BCA Student Blog

Five Reasons to Embrace Minimalism While Abroad

Kia Ora fellow adventurers,

My name is Zack Hesse. As of the time of writing this article I’m farther away from home than I’ve ever been, in a strange land where penguins and tropical parrots commingle, where the people are outnumbered by sheep clinging to the side of grassy mountains, and where all the swans have had their color palettes inverted. I’m talking about New Zealand: Land of the Long White Cloud. It’s been over a month since I arrived, just one month in which to navigate all the intricacies of living in a foreign land as well as begin a full class schedule at the southernmost university in the world.

study abroad minimalismOn top of all this, I have but three pairs of pants to my name. Yet despite that, I couldn’t be happier – and it’s not because I’m a nudist who celebrates pantlessness. No: I am a minimalist. I chose to arrive in this country with a single modestly-sized hiking pack on my back weighing a little over 20 pounds. If you think I’m crazy then you wouldn’t be the first to do so, but there is method to my madness. Without further ado, here are the five reasons you too should embrace minimalism while abroad.

1. It’s easier than it will ever be

Stuff: it’s everywhere. The professor in my Metaphysics class told us in these highly technical terms, “most things are in fact composed of stuff.” It’s impossible to avoid having stuff unless you’re dead, in which case you likely won’t be studying abroad. But if you are lucky enough to possess a beating heart and warm blood, then you’re likely faced with the dilemma of what to do with all your stuff while traveling abroad.

You see, we’re inundated with possessions throughout our lives. Things pile up—old clothing that “still has some life in it”, esoteric papers and books from semesters long forgotten, decorations, awards, toys, gadgets, you name it. Even after taking a few trashbags’ worth of things to the local thrift store or donation box, it’s not long before our closets, attics, and basements are again packed full of things. Parting with these things is the necessary but most difficult initial step towards minimalism.

However, when one goes to study abroad, you get to leave all these things behind. It’s a materialistic blank slate. For many, it’s the first time in our lives when we get to decide exactly how much stuff we have (or don’t have). Unencumbered by most of the stuff which doggedly accompanies us through our lives, it’s the perfect time to get a taste of the minimalist life. But why bother? How can one actually gain anything through having less? Well…

2. Traveling is better with less

In my pack was everything I would conceivably need for the half-year I had ahead of me, which—if one is honest with themselves—is astoundingly little. I had basic camping gear, a hammock, toiletries, a few shirts, some pants, socks and underwear, and hiking shoes on my feet. My one concession to luxury was my stuffed whale, Whaleiam Sharkspeare, who doubles as a pillow while camping. With all the necessities on my back and no extra bags to carry or stress over, I was free to travel wholly unencumbered.

embrace minimalism abroadI flew into Auckland and through a combination of buses and ferries, homestays and hostels, I made my way on a 1,500 kilometer, two-week journey south to Dunedin. At no point did I need to pay extra for additional baggage, worry about theft or loss of my things from a locker or compartment, or strain myself carrying a hundred pounds of stuff around. Without more things to stress over, I could worry about the more important aspects of travel: what would the most fun way be to climb over that hill? Which picturesque rocky coast do I want to visit this weekend? Where would the best river to kayak down be? But most importantly, having less hasn’t just improved my traveling: it’s made me appreciate being a traveler more…

3. Having all the comforts of home ends up feeling like home

This is something people seem to forget while packing. Indeed, the question most ask themselves when is how they can make themselves the most comfortable with the least amount of things? But when one tries to replicate the same kind of life one has back home while abroad, it either feels like an inadequate and homesickness-inspiring knockoff or, worse, succeeds in shutting out the experience of traveling.

Now, I’m not advocating for hair-shirts and hunger strikes. Having a comfortable place to rest and recharge is essential to a healthy, proactive traveling experience. With minimalism, one can achieve a surprising level of comfort with very little—as one kiwi friend of mine put it, “I haven’t seen you without clothing yet so you seem to have succeeded”. But if one fills their life with the things one has at home, no room is left for the new experiences and things one comes across while traveling. It’s easy to forget that one is in a brand new part of the world when one’s surroundings look as they always have. Having less not only leaves room for more of everything while traveling, but gives you the ability to do more while traveling…

4. It saves money

It’s doubtful that you’ll be studying abroad in a place that doesn’t use money in some way. Money is king, unless you’re going to a country which still retains a monarchy in which case the king actually is king. Even in that case, money will still be useful to you: money allows you to take trips, spend your weekends exploring and adventuring, or to spend more nights at the bar if that’s how you choose. Money gives you more choices on your adventure abroad.

Checking just 1 bag at the airport can make a big difference while flying long distances. The same goes for storing a single bag on a bus versus multiple suitcases. Opting to bring less in a smaller bag can also save you from spending hundreds buying specialized gear you don’t really need before your trip. If you lose your bag, it costs you far less to replace its minimal contents than if you brought multiple bags full of fancier things.

5. It’s an easier life

Imagine not only leaving your boring old country behind, but also escaping from tedious chores such as organizing your room, doing your laundry, packing hiking packs, and so on. Alright, maybe you can’t entirely leave all those chores behind. What is true is that all these tasks take a fraction of the time, leaving you with more time and energy to go explore whatever country you find yourself in.

At the end of the day, it’s important to have enough things to feel comfortable and safe while you study abroad. There’s no reason to suffer for months on end if it will impact your explorations both naturalistic and academic. But studying abroad is the perfect time to ask yourself what actually makes you feel comfortable and safe. After all, traveling is as much about discovering someplace else as it is yourself.

About the Author – Zachary Hesse, Spring 2017 BCA Dunedin, New Zealand Student

 Zack Hesse is a Philosophy Major at Juniata College who loves books, beaches, and boats. If he’s not on the water he’s probably thinking about the water. He went to New Zealand so he could be close to the sea, and occasionally do some schoolwork. His website can be found at http://zackhes.se.

Minimalism Abroad

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The views and opinions expressed in these blog entries are those of the contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of BCA Study Abroad, the organization's staff, and/or other contributors to this website.