Thinking of travelling? This is the personal story of a girl and a minimalist dream.
I left my job a year ago. I did not leave to be a lifestyle blogger, nor did I leave to escape from a corporate nightmare. I left because I had a moment of vivid passion and decided to fulfil a childhood dream. So I packed a 45L backpack and bought a one way ticket to Kazakhstan.
I decided I’ll travel differently this time – to go to places less heard of, to do things that are less conventional. I wasn’t running away when I left, in fact, I was running towards something big, something important. It was a hunger to grow and to learn. This year, I learned the truth that underpins an age-old proverb: that less is more.
Lesson 1 in the Himalayas, Nepal: the beauty of anti-ownership
Ping! I get a message on my phone. I dove across my 200sq ft apartment and yanked my phone from the charger. It was Alex. My heart quivered every so slightly but I put it off. If I ever want to see him, I better get going. I sprinted to the bathroom and started volumising my messy curls. I looked in the mirror and a dissatisfied made-up version of me stared back. I need some lipstick. I opened the side cabinet only find asprin, tyneol, ibuprofen and other close family members. I opened the cabinet on the other side and only find rings, earrings and other knick-knacks. I grabbed four gold rings and strategically spread them across my fingers. Where is my new LORAC lipstick? I danced past six other tops I tried on early, strewn helplessly across the floor, and picked up a patent leather clutch. I looked in my desk. No lipstick. What the heck. Half an hour later, I panted out the front door, lips a shade of deep purple, left hand clutching my pair of heels, right hand locking my Wall Street apartment, right arm still struggling its way into the sleeve of my winter coat.
New York City in my early 20s. It was dates, drinks, and parties. It was a chase for the most desirable man, to be complimented in the newest outfit, to be seen in the hottest clubs. I wanted so much and I wanted more.
Fast forward. In April, I spent 20 days trekking the mountain range at the roof of the world. I lived off a shoestring and downgraded my backpack to 6lb. Everyday, I just walked.
I distinctly remember sitting in front of Annapurna. The air was a crispy silence and I breathed in deeply, without regret. The sun was rising beyond the peaks and the rays started illuminating the mountain tops with a warm orangey glow – kind of like the type you find in a lazy daydream from a faraway memory. It was mesmerising. I felt overwhelmed. I felt the power and arrogance of the mountains; I felt its secrets and the tenderness. I felt tears creep into the back of my eyes.
That moment, it hit me. I learned the beauty of simplicity and existence. How remarkable it is that we need so little to live such rich lives. Our society has ironically inscribed an idea upon us – that we need to chase goods, chase people, chase love. Our concept of happiness has been distorted so that we feel joy at our friend’s jealousy of how big our houses are, or how expensive our cars are, but in essence, all we need is connection. In second of my unparalleled happiness, I had nothing but the richness of the moment. When you own less, you learn to live more.
Lesson 2 in Skardu, Pakistan: expect non-expectations
I sat down on a curb in Seattle and started crying. My career and aspirations flashed before my eyes. I worked very hard this year and expected a raving review. I shipped multiple features, I fixed countless of bugs, I built immense camaraderie at work. My review ended up being average and suddenly, I felt like a failure. I saw my track to promotion, my path to leading a team, my chances at owning a large-scale product crumbling into sawdust. I was a failure. The tears kept coming.
Work. It consumes us when we love it, it kills us when we hate it. Like most driven, early-career workers, I thought things come when I wanted them to. I thought all my work was critically important and expected pats on the head for the incredibly amazing tasks I performed.
Fast forward. In February, I ventured into northern Pakistan to a place called Skardu. My Pakistani friends, Zain and Mariam, consulted me on my trip. They told me to not expect much of the landscape since it’s the tail-end of winter. They told me the roads are also icy and things were shut. I considered not going as the north is famous for its summer meadows and endless greenery, and from the sound of it, none was available.
But I decided to take a leap of faith. And surely enough, I ended up falling madly in love with Skardu. I loved the barren landscape – the jagged dead-grey mountains juxtaposed against pops of dirty pink from flowering cherry blossoms. I loved the cold rocky deserts next to icy pale blue rivers rushing with life. Expectations lead to unrealistic outcomes that you project onto other things or beings. The problem with expectations is that your happiness is predestined by uncontrollable data points. We often forget life happens and things often go wrong. Without flexibility and optimism of a situation, you are bound to be unhappy or unsatisfied.
Skardu has taught me to appreciate the now, and to quell expectations for people nor places. Without expectations, your baseline is zero and therefore, outcomes can only be positive and better.
Lesson 3 in the Wakhan Corridor, Tajikistan: the art of letting go
I sat next to two girlfriends of mine, Tereza and Ayesha. We’re on our second glass of wine waiting for our third friend, Marina, to show up. We made reservations at this cute restaurant in Philadelphia weeks ago for Valentine’s day. It was the perfect way to celebrate our friendship and our singlehood. Half an hour passed and we get a text from Marina, sorry – can’t make it. Just got asked on a last minute date with someone from The Society.
I’ll leave you to fathom the rest of our evening. Marina and I used to be very close friends. She was gorgeous, kind and considerate. You’d naturally want to spend time with her because she’s simply lovely. Our friendship ended because she changed. She built up an ego and started prioritising social clout. She’d commit to plans then back out if someone ‘more impressive’ messaged her. Losing a friend is hard to stomach. Seeing a close friend change into someone you barely recognise and no longer respect is impossible to forget. You feel foolish, betrayed, and duped. You cannot let go of who they once were.
Fast forward to last November, I travelled to Tajikistan with my boyfriend, Jack. We decided to do the ultimate road trip and drive from southern Kyrgyzstan into central Tajikistan. The trip was on a jarring road next to the cliffs of Tajikistan and the border of Afghanistan. Jack and I coordinated with an agency to help us source a good car, driver and figure out the logistics. We were excited to spend a week living with local villagers and assimilate into their culture. On day 2 of 7, we realise that our driver was dishonest and cutting down the trip to 4 days. He had business in the capital and could no longer carry out our initially agreed itinerary. Jack and I were furious. Not only did we pay an unjustly exorbitant amount, the shortened journey meant less exploration and more time sitting in the car. Had we known this ahead of time, we would not have gone ahead. But we were in the middle of nowhere and our options were limited: to either stay annoyed and let the situation ruin the rest of our trip, or, move on and make the most of our remaining time. That day we learned a new ‘emotional minimalism’ – the art of detaching and of letting go. We removed ourselves from the aggravating scenario to focus on facts.
You can only see the sun when you step out of the shade. Once you let the negatives leave, you will start recognising the positives of your situation and appreciating the now.
Less is more is free
Less is more is a concept we’ve all heard of but few of us understand, and even fewer embrace. Capitalism has taught us that consumption and ownership dictates success, happiness and relationships. We take and take but are never satisfied. Minimalism is a practice and a lifestyle that preaches pure purpose, simplicity and rawness. It allows you to feel satisfied with what you have, it allows you to put a full stop at the end of a rambling sentence.
You have everything when you have nothing. That’s the beauty of minimalism.
All images credited to Andrea H.Li