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December 9, 2012 / A Mindful Traveler

Learning About Simplicity from Expatriation and Travel

I’m privileged to live and work in a different country (South Korea) from the one I’m from (the United States), and also to live miles from any store or town.  I didn’t see the latter part of this sentence that way this time last year, particularly not on a day like today when three days of snow have made the journey out more challenging.  I’m not truly isolated, the way I was in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay, more like Thoreau at Walden Pond.

I mention all this because it means I need to keep everything I need (or might need) on hand, as does the fact that it’s hard to find clothes in my size here.  (I’m tall, not heavy, in case you’re wondering.)  Living abroad before (in Ireland) taught me the importance of not acquiring things I’d later need to let go of.  At first I wrote that as “dispose of,” but I was lucky that I was able to sell my television and radio, trade my books, and give my bedclothes and kitchen implements to a friend who let me stay with her after my lease expired.  Ever since, I’ve been loathe to acquire more than I need to of anything, and thus I’m fortunate that the housing my school provides comes furnished.

As with many other things, travel makes exercises in simplicity more intense.  Two years ago, I managed to pack for four months (and every season) in Peru, Argentina, and Chile in an ordinary backpack (one I used in high school, college, and graduate school) and a large duffel bag, the latter appropriately enough manufactured by Patagonia.  If anything, I should have packed less and I would if I were doing so again, but being a cautious person, I planned “por las dudas” as the Argentines would say.  (The literal translation is” “for the doubts,” but “just in case” is the closer English equivalent, though it lacks the self-critical quality of the original.)

One day, I hope I can simplify to the degree that Wandering Earl, who’s been travel for over a decade, has.  I doubt anyone will again reach the level of simplifying one’s life that Gandhi did.  It’s worth noting with both of these, that as in both these cases, advances in technology have allowed people to simplify further.  Certainly, I appreciate the fact that I can pack 100 books with me (using an ebook reader) for my trip to Southeast Asia next week, taking up less space and weight than a guidebook.  Most importantly, I think it’s worth remembering that for the most part, whether in traveling and life, you can buy things you need, when you need them, rather than accumulating them.  Adam Pervez of Happiness Plunge, has, as usual, wise words on this subject.

Both travel and living in a country temporarily can, I’ve found, bring out the best in people when it comes to barter and sharing.  When I was in Peru, I bought a mobile phone for about $20 dollars.  While in Argentina I traded it with another traveler for her guidebook.  (To be honest, I’m confident we each would have simply donated it to someone else absent this opportunity.)  I then traded the guidebook for a guide to Argentine slang with the owner of the final place I stayed in Argentina, each happy to have the other’s book.  Finally, I gave the book to a dear friend whom I met here in Korea who’s moving to Argentina next year and was particularly glad to be able to do so since it’s now out of print.

In this process, I’m reminded of a talk that a meditation teacher of mine, Yanai Postelnik gave, in which he described our bodies as rental accommodation.  It’s helped me to think of my possessions in the same way.


Leave a Comment
  1. Won / Dec 9 2012 11:24 am

    Thanks for sharing and it gives me a perspective on travel.


  1. Places to Be and Places to See « A Mindful Traveler

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Wandering Earl

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