When I tell people that I was able to travel to eight countries on three continents in three weeks, the biggest surprise for people is that I did it all with a carry on. Armed with a hiking backpack stuffed to the brim, I set out on what was surely the adventure of a lifetime. Why then is the coolest part of the story about my luggage?
I had to admit that for most people, myself included, this seemed like a tall order. I wasn’t a minimalist, expert traveler, or anything else along those lines. I was simply on a budget. Using discount airlines, I did all my travel on the cheap. And I mean so cheap that I cooked my own pasta in Italy. I used to think that being offered a drink on the flight meant I was living in luxury.
How did I get this way? Well to tell that story, I have to look back at sixteen year old Josh, bad haircut and all. This is when I left the country for the first time on a mission trip in Panama. Like everyone else in my group, my luggage weighed in around 120 pounds. Most Americans would argue that was enough to last me the week…hopefully! With my suitcase in tow weighing almost as much as I did, I jetted off to a far off land. When I arrived I found the most humble of people. Not by choice but by situation. Most of the people I met owned one outfit that they wore everyday until they grew out of it.
This reality hit me like a truck. Like most of you, I enjoyed shopping. I enjoyed having nice things. It wasn’t until I realized I didn’t need all these things that I became a happier person. To the horror of my mother, I left most of my clothes behind with just enough to make it back to the United States without too much body oder. Don’t mistake my purpose; I’m not attempting to turn everyone into environmental hippie freedom fighters here, I’m just telling my story.
Last spring, my girlfriend Olivia and I set off to study abroad in Spain, and while that already sounds privileged enough, I should mention we lived on the beach. In a modern, Western country surrounded by the influences of fashion, I lived humbly with my host family in a bedroom the size of my walk in closet back home. Much to my shame, I will admit to you now that the first day living with my host family in Spain, I cried. Hard. I missed my stuff. The same suitcase that in Panama lasted me a week was now supposed to last me five months. How was I going to make it with only eight pairs of pants, sixteen t-shirts, nine button downs, and only one coat? Crazy I know.
Looking back I can’t help but laugh. After a few weeks I started to figure out how lucky, fortunate, and rich I really was. The opportunities I was being given don’t come around to most. I needed to capitalize on it in the most respectful way I could. For three weeks, Olivia and I traveled to seven different cities around Europe, and I only brought two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, and one coat. What shocked me is that I loved it. I no longer had to pick out what I was going to wear the next day. It came down to what was clean, what was dry, and what the weather was like.
I was liberated to then enjoy my time fully immersed into the cultures around me. While I indulged on occasion by shopping at the never ending buffet of fashion, I had one hard reality. If I wanted to buy something, I had to get rid of something else. I couldn’t bring myself to waste that kind of money. Instead I invested it in experiences like museum tickets, and activities like jumping off mountains.
My pitch is this; when you’re shopping online feeding the always hungry cart, stop and think about how the $7 sweater might just not be as good of a deal as you thought. Complete your simple wardrobe with lasting, high quality, dare I say expensive clothing. You’ll be surprised at how much less you end up spending, feel good because you took some steps towards sustainability, and get joy out of how bomb you look in that jean jacket. I will admit this may be easier for men that it is for women. That’s why I’m so glad that Olivia is passionate about the mission of finding ethical and sustainable clothing. Sometimes, it’s really not the amount of clothing you own that matters. Investing in pieces that last frees up your life for other things besides worrying about all the latest trends because you’ll be dressed in a way that is timeless.