How Backpacking and Minimalism Taught Me Self-Love

With so much less and an attitude of minimalism, traveling encouraged me to fall in love with myself even more. 

It gets really interesting when you pack up your life into a backpack, carefully hand picking each item that will journey with you across the world. Most of us never have the need to sort through our closets item by item and narrow down only a handful of shirts, dresses, and belongings, analyzing with each carefully chosen piece the practicality, necessity, and function of why we absolutely must have it with us on this journey—but it is a telling experience. All of our material items, our “things,” whether it be clothing, makeup, accessories, or journals and books, reflect in some way who we are and what we value.

I packed some basic clothing, my “adventure is out there” journal, a tube of mascara, and left absolutely all curling irons, straighteners, and blow dryers at home, leaving the Asian humidity to style my hair as it wanted. What’s even more surprising maybe, is that everyone else did the same. When going to a new destination every 2-3 days, it genuinely isn’t practical to have more than you can carry on your back, or more than you need. Sorting through my closet item by item allowed me closer insight into who I am as a person and once I was all packed up, my backpack left very little room for any superficiality.

backpacking and minimalism

In first world countries there’s this unspoken societal pressure to fit in, and even show off. Every ad, marketer, and brand is telling us we need more and more and more and more. It’s fascinating that when going overseas, particularly to a third world country, there is this reverse idea that instead of feeling bad about yourself for not having enough, you realize, even with everything packed up into a backpack, you have too much. You realize what you HAVE doesn’t define you, but rather who you are defines you.

I will never forget one night when my travel bestie and I were in the hostel lobby, about 6 weeks fresh into our backpacking journey around Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We had just returned to the bustling capital city of Hanoi after a few days of living with a local family trekking around rice terraces and waterfalls in the remote northern region of the country. 

After days of adventuring and exploring foreign towns and sights, it felt like a luxury to us backpackers to take a hot shower at the hostel. After freshening up, we would gather together in the bar wearing flip flops and tank tops, sunburns and big smiles. My friend and I were chatting, taking advantage of the 6pm free beer, when another backpacker approached us. After a few minutes of talking she turned to us and said “You two are the epitome of backpackers… you’re down to earth and your smiles alone show that you have such a passion for life.”

I still remember this exact moment and conversation because aside from being completely flattered, I was in awe of this kind young woman who approached us, authentically, genuinely, and openly. Compliments were never centered around outfits or brands or appearance, but about the type of person you are and the way you made others feel.

Further, what I remember most about that night (and about most nights abroad) was never tied to tablecloths, 5 star venues, or eye-catching decor, but rather the positive energy in the air and the human connections that were formed. We all showed up as ourselves, our real, raw, radiant, authentic selves, not as our clothing or layers of make-up. We showed up as our stories and our adventures and our shared experiences. We showed up happy, which is the best accessory you can ever dream of carrying with you and showing off to the world.

It’s amazing…I stripped down every layer, stripped away everything but that which was truly necessary, and what I was left with was just me, present, bold and confident. I had never felt more free or beautiful or alive.  

So what can you do in your everyday life to embrace minimalism and self love?

  1. Though you may not be packing up your life into a backpack, try doing a small audit of your belongings each season, noting what you used and didn’t use and where you can narrow down your possessions. Letting go of material items creates space both mentally and physically for new ideas and a fresh perspective
  2. Notice the language you use with others… are you constantly engaging over complimenting or commenting on hair styles, brands, and outward appearance? Can you instead shift your language towards complimenting how loyal of a friend you have, how brave, how adventurous he/she is?
  3. Lastly, and as always, turn towards gratitude for all that you are and all that you have, trusting that you are already enough in this moment. It helps to keep a gratitude journal and write down 3 things every day that you are grateful for and recognize and be grateful for both the big and little things that already surround you every single day. 

No matter where you are, what you have and what you look like, start falling in love with yourself today and see what magic unfolds.


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About Lindsay Berman

Lindsay is on a mission to live a healthy, well-traveled, and deeply connected life. After graduating from Saint Louis University with a degree in Public Health, French and International Business, Lindsay spent some time in the corporate world before buying a one way ticket to Southeast Asia to pursue her global passions. While there, Lindsay built up her life resume in all things adventure, including an Open Water Scuba Diving Certification and a 200 hour Hatha and Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Certification. Lindsay has 8 years of experience working in health and wellness spaces ranging from boutique fitness studios, campus recreation centers, resorts, and yoga studios. Most recently, Lindsay has combined her love for yoga and travel by teaching internationally diverse groups of students in tropical locations including Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Lindsay’s passions outside of yoga and travel include cheese curds, strong cappuccinos, and laughing (at her own jokes). I’ll let you guess which one of those stems from her Wisconsin roots.