A Minimalist Lifestyle Will Help You Satisfy Your Wanderlust

a woman looking out over a scenic view
Image from Kate Korte

Doing a study abroad exchange to England had been a goal of mine for some time. I applied through a program at my university, and soon I was boarding a plane to London. It was my first flight without my parents, and I was jittering with excitement.

Studying abroad marked the first time I would be living alone and would be solely responsible for every aspect of my budget.

I was on a short term student visa, so I couldn’t make an income abroad; it was just me and my dwindling savings account for five months. Although I thought I had no room in my budget for traveling, I ended up in Luxembourg, Italy, France, Ireland and Croatia.

In the year before my departure, I saved money for travel partly by working full time and part time. I soon realized I had to alter my spending habits so a higher percentage of those paychecks could be filtered into a savings account labeled “London.”

I went through my last credit card statement and broke down every purchase into categories like food, social events, shopping, gas, groceries and essentials.

Looking at these numbers made me realize how much I was truly spending on things I didn’t necessarily need.

My largest spending categories were food and shopping. To help reduce these, I invited friends over instead of going out for food and opted for regular coffee instead of a caramel macchiato. I never went shopping unless I had a shopping list of items I needed, and I minimized my wardrobe to about 30 items.

I didn’t look at it as limiting my spending but rather as deferring the money to spend during my semester abroad. Since I was a university student and only working in the summer, minimalism was the only way I could save during the semester and still afford to travel abroad.

A minimalist approach helped me save over $2,000 extra for my exchange and to keep my finances in check while abroad.

But minimalism is more than just a tight budget — it helps people reevaluate their priorities and closely monitor spending habits.

Saving Before My Trip

Minimalism — or living with less — means buying and owning less stuff. One of the men largely credited for making minimalism popular, Joshua Fields Milburn, let go of 90% of his possessions.

For my five-month exchange, I narrowed my belongings down to one 65-pound traveler’s backpack. Minimalism introduced me to a life with less, and that meant I was spending significantly less long term. By getting rid of stuff, I automatically felt less compelled to buy more.

Getting rid of stuff —and not buying more to replace it — became a relief, and I started to see the financial and mental benefits of living with less.

I started becoming a minimalist by slowly reducing the amount of stuff I owned. I still go through my wardrobe every four months, taking out every item and asking that fundamental minimalist question, “Does this add value or bring joy to my life?” Unless the answer is a wholehearted yes, it’s time to part with that item.

Minimalism is a perfect lifestyle for those who love to travel, as minimalists never have to worry about overpacking. Living out of a hypothetical suitcase, or with a capsule wardrobe, helped me to get accustomed to living without comfort items and prepared my spending habits for a life with less stuff and more opportunity.

Saving money is a lot easier when there are less things on your shopping list. Long term financial goals require you to change habits and to think differently about financial priorities.

Minimalist Travel Expenses

The estimated average cost of living for an exchange student (2,700 pounds, or $3,500) was higher than what I was spending (less than 1,000 pounds), so I had additional money to travel.

Because I used one backpack, I saved around $200 to $300 in baggage fees. The average exchange student at my university brought two suitcases that weighed over 50 pounds each, and some students paid over $200 in luggage fees for one flight.

Overall, my cost of living was substantially lower in Europe. I spent 140 pounds ($230) on an annual bus pass, and my UK Sim monthly cellphone bill was equal to about $27. Travel in Europe is cheap — most of the flights I booked were around $27. I bought student discount cards for my rail and bus fares which saved me 1/3 off every trip. I opted for highly-rated hostels, spending around $54 a night.

Exploring Europe on a Minimalist Budget

My minimalist budget forced me to search for off-the-beaten-path places that cost less. Instead of spending a day in Milan, I took a train to a nearby town called Lake Como. I spent the day relaxing near the lake, exploring the town and eating gelato.

Not spending money forces you to seek out new experiences.  For example, I stumbled upon unexpected sights, like a busker singing Macklemore in front of an amazing church.

The full day in Lake Como and my train ticket cost me 20 euros ($23). In Milan, seeing DaVinci’s Last Supper would cost $26, and a tour of the Duomo is $30. Even just exploring Milan would’ve been more expensive because prices of food and transport tend to be higher in the city.

After I got back into Milan from Lake Como, I went to the Duomo with my friend after eating something at our hostel for dinner. We were able to see the Duomo from the outside without any crowds at all, saved money and saw it fully lit up at night.

You can spend hours looking at cheap travel tips on blogs and stressing over a budget, but sometimes it’s just a matter of learning as you go and adapting when things don’t go as planned. I made some mistakes that cost me, like booking the wrong date for a train ticket — twice.

Living and traveling abroad was the most financially stressful thing I have ever done. I had to adjust to a new cost of living and continuously have huge chunks of money go into traveling, all while having no income.

Any way you can simplify life abroad will help you adjust to the shock that comes with living in a new place and facing new challenges, financial or other wise. Minimalism is not about being restrained by a strict budget, it’s adopting habits of spending based on what you value.

Kate is a student and freelance writer from Edmonton, Canada. She has a lengthy list of places to travel to next and spends far too much time looking up flight deals.