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Embracing Minimalism: How Traveling with Two Carry-Ons for Three Months has Changed Our Lives

Updated: Feb 9

Two years ago, Carla and I decided to sell nearly all our possessions and begin our journey of spending three months in Europe, twice a year. We kept just a few suitcases in storage, our cars (necessary for navigating the car-dependent U.S. upon our return), and the bags we carry on our travels. We consider ourselves both homeless and citizens of the world, a notion that may seem complex and bewildering and yet it brings us immense freedom and joy. Wherever we go, for as long as we are there, that becomes our home.

Initially, confining our luggage to two carry-on bags wasn’t something we had considered. We started our journey with our 28” suitcases, filled with every conceivable necessity, only to realize after two weeks that we had made a significant mistake. The hassle of maneuvering them on and off various trains led me to firmly believe that our future travels should be with two carry-ons only. Carla was initially hesitant about the idea, but I persisted. Fast forward a couple of trips and this decision has not only made our travels far easier but has also profoundly influenced our perspective on material possessions and the culture of consumerism.

I clearly remember the first time we went to the airport with only our two carry-on bags, headed off on a three-month-long journey. We weren’t quite sure if our packing was absurdly inadequate, or incredibly liberating. But once we boarded our plane (with no checked luggage) and began our journey, it became the portal to a minimalist lifestyle that not only changed how we travel but how we live and perceive the world around us.

The challenge we set for ourselves was bold - to travel for three months across various climates and settings with just two carry-on bags. This meant meticulously rethinking what we considered essentials. It meant prioritizing versatility over quantity and quality over convenience.

At first, the idea seemed overwhelming, but the actual act of downsizing was surprisingly liberating. Sorting through our possessions, it quickly became clear that much of what we had accumulated was unnecessary. Clothing we hardly wore, gadgets we barely used, and miscellaneous items that merely took up space were the first to go.

We discovered that packing minimally doesn’t mean sacrificing comfort or style; it means getting creative with what you bring. Every piece of clothing had to serve multiple purposes - a scarf that doubled as a blanket, shoes that worked for both hiking and dining out, layers that could be mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits.

Adopting a capsule wardrobe became our mantra. We opted for neutral colors and classic styles that worked well in any situation. The use of packing cubes and compression bags were far more than just organizers; they became indispensable allowing us to make the most of our limited luggage capacity. Even with our belongings pared down to just two bags, we’ve noticed that not all items get used. Our journey towards efficiency continues to be a work in progress.

Traveling with just two carry-ons was an eye-opener. The lightness wasn't just physical; it was psychological as well. We spent less time repacking and more time experiencing. Boarding trains and moving through cities became a breeze, and we discovered an unexpected joy in the simplicity of having less. Our focus shifted from maintaining possessions to gathering experiences. Without the distraction of possessions, we found ourselves more present, more engaged with our surroundings, and more open to spontaneous adventures.

The art of “less” taught us valuable lessons in letting go, not just of material items, but of the fear of not having enough. Minimalism, we learned, was not about deprivation; it was about liberation from excess. Each item we carried had a purpose, and if it didn't serve us, it didn't make the cut.

We found that we didn't miss the things we left behind. Yes, we found ourselves washing clothes more frequently, but this small adjustment allowed us to engage with life more fully. We tested the limits of what we truly needed and discovered that we needed far less than what we previously thought.

As our journey wound down, it was clear that this new approach to travel had deeply impacted our understanding of need versus want. What began as a practical challenge in packing efficiency evolved into a broader philosophy that began extending into all areas of our lives.

Adopting a minimalist lifestyle has brought numerous benefits beyond the initial appeal of simplicity. One that we especially like is the reduction of our environmental impact. Practicing conscious consumption leads to less waste, and our minimalistic approach challenges the throwaway culture that's so prevalent today. Our appreciation for sustainable products and durable materials has significantly deepened, and we now view ourselves as much stewards of the Earth as we are explorers wandering through it.

I view minimalism not as an actual destination or endpoint, but as an ongoing process of reflection and adaptation. There are still moments of temptation, times when consumerism's very loud (and sometimes appealing) voice is hard to ignore. Yet, with each choice, the minimalist path becomes more deeply embedded within my lifestyle, and the benefits become increasingly apparent.

We've discovered that life can be richer with less. That the space we create by eliminating clutter can be filled with more meaningful interactions, deeper relationships, and a clearer sense of purpose. By traveling with only two carry-ons for three months, we've opened a door to a lifestyle that constantly challenges us to reflect on the essence of what we truly need and value.

Ultimately, embracing minimalism hasn’t meant reducing life to its bare minimum, but instead, identifying what those essentials truly are. It’s been a journey of self-discovery, embracing responsibility, and improving our overall quality of life. Whether it's globetrotting with just carry-on bags or dealing with the intricacies of daily life, minimalism provides a framework for enhancing our lives by owning less and experiencing more. As our travels have shown us, every day presents an opportunity to pack lightly, travel far, and live deeply.

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