My most unexpected lesson of 2018

Thu Dec 27, 2018 · 4 min read


I started this blog so that I could share the things I’ve learned while traveling the world with one bag. I expected to learn some of the things I’ve shared, like what to look for in a one-bag backpack, how to build a minimalist charging kit, and the best EDC items to have on hand.

There were some things I didn’t expect, too. I found value in experimenting with giving my things away, being even more minimalist on side trips, and developed strategies for building genuine connection as a traveler.

I’ve learned a lot these last two years, and grown a lot this year in particular. The most surprising thing I’ve learned, however, happened just over these past two months. At the very end of the year 2018, I think I’ve learned the most important thing of all about this lifestyle I’ve chosen.

On the last week of November, I sat in an airport waiting area, crying.

I was tired and frustrated. I’d spent the last month preparing to apply for a work visa, and the last two days interviewing with border guards to try and get it. I would not be getting it, and, in the process, I severely jeopardized my chances of being granted a visitor’s visa as well. I cried because I was separated from my partner, even though we’ve spent most of the last couple years no more than meters apart in plane cabins and hotel rooms, and it didn’t look like I would be able to see him anytime soon.

The effort to get the visa, ending there outside the gates of the departures hall, was the culmination of a lesson that had been slowly growing over the course of the year. I’d encountered it before, in its fledgling state, while trying to get insurance or yet another visitor’s visa. Now it was fully mature, and weighed on me like a dragon perched on my back.

The downside of ultimate freedom.

The life I’ve constructed for myself is, in many respects, ultimate freedom. So far, it’s looked like this:

In other words, I’m a capable individual without responsibilities, and with means. As it turns out, border guards don’t like this. Governments don’t like this. Credit providers and banks don’t like this. All of these agencies must evaluate people in terms of their predictability in order to provide them with privileges and services. I’m an unpredictable risk.


Historically for me, this only amounts to mild annoyance and inconvenience. A little extra explanation, some red tape. Now, however, it threatens the future I’ve worked so hard to build.

Systems that evaluate the trustworthiness of an individual have been constructed around qualities typical of a stationary life: things like mortgage payments, location-specific employment, and consistent patterns in personal history. In my pursuit of freedom, I’ve indirectly uprooted all these aspects of my existence. Now, impossible as it may seem, my life has become a lot more limited.

In many ways, in order to become a useful and productive member of society, I need to replant some of what I’ve pulled up. I’ve spent the majority of the last five years discarding ties, responsibilities, and relationships in favor of freedom - but “Who cares?” is not a sustainable life strategy.

Things that tie you to a place aren’t just for checkboxes on government forms. It’s people who can vouch for you, and who’ll be there for you when you need a place to go. A familiar environment and culture when you’re seeking rest and comfort. It’s a history of trustworthiness, and some assurance that you won’t, whatever the reason, disappear one night. It’s a web of responsibilities, that, in turn, affords you trust and privileges.

In concrete terms, for me, I’ll be spending less time in the skies and more time on the ground, putting down some new roots. One of my areas of focus for the new year will be building a community for myself, and beginning to establish a more recognizable foundation for existing in modern society. Something to come back to, if and when I decide to fly away again.

The most important lesson I learned in 2018 is something I never thought I’d say, given this blog’s focus on minimalism and detachment, but it’s no less important than lightening your backpack when it comes to striking out on your own.

Don’t leave everything behind.