Pros And Cons Of Living Out Of A Backpack

When you are traveling often all of your belongings will have to fit into one backpack. Then you are backpacker. Literally. This minimalist lifestyle comes with many pros and cons. While you are going to realize with how little you can be happy there are also going to be moments when you are missing stuff or have to learn to say ‘Good bye’ to beloved items.

The freedom of living out of a backpack
All you own is in your backpack - and that's enough (source: flickr, author: Taki Lau)

As minimalism is becoming more and more popular I would like to focus on this aspect of backpacking, the way of traveling, we love and sometimes hate.

Pros of living out of a backpack

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like”. Welcome to consumerism! While this famous quote (also well known from the movie ‘Fight club’) shows us one extreme of our materialistic way of living a lot of people might be able to relate to it in one way or another.

So now, enter backpacking!

And welcome to minimalism! All that you posses, all of your belongings have to fit into one backpack. Well, maybe a small day pack you strap around your chest as well. Yeah, this is the typical backpacker roaming the streets looking for the next place to stay.

There is no doubt about that this way of traveling doesn’t automatically equal minimalism. You are flying a lot, maybe you buy a car at some point and gather more stuff. Maybe you even work your regular 9 to 5 and live in a share flat for quite some time.

Obviously this all comes down to different perceptions about what accounts as backpacking and what minimalism exactly means. So let’s not split hairs here. Let us focus on the person leaving their life in a house or flat with their own room(s) and lots of possession behind and trading it in for living out of a backpack (and maybe a second small one).

Backpackers roaming the streets
Typical scene in lots of places - backpackers roaming the streets

Carrying all your belongings

So maybe you have found yourself in exactly the situation as pictured above. Walking around, carrying all your stuff and looking for a place to stay. Or walking to the next bus stop, or you are going hitchhiking. And imagine that on top of that it is hot! Hot as in like ‘already sweating from sitting in the shades’ kind of hot!

These are the moments where you might think ‘This stuff is so heavy, I really have to get rid off something in the near future!’

And probably you are going to unpack at your next destination, you live there for a little while, but before you are leaving you remember that situation from before you arrived. Hence, you open every pocket of your backpack, you look at all the stuff you got and ask yourself “Did I use that in the last – enter random time frame- ?”

There are surely going to be a few things that you haven’t used in a while which can be donated to other travelers. Or maybe you can live with four instead of five shirts. Every little bit counts and adds up!

While this may seem like quite a challenge at first and you can’t imagine how life can possibly go on without your favourite shirt you are also going to find it very liberating. Letting go! And probably a few days later you are not even going to think about it anymore or realize “Ah, yeah, once I had that thing, these shoes, etc.” The more often you do it the easier it gets.

This is one of the big pros about living out of a backpack. You will realize how little you need to be happy. After a while you might not even be as enticed by window shopping as you once were. Maybe you even got the money for this and that, but you can’t take it with you anyway. Why bother?

Window shopping in the city
Window shopping is going to leave you indifferent

Moreover, not only are you going to buy less and question your consumer patterns (at least some of them) and do some good for our planet and society.

You will also have more time to focus on things that are important to you. Possessions can be very distracting and having less gives you more time and freedom to look into yourself and what it is that makes you tick and what you long for. And so much more!

Cons of living out of a backpack

While there are a lot of positive things to say about only owning what fits into your backpack, there is also a down side to it as oh so often.

Well, ….. you are living out of a backpack!

That’s all. All you have. And it can be quite annoying at times. At least if you have a car you got a lot more storage room, but if it is only a backpack you cannot carry a lot with you.

One thing where you are reminded of you limited belongings is cooking. One of those things to leave behind are all your herbs, your salt and pepper and so on. I am not able to recall how often I started staying in some place for longer, started acquiring all sorts of ingredients and what not… just do leave them all behind shortly after that. And all those tupperware containers (well, the no name version you know) I bought.

And then again, if you are only staying in places where it is warm you might not need more than one jumper if any at all. And long sleeves? For what? But if you are backpacking for longer you are probably going to end up in some place at some time of the year when it gets chillier. And then you are going to get some warmer jacket, some thicker socks, some this and some that. Just to… you guessed it, just to leave it behind again a little later.

Free clothes bin
Leaving stuff behind - again


Weighing all the pros and cons I think living out of a backpack (at least for a while) is an experience that is totally worth it.

On the one hand you are going to miss stuff and sometimes life becomes (maybe only seemingly) more complicated when you don’t have access to certain gadgets, things and what not.

But on the other hand it is going to change your point of view (as traveling can often do) on our materialistic lifestyle and gives you a first little introduction to minimalism. The video below shows you one great story about this lifestyle choice and many advantages coming along with it.

The guys in the video above also run a blog about the minimalist lifestyle. They also have a really good documentary on Netflix.

So, bottom line is the following I would say. While I don’t want to tell anyone how to lead their life I think considering a more minimalist approach to it is totally worth it. In today’s world maybe more than ever. And this is not all black and white as there are, … let’s call them shades of minimalism.

See how backpacking changes your view on these kind of things. Or go for your own little experiment as portrayed in that TEDx talk (especially when you are not traveling). If you like it, change your life accordingly. If not, at least you gave it a try and found out it is not for you. Life goes on, either way.
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