Living Simply: Adapting to Life on the Road

This morning the app I use to track our travel expenses reminded me that we've been on this trip for 70 days now.  

Wow.

My life is so entirely different than it was just two months ago.  After backpacking through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, I feel like I've settled into a much simpler lifestyle, one that, despite its many annoyances, is now filling me with a lot of satisfaction.  

Here are just a few everyday things that are different than my life back home:

We wash our clothes by hand.  

A few times we've found lavanderias (drop off laundry services) and ONCE we stayed with friends in Lima who had a dryer.  A real life dryer.  It was amazing, although it overheated over the first load and we still wonder if we may have broken it.  Aside from these occasions, Nate and I have grown accustomed to hand-washing our clothes in sinks, buckets, even a hostel shower.  

We travel with a clothes line and small bag of laundry detergent.  I never grew up line drying clothes, so I'm learning which fabrics dry quicker than others so I can allot the proper amount of time and not be totally pants-less for a day.  While tiring and obviously much slower than using machines, there's something calming about the process of washing your clothes by hand.

We have to treat our water.

The water most places we're traveling to isn't safe to drink, and I appreciate now how easy it was to stop at a water fountain back home.  

We can boil big pots of water, wait for them to cool, then transfer them into pitchers in the fridge.  Boiling helps kill all of the nasty bacteria, but it also makes the water taste not so great.  

Nate boiling water and playing with the neighbor's cat who let himself right into our Cuenca apartment.

Nate boiling water and playing with the neighbor's cat who let himself right into our Cuenca apartment.

Alternatively, we've been traveling with a Steripen, which uses UV light to kill bacteria.  We can only use it for 1 liter at a time and it takes 90 seconds.  At the start of the trip, this annoyed me.  I felt like I was just standing there not doing anything.  Now I see the 90 second intervals as little spaces to slow down and practice patience.

We buy food from fresh markets.

Buying food in South America is an entirely different experience.  We visit huge, open air markets with stall after stall of produce, vegetables, grains and meats.  

The meat section of the market in Cuenca. Oh the smells.

The meat section of the market in Cuenca. Oh the smells.

There are no prices, no signs indicating what things are, or set quantities to buy.  We buy grains from large sacks that women in traditional dress haul on their backs into the market each morning.  Nothing comes with a recipe on the box.  

The flower market in Cusco.

The flower market in Cusco.

When we buy something, the vendors put our veggies/fruit into shopping bags of all sizes and colors which we reuse at home as garbage bags.  We figure out how to cook things by guessing at home.  

Veggies from the market in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Veggies from the market in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Internet can be hard to find.

Back home, if I was cooking something I'd never used before, I'd just look up a recipe online.  Here wifi is a precious thing.  My phone remembers wifi passwords once I enter them, so once I returned to a cafe I'd been to earlier to check my email.  When I saw it was closed, I huddled by the door and checked my email in the street.  

Working in our hostel in Cartagena, Colombia.

Working in our hostel in Cartagena, Colombia.

Gone are the days when I had data on my phone and used to literally check Facebook when I was stopped at a red light in my car (I know, I was definitely addicted).  It's hard not being able to connect to the rest of the world when we want to, but it's also making us read more, talk to each other more, play cards and generally slow down.  

We live with less.

Living out of carry-on size backpacks, we don't have a lot of stuff.  That means we do without quite often and just have to get used to it.  

With our packs the day before we left for our trip.

With our packs the day before we left for our trip.

The only make up I brought was a tube of mascara and eye liner, so I haven't have moisturizer, foundation, blush or eye shadow in a while.  I can't paint my nails because, while getting nail polish wouldn't be that difficult, buying and carrying nail polish remover seems silly (and difficult if we're flying and the airline has liquid restrictions).  

While I miss some of the modern conveniences I had at my finger tips back home, it’s also not the end of the world to modify things. Sometimes it’s even a fun challenge.

We rarely have coffee machines in the airbnb places we rent, so instead we make tea.  We don't have appliances like toasters, so this morning I toasted bread in a saute pan. 

While I miss some of the modern conveniences I had at my finger tips back home, it's also not the end of the world to modify things.  Sometimes it's even a fun challenge.  The other night we made pasta with veggies that we chopped on a plate turned upside down (because again... no cutting board).

We never have air conditioning or heat.  

We realized this morning that the last time we saw A/C was a small, one-room unit in Medellin.  That was 2 months ago.  Since then, we've stayed in chilly high altitude places where we literally boiled water to warm up our space to a beach bnb that was so hot that we took cold showers and then lay naked under the fan to cool down.  So it goes.

Bundled up in our loft apartment in Ecuador.

Bundled up in our loft apartment in Ecuador.

We walk everywhere.

Back in Chicago we had a car and two bikes.  Now we just have our feet.  When we want to go somewhere, we map it out and head out on foot.  With so much free time every day, walking across town to a restaurant we want to try might take the better part of the afternoon.

Walking home from dinner in Mancora, Peru.

Walking home from dinner in Mancora, Peru.

It's nice to have the regular exercise, and we get to see a lot of cities just by passing by.  Today on the way to this cafe, I met an alpaca on the street.  I was a little afraid of him, so just talked to him a bit.

Meeting an alpaca on the street in Cusco.

Meeting an alpaca on the street in Cusco.

We never fret about what we wear.

We're extremely limited on what we can wear.  Nate literally only has 2 short-sleeve shirts in his bag, so it's a 50/50 option.  Back home before we went out with friends or to dinner, I would try on more than a few outfits.  I'd go through my big closet and get frustrated that I "had nothing to wear."  Now I literally just wear whatever's clean(ish) and don't mind that we may stick out a bit.  We stick out anyway.


I thought that all of these limitations and inconveniences would really bother me, and I'd be lying if I didn't roll my eyes in the beginning.  

But now I feel like my expectations have changed.  Generally, I feel like I can make do with very little, and Nate and I are content.  

It's nice to find out that you're flexible in this way and- even more surprisingly- that living so simply can actually be so enjoyable.