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I was compensated for this post but all opinions are my own. Conventional vacations are great, but there is a growing movement towards more immersive experiences of foreign lands, often involving people staying for several months at a stretch in a given location.
Sometimes, the people who do this are retired, while at other times, they’re on extended leave from work for any number of reasons. Increasingly, a large number of these long-stay travelers are also “digital nomads”, people who do their work online and are thus free to explore the world year-round while holding onto their day-jobs.
No doubt Tim Ferriss’ highly acclaimed book “The Four Hour Work Week” has played a big part in galvanizing this movement.
The author — himself a digital nomad at the time of writing — paints a vivid and romantic picture of the benefits of spending extended periods of time in new countries on a regular basis, learning the language, becoming immersed in the culture in a way that casual tourists would struggle to achieve, and so on.
There is a lot to be said for these kinds of extended trips, but what’s the correct way to go about taking one, assuming you have the resources and time to get out there in the first place?
Well, there’s a good argument to be made that a minimalist ethos is the right approach for these kinds of trips. This can mean looking for minimalist accommodation, such as rumah minimalis in Indonesia, or doing an inventory of which non-essential items can be safely left at home when packing your bags.
Without further ado, here are some reasons why you should try adopting a minimalist ethos on your long-term stay in a foreign country.
It will force you to get truly immersed in the local culture.
Even the most dedicated, long-term traveler can miss out on becoming immersed in the local culture, in quite dramatic fashion, thanks to the endless convenience (and yes, distraction) provided by technologies such as the internet and satellite TV.
If you’re living in a compound filled with expats from your home country, have satellite TV broadcasting all your familiar shows to you, in your native language, and have the use of unlimited internet access and assorted gadgets, you are inevitably going to be far more detached from the culture of the place you’re visiting than you would be if you had made a concerted effort to do without some of the luxuries.
It’s an interesting fact that the less “comfortable” your home base is, and the less decked out with conveniences and luxuries, the more you will have to get outside, speak to people, navigate the area, and familiarise yourself with the local cultural norms.
Try to make do with as few “extras” as you can, while remaining safe, and you may be amazed by how much deeper the whole experience becomes for you.
It can be an excellent break away from the familiar and the comfortable, to help you reflect on what’s truly important in life.
There’s an interesting phenomenon in life where, no matter how good things may be for us, or how bad, we adjust to the familiar and experience a kind of “numbness” or apathy about our situations in general.
This is also known as the comfort zone, and it can prevent you from taking a good, bird’s eye view of your life and determining where you want to be, and how you plan on getting there.
Stripping away the familiar, and removing the various levels of comfort and familiarity provided by luxuries and material possessions, can put you in a position where your experience of the world is stripped down, and where you are forced to consider what’s truly important in life.
In this sense, a minimalist long-stay trip can serve not only as an excellent way of immersing yourself in another culture but also as a kind of meditative retreat, where you can do some important thinking and get back in touch with where you want to be in life.
It can lead to great stories.
One of the interesting side-effects of having to make do with less, while simultaneously being relocated to a new country for months at a time, is that you will be forced to get out more than you might otherwise have done.
As you might have noticed over the course of your life so far, very few great stories start with “I was sitting at home on the sofa, watching TV…”. Instead, the great adventures of life always involve putting yourself out there and meeting the world head-on.
A minimalist trip of this sort can be the perfect motivation for getting out on a regular basis and confronting the world head-on.
In fact, it’s not even really optional. If you don’t have all of the latest luxuries and conveniences with you, you will simply need to go out in order to get food, water, find directions, see interesting sights in order to stave off the inevitable boredom that would likely otherwise overcome you, and so on.
In the early 20th Century, public commentators complained that “Spectatoritis” was on the rise — in other words, that more and more people were “observing” life rather than getting fully involved in it. An analogy that was used was that of sports stadiums, where fewer and fewer people would play the games, and more and more people will start watching them, thus causing the stands to grow precipitously.
While modern technologies and luxuries come with many benefits, they also inevitably increase the risk of chronic “Spectatoritis” setting in.
When you have no real prospect of “spectating” and taking it easy, your only option will be to get out there and see what adventures the world holds.
You’ll be more inclined to actually visit the amazing archaeological sites that everyone talks about, you’ll be more likely to get involved in the night-life scene, and you’ll be more likely to come home with some great stories.