Nov 21, 2011

After 10 Months of Living With Less

We’ve been almost 10 months now, living on the road, being 'location independent'.  Until now, we’ve not been in one place for longer than 11 nights.  And still, all we have are our 2 backpacks and 4 day bags.  This is the travelling lifestyle—having to ‘live with less’ in order to ‘get more’.    

Some of the things that we have less of:

  Less personal space
   Before we left on this trip, we had a 4 bedroom house, with 2 living areas, and a 650m2 yard.  We had 2 newly renovated bathrooms and a kitchen.  It was not a huge house, but very adequate.  The kids did share a bedroom though. 

  Now our accommodation has almost always been confined to a single room.  The kids have only slept in a different room from us on 2-3 occasions.  Thankfully, no one snores (too badly anyway).  We also tend to either all sleep in the same bed, or if we are lucky, Jim and I sleep together, and the girls sleep together.  

One of the smaller rooms that we've had.

  On rare occasions, we even have to use a communal bathroom located somewhere down a hall, or in our worst case, down a flight of stairs.

   The lack of personal space, especially while you are a family on extended travel, is probably one of the main things that we all miss.

Less private transportation.

Unlike at home, we don’t have the luxury of having our own car while we are travelling.  Only once we hired a car, and a few other times we have hired motorcycles to get us around.  Otherwise, we move from place to place relying entirely in the public system of buses, trains and occasionally planes and boats.  

It’s funny that at home, we generally don’t use public transportation much at all (although Jim used to use it in his daily commute) and would feel lost at the prospect of not having a car.  We also walk a lot more now.

But travelling on public transport gives you a wonderful connection to the local people as well as to other travellers you might meet on the way.  Although it can be difficult at times, we really do prefer it and as such, rarely take taxis.

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Less influence by marketing and media.  

   By that, we mean the corporate masses.  We just don’t have the time or the space or the money for it. We rarely have a television in our room, and if we do and have time for it, we watch news, a movie, or cartoons, all usually without commercials.  We also rarely pick up a newspaper.  Online news is our usual source for information (subject to WiFi connectivity).
Less room for material ‘stuff’

We have only what can fit into our backpacks and day bags.  Aside from a few new articles of clothing, we generally have only what we started the trip with.  We usually wear something until it is too dirty to do so.  As we have only been in Asia (ie tropical climates), we haven’t needed runners/sneakers at all; a good sturdy pair of outdoor sandals is really all we’d need, except that flip flops/crocs are handy at the beach too.

We have gathered a few souvenirs along the way, and have posted them or the things that they’ve replaced (we’re talking clothes) home.  We have done this twice.

Even our 4yr old understands this as she tells merchants who try to sell us something, "It's not the cost, it's that we can't carry it."!

Yup, we all fit into this thing, bags and all!

Less money. 

We are not earning an income while we are away, except for a modest sum from the rental of our home left over after the mortgage is paid.

But at the same time, the cost of living in Asia is much less than in developed countries like Australia.  So although we have a budget, we can also easily include trips to amusement parks, zoos, circuses, theatre performances, museums, and luxuries such as massages, laundry services, and almost daily trips to 7-11 for ice cream whereas at home, we wouldn’t be able to afford this lifestyle.

  Less mundane chores to do.                               

  We haven’t cooked a proper meal for ourselves since we left home, and I don’t miss it.  The kids do miss their favourite foods, but eating out in Asia is usually very cheap and you also get very fresh food.  

  We also usually get our laundry ‘done’; for no more than $1/kg, it’s not only washed, but also folded and even ironed for you.  While hand-washing is not out of the question, with a family it’s so time consuming that it’s silly not to send it out.

  Since we are only in hotel rooms or guest houses, we don’t have to worry about cleaning either, except for a perfunctory sweep of the floors every now and then.

  Less stress. 

  We have the ultimate work-life balance—no work, more life!   Work-life balance is probably the single greatest contributor to stress for most people, including ourselves.  

  Now when we do have stress, it’s usually due to the nature of overland travel (ie long bus rides) and poor planning!

But what we have more of:

More Time. 

More time to read—I’ve read novels ‘for fun’ for the first time since the children were born.  More time to appreciate each other. More time to think about our life, goals, dreams.  More time to just ‘be’.

More Family Bonding. 

Without the distractions (and stress) of day to day life, like work, household chores, and even friends and family, we have more time to focus on each other.

We’ve noticed that our kids have a much closer bond now, having only each other to rely on for a playmate, for better or worse.  They are even in sync when they are asleep!

Our children’s vocabulary as well as their cognitive skills has both increased.  We attribute this to the fact that they spend so much time with us and we as parents have less distractions and more ability to focus on their questions and needs and to ‘unschool’.

More Life Experiences.  

Although Jim and I were somewhat well travelled prior to this trip, back packing with two young children is an entirely different matter.  Not only do you have to consider their physical requirements like food and shelter, but we also noticed that travelling with children completely alters your experience with a place.  

Although we still tasted the cultural side to a destination, we also did more ‘fun’ things too like amusement parks, zoos, and circuses.  While travellers without children most likely wouldn’t seek out these things, not only are they enjoyable but they also give you a different perspective on the culture.

But more than anything, travel has broadened our children’s world immensely.  While they might be too young to remember the specific destinations or particular activities of the trip, hopefully the impressions that they have left will last a lifetime.  And based on the typesof conversations that we’ve been able to have along the way, there have certainly been a lot of impressions.

This post was inspired by The Great Family Escape (‘What Can We Live Without’).  For more points of view on this by other ‘Families On The Move’, check these out:


  1. How amazing that your girls are getting so much closer! I love how you all are "living the lifestyle" and not having to worry about work/life/kids balance. What an experience your kids are having...that is what happens when living with less - you get more time!


  2. Thanks for a great post. What a joy to read. I spent about two minutes just staring at that little rink-a-dink cart trying to understand how you (and all of your stuff)can fit into that. Wow. We're a family of five and even without the extra person, we could never cram into that space. I bow down to you. You are clearly getting so much out of 'living without'. You speak of angles here that in my article "The Ying Yang of Living Without" I did not even think of mentioning. Living without private transportation, personal space,stress, media influence, the need for stuff....

    Thanks you for the inspiration. Loved the article,

    (The Nomadic Family)

  3. What's going to happen when you come back? It will take a bit of adjusting????

  4. The effect on the girls is what made me smile. I'm seeing the same thing with my boys. When you've only got each other, arguments get really short.:) Thanks for also sharing what you have more of. It was a great way to think about it.

  5. Phil, it will be a bit of adjusting for sure! Some of the 'less' stuff we'll look forward to having more of will definitely be the 'personal space'. But we will also have to adjust to having more of 'the mundane' stuff, the media influences to beat off. While we'll have 'more income', not looking forward to the more stress and less work/life balance it will bring :( It's really nice to live 'simply' and being away has certainly enabled it be be done more easily. Somehow when you are 'home', your life is suddently bombarded with more 'needs' which are actually 'wants'. It will be tricky, as always, to find the balance.

    Thanks everyone for your comments and thoughts--love hearing from you!

  6. I loved how you mentioned less media exposure. I feel that way too and think it´s so great that we can keep our children ourselves sort of media-free.

  7. Jess- Somehow I had the wrong link to this post but I'm glad I've caught up now. Love the picture of the motorbike and sidecar! I totally hear you about the kids being in sync now. It's funny, at home their sleeping schedules used to be independent and put a cramp on our weekends. Now they nap and sleep through the night together. I'm thinking we may need to keep them in the same bed when we get home.

  8. Encouraging! Can't wait to be on the road!

  9. Our kids normally share a room at home anyway, and we've totally seen the benefits regarding them sleeping through the night and not prone to 'night visits' to our bed as many toddlers have. But now, sharing a bed, they sometimes even cuddle together while asleep or both turn over at the same time--it's so cute!

  10. LOve the photo of the girls on the swing!

  11. Thanks--there were these swings all over the park in Trivandrum, India.