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Traveling and Living Lightly

By most people's standards, I travel a lot.  Whether you are trying to save money, reduce your environmental impact, or free yourself from possessions, even if you never actually go anywhere, it helps to look at your life from the perspective of a traveler.

Whenever we travel, we must make choices about what really matters, what to take with us and what to leave behind., decisions about lifestyle and activities we will engage in.  Are we going hike and camp, stay in hotels or hostels, work out, read, practice music, etc.?  Is this a vacation, business trip, a way of life, or all three?  In other words, we have to decide how much of our life at home we will take with us in one form or another.   For me at least, it is rapidly becoming all of these things (as I write this, I haven't been home in almost six months), and I have come to realize that most of what I have left behind is no longer necessary to my life, so when I return, it will be time to downsize again.

Some people might view me as a minimalist, but  I don't think that is really the case, it is more that I have become very focused on what really matters to me, and one of the things that matters most is how much weight I am carrying around when I travel, but (as you will see) I don't let it keep me from carrying non-essential items if they are important to me.

To start off, it helps to list the activities you must be able to engage in, and the activities you would like to be able to engage in, since these set the minimum requirements your gear must meet and the "nice to have" options as well.  For me these are as follows:

Required (necessary for my work):

  • Software development - part of my business is working as a consultant writing software for other companies.
  • Teach natural building workshops - another part of my business is teaching people how to build houses using an old English building technique called "cob", how to build ultra-high efficiency wood burning stoves, and occasionally other related techniques.
  • Public talks/lectures - I also need to be prepared to stand up in front of large groups and give public talks.
  • Writing - and of course I need to do what I am doing right now, i.e. writing my usual drivel so you will have something to read :-)
  • Travel for an indefinite period - When I leave, I don't know when I will return.  For short, specific purpose, fixed length trips, it is possible to make very specific plans and bring gear with you accordingly, for indefinite travel, gear usually needs to be more general purpose.
  • Take photos - pictures of the projects I work on, and workshops I teach can be important to have later.
  • Secure internet access: email, manage this web site and others, keep up technically, upload data, perform computer backups.
  • Read books / study - some books are necessary for the work I do, others I am studying with an eye towards returning to school sometime in the future.
  • Travel reasonably safely in almost any part of the world.  I avoid going places which might cause my lead allergy to act up - i.e. I am allergic to being hit by pieces of lead leaving guns at high velocity.  Pretty much anywhere else is a possibility.

Want to do (things I want to do that would not be provided by the above):

  • Work out - it took a long time to shed the extra pounds, I would not only like to keep them off, but preferably, return in better shape than when I left.
  • Swimming
  • SCUBA Diving
  • Practice guitar - long ago I used to be a tolerable player, today to put it simply, I suck (never practice).  I would like to reverse this trend
  • Hiking in all weather and  terrains: heavy rain, sun, high winds, temperatures from roughly 0 to 110 deg. F (-20 to 45 deg. C) I don't particularly want to be in these extremes, but once you head out, it's too late to change your mind if the weather shifts.  I don't intentionally go snow-camping, but need to be prepared if the mountains have other ideas.
  • Go out on the town occasionally

Some of these things like "Read books" could obviously go into both categories, and there are many implications of some of the other categories for clothing and gear which must be carried.  Extreme heat and cold may be possible, unsafe drinking water or no water (safe or otherwise), so safety needs to always be a consideration in every aspect of gear selection.

In the pages that follow (or will follow - this is a work in progress) is a summary of some aspects of how I live, the specific gear I carry, and why I have chosen these particular items.  My current pack weight is roughly 35 lbs / 16 kilos with full food for four to five days hiking and 1/2 gallon / two liters of water (not counting what I wear / carry in my pockets).  Without food or water, I can fly carry-on on most airlines in the world with my pack at 15 lbs / 7 kilos, a separate "personal" item / computer bag at 9 lbs / 4 kilos and my pockets stuffed with the remaining items.

Keep in mind, that with nothing but the exact same gear, I could choose to live at home.  Having a fixed residence generally does not require that you own anything more than you would if you were traveling.  You might want to consider your life at home or traveling in the above terms, what are the absolute requirements, what are the "nice to have" options, and what parts of your life at home could you "leave behind"?


Hi, I just read this series of posts.  They are great!You mentioned you also carry "full food for four to five days hiking and 1/2 gallon / two liters of water."  Did you cover that part already?  I've been wondering how/what about food.

No I haven't covered that.  I have another five or six articles in the series in progress, though I hadn't actually considered one on what food to carry, I'll add it to the list.  I'm currently way behind on my writing due to some recent major changes in my life. Hopefully I'll be starting up again soon, though I have always taken the approach that I would rather write one good article in a month then eight mediocre ones.  Of course that doesn't account for the last seven months of silence :-)