Recently, I got an awesome opportunity to travel to Uganda for an 11 day trip. Needless to say, I jumped all over that shit.
Before heading off, I made a conscious decision to use my travels in Africa as something of an extreme experiment in minimalist living ‘on the go’, so to speak.
See, it’s quite easy to embrace the principles of simple living from the comfort of your own home. But what about when you’re lifted from your personal little bubble and thrown into an unfamiliar environment, head frikkin’ first?
Well I definitely was.
I got diddly squat notice about the trip. I was travelling alone. I packed only the essentials. With all of this in my mind, I kissed my lady good bye and set off.
Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living
– Miriam Beard
Here are 7 minimalist living lessons I learned on my travels in Uganda.
#1 Be happy with what you have
Here’s a thought that seems almost counter intuitive in the world we live in;
You don’t need to have it all and you don’t need to do it all.
I used to spend way too much of my time chasing more ‘stuff’. My mind and my energy were always focused on the next big thing I wanted to buy or get.
But have you noticed that you only really want something until you get it? Then it’s not such a big deal anymore, right?
Well, it’s only since starting this blog that I’ve flipped this mindset head over ass. Now my focus is all about how I can reduce this ‘stuff’ and simplify my life. Since doing it, I’ve realised that most of those things I wanted came with lots of hidden complexities. ‘Stuff’ needs upkeep. ‘Things’ need maintenance. Material possessions are a time drain.
While in Uganda I got to visit villages where people had nothing.
I mean, they lived in make shift shacks and struggled to feed their families. Children ran around bare foot, playing in the dry dirt. For fun they’d chase an old tyre around, pushing it with a stick and following it wherever it rolled.
But do you know the one thing I remember most about those kids?
They had the happiest faces I’ve seen, despite having nothing.
Happiness consists not in having much, but in being content with little
And that might be an extreme example, but the lesson it offers is so valuable;
Be happy with what you have.
Since returning from Uganda just two weeks ago, myself and my wifey have already decided to get rid of one car and also remove cable tv from our home.
We’ll save time and money that can be better spent together.
#2 Take a breath and slow your roll
Here’s a universal truth for that ass.
There’s one thing every single person on this planet has the exact same amount of each day:
Some of us might be richer than others, some poorer. Some are younger and some are older. But each day, the amount of time we get is identical for everyone.
Each person on this planet moves through life at precisely the same pace.
Yet, some of us rush through our days, frustrated that we ‘just don’t have enough time’ to do everything we need or want to do.
‘I just don’t have the time’, ‘Today has just flown by’, ‘I wish I had more time’ – these are all phrases I hear on the regular.
But this lack of time doesn’t actually exist. Yet we use ‘time’ as an excuse for so much.
Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to’
And what’s even stranger is that if we’re not complaining about our lack of time, then we’re often literally wishing our lives away;
‘I can’t wait for the weekend’, ‘Roll on Friday’, ‘I wish this damn week was over’ – the list goes on.
But as I learned in Uganda, there’s an alternative way to manage our relationship with time. While in Africa, I met lots of people who simply relax.
They enjoy the time they have and soak up their lives at a slower, more deliberate pace.
On my travels, I got to experience this way of living. And guess what?
I got just as much shit done.
The only difference was, I got to really experience it. I felt it and got to be present in the moment.
There is more to life than simply increasing its speed
One of the funniest and most illuminating conversations I had on my trip was when I was arranging a time to meet a colleague for an early morning coffee.
When I suggested catching up at 9am, he turned to me and asked ‘Now is that Uganda time or actual time?’. As I learned, Uganda time runs a little behind actual time. We met at around 10.30am.
And that sums it up. Life in Africa was just a little bit gentler and more chilled than back home.
And I’ll be doing my best to keep this outlook with me from now on.
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it
– Ferris Beuller
#3 Work hard, play harder
As soon as I touched down in Uganda I jumped in a taxi and headed for the B&B. It was a late night arrival and the long flight had me ready to crash.
The cab ride from the airport in Entebbe to my accommodation in Kampala was about 45 minutes, so I had plenty of time to chat with my Ugandan taxi driver, Henry.
Henry took a lot of pride in his home town of Kampala. In fact, my taxi journey quickly turned into something of a guided tour of the city.
Henry gave me the low down and history of each building, mall and neighbourhood we passed through.
When hit an area called Kabalagala, Henry explained this was one of the most hopping and buzzing strips in Kampala.
“People start drinking and partying here on Friday and don’t stop til Monday or Tuesday morning” he told me.
As we drove down the bumpy road, Henry pointed out bar after bar after bar. The strip was about a kilometre long, and was packed full of pubs and clubs.
Some looked like the kind I’m used to, others were no more than flimsy shacks selling bottles of beer out of small fridges.
But you know what? Henry was right. As I learned later in my trip, Ugandans know how to party. And I mean party.
Later that week I got to see this area in full swing. It was frikkin’ live.
Enjoy yourself. These are the good old days you’re going to miss in the years ahead
People in Uganda really enjoy their downtime. But they work hard too. Whether it’s driving their bodaboda bikes for fares, selling fruit on the side of the road or working their office jobs, all of the Ugandans I encountered had an awesome work ethic.
They were grinding and they were committed. But on the flip side, they knew how to let loose and blow off steam. They understood the importance of playing hard.
The lesson I learned? Do the same, give it 100% when you’re working but put the same effort into enjoying yourself too.
Work hard, play hard ya’ll.
#4 Whenever you can, relax in the shade
Look, I’m not stupid. I expected it to be hot in Africa. But I didn’t know it’d be hotttttt.
To battle the crazy heat, a lot of Ugandans grab a spot in the shade to chill whenever they can.
I got to do the same when I was having a meeting. Instead of sweltering indoors in the stuffy office as originally planned, we decided to have our meeting outside in the grass, under the cool shade of a tall tree.
And you know what, that was a pretty good meeting. And I remember it fondly.
The lesson I took from this is simple: make everything you do as interesting and as enjoyable as possible.
Even the stuff you don’t like. In fact, especially the stuff you don’t like.
Get mad creative. Come up with awesome ways to transform the tasks you find boring, into activities you can look forward to. Life’s too short not to enjoy every moment.
I hate ironing my shirt every evening. But pouring a glass of whiskey, putting on some inspirational podcasts and doing all my ironing in one go each Sunday? Not so bad anymore.
Get it? Got it. Good.
#5 Exercise early
This is something I aspire to when living in the comfortable Irish climate of my home town. But while I was in Uganda, I had no choice but to exercise early. Why, you ask? Coz of the firkkin heat yo.
I made the mistake of going for my first run in Uganda at 9am. Not so smart. The locals are sunbathing by then because they know how hot it gets. Combine this with my milky Irish complexion and you’ll believe me when I tell you that I almost burst into flames 15mins into that 9am run.
After that, I set my alarm for 6am, threw on my running gear, guzzled down some water and headed straight out into the cooler early morning air. Beautiful. I had completed my run, had my shower and finished a relaxing breakfast all before 8.30. I felt refreshed and ready to conquer the day ahead.
Exercise early. Lesson learnt.
#6 Be conscious with your cash
Seeing the poverty that exists in Uganda made me realize how privileged I am to be in the position I’m in. And how lucky I am to have the money I have.
We all like to compare ourselves with those who have more than us. But if we took a minute to measure our wealth against those who have less, we’d feel richer than we can imagine.
So I believe it’s my responsibility to spend the money I’m privileged to have as wisely and as consciously as possible. It’s also my responsibility to contribute back to those who do not have the resources I have.
So a big lesson I’ve taken away from my time in Africa is to be conscious with my cash – both in terms of how I spend and save it, but also how I share it with others and contribute to those in a less fortunate position than myself.
Life is really a gamble. Simply being born in a particular country can determine how difficult your life might be. I was one of the lucky ones, so it’s my role to share my good fortune with those who need it most.
How can you do the same?
#7 Love your own company
Kill the distractions. Embrace isolation. Enjoy solitude.
Travelling alone was a great way to ensure I had plenty of time to spend in my own company.
While in Africa, I took time by myself to reflect, reenergise and recharge.
It’s space to work on myself, the real me. When I’m alone I can hear my inner voice and listen to what it’s telling me. I’ve actually realised that with all the things competing for my attention every day, solitude is not only precious but also crucial for my growth and well being.
We live in a very tense society. We are pulled apart and we all need to learn how to pull ourselves together. I think that at least part of the answer lies in solitude
– Helen Hayes.
Here are 4 ways you can start to enjoy being by yourself:
Create your physical sanctuary
Having a physical space that you’re comfortable and secure in by yourself is really important. For me, it’s my home and a major personal goal of mine this year has been to create an amazing personal environment that I feel at ease in whenever I’m by myself.
Have a home retreat
For a weekend or even just a single day, unplug from the world and enjoy your own company. No tv, no internet, no phone and no devices. Meditate, cook, read or simply be. You’ll feel amazing after.
Writing your thoughts down on paper is super therapeutic and enjoyable. You’ll get to know your own mind and you’ll learn so much about yourself. Journal about your goals, aspirations and thoughts. At the end of each day, I like to write down one thing I was proud of and one thing I’d like to do better the next day. Reading back over your journals can really show you how much you’ve grown, so start now.
Be in nature
For me, being by myself and being in nature is the ultimate combination. Greenery, fresh air, birds singing and water flowing – it’s like the perfect backdrop to quiet contemplation and quality time spent with yourself.
Peace and I’m out
So that’s some of the great stuff I learned from my short time spent in Uganda.
For me, minimalist living is a way to escape the excess of the world around us, of information overload, consumerism, of being always on, of material possessions and of clutter. And my time spent in Africa helped me shed many of the complexities of my typical daily routine.
Minimalism isn’t emptiness for the sake of emptiness; but rather making room to move freely, think clearly and open ourselves to the beauty of life