For those of you who have no clue what the Appalachian Trail is, it is, to state the obvious, a trail. But more specifically, it is a trail that runs through the Appalachian Mountains, from Georgia to Maine, 2,175 miles long. That’s quite a walk. And it’s a walk that I still fully intend to take someday before I die. In the trail lingo, it’s called a thru-hike. The entire trail in one go.
It’s a hell of a leap, and that week was one of many training hikes to prepare for it. My mom was convinced that it would make me change my mind about my thru-hike, and I think she was really hoping for that. Sorry mom, but I want to hike those 2,175 miles even more than before. It was an amazing trip. I’ve told the entire 7 day story so many times that I’m not sure I can type it all out without boring you or hitting myself in the head with a hammer. I think I’ll just list my top 5 favorite things that make me want to do the whole trail.
1. The Scenery - This is probably the most obvious of reasons. Who could get tired of panoramic views of rolling vistas, of waking up and watching the sunrise from a meadow, and beholding distant thunderstorms lashing out over the mountains? Then there’s the corridors of laurel along the trail, the trees sloping down on either side as you walk along the ridgeline, and sweet, life-giving water in the forms of small streams or large forks that are broken by impressive falls. The trail is beautiful.
2. The Excursions - If you break down the hike in its simplest form, it is an act of getting from Point A to Point B. And if you keep that mechanical mentality, you are sure to fail. The “trail experience” is made up of tiny excursions along the massive undertaking of a thru-hike. You can find anything from 50-foot waterfalls to swim under to plane crashes on mountainsides to explore. Then there are trips into town. Taking on the Gallon Challenge (a gallon of ice cream in a certain period of time, it varies). There’s even a nearby train into New York City.
3. A Greater Appreciation - When you spend a week walking through increasingly dry wilderness, responsible for finding and treating your own water, you learn to have a greater appreciation for the little things in life. I angrily think back to me throwing half-full bottles of water away simply because they were too old or too hot as I graciously refill my water supply from a sink in a bathroom of questionable sanitation. I glance up at my food bag hanging from a high branch of a tree that is covered in claw marks from a black bear, thanking God that it’s still there this morning. Resupply is 2 days away. Yeah, you learn to appreciate the little things.
4. Minimalist Living - Believe it or not, living with all of your possessions that add up to only 40 lbs on your back is very liberating. In this country, we’re taught to see how much we can get. On the trail, you learn to see how much you can live without. I’ve always loved the saying “you only truly own what you can carry at a dead run.” That’s quite true on the trail, and there was even a time that I had to live that saying. The less stuff you have, the less worry that comes with it. It can even be quite fun, sifting through your stuff in a hostel, figuring out what you can do without and mail back home.
5. The Friendships - I am willing to admit that I am generally not a sociable person. I do not like large crowds. I prefer a small, tight-knit circle of friends compared to such a wide circle that the lines between friend, buddy, acquaintance, and complete stranger are blurred. But the friendships you make on the trail, even within a short week, are nothing short of magical. You share a common goal, and that common goal instantly creates a bond. Everyone wants to see everyone else succeed, so everyone looks out for each other, and pushes each other, when it’s needed. The people I have met on the trail have been levelheaded, down-to-earth good people. It is a different world.
Well, I hope I have inspired someone to pick up and go. If you want to know further details about my trip, my contact info is on this site. If you want to know more about the trail in general, I recommend going here.
If one spends time living in Sweden, they will soon begin to notice a certain energy of calmness, serenity or even complacency. They will try to explain it to their friends back home, but perhaps they can’t put the feeling into words. That’s because there is no English translation for lagom.
As with most enigmatic words with enigmatic meanings, there is an ancient Viking legend detailing how the word lagom first entered the Swedish vocabulary.
Let’s journey back in time together to a moment between the years of 500 and 800 AD to, let’s say, the southern Swedish coast. A mist hangs in the air as twilight begins to eat away the last of the light. An encampment of Viking warriors sit around an inviting fire, weary from a long trip across the Baltic, ready for some mead and a hearty meal.
Ingvar asks Erik how much mead should be given to the team (lag). Erik tells Ingvar to pass the bowl around (om) so that everyone gets his fair share. Thus, a new word is coined that later becomes part of the Swedish national identity. Of course, there are more academic explanations of how the word came about, but let’s not get held up in its supposed origins.
In English, the word can have any number of close synonyms, such as “just right,” “moderation,” or “adequate.” It is the best choice of action between the two extremes on the table in any given situation. I like to think of the word as being Swedish for zen.
Lagom’s physical manifestation can be seen in many facets of everyday life. The interior design, the portions of the food, and the fashions and mannerisms of the people are just a few examples of this cultural phenomenon.
The most internationally recognizable example would definitely be IKEA. The company is famous for its functional, minimalist, and utilitarian designs, which are direct products of the lagom way of thinking.
One can tell when they’re in a Swede’s flat, not just because it’s furnished with IKEA, but because everything is arranged in a practical and rational manner. There is a lot of space, which is filled with natural light that is allowed in by the massive windows. It’s rare to see unnecessary junk lying around.
Of course, there are less visible representations of lagom. Swedes are known for being polite and avoiding unnecessary conflict. These attributes compliment their enjoyment of privacy and personal space, as well as their respect of others’.
I have yet to see anyone get overly pissed when a bus/train is late, if there is a large queue, or if food is taking too long to be prepared. Everyone accepts the things they cannot change with calmness, instead of boisterous complaining or yelling.
In both physical manifestation and mental practice, lagom is something we should consider while wandering, or just carrying on with our everyday lives. It reduces the clutter, opens wide spaces, and prevents headaches caused by unnecessary anger directed at the things we cannot change. Sounds good to me.
Lagom är bäst!
As I’ve already written about desirable minimalist tendencies when it comes to shelter, transport, and food, this week I’m talking about threads. Basic necessities are a good starting point, no? This is something that I’m still working on myself, and it is usually one of the more difficult things to tackle when adopting a minimalist lifestyle.
Rather than give advice in an area where I haven’t yet reached my own goal, I’ll just talk about what I’m doing and what I intend to do.
Right now, I’m striving to:
1) Get rid of all clothes except the ones I truly like and wear frequently.
The wardrobe can be a tricky thing to declutter. It’s easy to get attached to certain articles of clothing, even if they no longer fit or have simply gone out of fashion. Sometimes I find myself confusing sentimental value with liking the particular article and subconsciously use it as justification to keep it. I’ve adopted a practice of taking the article in my hand and asking myself, “will I wear this in the next week?” If “no,” it goes into the Goodwill/Salvation Army bag (Erikshjälpen in Sweden) without any prolonged thought. Once I don’t see it anymore, I don’t care.
2) Avoid clothing with any type of blatantly visible label.
Why should I help these people advertise for free? Maybe some clothing companies should start some type of affiliate program for the consumers paying them to give them free “label exposure.” In Sweden, I’ve noticed that very few people wear clothing with an exposed label. This is because it is an incredibly egalitarian society and it’s rude to suggest you’re better than anyone else (as it should be in any culture, really!) by openly comparing what you have with what others do not. This can be attributed to the concept of “lagom,” which I will be writing about soon.
3) Quality over quantity.
As I get rid of a lot of my clothing, I’m adopting a policy of only buying top-notch threads and digs that I know are going to last forever. Traveling through different situations, climates, and environments really puts stress on your clothes. Unless you wish to replace everything every 6 months to a year, this is where frugality has no place. In the end I will have a small wardrobe that is interchangeable enough, and appropriate for all occasions from hiking to hitting the town. I’ve been reading a lot of reviews, as well as checking out how other minimalist bloggers made this transition.
Of course I’ll post updates about this particular goal and new information that I think would be helpful to other wanderers. Until then, I have to get by with what I have because Sweden is a little expensive. I did make a little splurge that you’ll read about below…
The Swedish Exclusive
Swedes are incredibly fashionable, almost to the point of obsession. This is literally one of the first things I noticed as soon as I stepped off the train. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; they are an incredibly attractive population.
One thing I’ve noticed in several aspects, not just clothing, is the lack of variety in choices. You have IKEA for furniture, H&M for clothing, and Volvo/Saab for cars. While some may think this is a bad thing, I think it puts a key focus on the thing that matters most: personality.
For practicality’s sake, I also have to talk about the weather. Sweden is not the constant frozen wasteland that everyone makes it out to be. The weather is actually quite temperate due to the North Atlantic Drift and prevailing winds which make it warmer than other northern countries.
In southern Sweden, the average is 26 F during the winter and 64 F during the summer. In other words, better than what I’m used to in North Carolina. Norrland (northern Sweden) is a lot colder and is the source of the icy stereotype. Your average winter gear will work for southern Sweden, but bring ski gear or winter hiking gear for Norrland (those are the only reasons you’ll be up there anyway). No need to bring Everest-esque expedition gear.
Dry Denim Experiment
I’m a jean-person. I love my denim. Recently I have decided to let this love be more hardcore. I have purchased my first pair of dry (or raw) denim jeans. What’s so special about them?
The average pair of jeans have already been washed, faded, and distressed at the factory. Raw denim has not. These jeans are distressed by the everyday activities of the wearer, making for a more personal experience, with creases, tears, and distress created by your adventures.
Some hardcore dry denim enthusiasts wait six months to a year before the first wash of the well lived-in jeans! As I am just now dabbling in this fashion phenomena, I am taking a shortcut.
I’m now the proud owner of a pair of Diesel Turbodenim dry denim jeans. Apparently there is a new “revolutionary” enzyme treatment applied to these jeans that enable the wearer to see major results in ‘just 78 days.’
What is the relevance of me talking about buying an expensive-ass pair of jeans? Raw denim is super durable compared to the average pair of jeans, and falls within my goals of owning only a few quality articles of clothing. I also like the romanticized idea of having a map of my past adventures transcribed into a physical, tangible thing.
I’m going to post an update every week to show the progress of the jeans. Here they are right off the rack. If you’re lucky, there may be a few pics of me in them later.
Well, I’m currently sitting outside a cafe in Lund enjoying the wonderfully mild Swedish summer. I told a friend last week that I was completely numb to the fact that I was leaving the country for five months because there have been so many preparations to finally get to my seat at this cafe. It’s finally hitting me and I’m ready for the adventure ahead, and I’m even more ready to write about it and pass on the things I have learned from experience to future wanderers.
When it comes to living somewhere long-term, the first obstacle that can really be nerve-wracking is finding a place to live. One has to worry about cost, location, roommates, utilities…it quickly becomes a daunting task in which one mistake has the potential to drain a significant amount of your funds.
As a study abroad student, I had the easy option of university housing to take advantage of. However, I was put on the waiting list almost as soon as I was accepted to Lund University. I decided that having prepackaged, expensive housing handed to me was no fun anyway, and it would be a better cultural experience to find housing elsewhere on my own. Below I’ll describe the different options I weighed and list some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
1. Couch Surfing - Couch Surfing is an online network of travelers seeking and hosting accommodation free of charge. Engagements can last anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks. When you become a member, you are able to designate on your profile if you are currently able to host guests or not. This is probably not a permanent solution for living somewhere else for a long period of time. However, it is possible to go from couch to couch, or go couchsurfing, in the same area.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, great selection of locations, make international friends.
Disadvantages: Not a permanent solution for extended stay, lack of personal space.
2. Global Freeloaders - The website Global Freeloaders offers a great service that is super convenient while simultaneously showing us just how far globalization has progressed. Basically it is Couch Surfing on steroids. The concept is the same with the exception that you must leave yourself open for incoming travelers in order to be a member and take advantage of the network. It is also possible to find entire bedrooms for free instead of couches. Think of it as a foreign exchange program without having to go to school or paying a dime.
Advantages: Free, great cultural experience, make international friends, a lot of space.
Disadvantages: You have to list your residence as a possibility for incoming travelers in order to join.
3. Hosteling - When it comes to Europe, hosteling is definitely a past time for travelers. It’s a good way to find accommodation on the fly, and you are usually in the thick of it, very close to the city center. Unfortunately it is not a sustainable way to live as it gets expensive very quickly. Some establishments will not let you stay over a certain amount of days either.
Advantages: Close to the action, exchange info with other travelers.
Disadvantages: Expensive, short-term, bedbugs.
4. Classifieds - For any given location, there is usually at least one classifieds website where you can post an ad notifying the community that you are looking for housing. Usually you will be paying rent and utilities if you choose this option, but the accommodations will be of a higher quality than those above. Of course, this option has a high potential for scammers, so don’t be naive and read everything.
Advantages: Lot’s of space, plenty of options, a good base-camp for your stuff if you want to travel lightly to surrounding areas.
Disadvantages: Potential scams, down payments to hold the room before you get there, more expensive.
I ended up posting an ad on a classifieds website in Lund asking for a “couch” or a “walk-in closet.” The housing crisis here is bad so I wasn’t going to be picky. A Swede responded to me and offered her living room, with all amenities included, to me for only 3000 kr, which is way cheaper than university housing. I have a comfortable bed, and the room is bigger than my bedroom in my apartment in the States!
This just goes to show you that you should definitely weigh as many options as possible when looking for long-term accommodation. Don’t be picky and throw your expectations out the window. If you’re a real traveler, you won’t be spending much time in your room anyway!
We live in a 21st Century gulag where we work mindless jobs for little pay, eat gruel that we affectionately call “fast food,” and cram our living spaces like treasure-hunting magpies until we can barely breath. Our dreams have been crushed by the boot-heels of convenient income and passive self-compromise. We are unhappy with our mediocre lives, and the threat of a world-wide recession paints a bleak picture of the future. Conditions are absolutely perfect for widespread lifestyle revolutions.
The revolution I’m talking about, of course, is minimalism.
Last week I posted about a situation that many of us our in, and that is the vicious cycle of living to work, instead of vice-versa. This is the follow-up where I tell you, not surprisingly, that the key to your prison is converting to a minimalist lifestyle.
Because this is a blog on minimalism (with a focus on travel!), I can’t just start ranting on the topic every week without giving readers that may be new to the concept a concise definition.
What is minimalism? Every time I explain it to someone, I have to ask myself the question first. I have found that it’s hard to answer because…well, there are several answers!
Pursuing the experiences of life instead of material possessions.
Living a life devoid of unnecessary clutter.
A living study of utilitarianism and efficiency.
Achieving the esoteric joy of being happy with the present moment.
Getting rid of material things that you don’t use on a regular basis.
Learning to part with thoughts, habits, and relationships that are damaging.
Living a sustainable, low-impact life.
I could go on of course. Minimalism is a philosophy, so it’s easy to write articles and books on it, but so hard to sum it up in a single sentence. The simplest way I would put it is living a streamlined lifestyle without the frills.
How does one become a minimalist? Different people make the change differently, and at different rates of change. I speak of revolution but you should make the change comfortable, whether it’s a quick and bloody coup or a passive reformation. When I decided to make the change myself, I was unsure of where to start. Here are a few steps that will get you on the right path to a minimalist lifestyle.
1. Declutter - When it comes to shedding possessions, a good rule of thumb is to get rid of everything you haven’t used in six months, excluding seasonal things like skis. The best strategy is to go room by room and make piles: a Keep Pile, Maybe Pile, Sell/Donate Pile, and Trash Pile. The Keep Pile includes the necessities such as your laptop. The Maybe Pile can be packed up and opened at later date to see if you’re ready to part with anything else. You can give new life to your items in the Donate/Sell Pile, or even make piles of cash off of them. Consider the environment when getting rid of your Trash Pile!
2. Digitize - A great way to make some room is to go digital. Today technology makes it easy to keep a ton of media in a device that fits in the palm of our hands. You can easily import all of your CDs and DVDs into your computer. Even LPs can be converted to mp3 files now! Stop paper from piling up by requesting electronic billing, which every reputable company should be offering right now. Store bills and pay stubs that you already have by scanning them into your computer. They are just as valid as electronic files, and much safer in your computer than on your desk.
3. Destress - Ok, I don’t think destress is actually a word, but I couldn’t resist the “3 D’s of Minimalism” thing. In some ways, this is probably the hardest step because it deals with things you can’t physically see and get rid of as when you declutter. But the concept is not too dissimilar. The point is to try and get rid of mental clutter that dulls your focus and blurs the path to accomplishing your goals. Bad habits, negativity, unnecessary worries, and toxic relationships create so much unneeded stress on top of the daily to-do list. Everyone deals with this extra baggage in a different way. Try to be more positive and identify habits you would be better off without. As for the relationships…you’re on your own.
After employing these steps, you will begin to see a change. I used to buy things I didn’t really need all the time. Once I made this change, the flow of stuff changed directions. Now I go through my stuff on a monthly basis to see what is being used and what I would be better off without.
Making this revolutionary change in your life will reset your priorities. You will care more about what you can do than what you can accumulate. When you notice that change, you’ll see that you’re definitely working to live!
These steps are a good start, but there is much room for elaboration. That’s what I’m here for!
Today I began handling what is essentially the entire prepress process (design, editing, proofing), printing high quality digital copies, and sometimes dealing with other responsibilities like handling customers and answering emails. My new internship is definitely looking to be busier than the last, and I have a ton of responsibilities now that 2 of the 5 people that work there have gone on vacation.
It’s great real-world experience. If I screw up, it costs money. If I can’t answer a customer’s question, it makes the business look bad. It’s frightening and exciting at the same time. However, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.
Sometimes we build things up in our minds, good or bad, and the result is an inflated version of reality that is a pie in the sky, or a scary clown monster. I had the whole weekend to make up scenarios in my mind, and by the time I fell asleep last night I had conjured up a graphic arts version of The Perfect Storm.
Worry is a manageable adversary, however much it seems like the world is closing in around you. It only appears so bad because we get mental tunnel vision. We can only focus on the possible negative outcomes instead of determining how we can benefit from the situation.
One thing that has really helped me worry less is taking an hour in the day to worry. I consolidate it all to one period in the day. But it doesn’t end there. I think about all possible outcomes of a situation and try to throw all of the terrible, unrealistic ones out of the deck. Then I examine the preventable bad scenarios and get to work on, well, preventing them.
Mindfully examining the things we worry about can definitely put us at ease. It’s a logical way of managing our thoughts that prevents blind fear when most, or all, of it is not warranted.
So on the way there I took a few deep breaths, listened to the easy-going funk that is CAKE, and reflected on my knowledge of design and print. At a certain point, I stopped worrying because I knew I could handle it. Sure, there may be a few bumps, but in the most modest sense, I know my shit.
So I just clocked in and proved it all day long. A little bit of focused reflection goes a long way. Sporadic worrying clouds the mind with half-truths and baseless fiction. Hakuna matata.
A small amount of people reading this probably remember me mentioning on my last blog that I would be starting a new one focusing on minimalism and travel. Well, here it is. It took a while, and I spent the majority of that time trying to figure out what in the hell I wanted to do.
I had my eureka moment just last week as I explored Tumblr’s features for, admittedly, the first time. It was exactly what I was looking for. I love WordPress, but its content management has become increasingly complicated (to me, anyway), and would be much better suited for creating a new website for my freelance design work.
Tumblr embraces the “stream of consciousness” style of blogging that I’d like to employ as I travel, and is appropriately geared to a minimalist mindset. I’m afraid I put too much stock into what other minimalist bloggers are doing, and that clouded my judgment of what I truly wanted to do. After realizing that was a stupid mentality, I arrived here, at the avenues of Taking Action and Productivity. Technicalities aside…
Spartan Wanderer. A peculiar title, maybe? Am I going to adorn golden briefs and a crimson cape and melodramatically kick people into dark abysses as I travel? I’m afraid not, however interesting that may be to read about.
Most minimalists or people with minimalist tendencies have probably been accused of being Spartan. Dictionary.com defines the adjective as being “sternly disciplined and rigorously simple, frugal, or austere.” This term probably arrived in modern English in reference to the simple lives of ancient Spartan soldiers away from home, or more specifically, the rite of passage known as Krypteia in which Spartan boys at the age of eighteen were sent into the wilderness with only a knife for a prolonged period of time. And so through the years it has become a synonym for “minimalist.”
While being “simple, frugal, or austere” I will also be in a constant state of motion. My first and very imminent journey will be to Lund, Sweden, where I will be living for 5 months as I study at Lund University. This will be a true test of my limits of simplicity as Sweden is a very expensive country to live in.
Not long ago I read about some students in Stockholm that couldn’t find affordable housing and ended up living in tents! That actually sounds pretty fun and I’m not ruling it out, as my campus housing is not guaranteed, heh.
My only goal right now is to post something substantial once a week, with an emphasis on travelling lightly. Sometimes I will just write an article relating to minimalism in general, for your metaphysical and philosophical travels (deep stuff). Additionally, I will include one post per month reviewing a piece of gear that I’ve found handy in my journeying. One thing that I will never do is give advice on or review something that I haven’t tried myself.
So there it is, the obligatory introductory post! Let’s all watch and see what kind of trouble I can get myself into. To stay updated, you can subscribe to my RSS through Feedburner, or you can follow me on Google+. I’m always open for suggestions, or to just sit down for a cup of coffee. Happy trails!