Minimalism & Affordable Travel:

How to Backpack the World as a Budgeting Millennial

This entire article, including the pictures contained, was composed by my sister, Jesse Karam, after she traveled for almost a year along the coast of Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii.
You can find her blog here

I left home on New Year’s Eve 2015. Over the next 7 months I would backpack the coast of Australia’s New South Wales from Sydney to Brisbane, then the north island of New Zealand and the entirety of the Hawaiian island Oahu.  I would fall in love and create lifelong friendships.  I would dive alongside wild sharks without a cage, hike Oahu’s infamous Stairway to Heaven, aid in a malnourished koala’s rehabilitation in coastal Australia, and gallop bareback through Hawaiian valleys.  Along the way, I found I had developed a passion for travel and living.

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Flying towards my first solo backpacking trip on the other side of the globe I left unmotivated, depressed and an unemployed college failure. I returned 7 months later to find I was accepted to university, with a great job waiting. I am now the most motivated and inspired I have ever been.

I now know exactly what I want to do with my life, how I am going to do it and where to start.

I did it all living out of 2 bags

  • A 22 kg hiking backpack with clothes, non-perishable food and a first aid kit
  • A day bag with my phone, journal, snorkel mask, water bottle, chargers and valuables

In those two bags, I had enough to warm me through the Canadian winters, or let me breathe in Australian summer heat. I also had enough to go on a fancy date out or a long hike.

I had just the right amount to not feel restricted or held back, but there is a limit on wardrobe creativity. This lifestyle has numerous benefits that go past trinkets and outfits.

I am not a minimalist, but I believe living with the minimum baggage and material possessions has a reward to it, a freedom. It reduces crowding in your life, mind and body. Backpacking is a minimalist lifestyle.

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Three areas cost you the most abroad: Accommodation, food and transportation

Minimalism has benefitted me in so many ways.  One important benefit is that I am now experienced with a range of affordable options for accommodation, transportation and food. With every destination I use one of a few free-to-affordable accommodation options.

Accommodation doesn’t need to be expensive, or even cost a cent

In Australia I stayed with 8 hosts using WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). WWOOF connects organic farmers to travelers. Four to six hours a day of work is exchanged for food and accommodation. The hosts can vary from vineyards to horse breeding and training stables, cattle farms, residential homes with a vegetable and fruit garden, motels, health retreats, rose farms or wildlife rehabilitating facilities or homes. You gain a local perspective and insight on the area, you get to participate in cultural exchange and you get a taste of the organic farm lifestyle.
Resources: wwoof.net

WorkAway is similar, though is not exclusive to organic farms. Work can be anything from housework, nannying, working on a boat, office work, helping out in a restaurant or cafe, to farm work. Hours range from 10-40 hours a week which is agreed upon in advance between traveler and host. With both WorkAway and WWOOF the duration of the stay is discussed ahead of time and often exceeds a week, going up to several months.
Resources: workaway.info

Couchsurfing is a favourite! People offer their room, couch or shared room to travelers for free – often those who host enjoy travel but cannot do so at the moment. The stays are generally short, varying typically from 1-7 days. There is no cost, and you benefit from local advice on the area with the potential for guided excursions if you befriend your host.
Resources: couchsurfing.com

AirBNB is another key to traveling on a budget. AirBNB allows you to rent out someone’s fully furnished room, apartment or house paying by week or month. These places have everything you need except food and feel cosy and like home when you have your belongings with you.

Resources: AirBNB.com

Hostels are a vital ingredient to any backpacker’s travel plans. Hostels have rooms usually containing 2-8 bunks, lockers for valuables and a bathroom with a shower. They provide clean sheets and usually towels. Often a complimentary breakfast is included.  In beach areas surf boards and snorkel masks can be lent or rented out. Hostels can also have activities like bus tours or group yoga, that vary with the location.

A work-for-rent arrangement is possible at some hostels. Asking in person and discussing an arrangement with the manager is the best method. Each varies to the next so be sure to look up hostels in your desired destination and read reviews. Hostels are an incredible way to meet people from an array of countries and cultures. One of my favourite choices.
Resources: hostelworld.com
Oahu, HI: polynesianhostel.com

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How would you like to live in one of these places?

  • House in the Hunter Valley, Australia overlooking horses, rolling hills, a vineyard and a pool outside your door
  • Health retreat to yourself with fully equipped gym, kitchen, view from lush hilltop and of sun rising from the ocean
  • Apartment in Byron Bay, surrounded by macadamia nut trees and only 10 minutes from town and beach
  • Hawaiian house 5 minute walk to Jade beach, with mountain views outside window
  • Hawaiian Hostel across the road from 3 Tables Beach, 2 minute walk from Waimea Bay rock jumping  and 3 minute walk from Shark’s Cove snorkelling

I have stayed in all of them at little to no monetary expense.

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Save money on food!

In places like Australia and Hawaii where the cost of living is very high, tricks for money management can be useful. Buying food is one of the main expenses abroad.

Bring non-perishable food to pair with vegetables bought from farmer’s markets. Bring with you dry foods like: rice, couscous, quinoa, beans, lentils, granola bars, oatmeal mixed with cinnamon, nuts and raisins, tea and coffee, salt and pepper, nutritional yeast, cooking oil, pasta, protein powder and dried fruit.

Many of the means of accommodation that don’t provide food listed above (CouchSurf, AirBNB and Hostels) have fully equipped kitchens. Minimize meals abroad to 2 large ones a day. This means you only have to think about preparing meals twice a day. This lifestyle requires a lot of cooking for yourself.

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Getting around for less 

Another benefit of minimalism as you live abroad arises when transportation comes into question. Taking advantage of public transit like buses and trains is much easier with less baggage. Do research on your destination’s public transportation situation. For example, Hawaii has TheBus and Montreal has STM.

This also applies to resources like ride-share communities. Ride-share communities allow travellers to pre-arrange lifts with people going on road trips. Postings come from backpackers looking for travel partners to share experiences with (or just offering rides along their route), or from locals who are going about their daily commute to work or studies. It is a valuable resource and can be much more comfortable than other options. It also allows travellers to meet both locals and fellow backpackers.

How do you find these communities? It takes a little asking around to fellow travellers as each country usually has their own. For example, Montreal has Kijiji and Australia has GumTree, which is invaluable when looking to buy and sell equipment, cars, surf boards etc. or to get a ride as a backpacker. You often contribute a couple dollars towards gas.  In return, you can exchange your travel plans, and gain insight on areas and a potential travel mate.

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Minimalism allows you to take advantage of all these means of accommodation, transportation and eating, and to experience all that they have to offer.

Living out of a backpack for an extended period of time opens your eyes to how little material possessions actually add to your life. It shows you that reducing the material clutter makes room for more experiences, opportunities and freedom.

All photographs taken on the author’s travels. 

Words by Jesse Karam

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