The Overland Minimalist

You are overlanding to the remote reaches of the planet, so who do you choose as a companion? Bear Grylls or Ray Mears? Sure, Bear would be a constant source of action and excitement, and dinner will always be interesting, if not always palatable, but I would choose the chubby guy as a companion. He is calm and skilled and is the kind of man who could probably fix a Land Rover with a coat hanger, a Leatherman, and a roll of duct tape. Honestly, it is Ray Mear’s bushcraft skills which interest me the most.

Over thousands of years of evolution, our species has learned to design and use tools to improve the quality of our existence. Many survival skills are, in fact, domestic skills long forgotten. The ability to sew, cook, clean, and nurture are in modern society still largely seen as women’s roles, but I believe that a man too should possess these skills and that survivalism and minimalism are closely related as most luxuries are superfluous. Please note, when we refer to survivalism it is not the paranoid prepper lifestyle, but instead the healthy wood chopping, fire making, food gathering, shelter making, Ray Mears outdoor lifestyle.

Yes, my family of four lives on the road and no, we are not woodsmen survivalists, but we could quite easily be (having lived off grid for months in the remote San Pedro de Martir mountains of Mexico and alone on a Greek island). The most common question we are asked is,“How do you afford this lifestyle?” Everyone asks the question, but not everyone appreciates the answer. We can afford to travel because we are minimalists who share, recycle, and repair everything we own. We have low overhead, and our three self-published books are unique and loved. We nurture and maintain our gear. My waterproof shell jacket is almost 10 years old; it has been to the Serengeti, the Amazon, Alaska, and Turkey. My machete was bought in a farmers market in a small town in central Brazil and is still used weekly. Our shoes are worn and repaired until they are worn through, and I do not go to sleep until I know that all of our valuable possessions are accounted for, and my Leatherman is by my side. No, we are not long hair, wheatgrass eating, vegan hippie communists either—we drive a self-built Land Rover Defender camper which runs on diesel and 33-inch mud tires. We are minimalists by choice, but also by circumstance. Hell, we even turn down offers for free gear if we do not need it and cannot find a place to put it in the camper.

Minimalism as a way of life perfectly complements our overlander lifestyle and “bushcraft” domestic skills.

Here are a few tips based on our experience.

  • Cry once. Buy the best quality product you can afford. A cheap tent will last a summer whereas a well-made tent could last 10 years.
  • Being a minimalist does not mean that you can’t have stuff—you can have the very best.
  • Buy only what you need. How you define “need” is up to you but unless it is something you will use at least once a week, you probably do not NEED it (fire extinguishers and our books are the obvious exceptions (ahem, e-books?).
  • Sort your possessions and sell what you do not need and use the proceeds to pay debts or deposit in a fixed savings account. (Full disclosure: we still have a storage unit full of furniture and other possessions back home. It is a time capsule for me and an insurance policy for my wife. If all goes pear-shaped she can return home and will not have to start all over again).
  • Buy products which are versatile and serve dual purposes.

  • Pay cash. Credit cards are for emergencies, not purchases. If it is worth having, it is worth saving for, and debt is an anchor. At the age of 43, my total debt is $4,000. (Shipping to and overlanding Europe killed the budget; we plan to head to Africa where we can have an adventure and stretch our dollars.)
  • Buy local. Support small companies and tradesmen who are struggling to compete with the online beasts who would rather sell you limited life, one size fits all crap.
  • Learn to maintain and repair your gear. Solder, sew, glue, grind, sand, wrench, polish, weld. Not only will you save money, but you will also learn to love your gear and the satisfaction of a successful repair.

  • Cook your own food. Men, this applies to you too. Eat vegetables and once a week grill a big, fat, juicy steak. Wash that down with a good red wine or a cold beer. Eating out should be reserved for special, once-a-month occasions.
  • Drink water.
  • Have a dream and a goal and live towards that goal. Living as minimalists has enabled us to achieve our dream of traveling the planet overland. We have swapped possessions for experiences.
  • Rent, don’t buy.
  • Work less, live more.

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Graeme Bell was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with his wife and two children he has spent much of his adult life chasing momentous experiences and campfire smoke across five continents. He has traveled overland to Kilimanjaro from Cape Town, circumnavigated South America, explored from Argentina to Alaska, Europe to Asia, and across the entirety of coastal Western Africa, all in a trusty Land Rover. Graeme and the family are now encouraging their self-built Defender live-in camper (and permanent home since 2012) to find a way from Cape Town to Vladivostok. Graeme is a member of The Explorers Club, the author of five excellent books, and an Overland Journal contributor since 2015.