel can be a kind of monasticism on the move: On the road, we often live more simply, with no more possessions than we can carry, and surrendering ourselves to chance. This is what Camus meant when he said that “what gives value to travel is fear” — disruption, in other words, (or emancipation) from circumstance, and all the habits behind which we hide.
— Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”
As with, say, giving up coffee, simplifying your life will require a somewhat difficult consumer withdrawal period. Fortunately, your impending travel experience will give you a very tangible and rewarding long-term goal that helps ease the discomfort. Over time, as you reap the sublime rewards of simplicity, you’ll begin to wonder how you ever put up with such a cluttered life in the first place.
On a basic level, there are three general methods to simplifying your life: stopping expansion, reining in your routine, and reducing clutter. The easiest part of this process is stopping expansion. This means that – in anticipation of vagabonding – you don’t add any new possessions to your life, regardless of how tempting they might seem. Naturally, this applies to things like cars and home entertainment systems, but this also applies to travel accessories. Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes people make in anticipation of vagabonding is to indulge in a vicarious travel buzz by investing in water filters, sleeping bags, and travel-boutique wardrobes. In reality, vagabonding runs smoothest on a bare minimum of gear – and even multi-year trips require little initial investment beyond sturdy footwear and a dependable travel bag or backpack.
While you’re curbing the material expansion of your life, you should also take pains to rein in the unnecessary expenses of your weekly routine. Simply put, this means living more humbly (even if you aren’t humble) and investing the difference into your travel fund. Instead of eating at restaurants, for instance, cook at home and pack a lunch to work or school. Instead of partying at nightclubs and going out to movies or pubs, entertain at home with friends or family. Wherever you see the chance to eliminate an expensive habit, take it. The money you save as a result will pay handsomely in travel time. In this way, I ate lot of baloney sandwiches (and missed out on a lot of grunge-era Seattle nightlife) while saving up for a vagabonding stint after college — but the ensuing eight months of freedom on the roads of North America more than made up for it.
“Very many people spend money in ways quite different from those that their natural tastes would enjoin, merely because the respect of their neighbors depends upon their possession of a good car and their ability to give good dinners. As a matter of fact, any man who can obviously afford a car but genuinely prefers travels or a good library will in the end be much more respected than if he behaved exactly like everyone else.”
— Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness
Perhaps the most challenging step in keeping things simple is to reduce clutter – to downsize what you already own. As Thoreau observed, downsizing can be the most vital step in winning the freedom to change your life: “I have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all,” he wrote in Walden, “who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or sliver fetters.”
How you reduce your “dross” in anticipation of travel will depend on your situation. If you’re young, odds are you haven’t accumulated enough to hold you down (which, incidentally, is a big reason why so many vagabonders tend to be young). If you’re not-so-young, you can re-create the carefree conditions of youth by jettisoning the things that aren’t necessary to your basic well-being. For much of what you own, garage sales and on-line auctions can do wonders to unclutter your life (and score you an extra bit of cash to boot). Homeowners can win their travel freedom by renting out their houses; those who rent accommodation can sell, store, or lend out the things that might bind them to one place.
An additional consideration in life-simplification is debt. As Laurel Lee wryly observed in Godspeed, “cities are full of those who have been caught in monthly payments for avocado green furniture sets.” Thus, if at all possible, don’t let avocado green furniture sets (or any other seemingly innocuous indulgence) dictate the course of your life by forcing you into ongoing cycles of production and consumption. If you’re already in debt, work your way out of it – and stay out. If you have a mortgage or other long-term debt, devise a situation (such as property rental) that allows you to be independent of its obligations for long periods of time. Being free from debt’s burdens simply gives you more vagabonding options.
And, for that matter, more life options.
* * *
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self Reliance”
As you simplify your life and look forward to spending your new wealth of time, you’re likely to get a curious reaction from your friends and family. On one level, they will express enthusiasm for your impending adventures. But on another level, they might take your growing freedom as a subtle criticism of their own way of life. Because your fresh worldview might appear to call their own values into question (or, at least, force them to consider those values in a new light), they will tend to write you off as irresponsible and self-indulgent. Let them. As I’ve said before, vagabonding is not an ideology, a balm for societal ills, nor a token of social status. Vagabonding is, was, and always will be a private undertaking – and its goal is not to improve your life in relation to your neighbors, but in relation to yourself. Thus, if your neighbors consider your travels foolish, don’t waste your time trying to convince them otherwise. Instead, the only sensible reply is to quietly enrich your life with the myriad opportunities that vagabonding provides.
Interestingly, some of the harshest responses I’ve received in reaction to my vagabonding life have come while traveling. Once, at Armageddon (the site in Israel; not the battle at the end of the world), I met an American aeronautical engineer who was so tickled he had negotiated 5 days of free time into a Tel Aviv consulting trip that he spoke of little else as we walked through the ruined city. When I eventually mentioned that I’d been traveling around Asia for the past 18 months, he looked at me like I’d slapped him. “You must be filthy rich,” he said acidly. “Or maybe,” he added, giving me the once-over, “your mommy and daddy are.”
I tried to explain how two years of teaching English in Korea had funded my freedom, but the engineer would have none of it. Somehow, he couldn’t accept that two years of any kind of honest work could have funded 18 months (and counting) of travel. He didn’t even bother sticking around for the real kicker: In those 18 months of travel, my day-to-day costs were significantly cheaper than day-to-day life would have cost me back in the United States.
The secret to my extraordinary thrift was neither secret nor extraordinary: I had tapped into that vast well of free time simply by forgoing a few comforts as I traveled. Instead of luxury hotels, I slept in clean, basic hostels and guesthouses. Instead of flying from place to place, I took local buses, trains, and share-taxis. Instead of dining at fancy restaurants, I ate food from street-vendors and local cafeterias. Occasionally, I traveled on foot, slept out under the stars, and dined for free at the stubborn insistence of local hosts.
In what ultimately amounted to over two years of travel in Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, my lodging averaged out to just under $5 a night, my meals cost well under $1 a plate, and my total expenses rarely exceeded $1000 a month.
“When I was very young a big financier once asked me what I would like to do, and I said, ‘To travel.’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘it is very expensive; one must have a lot of money to do that.’ He was wrong. For there are two kinds of travelers; the Comfortable Voyager, round whom a cloud of voracious expenses hums all the time, and the man who shifts for himself and enjoys the little discomforts as a change from life’s routine.”
— Ralph Bagnold, Libyan Sands
Granted, I have simple tastes – and I didn’t linger long in expensive places – but there was nothing exceptional in the way I traveled. In fact, entire multi-national backpacker circuits (not to mention budget guidebook publishing empires) have been created by the simple abundance of such travel bargains in the developing world. For what it costs to fill your gas-tank back home, for example you can take a train from one end of China to the other. For the cost of a home-delivered pepperoni pizza, you can eat great meals for a week in Brazil. And, for a month’s rent in any major American city, you can spend a year in a beach hut in Indonesia. Moreover, even the industrialized parts of the world host enough hostel networks, bulk transportation discounts, and camping opportunities make long-term travel affordable.
Ultimately, you may well discover that vagabonding on the cheap becomes your favorite way to travel, even if given more expensive options. Indeed, not only does simplicity save you money and buy you time, it makes you more adventuresome, forces you into sincere contact with locals, and allows you the independence to follow your passions and curiosities down exciting new roads.
In this way, simplicity – both at home and on the road – affords you the time to seek renewed meaning in an oft-neglected commodity that can’t be bought at any price: life itself.
# # #
Resources for lifestyle simplicity
[Note from Tim: I took Walden with me, along with Vagabonding, when I traveled the world beginning in 2004. Less is More came a few months later, and I still reread it every six months or so.]
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
The philosophical account of Thoreau’s experiment in anti-materialist living. An American literary classic for over 150 years.
Less Is More: The Art of Voluntary Poverty: An Anthology of Ancient and Modern Voices Raised in Praise of Simplicity, edited by Goldian Vandenbroeck (Inner Traditions, 1996)
Quotes and essays on the value of simplicity, from the likes of Socrates, Shakespeare, St. Francis, Benjamin Franklin, and Mohandas Gandhi — as well as the Bible, the Dhammapada, the Tao Te Ching, and the Bhagavad Gita.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin (Penguin USA, 2008)
A best-selling book that uses a nine-step process to demonstrate how most people are making a “dying” instead of a living. Practical pointers for achieving financial independence by altering your lifestyle.
Voluntary Simplicity: Toward a Way of Life That Is Outwardly Simple, Inwardly Rich, by Duane Elgin (Quill, 1993)
First published in 1981, this is a popular reference and inspiration for those looking to live a simpler life. Strongly themed toward environmental sustainability.
The Simple Living Guide: A Sourcebook for Less Stressful, More Joyful Living, by Janet Luhrs (Broadway Books, 1997)
Luhrs is the founder and publisher of The Simple Living Journal (and the companion website). Book contains tips for living fully and well through simplicity.
Budgeting and money management
The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Living on a Budget, by Peter J. Sander, Jennifer Basye Sander (Alpha Books, 2005)
A concise guide to planning and abiding by a day-to-day budget.
The Budget Kit: The Common Cents Money Management Workbook, by Judy Lawrence (Kaplan, 2008)
Easy-to-use tips for managing your finances and getting the most out of your income.
The Complete Tightwad Gazette: Promoting Thrift As a Viable Alternative Lifestyle by Amy Dacyczyn (Random House, 1999)
Nine hundred pages of compiled tips for frugal living.
How to Get Out of Debt, Stay Out of Debt, and Live Prosperously, by Jerrold Mundis (Bantam, 2003)
This book helps you get out of debt, stay out of debt, and live prosperously.
Generation Debt: Take Control of Your Money, Carmen Wong Ulrich (Business Plus, 2006)
Personal financial advice for young adults.
An online resource for saving money in day-to-day life. Weekly columns on thrift and simplicity.
A detailed blog with personal finance tips.
Vagabonding for seniors
The world’s largest educational and travel organization for adults 55 and over. Offers 10,000 programs a year in over 100 countries. A good way for traveling seniors to get a taste of other cultures before striking off on their own.
State Department Travel Tips for Older Americans
Posted online, this tip sheet is a useful primer for older independent travelers. Topics covered include trip preparation, passport and visas, health, money and valuables, safety precautions, and shopping.
Transitions Abroad’s Best Senior Travel Websites
Extensive rundown of links, resources and articles about senior travel.
Lonely Planet’s older travelers’ forum
An online message board for senior travelers.
Products, services and discounts for travelers aged 50 and over.
Online travel resources for Baby Boomers.
Vagabonding with children
Lonely Planet Travel With Children, by Cathy Lanigan (Lonely Planet, 2002)
A practical guide to the challenges and joys of traveling with children, including trip preparation and kid-friendly destinations.
Gutsy Mamas: Travel Tips and Wisdom for Mothers on the Road, by Marybeth Bond (Travelers’ Tales, 1997)
Inspirational and informative advice on staying healthy on the road, traveling to third world countries (and close to home), and keeping children of all ages entertained and adults energized.
Your Child Abroad: A Travel Health Guide, by Jane Wilson-Howarth, Matthew Ellis. (Bradt Publications, 2005)
Accessible and practical health information for parents traveling with children to far-flung areas of the world.
One Year Off: Leaving It All Behind for a Round-the-World Journey with Our Children, by David Elliot Cohen (Simon & Schuster, 1999)
When David Elliot Cohen turned 40, he quit his job, sold his house and car and left to travel the world — with his wife and three kids (aged 8, 7, and 2) in tow. A first-hand account of how vagabonding exotic lands can be a family experience.
Take Your Kids to Europe: How to Travel Safely (and Sanely) in Europe with Your Children, by Cynthia Harriman (Globe Pequot, 2007)
A book of practical tips for traveling families traveling to Europe on limited budgets.
Adventuring With Children: An Inspirational Guide to World Travel and the Outdoors, by Nan Jeffrey (Avalon, 1995)
A classic book of advice on roaming the world with children, including preparation tips and adventurous family destinations.
Family Travel: The Farther You Go, the Closer You Get, by Laura Manske (Travelers’ Tales, 2000)
A collection of literary tales about family travel.
The Family Sabbatical Handbook: The Budget Guide To Living Abroad With Your Family, by Elisa Bernick (Intrepid Traveler, 2007)
Advice for families considering an expatriate stint abroad.
WorldTrek: A Family Odyssey, by Russell and Carla Fisher (Rainbow Books, 2007)
A family of four spends a year traveling the world.
Online information on worldwide destinations for adults and children. Features discussion boards and advice for all manner of family travel issues.
Traveling Internationally With Your Kids
Online resources for traveling overseas with children. Features guidebook recommendations, trip preparation tips, and activity suggestions.
Ideas and stories about how to make travel fun for kids.
For families who are on the road fulltime, on extended road trips, or are just dreaming about it.
Boostnall Traveling with Children forum
An online message board where family travelers can ask questions and share information.
Another useful online family-travel message board.
A Kiwi family with eight kids and a grandpa chronicle their pilgrimage from Singapore to London and beyond — overland all the way.
A blog documenting parent-child travel around the globe.
A family of six, ranging in age from 38 to 4, embarked on an 11-month round-the-world adventure in August 2006. This blog tracks their preparation, travels, and return to the US.
(A version of this post originally appeared as Chapter 3 in Vagabonding by Rolf Potts)
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224 Replies to “The Difference: Living Well vs. Doing Well”
Cheers to Rolf for the Jack Kerouc reference and the quote from Dharma Bumbs.
I finished Jacks book “On The Road” last week and it inspired the road trip Im on right now. Most recent highlights: The chicken tacos I ate at an obscure taco shop in Provo utah and a 22 year old blond I met in a Salt Lake City Bar.
Drinks all around.
Ah, I re-read vagabonding almost obsessively. When I’m feeling uninspired I’ll open up any of the chapters for some “brief reading” and almost undoubtably end up reading it all over again. Such a brilliant book.
Walden was great too although a bit too dense to re-read regularly.
Will add a few of the suggested books to my Amazon shopping list. 🙂
food for thought from the great george carlin…
and i can’t help recommending the slow movement… (see carl honoré’s book).
What an inspiring post! In order to declutter your life I recommend this advice form Unclutterer.com: http://unclutterer.com/2010/05/11/evicting-justin-case/
Total read time 5 minutes???
Takes about 20 🙂
See Tim’s post on speed reading
I love that poem at the beginning. I have to find its original !!
I find it interesting how Rolf points out that people became environmentalists by only changing their consuming behaviour and not the amount of their consumption. I’m guilty of adding fuel to that by buying essentials/selling non-essentials on Etsy, but I think/hope that our intentions are mostly agreeable 🙂
And I like this sentence:
“Because your fresh worldview might appear to call their own values into question (or, at least, force them to consider those values in a new light)”
I see this happen a lot. Maybe we do the same sometimes? Hmm, I have to think about that.
Lastly, one of my fav quotes about valuing time from Al-Ghazali:
” Each of your breaths is a priceless jewel, since each of them is irreplaceable and, once gone, can never be retrieved. Do not be like that deceived fools who are joyous because each day their wealth increases while their life shortens. What good is an increase in wealth when life grows ever shorter?
Therefore be joyous only for an increase in knowledge or in good works, for they are your two companions who will accompany you in your grave when your family, wealth, children and friends stay behind “
I agree with the intention of your comment on buying and this statement but but believe they overlook the chance we have to really be environmentalists hen we shop wisely for essentials like food:
“Such shopping sprees and health food purchases did absolutely nothing to improve the state of the planet, of course”
Buying Super New Chia-Seed Cheetoes won’t help anything, but buying organic and sustainably grown food can. Saving money and cutting your expenses by eating lower on the food chain reduces the amount of oil you consume.
That said, I love this post. Will rethink an upcoming tour to see how I can make it thriftier and longer.
Good stuff Tim. I plan on heading out very soon, blogging the entire time. Thanks for posting.
habe in deinem Buch gelesen, dass du ein bissel Deutsch sprichst und hoffe du verstehst den Kommentar.Großartiger Beitrag mal wieder, bin auch ein großer Fan von seinem Buch ” Vagabonding “.
Für mich sind auch dolectures.com und die Beiträge immer sehr inspirierend.
Besten Gruß aus good ol Germany
Inspiring story, it gives you a completely different view on vagabonding, and make you rethink what your life is supposed to be.
I’m looking forward to reading that book, thanks a lot for sharing!
Awesome, inspiring Post, Tim!
Thank you also for the interesting book references at the end. Over here in germany, that kind of lifestyle doesn’t seem to be such a huge thing as in the U.S. So as I’m blogging about that topic it’s always good to have “brainfood” like this.
A genuinely inspiring post that will serve me well over the course of my own expeditions.
@diego Carlin had it figured out. Very glad I got to see him at IU before he passed.
I really want to read vagabonding (and other books), but i can’t find it anywhere here (morocco). Besides, amazon isn’t available in my country :s
Any ideas ??
You could always download (and buy) a PDF or ebook version. If they completely block you from even that try using a free vpn or proxy to appear in the US.
Great piece. FYI, the opening poem reminds me of a chapter of Lone Wolf And Cub called ‘Half Mat, Whole Mat, A Fistful Of Rice’, where a simple-living – but happy -ex-samurai -challenges our itinerant heroes with the idea that they don’t need to be murdering people for pay, because everyone’s needs are essentially basic and the same. It’s a great story and heartbreakingly written, although obviously it ends in a massive sword fight.
I couldn’t agree more. A former work colleague was clock watching and I berated her for always looking forward to five o’clock, lunch time or the weekend and wishing her life away, whilst dragging the morale of the team down by doing so. She said, “Working sucks but it’s better than the alternative.”
I said, “There’s more than one alternative,” and showed her this site.
I love that someone else thinks so much like me and that I can feel qualified in my unusual and controversial outlook by the existence of such a great book and website. You get one go at life, so keep it interesting! Nice one Tim.
Great article, Tim, and it just came at the perfect time. I have wanted to do this for so long and felt held back by the millenia of concerns, and namely i have a 1 year old. You totally smashed my fears out of the water and have inspired me with what ive always known deep inside. Its great to be able to connect with so many people in this online sphere. And it always amazes me, how i just randomly seem to stumble across the exact, perfect information that i needed 🙂
The less you consume, the less you have to work. The less you have to work, the more time you have.
As simple as that.
The philosophical approach is already well-known and widely popularized by various books and blogs. As it was properly mentioned, for millions of years. However, it’s definitely worth reminding, so thank you for the post!
Not sure if long-term vagabonding for several years is quite my thing even in the possible future, but principles surely apply very well for life in general and short-, mid-term traveling as well.
On the value of time, I recommend a story from Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh called Thanh Thuy’s Apple Juice. The little girl doesn’t want a glass of apple juice offered to her because the pulp is stirred up. Half an hour later, she is still thirsty, and the monk reminds her of the glass. She sees it is now clear, and after drinking some, says “Was it meditating like you?” In reply he says that actually he imitates the glass of water when he sits. The story is at the start of his great book “The Sun My Heart”, which has a lot of other stuff about living simply too. Highly recommended.
Wow, thank you Rolf and Tim! It took me a long time to feel comfortable owning more possessions than would fit in my car 🙂 When one owns a lot of stuff, one’s concentration is inevitably held captive whether or not the stuff is being used at that very moment. You own material possessions in your head as well as your house.
Does anyone remember a short special on PBS about simplifying your life? All I can really remember is a hand literally feeding coins into a hole in the ground labeled “rat hole.”
I left the US 3 years ago and I’ve been traveling Asia non stop for the last 10 months.
Articles about traveling are sometimes uplifting, but a common theme I see is ‘You can do anything if you’re cheap!’ but when I think of cheap, I think of constantly roughing it like I’m camping in a foreign land, staying at dirty places, and constantly watching my belongs so I don’t get ripped off. That’s not everybody’s ideal way to travel. From my experience a person doesn’t have to travel by living a stereotypical backpacker lifestyle if they don’t want to. Sometimes you have to save on things while traveling, sure, but if you’re traveling for an extended period of time you might just be able to live a lavish lifestyle while on a minimalist budget.
I read the 4 Hour Work Week in December of 2008 which got me motivated about what I do for a living, becoming a minimalist, and traveling. After some research and commitment I took the plunge and redesigned my lifestyle. I think budgeting is key to make sure you don’t get into any financial trouble when traveling, but it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to live the commonly thought “cheapest way possible” to make things happen. For example, I’ve never stayed in a hostel. But with a friendly smile, good attitude, a little networking, and some negotiation skills I managed to stay at a villa in Phuket with a pool, full kitchen, TV, wifi, daily maid service, and large patio area overlooking the ocean on one side and a jungle on the other side for less than $10 a day. With a kitchen it’s always easy to save money on meals and I made friends with everybody living there. Other times I’ve spent $5-15 per night staying in clean and modern guesthouses, apartments, and even condos. (I average about $10 per night.) One idea is to check ads in the area, look online, or get a roommate, and sublet an apartment. Another tip is to befriend a driver or two in the country your traveling in because most times if you’ve created a bond and you’re paying for their services they’ll tend to look out for your best interest. For example a driver I knew got a $40 per night hotel down to $15 for me.
I often eat affordable meals, but at once every 1-2 months I don’t mind splurging on what I would consider 4 star restaurants with friends where meals cost $9-20 per person, or hit a fancy lounge/bar where drinks are $4-6 each. Most times my meals, entertainment, and travel have always been affordable like the author mentioned. But they’re all tasty, fun, and travel has been easy. Taking buses and trains are more affordable than expensive airfare, but when you can spare the cash and have want the cheapest route it’s good to remember there are budget airlines like http://www.airasia.com that will take you to another country for $60-100.
I have nothing against how other people travel and how little or much they spend, I just wanted people to know that there are many options for travelers even when vagabonding on the cheap. Of course the path you like and what choose is up to you.
Great advice, Steve. Doing something affordable definitely doesn’t have to mean suffering. It just means you have think laterally.
Great resources and advice for minimalist living and the transition to long term global travel! I look forward to returning to these resources again and again as I plan out the next few months! (… and will acquire a copy of Vagabonding immediately 🙂 )
Any advise for someone who’s motivated to follow this type of adventuresome life, but whose significant other doesn’t have the desire to come with?
I dig this post but felt there was one thing missing. Traveling alone in a country where you don’t speak the language, don’t know anyone and without the benefit of an empirical travel guide, is scary. You have that down moment when your close to paranoia that someone will rob you, lost, and you’re thinking “what am I doing here?” and that’s scary. But that moment, and what you do from that moment is what helps define you. Doing the things that scare you is exactly what you need to do. (Within reason)
Tim, because of your original book and the recommendations at the end of it, including Vagabonding, I am happy to say that for the last 24 months I have been living happily abroad in the islands of Thailand, and now in the west Caribbeans, a little island called Utila.
Thank you so much for your insight and recommendations bro!
Johnny Jen – living well, scuba diving, muay thai kickboxing, and enjoying the world.
Nice! Ah, I LOVE Thailand. Be sure to work on your Muay Thai clinch and watch out for those sneaky swinging knees!
Inspiring words from Rolf. I cant get enough of it. Great resources too… I’ve got a lot of reading to do.
4HWW and Vagabonding changed my life. Just got back from 3 months in South America. Going to Italy very soon. Working on my muse right now…
Thank you Tim. Thank you Rolf.
Great inspiring advice and there’s plenty more where that came from in Vagabonding. As someone who circled the globe three times before I started really being a travel writer, I lost count of how many friends and relatives asked how in the world two of us could travel so far and so long without being filthy rich. Often these same people had houses overloaded with stuff they seldom used and drove cars that they couldn’t really afford. I came back after three years on the road with a higher actual net worth than almost all of them—because I wasn’t so far in debt. Now I’m not vagabonding so much with a kid in school, but both cars in the driveway are 10+ years old and paid for…
Among all your works of writing, this is beyond the most inspiration I have yet to read. You’d be proud to know that I’m starting my own vagabond group. Our first meeting is this Saturday where we shall talk about our travels over wine at a picnic and possibly plan a trip to Belize. Tim, you are truly a gemstone in this panicky world of complexities.
I will be posting some pictures of some future vagabonders on my blog after this weekend.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” – Jack Kerouac
Words of wisdom and a sober guide to freedom. Thanks.
Wow that was a long post..I do agree with the basic premise that once you generate enough income to sustain yourself, anything extra has a much lower utility in comparison to the utility of free time. The most important reason people overspend is keeping up with the Joneses. People are watching TV and trying to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous, which is why so mane Americans are in debt.
If you think this one’s long, you should find my post on Seneca 🙂
I could never look at another website again besides this blog and have enough info to last me a lifetime. I’m always impressed with how much useful stuff you pack into a single post. Thanks Tim!
PS – another book about getting rid of clutter that is very good is “It’s All Too Much”.
PPS – Ever been to Walden Pond? My commute takes me by it everyday. Still one of my favorite places (been going since I was 2, now I’m 30, ha!)
Thanks Tim, great post! One of the things that I’ve found most interesting from finishing grad school and starting a business (with virtually zero extra spending money left over) is that the habit of buying things is quickly forgotten. I honestly can’t remember the last time that I bought something for personal use that wasn’t either to eat, to make my car go or to read. When I was working fulltime for someone else though, personaly shopping was a weekly activity and the amount of crap that I owned but didn’t really need piled up.
Hello Tim and Rolf:
Thanks very much for the post. I’ve not read Vagabonding, but I’ve read and heard very good things about it. I’ll make it a point to pick up a copy.
Having been a Peace Corps Volunteer myself and having backpacked through more than a few countries, I can certainly identify with the simplicity of having everything that matters to you on your back (and even that stuff not all that much). There is a certain liberating feeling about not needing to maintain anything, not needing to replace anything, not needing to constantly “keep up with the Jones'” is a character building experience. And having lived in a developing country for almost 2 1/2 years and spent my time in local housing, at a local standard of living, interacting in local culture, I can say that it is both rewarding and reassuring of one’s own sense of self.
However, I would like to suggest, based on my own experience, that there is a categorical difference between backpacking through countries, no matter how long you are there, and making an intentioned decision to stay in and interact with one community for an extended period of time. My experience in Peace Corps was far more rewarding than any country I’ve been to since, no matter how long I’ve been there. It’s been my own observation that after the initial introduction to backpacking/vagabonding, there is less marginal benefit to each new experience. I’ve found that countries and destinations start to run together after awhile, and you start to integrate less into the culture and appreciate your experiences less.
On that note, it might be wise to schedule in regular breaks from vagabonding, else you lose the true splendor of the experience.
I once read a quote about meditation (which I can’t find for the life of me) that went something like, “Meditation is not being calm sitting on some remote mountaintop, it is being calm in the middle of New York City.” This does point at the simplicity at home Rolf mentions, but I think it also suggests that building character is not a process that comes through avoiding your world or your community through travel, but rather pushing yourself deeper into that community. This is not said to denigrate vagabonding, but rather to keep perspective on the fact that travel in itself does not guarantee you understand the places you visit, and does not cut your connections to a community back home, even if it does free you from material responsibilities.
Further, I think it’s important to point out that even though I think Emerson’s thinking was revolutionary and has really contributed to the argument for simplicity above all else, an argument could be made that he was also a misanthrope, that he held a sort of elitism about his place in society (or rather removed from it), and he seems in Walden to delight just a little too much in counting how much he spent in relation to look farmers, or voicing his opinion about how everyone else looked at the world. In addition, his essay on Civil Disobedience could be viewed as escapist, i.e. I am an individual and I have a right to refuse to do what my government says because it has no right to tell me what to do. That is a far cry for Martin Luther King, Jr. stressing the right of the individual to actively refuse to comply with unjust policies.
My general point is that there is evidence to suggest that there has been a breakdown in American communities in recent decades (see the book Bowling Alone), and that has real implications that have nothing to do with materialism. I just want to acknowledge that while there is much to be gained from individual self-discovery on the road, there is much to be gained for society by being in one place and making a strident contribution, and I don’t mean a material one.
Perhaps this explains why integrating into a foreign community with a sense of purpose is more rewarding than moving from one country to the next. But again, this is my perspective and absolutely, unabashedly, I value the message of your post and I would be a hypocrite if I claimed I didn’t pine for and hold dear life on the road.
Awesome comment. Thank you.
Outstanding comment. Thank you so much for posting.
Thanks. Not just for this post, but for helping open my eyes to new possibilities. I read your book over 2 years ago and I’m happy to announce we (my wife and I) have officially started. Today we purchase 2 one way tickets to Europe. Itinerary in mind we plan to be on the road for 1 year. England, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Romania, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Greece, Italy, Egypt…that’s the plan. But, you know what’s said about “plans”? God laughs.
Congratulations, Joseph! The trip will change your lives. No doubt.
Good on ya’ for taking the leap. It’s not so scary once you do it.
Well you lied about 5 minutes reading time, either that or I’m getting slower.
I’ve been backpacking 15 months now and counting, it’s really not too hard especially in asia budget wise. Australia killed my budget a lot, but living out of a campervan reduced that heavily, I cook my own food using a gas bottle and stove, and don’t have to fork out $25 a day to stay in a hostel.
Still yet to read vagabonding although it is top of my list!
Ah, I tried on the reading time. I had a friend read it and she clocked in at 4:30. She is a fast reader, it seems 🙂
Tim – Nice post, and I definitely agree with the sentiment. So many of us think that happiness is defined by “having”. That is to say having a 56″ TV, having a nice car, having an arbitrarily high account balance. So it turn, we break our backs trying to “have” as much stuff as possible.
I think (and expect you’ll agree) that “having” is a poor substitute for “doing”. Thinking back, the happiest times in my life have not stemmed from things I had, but from things I did. The state championship my senior year of high school. The spontaneous overnight drive with roommates to Florida for a weekend in college. A wild weekend in New York City with my brother and a close friend. Experiences are far more memorable than possessions.
So I sat down to figure out how I could reallocate my funds away from “having” and focus on “doing”. As part of this exercise, I made a list I called “30 by 30” – 30 things that I want to accomplish while I’m still young and relatively unencumbered by things like a mortgage and children.
You can checkout the whole list (along with some more thoughts on having vs. doing) at my blog, but I’ve excerpted a few of my favorites below:
– Learn guitar well enough to play cover songs for tips one night in a bar.
– Get lost for a summer weekend in the Rockies with only a tent, sleeping bag and camping stove.
– Attend a party at a rooftop bar with a view in New York City.
– Sail for a week in the Bahamas, on a rented boat, without a guide (become good enough sailor to accomplish this).
– Beat one of the old men in the park at chess.
I’d really encourage everyone to make a similar list – it’s a great exercise and helps give you that push to start doing things that are truly memorable.
Fantastic post Rolf and Tim, gives me a lot to think about. It is hard to remember that focusing on the personal experience and interpersonal interaction make travel – and life! – so much more pleasurable. In a year, sometimes more, sometimes less, the stuff we accumulate is covered with dust, discarded, and forgotten. But never the experiences and never the connections.
also – would love to know others’ experiences of simplifying and vagabonding with kids (and how they dealt with pets)
Great Post (as always)
The title “On a basic level, there are three general methods to simplifying your life: stopping expansion, reining in your routine, and reducing clutter” is something I can really relate to….
Having just moved from the UK to the US I took the opportunity to reduce clutter (although I was already fairly clutter free). One of the main things I now haven’t had for 4 months is a TV…it has been a great routine changer and given me the opportunity to reduce ‘mind clutter’ (as I call it) further.
Thought I’d share
Good words! Whether you are talking about traveling, or anything else you wish to do, the point is to do it. Find the way and go do it. It doesn’t matter if it is going to some far off land, or recording your first CD at age sixty.
Living by design is something that we all should be taught in school. It does not matter what your design is, only that it is your design!
Great post, expense is the biggest question I get as well and I always point out I left NZ debt free with $1000 2 years ago and haven’t worked a 9-5 since! Great RWEmerson Self Reliance quote.
Incredible. I’m recommending this to my “inner-circle” right away.
Thanks for sharing this Rolf!
I was privileged to participate to a one year foreign exchange program from Italy to the US as a high school student. And I know Tim you participated to one too. It was a great way to start vagabonding and learning about the world.
Not to mention how many doors that experience has opened for me throughout my life.
You don’t need to be wealthy to travel the world. There are plenty of scholarships to study overseas and volunteer abroad opportunities that if you haven’t been abroad you almost have no excuses. All these opportunities are just one click away.
See you on the road,
I picked up Rolf’s Vagabonding book after reading 4HWW. It’s easy to mindlessly accumulate stuff over time, but living a life of simplicity is very much a conscious and deliberate choice. Great wisdom here, thanks Tim…
not everybody likes to travel constantly or vagabond. For others, to live life is to experience things that are near, explore beyond the usual confines only ocassionally. Also, some accomplishments in this world require a person to remain in one place for long periods of time. That being said, I like the thrust of the article, and it will be of great use to those that are more adept at being mobile and superficially curious. Like I said, to experience a culture fully, you have to delve into that culture for years. I know because I immigrated to the U.S. from Argentina many years ago and I still find things that are new to me in the U.S. Being an immigrant, my impetus is not so much to move around. But I understand that I may be the exception, and not the rule. Good article!
The only thing that I can add to this piece is: Try not to identify or put a label on yourself. You can only do what feels right in the moment. Projecting an image as a monk or hippy does not make you one, instead, it pushes you further away.
Warren Buffet is an interesting person b/c the way he makes money has no relationship to his lifestyle. If no one told you, you could mistake him for a guy that sold insurance for 35 years of his life. His lifestyle is independent of his money. If he lived like a person worth $50b, he would not be Warren Buffet, just another rich guy in history.
Thanks guys, this post made me reconsider my aspirations for more travel and a more enjoyable life.
I am a firm believer, subscriber and liver of this philosophy even since I was turned onto it by both you guys. Yet it’s still amazing how important the constant reminders and reassurance are to staying on track. The hardest part about it is the disapproval bordering on perception of arrogant entitlement of those around you. It’s like they’re offended that you choose life over what what everyone else is doing…consuming.
Thanks Tim and Rolf!
Tim, you traveled across the world at an exceedingly young age–the age of lust. Surely you must have enjoyed many a dalliance, particularly in the genetic jackpot that is Buenos Aires. I know I’d certainly treasure, as would many other young bachelors, a tasteful post on romance abroad.
Un abrazo fuerte,
Tim-great post and resources. Also check out “Living Well on Practically Nothing” by Ed Romney. It’s on Amazon.
One of my favorite pieces of writing from Rolf.
The section on Kerouac reminds me deeply of my last year living hand-to-mouth traveling the U.S. Vagabonding has a certain mystique to it that is only encountered alone, on the road, wherever you may be amongst millions in NYC or alone in the woods of Vermont.
Great post Tim. I read your book about a year ago and just got my firsts drop-ship order today! Things are happening. 🙂 I also am getting ready to close on my third real estate property which when all said and done will allow me the freedom to do what I want (instead of work in a cubicle). Thanks for the inspiration!
Timely post! We have been re-reading Vagabonding and Rolf’s new book in preparation for our first long term travel trip. Built the muse (thanks Tim!), got out of debt, have been simplifying, and now ready to go. The combination of 4HWW + Vagabonding has made such a difference in our lives. Thank you both!
Thanks for posting this Tim. Rolf’s way of simple living is inspiring. I think the important thing to consider is that this is one of many ways to live simply. I’m in the process of creating my own way of living simply. The phrase I keep in my head is simple luxury. For example, I’m not big on hostels. I’d rather rent out an apartment or shack up with locals through sites like couchsurfing.com or tripping.com. Basically, I think anyone serious about going simple should understand their limits and embrace them.
I still need to read that book, great insight once again.
I’m a stickler. Although I really enjoyed this post I still see myself as a Comfortable Voyager and when I travel I believe living well means indulging materially, and sensually. Nice sheets and expensive cheese help!
I don’t think there is a Kerouac in everyone.
The trick I feel is to know when you’ve made enough in order to actually enjoy it.
Perhaps I am lost to the notion that it’s “fame or failure.”
Siyabonga – good meeting you at your talk in Cape Town earlier this year.
Love this post. Simplicity is a great way of life. If we moved from our home, we could do it in a small rent-a-van. We used to have just tons of… STUFF. We sold all of it, made a few thousand dollars off of stuff we never used and we’ve been junk free ever sense. As part of that transition, we figured out where we were spending out money and made alterations to our spending habits as well. Now, we have the same income, but we don’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck–simplicity really does make a man free.
Where can these cheap beach huts be found?
If I could stay somewhere like that for $2000/year
I would go on a three month vacation TOMORROW.
Can somebody expound on these?
After getting PIMPED one more time by my bank (I know it’s my fault – long story) this post came right on time.
I have a lot of reading to do and I’ve already started getting rid of “stuff”.
I’ll let you guys know how it’s going from time to time. Love the post.
My fiancee and I just got back from a 3-month ‘mini-retirement’ – traveled through India and SE Asia. It was so inspiring and such a life changing experience.
Also, it’s amazing how cheaply one can live while traveling through some of these countries. For anyone that is hesitating on taking a leave from work, go for it, you will not be disappointed!
Thanks Tim and Rolf.
Looks like my next few months of reading is set. Loved, and will relove, Vagabonding. Also dig Leo Babuata’s Zen Habits site…it’s written in much the same spirit as Potts’ book and this post.
I have traveled, inspired by Rolf, Tim and mostly a strong desire inside of myself to “break” my way of living, and it was wonderful. My take upon returning from a year abroad is that travel and vagabonding was an awesome experience FOR ME, but it may not be for everyone.
If an individual can look at their life as it is today and begin to fall in love with themselves, the people around them and everything they have (including their possessions), they may never need to leave their hometowns.
G’day Tim. As ever, you are an inspiration. Thank you for your continued reminder that I’m only back at work just long enough to get back on the road. Last year, at age 33, I finally put my failing health and 8 week old baby first and took six months off to travel around Australia in a second hand Winnebago. It was the best thing we’d done since driving a kombi from Alaska to Turkey 10 years ago. My wife and I are now expecting our second baby and will head off again, this time for two years (with two kids under 18 months). As soon as you’re on the road, you forget what you used to waste so much time worrying about back home. I hope you get a chance to checkout our blog at … We’re not rich enough to afford the Winnebago, we just chucked it on our home loan. Better to do the trip now and pay it off slowly over 20 years than save up for 20 years and do it when I’m in my 50s. Cheers, Tim.
YES YES YES !!! No worries, veggie curry !!!! Rolf rocks and the timely inspiration is much appreciated. Thanks Tim !!!
What a nice reminder of what is really important…and all those quotes took me right back to high school and college. I’m going to have to read those books again…but will they fit into my backpack?
What happened to the bonus material on http://www.fourhourblog.com when I try to go to the site I am directed here.
Just look under “Resources” on the navigation bar.
This is just some really good stuff, man. Always wanted to read Jack’s books and this a good reminder. And Rolf is just a good writer. Plain and simple. His material is thought provoking, it just makes sense and is practical.
I’m a huge fan of the outsourcing concept but I’ve found out the hard/expensive way that the India connection is not all its cracked up to be. I’ve lost thousands through Brickwork for example. They provided me with what we consider to be basic “cut&paste” research reports. They don’t follow (clearly defined, written) instructions very well, and they go into full hiding mode when complaints are launched.
I hope others have better success – or take heed…
Great post! Just one comment (which is bad news for the environment). The Exxon Valdez oil spill is actually only the largest oil spill in US waters (untill the recent BP Gulf disaster) Its not even in the top 30 for the world.
It was, depending on who you ask, one of the worst environmentally. The largest oil spill ever? The Persian Gulf at 240million barrels of oil. The Exxon Valdez was (only?) 11 million. Thats 22 minutes worth of oil for the USA.
Again, I enjoyed the post! Keep it simple.
A true manifesto! 🙂 really enjoyed it! Thanks Tim and Rolf.
Here is a funny campaign a postal service did – Stefan the Swopper. That everyone here should enjoy! This was commercial but if we all did what Stefan did, it would be liberating! http://www.digitalbuzzblog.com/stefan-the-swopper-social-media-viral-campaign-case-study-english/
Hey Tim, I’m graduating on Saturday and have to take 4 more classes throughout the summer to get my Undergraduate… Where can I find more information about living in Indonesia for a month’s rent? That sounds like something worth doing for at least a few months. Would be a great time, 22 years old and looking to travel starting in September and would love to get more prepared.
“Despite several millennia of such warnings, however, there is still an overwhelming social compulsion – an insanity of consensus, if you will – to get rich from life rather than live richly, to “do well” in the world instead of living well.” Even though I’ve never read the book, this really resonates with me and sums up the idea behind my blog.
I am also working to get rid of stuff. My husband and I sold our house in 2006 so we could have a more mobile lifestyle. We are digitizing memorabilia and data so we can get rid of more possessions. We have almost no debt left of any kind. We don’t want our stuff to own us.
Awesome post, as usual. Early next year, the wife and I are planning on buying a one-way ticket to Europe and just seeing what happens. Plans are to stay about a year, or however long we feel like it, then heading back at our leisure.
Problem is Europe is rather expensive. Currently we plan on doing as much Couchsurfing as possible, though I know that’s not reasonable to do for a full year. Or maybe it is. I’d like to do Asia first to make sure money is OK but the wife insists on Europe; who am I to say no? Do you think that’s doable?
I have a blog that brings in some money, maybe $20k a year, so that’s going to help out with income, then we’ll get part time jobs at a local deli or something as needed to get to know the culture and people too. I’ve been working on starting a real business but just can’t seem to come up with anything good enough.
You’re always mentioning “Walden,” which is on my shift, but yet to read.
Have you read Edward Abbey’s “Desert Soltaire”?
I’m working through it right now, and seems to be in a similar vein. Good read if you’re into the SW United States.
shift = shelf*
work to consume VS work to experience.
Thanks for simple reminder that in life there’s more important things then the latest car or designer jeans.
While I think its nice to have a few nice pleasures, its important to stop at a certain point and realise that experiences create more meaningful memories.
I’m looking forward to my next mini-retirement to Florianopolis, Brazil.
I am so grateful I found this blog post. Over the past year or so I have been wanting to travel around the world. I had no idea how I was going to do it because I by no means had enough money. I wanted to take at least 6 months and travel, but then thought that doing a week here, 3 weeks there, 5 nights here, etc. might be the better route.
After reading this post… Traveling around the world – or in a different content a a time for that matter for 1 year now seems more possible then ever and more fun then ever. I have been trying to live a more simpler life over the past few weeks and am making progress, but slow progress at that.
I will be referencing back to this article often, reading it a few times and engaging in the resources provided.
Thanks Tim! I have stumbled across your site a few times and will now be back way more often. Your book is on my long list of books to buy… it has now certainly moved up to the list.
Great Post! It makes me want to reread Vagabonding. Thank you.
I wanted to express that living simply is often a matter of figuring out what really makes you happy instead of swallowing the line that to be happy one must own a big house, fancy car and so on. But can take a lot of living before that knowledge is gained.
In my case, I had the fancy car, a law practice, the gorgeous house. When my life turned around, I found myself living in a studio apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and completely happy even though it measured perhaps 20′ x 20′.
Upon my return to the USA, I moved into a one bedroom/one bath apartment and continued to drive my old Rav.
I have been travelling full time (no home location) since June last year, and about 7 months per year for 3 years before that.
So many things I have learned about making it work, but the number one is about who I am with and what I am doing. The most fun is staying with friends or staying in a youth hostel. It also depends if you are travelling by yourself or with a partner.
I would go so far as saying that if you have money you are less likely to have fun when travelling, because you are more likely to stay in boring hotels, and boring 5 star resorts.
Travelling is one of those things where cheaper is often better (although there are exceptions: Business class flights and heliskiing are two exceptions, both very expensive and but good if you can get them … I would never pay for business class flights, but points flights are great).
Now I’m thinking it’s time to settle in one place however for a few reasons: It’s harder to develop a consistent group of friends and community when constantly travelling, and it’s maybe harder to maintain relationships when travelling (although it is easy to meet people if you stay in youth hostels).
Overall, it’s a good experience to go vagabonding for a few months or a couple of years. In fact I think it’s a must do. But extending it past a couple of years is difficult on the Psyche.
Also I think a lot of people have the “illusion” that it would make them so happy to have the freedom to travel and do whatever they want. I think if you are unhappy at home doing your 9 to 5 job, you are also likely to be unhappy travelling around the world seeing amazing places.
Thanks for posting this at just the right time for me. I’m ready to jump on the minimalist train simply to free life up. I’m a fairly new father and life is taking over. I have finally realized that I put too much attention where it does not need to be. The more I cut out, the more value comes in.
So the message here is to simplify and travel. Now, how do I justify
burning thousands of gallons of non-renuable fossil fuel to take tango
lessons in South America?
Perhaps I should stay home and plant trees to sequester the carbon dioxide vagabums create?
Bush was right you (we) are addicted to oil. By the way, the McDonald’s in Paris is much like the one in San Francisco. So put on a baret and plant a tree.
there is a typo in the paragraph that begins “This notion – ”
i believe in the last sentence the word never should be in place of ever.
otherwise, brilliant, i will be sending to all my family.
Cool, thank you. Will get on it.
I’m currently reading Walden, which basically incorporates many of my personal-political ideals into a great story and philosophy. I’m reading it as a public domain ebook on my new Nexus One, though – if a non-religious man can commit blasphemy, I think that’s it.
But the more important part is this:
I read Vagabonding on my plane ride to my six week sabbatical in Dominica plus the US, which has taken me through the most beautiful nature island in the Caribbean, the music (and flooding) of Nashville, the post-Katrina soul (and oil spill) of New Orleans, and the cosmopolitan soul of New York City that I’ll always love, and will always make my home of Oslo a little too small.
Really, Rolf has let me enjoy that trip even more than I would have original, and if anything, the book should carry a warning label like 4HWW. It’s basically like willfully committing yourself to being stateless. At the moment I finished it I wanted to cancel any plans that might force me to go anywhere. I didn’t go there that quickly, but I did start planning for longer mini-retirements in the near future.
But if there’s one thing to do to feed the soul, it’s travel. I’ve been gone for six weeks, and I’ve experienced more than in a long time. It feels like I haven’t been home in a year. And, I have *lived*.
The next challenge is to incorporate the slow-paced life full of experiences into my “other” life and making them one. That challenge starts when I’m going back to Norway on Saturday. Couldn’t be a better time, though – Oslo is really the perfect place to spend a summer.
Awsm post and resources.
I live this lifestyle of simplicity and am about to embark on an abroad vagabonding journey myself. I get it and subscribe.
I wonder: will this understanding become mainstream? Or continue to be an underground movement?
With the degree of volatility permeating the globe, an investment in becoming highly mobile and valuable as an individual seems to me to be very wise.
It resonates with me in that recently I have been taking inventory of everything I do, and slowly working out what I do and do not need in my life. Simplicity and focus are concepts I wish I had started applying years ago!
you are the real deal!!!
With your words, blog posts and THE book you inspire me in every step for nearly 3 years. Thank you!
About a month ago I packed my bags (yet again…) and started a new adventure: 1st working to save money in a new country, than planing to go traveling, learning and volunteering in Brazil (this would normally light my fire-“ADULT ADD- adventure deficit disorder” Tim Ferriss).
BUT what I’m present to is: I miss HOME.
Going traveling again, suddenly seems like I will have to give up on being with my love ones.
Anything you can say in the matter?
Looking forward to hearing from you
Thanks in advance
Just wanted to point out that the quote from the Bible mentioned above is not “gain the whole world, yet lose his very self” it is rather “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” – Matthew 16:26 (NKJV)
I checked Bible.cc and from the 17 versions quoted there they all say pretty close to the NKJV above and none of them mention “self” as the important distinction between using “self” and “soul” is that material things are not important when in comparison to where one’s soul will go when they die rather than in comparison to one’s sense of self (although that is still a good but lesser point).
In context of the entire chapter of Matthew 16 the point is that earthly possessions matter little and that one should look to Jesus Christ for their salvation since where one’s soul spends eternity is what is important.
Reignited by this post. Thanks Tim, I have been downshifting on my personal space lately. I just sold my house and moved into an apartment. I can lock the door and drive off and not worry about anything.
Tim, although a lot of it is spot on there is one thing that bothers me – in the majority of the examples the author is capitalising on the dollar to local currency ratio and market difference. That is very formidable factor but how do you build a system with such an unstable variable?
Shushu, if you miss home GO HOME. Living simply doesn’t mean giving up what you need and want. And why travel if it isn’t fun?
Rob, it is true that ‘wherever you go, there you are,’ but travel–simply getting away for awhile–literally saved my life…took me out of a bad situation into one in which I was able to become a healthier, happier person. I would hazard a guess that I am not alone in having this experience.
Best of luck in your travels, everyone, whether they be around the world or around your neighborhood.
Thank you for posting this Tim and thank you to Rolf for taking the time to put the post together. I find this sort of post truly inspirational. I think to a certain extent Rolf’s anecdote about the American aeronautical engineer reflects also the general attitude towards breaking the mould in other areas of modern society. It seems astonishing to me that people who decide to go against the grain and not life a hectic 9-5 lifestyle are sometimes perceived as ‘lazy.’ It shows how deeply engrained in society the ethic of living to work is when it really should be the other way around.
As a final year student myself, I have found it very interesting asking others what they intend to do once they graduate. My experience has shown me that towards the start of their courses, my friends were a lot more open minded and generally seemed to have an interest in not being just another person, living a stress inducing, hectic lifestyle where they sacrifice their greatest currency of time for that of money and material possessions. However, towards the end of their studies I noticed a distinct shift in attitude. Despite showing a burning intrinsic desire to break the mould, people start to seem content to ‘settle’ for the norm. Usually they are drawn in by the prospect of earning decent money and when I remind them that previously, they said to me that they would not get caught in the cycle of living simply to earn more and buy more material possessions, they seem to reply that earning big money will help them live that lifestyle they want ‘after a few years.’ At that stage, I realise I’ve lost them to a kind of deferred lifestyle pattern that is so engraved in our present society. Maybe if people were taught at a younger age that there was more than one type of lifestyle, it might encourage them to dream a little more and really seize life for what it’s meant to be; fun. Why are we not taught at a young age that life is what we decide to make it? I know I definitely would paid attention to that class at school!
Thank you for the post once again guys.
I am planning to go to the Carnival Cruise terminal on Sat where a ship is departing at 4:00 pm and try to buy a no-show’s cabin. Has anyone done this successfully? I mean just go with cash and passport in hand and try to get on the boat because with over 2,000 passengers I bet someone will miis the boat.
@Nick Do you mean Thoreau in Walden? I have had the same thoughts. He seemed to argue simply that the people who look like they need help don’t actually want it, so you should just live for yourself. And I think his criticism of “progress” at that time (e.g. building national railroads) was a little simplistic. I don’t know if he was in fact a misanthrope in real life, if he does seem somewhat elitist in his book. He did have some very deep thoughts.
Thanks for all the great feedback, everyone! It’s been eight years since I put that simplicity advice into the pages of Vagabonding, and it’s been great to see so many people take those ideas to heart. I always learn a lot myself when people get together like this to sound their ideas and share their experiences.
For everyone who enjoyed the resources above, I have even more extensive (and updated) vagabonding resources online here:
Keeping in mind that I don’t have time this morning to address everyone, here are some quick thoughts:
@Baahar: Thanks for the Al-Ghazali quote. “Do not be like deceived fools who are joyous because each day their wealth increases while their life shortens.” Great stuff.
@Maxil: You might check any big-city Moroccan bookstore that stocks English-language books. Odds are they can special order Vagabonding for you.
@Steve @SouthAfricanJono: I completely agree that “cheap” is not the bottom line when you travel — “value” is what it’s all about. I talk about this in Vagabonding, and Tim touches on it in the 4HWW. It’s all about getting the best value out of your travel experiences with the money you have. Usually this means avoiding “luxury” resorts, but it also can mean spending a few extra dollars (or a few extra weeks) to create the best experience possible.
@CH: It’s fairly common for a “significant other” to be less enthusiastic than their partner. You actually might have them read Vagabonding — since it has convinced many a spouse (and parent, for that matter) that travel is less expensive/complicated/dangerous than you might think. You might also start them slow. Take them someplace exotic for a week or two and just chill out, get to know the place, enjoy the vibe. That might help them “get” the joy of slow travel.
@Joe: You touch on another point from Vagabonding (chapter 7, actually). Facing fears and learning to love improvisation is key to the travel lifestyle.
@Nick @Ramiro: You guys also touch on a point from Vagabonding (chapter 9). I’m all about slowing down, about finding a place you fall in love with and living there for awhile. If a yearlong trip is about constantly moving from one place to another, it will eventually feel like work. That’s why I encourage people not to over-plan their trip — that way they can linger when they unexpectedly discover a place they love. Volunteering (Peace Corps or otherwise) is another great way to experience a place.
@Matt: I agree that TV can create a kind of “mind clutter.” I don’t own a TV, since so you spend so much time just surfing around and killing time. Plus you’re not really missing anything by not having a TV: News can be found more efficiently online, and can’t-miss TV shows can be streamed or watched on DVD.
@Chris: You’ll get more mileage for your budget in Asia — and Asia is mind-blowingly amazing — but if your wife insists on Europe there are strategies to save money. Couchsurfing and similar services are key, as is doing your own cooking. You might also consider making your way down to North Africa or the Middle East, which is going to be a lot cheaper than Europe. Eastern Europe is a lot cheaper than Western Europe — but still a lot more expensive than Asia. You could travel twice as long on the same budget in Asia.
@Ryan Flynn: Yes, Edward Abbey’s “Desert Soltaire” is fantastic. I quote it in the pages of Vagabonding. If you have the time, it’s worth reading all of Abbey’s books. He’s an American classic.
This is just to say “thank you” for the tweet about a group of donors matching all donations to Room to Read’s Girls’ Education program in May.
I bought a load of £8 ($12) theatre tickets for a new play to give to friends, but was inspired by reading “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” on your recommendation to only do so if they each gave £25 ($37) to the charity. In exchange I’d also give them drinks and nibbles after the show and a copy of the book.
One of the attendees then pointed out that he pays 40% tax and works for a company that has a donations matching scheme, so if we put the money through him the government would increase the donation by 1.66x, which his company would then double to 3.33x. Then I read your tweet about R2R’s Mothers’ Day challenge so am going to collect the money in advance, doubling its buying power to 6.66x. The evening is now going to raise well over $3,000 (more than enough to fund a girl through her entire education) despite an investment of only £325 from us. Giving away money has never been cheaper.
Of course, this is just a small initiative but I plan for it to be the first of many. I’m currently working on a long-term project which is a muse that will donate a percentage of its profits to the charity.
Oh, and this is a great post. Rolf Potts and yourself put some of your best material into this blog!
Tim and Rolf,
Thanks so much for your books and wisdom. Vagabonding and 4HWW have a prominent place on my book shelf. Also, I’m reading “Marco Polo Didn’t Go There” right now. It’s a great read and basically provides storied examples that compliment the lessons in Vagabonding. I highly recommend it.
Also, inspired by both of you, I will be traveling to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and hopefully more places this Summer. Thanks!
Great post Tim !
Dont like the googleads: your blog is great because there are no distractions on it – it helps minimise the interruptions and focus on the material: keep it that way! What do you really want?: someone who clicks on the ad, or someone that “stays” with the topic and reads the whole article?
Great content as usual: although I am failing miserably at the moment with outsourcing: I end up micromanaging… Any recommendations on Letting Go? I intellectually get it (let small bad things happen) but the bug of perfectionism catches me daily…. Help !
Love the Emerson quote! – Roger Ost
Some of the best times in my life were spent “vagabonding” between teaching stints in Asia. Two years of teaching in Japan financed my hitchhiking the length of that country, biking across Indonesia and biking the length of the Philippines.
Didn’t travel with much, helped folks along the way and was never without a place to rest and pick up the next day. Simply the best way to soak in a country, its culture and its people and learn a lot about yourself along the way.