“In our rich consumers’ civilization we spin cocoons around ourselves and get possessed by our possessions.” Max Lerner
A lot of writings about minimalist travel focus solely on the packing aspect:what to pack, what not to pack, whether to pack at all…the articles on what bags to use and what to put in them abound, pushing you in the direction of all sorts of brands and gadgets. But what about the actual destinations? What does travelling as a holistic minimalist look like beyond having just one set of spiffy multi-purpose clothing you wear for two weeks straight?
If we want our exploration of the world to be imbued with holistic minimalist principles and ethics we have to keep in mind this one pillar: experiences over consumption. When you make your travel choices based on this idea things tend to get a whole lot simpler very quickly. It immediately orients your travelling to a whole different mindset where it’s more important to really experience one place than to rush through 10 places just so you can tick them off your list. It means caring about the quality of the experience in all its aspects, including how your presence impacts the place and people you’re visiting. With that in mind, here are some of the most holistically minimalist ways to travel and places to go!
22.1 Coming Soon to a National Park Near You!
“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” Dr. Edward O. Wilson
It may not fulfill your need to explore the four corners of the earth, but the honest answer to what is the most holistically minimalist type of travel you can do would look something like this: you hitchhike, walk, bike or take public transportation to a national park or other accessible natural site you can get to within a day of travel and camp/hike/swim and generally commune with nature for however many days you have, leaving no trace behind when you leave. The level of physical challenge can be adapted to your personal abilities and needs in the moment. Don’t think camping means you have to be super fit and go on multiple hour hikes every day! It’s equally valid to find a beautiful spot to hang out in and read some good books. Pack yourself a hammock and enjoy!
Camping allows you to travel light (you’re limited to what you can carry on your back!), experience a place in a more profound way (since you’ll be getting around solely by foot), it’s inexpensive even if you travel as a group or family (and there are plenty of family-friendly campsites where you still have access to basics like a bathroom and shower), and it’s ecologically sound (so long as you’re conscious of not leaving any garbage or damage behind). On top of that it can provide an opportunity to connect in a deeper way with your local environment and to “unplug” and take break from the screens and media that pervade most of our daily lives. If this seems like the right choice for your next trip, your destination is whatever awesome natural site you can find within a days travel! There are lots of lists of “most beautiful” and “most popular” national parks to visit online…but why not find something off the beaten track?
22.2 Take a Bike or Walking Trip
“There must be more to life than having everything!” Maurice Sendak
This option again could simply involve choosing somewhere local to explore! Biking or walking just about anywhere you usually drive through can be an amazingly perspective-altering experience. Obviously if you’re looking to “get away from it all” you probably want to look further afield. But again, if you’re looking to go on an ultimately holistic minimalist adventure, you should try and stick as local as possible. If you’re travelling solo or with equally adventurous people you can simply hop on a bus or train (most will accept bikes if they’re properly packed) and bring a light tent and go explore the countryside! If you don’t want to camp, you’ll need to organize your route around places that have accommodations, be it hostels, airbnb’s or couchsurfing (all top-of-the-list in terms of minimal expense, experience-orientedness and usually low headache).
If you want to up the not dealing with logistics factor, then you can book yourself for an organized bike or walking tour! There’s growing variety of bike tours. You can find everything from sustainability project tours where you visit ecovillages and intentional communities, to bike and wine tours where you teeter (safely!) from one vineyard to another. There are even electric-biking tours available across North America, Europe and in some Asian countries like Bali as well! There are also plenty of family-friendly bike tours out there.
As far as walking tours go, the most famous long walk trails are probably the “Camino de Santiago” or “Way of Saint James” pilgrimage trails in France and Spain, which are set up with hostels all along for easy, inexpensive meals and housing. In North America, The Appalachian Scenic Trail extends from Southern Québec through Maine and down all the way to Georgia and can be accessed all along its length. The west coast is also plumb full of walking and cycling trails. Most countries have walking trails so wherever you are, if this type of adventure seems appealing to you, you should be able to find something worthwhile.
22.3 Environmentally Conscious Countries For Minimalist Peace of Mind
“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” Stewart Udall
So you’re a committed holistic minimalist but you still feel the need to go far, far away. You’d like to go somewhere that’s a bit more in line with your values and less focused on overconsumption. There are several countries that have become known for their commitment to eco-tourism and environmentally conscious policies, though opinions do differ slightly and shift depending on a country’s political situation, etc.
#1 Costa Rica
Probably the best known eco-tourist destination in the world, Costa Rica fits the bill in many ways. In 2016 98.1% of their electricity was produced by green, renewable sources (although hydroelectric is included in that category, which is up for debate in terms of sustainability). According to Wikipedia, it’s “the only country to meet all five United Nations Development Program criteria established to measure environmental sustainability.” On top of that, the fact that it’s a tropical country means the amount you need to pack is way less than many of the other super eco-friendly countries out there, as you’ll see in reading the rest of the list. There is a seemingly unending selection of eco-tours and eco-friendly hostels, hotels etc. to choose from. All in all, if you’re looking for a relatively clear-conscience (‘cause hey, you’ll still be taking the plane…consider carbon-offsetting as an option!), low logistics trip, Costa Rica is a good bet.
Iceland has been rapidly climbing the rungs of most eco-friendly travel destinations. They’ve also started offering very attractive flight prices with their new airline Wow!Air. According to travel site Explores article, Most Eco Friendly Places To Visit On Earth, “Iceland is almost entirely powered by geothermal energy, which makes it one of the greenest countries in the world. In fact, Iceland’s renewable energy programme is said to produce the largest amount of green energy per capita compared to other nations.”  The downside is mainly that Iceland tends to be on the colder side of climates, though summer temperatures can get up to around 25C/77F. They can also go down to 5C/41F. Your backpack will therefore need to include gear for a wide range of weather.
#3 The Azores Islands
Just off the coast of Portugal, the Azores islands are considered one of the world’s top “eco-friendly” destinations by many. Eco tours Portugal boasts that “after being evaluated several times and keeping the highest grade in the Global Sustainable Tourism Review (GSTR), the Azores finally became the first Quality Coast Platinum Award winner. The National Geographic Traveller rewards as well the Azores as “Second best islands in the world for Sustainable Tourism.”
Only 5% of the islands are built up, with the rest remaining protected marine and nature reserves. They also produce a large part of their energy from renewables and are very dedicated to keeping the islands pristine despite encouraging tourism.
#4 New Zealand
New Zealand has most recently been in the news for their government’s decision to start including their populations general wellbeing in their measurements of economic success instead of basing it on GDP alone. Needless to say, they have a fairly progressive approach to many things, including sustainability. With the growing demand for eco-tourism options in New Zealand (can you say “Lord of the Rings?”) a wide variety of activities and “eco-lodges” have sprung up in every corner of the island. The one “ick” is that, unless you live in South Asia or Australia, you’re going to have to take one heck of a flight to get there. Again, it’s highly recommendable to look into carbon offsetting your flight to balance things out a bit. Otherwise, this is a great destination for minimalist adventure!
#5, 6, 7,8: Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark…
While culturally and geographically distinct, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have a lot in common. All these countries swap around with Iceland on the “most sustainable country to visit” lists out there. For all of them you’ll need to pack a wide range of clothing and deal with either light all day or no light at all, depending on what time of year you choose to go. That being said, the midnight and the aurora borealis are both amazing sights to see and experience. They all have voiced, and been acting on, strong commitments to sustainability, producing significant amounts of their energy from renewables like wind and geothermal. All have well-established eco-tourism industries that you can easily plug into to see if any of them are the right fit for you! Given their relative geographical proximity you might even get around to visiting several of them, but don’t get ahead of yourself! Minimalist travel emphasizes slow travel so as to ensure depth of experience and not just skimming the surface.
#9 City Options…
Unsurprisingly, several of the “greenest” cities in the world are located in Scandinavian countries, including capitals Helsinki (Finland), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Oslo (Norway). So if you’re looking for an urban minimalist eco-friendly adventure you could just stick with your plan to visit the north! Also somewhat north is the city of Vancouver, which appears on all of the “greenest city” reports for 2018 due to its clean air quality, use of renewable energy sources and bike culture. In the U.S. San Francisco takes the cake.
22.4 What About Accommodations?
If you want to avoid buying into the often wasteful hotel industry (though more and more truly impressive green hotels do exist out there…), there are several options. The best ones of course involve actually getting to know locals, as in order to truly experience a place you need to meet its people. Couchsurfing can be a great option if you can find someone who’s free and has accommodation that suits your needs. Sleeping on a couch isn’t for everyone, but many people actually have extra bedrooms that they open to visitors. Check out the site and see what you can find! Otherwise, looking for a small, locally run hostel, B&B or inn is usually a good way of meeting people. If you’re looking a bit more solo time or travelling with a family, consider house sitting or house swapping. If you’re travelling to one of the above-mentioned eco-friendly countries you can likely find some pretty nifty eco-cabins on airbnb. And if you want to go the way of no logistics to deal with at all, booking yourself into some kind of eco-tour can be a great way to get around without the hassle of planning.
22.5 Action Point Summary – Here’s What You Need to Do Now!
“Reducing our levels of consumption will not be a sacrifice but a bonus if we simply redefine the meaning of the word ‘success.” David Wann