One Backpack, One Lifetime

Minimalism is the new normal: a paradigm shift to owning less, moving slow, and relishing this rare, waking life. I had to get out of the big city and flee to the mountains to digest this statement. On a personal level, it means owning only multipurpose, essential things, and freeing oneself of material, mental, and emotional clutter. On the grand scheme of things, going minimalist soothes this hyperdrive consumerist culture that is unconsciously abusing the planet on a daily basis. At one point somebody has got to say this out loud:

Everybody needs to calm the hell down.

While minimalism has been catching fire on social media for the past decade, mystics and yogis have already been on this unconventional road for thousands of years. In 500 BCE, Gautama Buddha walked away from his swanky palace where he was prince, and survived on no more than three robes and one bowl. About 2000 years ago, Jesus too gave everything up besides the robe and sandals he's wearing. In the early 1900s, Gandhi owned no more than a few key items such as a pair of eyeglasses and a pocket watch. Most recently, Peace Pilgrim traveled for 28 years with nothing but a pair of clothes and shoes on.


Essentials: A purse with cash, cards, passport, notebook, and pencil + lead.


Cook anywhere with a tiny kitchen.

What did they all have in common? They preached the gospel of radical simplicity as a fast-track route to liberation and everlasting peace of mind. After all, who wouldn't want to live a zero stress and chilled out lifestyle? In this tech age where most are obsessed with distractions, online shopping, and endless streams of sickening selfies, we are trapped in a samsaric cycle of self-gratification and ego-masturbation. But just around the corner, a new generation is taking over in full throttle. We kids are shaving things off one at a time, and replacing them with experiential wisdom, selective relationships, and enduring moments and memories. Needless to say, we're done with "stuff".

We kids are shaving things off one at a time, and replacing them with experiential wisdom, selective relationships, and enduring moments and memories.

Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, and a number of vocal minimalists today may have had a spiritual bent to adapt and thrive through this lifestyle, but what appealed to me was how wild the idea was. Balling it in my mind, minimalism can be an ennobling necessity, a conscious decision to lather a balm on the world's seemingly unsolvable problems: the depletion of earth's resources, the massive production of goods, our unstoppable need to buy, and the staggering garbage turnout choking our landfills and oceans. Of course, no messiah or world government is ever going to step up to undo these things. We just have to shut our whining and do what we can in little ways.


Toiletries include an ear spoon and a moon cup for living waste-free.


My gadgets are reduced to just a laptop and an ebook reader. No phone!

While I have been a minimalist since I started climbing mountains in 2008, it wasn't until the end of 2016 that I took a step further and redesigned an "ultralight" approach for myself. That is, living on just the bare bones, all fitting neatly in one backpack. I gave away my furniture, my beloved library of about a thousand books (Not so minimalist there, was I?), and a few drawers of clothes and shoes. I reduced everything I owned to 10kg when I started, and about 10 months down the road, it's now under 7kg. Succinctly, if something doesn't fit in the bag, it has got to go. I thought, if this experiment won't work for me, I can revert to my old clunky lifestyle whenever I want.

Succinctly, if something doesn't fit in the bag, it has got to go. I thought, if this experiment won't work for me, I can revert to my old clunky lifestyle whenever I want.

The point I'm getting at is not to be some reverential vagabond like Buddha or Jesus, but to live simply, and to simply live. Of course, this "One Backpack, One Lifetime" approach won't apply to everyone, as different folks have different strokes. But then again, others can simply use a larger bag or luggage, or at least downsize to one room of needs. Nonetheless, I took this as a challenge, finding the fine balance between living simply and yet scoring high in other ways. To take care of my basic needs, here are the only things I've kept and have let go of the rest.

Summary of the Backpack

For the past 10 months that I've been living like this, I had to get a little creative on how I prepared my meals. I also started practicing zero waste (that is, producing zero trash) while I'm at it. Once these were integrated into my daily routine, things flowed pretty smoothly. I did not miss my old apartment, my old furniture, my old things. Sure, it was a comforting thought to have them, but I didn't even regret losing any of them. Putting the basics aside, having few possessions can get really boring. Adopting an ultralight lifestyle entails a mental shift not just on how to spend one's money, but how to spend one's time.

Clothes for Warm & Cool Climate


Clothes, malong (blanket), tiny towel, and headgear.


The sack unpacked with everyday clothes.


Minimalist yoga with just the naked floor or a blanket. No mat required!

Because I have stopped buying things and spend only on food and transportation, I've been saving a lot. Otherwise, I could work less and have more time to do whatever that pleases me. With a laptop-based work and just a backpack, I could go wherever I want. In less than a year, I have lived in El Nido, Coron, Culion, Sagada, Kalinga, Siargao Island, and Camiguin Island. While that seems a lot, I've been traveling at the slowest pace possible, getting stoked on the soul of each locale and feeling the undercurrents of its cultural norms and daily life. To break the monotony, I'd go off to nature trails, short hikes, waterscapes, or simply hang out in a cozy restaurant, or on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and read.

I've been traveling at the slowest pace possible, getting stoked on the soul of each locale and feeling the undercurrents of its cultural norms and daily life.

I've been watching the sunrise every single day, rain or shine, to sync my waking time with that of the earth's, and make the most out of every single day. Weekdays and weekends don't exist anymore. Everyday is a holiday, a chance to surrender into the arms of uncertainty, surprises, and adventure. Otherwise, a typical quiet day is spent exploring the wilderness of inner space through meditation, tantra, or yoga. This kind of solitude, alongside being close to nature, has spurred me to finish my first creative book of prose and poetry--while on the road. And when I'm hungry for connection, I just go out and talk to newfound friends instead of logging on to social media.

Sample Day Bag


Hangout or read anywhere.


Beach time. Yoga attire doubles as swimwear.


Write or work anywhere.

I do not know how long this experiment will last, but I've been savoring every moment of it. Sometimes it just feels a little too perfect to be here now, without the need to analyze the past or plan for the future. I just need to take care of today, and everything else seems to unfold effortlessly. Above all, I am living out my ideals as an earth lover and will probably preach this ultralight lifestyle for as long as I am alive. In hindsight, one doesn't need to be an environmentalist to slow down some of the beastly forces of this world. To a few, having just one backpack is enough.

// Oct 2017

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