A life-long minimalist

Minimalism has been a key concept that has been making the rounds for the past several years. Decluttering your life is inherently connected to Marie Kondo and her method, but other streams of minimalism have emerged as well.

I have watched hundreds of videos on YouTube about the subject, though I’ve never read the book and didn’t watch the movie either. But I have been curious as to how others are doing it and what their approach is.

As it is, I’m not following in anyone’s footsteps. I don’t declutter according to the Konmari method, I don’t get rid of all my belongings to become an extreme minimalist. I don’t furnish everything in white or at least very light colours. I have not eliminated all decorations either.

In fact, I have lived my own brand of minimalism for my entire adult life and even as a teen.

As children, my brother and I shared a room. We are very close in age and apartment-living in Berlin usually means limited room for every child to have their own. But eventually, I did get my own room and whilst I am the older sibling, I opted to take the smaller room. I felt I didn’t need a big room.

When my brother and I moved out from home and into a new apartment together, I opted for the smaller room again. When we moved after three years, I again took the smaller room available.

I never needed the bigger space. I had everything I could possibly want and since I never owned a ton of stuff, I didn’t need much furniture to store it in and was happy anyway.

My brother is the hoarder in the family. As in, he owns more stuff than anyone else in the family and keeps things on a ‘just in case’ basis. The concept of decluttering is foreign to him. Or has been until his most recent move into a smaller apartment for the first time in his life. His old apartment was massive, though, and the pandemic taught him that he really didn’t want to look after such a big place. So, he decided to downsize and realised just how much he would need to get rid of to make the new place work.

I have never been materialistic. I like a new shirt or new shoes as much as the next person. But I can only wear one pair of shoes at a time and usually don’t wear a lot of tops at once either (unless to layer in winter).

I have always had everything I needed and often more than that.

What really did it for me, though, was the decision to travel full time for several years. I had to get rid of all my furniture and decided to get rid of everything else that didn’t serve me on my travels, or I knew I wouldn’t want to come back to after. I left a few things with my brother and some more with my parents. But I didn’t want to clutter up their storage either, so most of my possession were donated or gifted to friends and family.

It was the most liberating experience of decluttering in my life.

Travelling and living in various countries on a temporary basis also meant that I didn’t accrue many new possessions. In my time in England, where I lived almost four years in total, I did end up gathering more than I had previously. But when I moved back to Germany and ended up in Hamburg, I still only had a few items, which I shipped across the channel at a rather inexpensive rate.

Settling down in Hamburg meant I needed furniture and all kinds of other things to equip an apartment with, most of which I hadn’t owned for years.

That cost money and since I tend to live more frugally, I didn’t spend a ton of money on new stuff either.

I have since moved to a new place and changed quite a few things. When I first arrived in Hamburg, I truly didn’t know how long I would stay, but now I am more settled, and I wanted my place to reflect me more. I felt the desire to create a home, which looks very different to a place where you know you won’t stay forever.

Whilst I currently own more things than I ever have in my life, my place is not cluttered. Far from it. Most of my furniture is open. I have only one set of drawers, and even my wardrobe is open hanging space.

I keep decorations minimal as I have never been a fan of kitsch. I own a solid capsule wardrobe that I am still adjusting here and there. My kitchen is sufficiently equipped for one person, and it is oddly the only place that tends to feel cluttered sometimes.

I’m happy with my version of minimalism and don’t feel the need to subscribe to anyone else’s version of it. After all, I had thirty years of experience with it now and know what I want and need.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t a minimalist traveller right away. But I will talk about that another time.

The travelling writer

I’m currently on a train to The Hague, though I am on my way to Rotterdam, which means I will change before the train arrives at its destination. This is not important, of course.

What is important is that I have not taken the time to write for this site in too long. I’m not short of things to write about. I am short of the drive to do so. There is always a reason to put it off. Work is chief amongst them.

But it is not an excuse I want to allow any longer. Whether it is my secondary job (which is actually my main job in terms of time invested) or whether it is my freelance writing. Neither should keep me from doing the writing I really want to do. This has never changed. But I let that work and the general lethargy that has held me in its grip stop me from pursuing my writing.

My mom said to me last year that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I always have been able to do just that. And it never cost me undue effort either, which is strange. That doesn’t mean it has always been easy. Far from it. But it was never a case of having to overcome an internal obstacle.

I just go and do the things I want to do. I go travelling. I get the jobs that I want. I start freelance writing. I get the apartment that I want.

It makes me wonder why I can’t sit down and write the book that I want. What’s the difference? Is there a difference? Is it not simply a question of my mindset, the attitude with which I approach this particular project?

Or is it a matter of timing?

Perhaps not. But it does seem to be a matter of circumstances.

For instance, as I am travelling today, I have already written a lot more than my usual daily quota of paid work. Actually, twice as many words than I would ordinarily write. I have little else to do on my trip, though I could simply read a book. In fact, I have done some reading in between as well. So, this feels like a very productive day already in every aspect.

Sitting at home with all the creature comforts that I can afford, writing seems to have less urgency. I manage to get the writing done that I assigned to myself, but no more.

If I were travelling every day, I would write every day like I have done today. Isn’t that strange?

Can I really just blame the comfort of my home? And the many distractions I so easily succumb to? Why is it so much easier to write sitting on some rumbling train?

I’m not sure I know the answer. Though I do know that I feel never more my true self than when I am travelling. I can get lost in a book, in the landscape, in thought. Or I can just write, glance outside occasionally and feel free from everything else.

Perhaps it is the absence of every-day chores as well as comforts that free me up to concentrate on what I truly want and enjoy. It’s not that I feel overly bogged down by daily life and obligations, but they are somewhat of a burden, whether we are always aware of it or not.

I’ve always known that I could travel for the rest of my life.

I love my home. I love Hamburg. I love my job as well. And everything that is connected to these three things. But the truth is that I have been a traveller since I first left home almost 16 years ago. Nothing has changed that. And if I am most myself when I am travelling, it seems less of a surprise that writing, which is also essential to me, is so much easier when I am on the road.

It’s hardly a coincidence that my last blog was also written as I was travelling on a train.

It takes a trip

At home, I am wrapped up in my life. There is work – freelance and part-time jobs -, there are chores at home, grocery shopping, the occasional outing with friends. All that and more. The daily stuff that we do unthinking.

Today I sit on a train. My brother gifted me a weekend in Prague for my birthday six months ago. What with the pandemic and all we only now managed to make a booking. Hence my being on a train. I could have taken a flight. Or perhaps not. Remember the pandemic. The train is, in any case, infinitely more comfortable.

And aside from the physical comfort, I get to enjoy the added benefit of time. After all, when do we ever get the luxury of sitting and spending our time not wrapped up in mindlessness whilst still going someplace?

Instead of browsing through social media, which I do too much of at home, I am reading a book. Yes, on my tablet, which is also where I’m writing this, but it still counts.

Especially since it not only reminded me why I want to write but because it also got me writing.

Later, I will take out my notebook and I’ll see what might emerge from the tip of my pen. For now, I shall return to my book and enjoy this luxury of taking a trip, away from everything else, and having time to spend on thinking thoughts.

Final Day of my Summer Getaway

Today was the last day of my getaway and I think I might have been okay if I had returned home today.

I didn’t ride very far at all. I visited the small town of Brunsbüttel, where the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal reaches the Elbe. Then I went to Friedrichskoog, to take another look at the North Sea, though I only really got to check out the Wadden Sea again. The tide was out and here it means it is very far out.

Indeed, people have been known to get stuck in the Wadden Sea after they’d gone too far out and didn’t manage to return before the tide returned. If that happens to you and you’re lucky, the coast guard will find you and bring you back. If you are unlucky, you can die out there.

I didn’t venture out into the Wadden Sea, mostly because it would have been inconvenient to pull up my biker pants and carry my boots along with my helmet and jacket as well. It also wouldn’t have been a lot of fun to trudge with so much stuff out there.

Still, the views were impressive, and the weather played along nicely today. Not much wind and intermittent sun and clouds.

I was only out for a few hours, however, and I’m ready to go home.

Of course, I could continue to travel forever, but work is calling me back and I must admit, so is my bed. I just don’t sleep the same when I’m travelling.

I enjoyed my getaway. I did a lot of riding, and the weather was good for the most part. I am likely going to have the opportunity to get away for weekend here or there during the next two months. But it does depend on the weather and my funds.

My bike is due for its yearly inspection next month as well, which will cost again.

Now the only question is, where to next?

Just a little roundtrip of 65km today.

Day 5 – Visiting the North Sea

I haven’t been in this part of Germany before – Nordfriesland. I decided to visit Husum, St. Peter-Ording and Büsum.

Out of the three, Husum is furthest north. I visited there first. The area of Nordfriesland stretches much further up north, mind you. Husum isn’t even halfway. But since I only wanted to go so far, I stuck with these three places.

Of course, arriving in Husum, it started raining almost immediately. It wasn’t as windy as it was the day before, which was a relief, but I didn’t relish the rain either. It was still better than being caught out on the road.

I used the time to wander around the town centre, got another Covid-19 test, and had more of a break than I would ordinarily have had. But by the time I left for my next destination, the weather had cleared up and there was no more rain for the remainder of the day.

View of the Wadden Sea

St. Peter-Ording is probably lovely when the weather is playing along. When it is grey, it’s not particularly spectacular. It is a popular holiday destination, however, which meant a lot of tourists were roaming around.

I don’t enjoy places that are overly touristy, which is why I only stayed for a snack before travelling on. Plus, the famous beach was so far out that I didn’t feel like undertaking the journey, especially since you also require a guest pass, which I didn’t have.

My next and final destination was Büsum, which is at the southern border of Nordfriesland. Riding there was pretty awesome. Some roads I took were ridiculously straight and flat as far as you could see. The roads went through many different fields, and I was mostly by myself, which is always the most enjoyable part.

The difference between the east and the west of Schleswig-Holstein is staggering. Towards the east, you’ll find lots of sloping hills, bendy roads and forests as well as fields. But in the west you only have fields, wind farms and everything is completely flat. It is surprising that roads bend at all here.

It’s difficult to say which one I prefer, as both hold a very different appeal. And I enjoy riding on this side just as much as I did on the other side.

In any case, I enjoyed my stay in Büsum, which is also quite touristy, but I’m glad I picked a hotel away from all those tourist places. I do wish the weather had been more pleasant as the views would have been quite magnificent.

The ride was nevertheless wonderful. It makes such a difference when it is not so windy.

I did about 190.5km

Day 4 – From Coast to Coast

This one was one of my more exhausting rides, even though I made only about 150km. When planning this trip, I had decided to book two hotels. One closer to the Baltic Sea and the other close to the North Sea. That’s the beauty of Schleswig-Holstein, where you can do both in a single day.

Yesterday, I checked out of the hotel in the east and drove over to the one in the west. Avoiding the highway, as usual, I took a route via Rendsburg, where I might even have stayed a little longer, but the weather was not inviting, and I just wanted to arrive at my new destination.

It was once again very windy. Dark clouds constantly threatened with rain, and it was so chilly that I needed to get a fleece jacket out and put it under my motorbike jacket to keep me a little warmer. It helped, but the ride was still unpleasant.

Which is a shame as the landscape was quite beautiful and the roads were great for the most part. Had the weather been more pleasant, I would have had an awesome ride.

To think that my initial plan was to go via Flensburg, which is much further up north and would have meant a ride at least twice the distance I actually did.

Quite inconceivable.

Thankfully, upon arrival, I was able to get my room right away, which meant I could relax for the rest of the day. It did clear up somewhat, but I wasn’t exactly disappointed not to get to ride any further.

That’s the thing about touring on a motorbike, you have to contend with the weather. Either you’re prepared and pack everything for every eventuality. Or you hope for the best and prepare to stay put if the best doesn’t come about.

Since I tend to pack light, I’m not packing for every conceivable scenario. If it were to rain, I would have to stop and seek shelter. But packing another layer of clothing to keep warm is less of an issue.

Today, it looks to be a bit of a mix again. It’s still relatively early and I plan on heading out soon. Since rain is expected tomorrow, I may only ride in the afternoon. We’ll see.

Here is yesterday’s trip:

Both hotels are about 20km from their respective coasts.

Day 3

Yesterday was my third day of my little summer getaway. I was out and about for a good seven hours, which is surprisingly tiring at the end of the day.

The weather was a little colder than the previous days and it wasn’t quite as sunny. I didn’t mind that at all as riding in the hot summer weather can be exhausting as well. But the wind was taking a toll on me and made touring difficult at times.

I first went to Kiel, taking the scenic route, which also meant going slow. And yes, this time I made sure to take more pictures along the road as well.

Kiel is pleasant enough, but I am glad I chose Hamburg when I did. Kiel feels a lot smaller, though it is lovely by the water side, and you don’t have to go far to get out of the city and to the sea. Or the beach.

From there I visited a local lighthouse, where I took a bit more of a break. I didn’t know where else I was headed, so I figured getting a pancake with fruit and a coffee wasn’t a bad idea. The break was also a good opportunity to figure out where else I wanted to go.

I ended up visiting another lighthouse further up the coast, which gave me a proper view of the Baltic Sea.

From there I went to Eckernförde, which is another small town right by the sea. It’s known for its beach as well as its harbour for private boats and yachts of all sizes. Everywhere along the waterside there were boats, which left me a little envious as I would love to have a boat as well. It was a great opportunity to go for a walk and simply enjoy the scenery, though it was also a bit crowded.

Turns out, they had some sort of Viking festival that weekend, which is a popular event every July.

Eventually I returned to Kiel. There was no other suitable route to take back to my hotel and since I also needed a quick Covid-19 test, I killed two birds with one stone. Three actually. I also got dinner in Kiel, which I took back to the hotel.

Overall, the ride yesterday was a bit of a mixed bag. The scenic parts along smaller roads were a lot of fun. Whenever I had to battle the wind, things were a lot less fun. But I also got to take the highway for a while, which was surprisingly fun again.

I usually don’t take highways as I find them rather boring. I don’t just want to get somewhere fast. I much prefer to take the leisurely approach. But that also means I don’t ride the bike at speed very often and sometimes that can be a lot of fun.

I also noticed just how fearless I was when riding at 100kph. I was completely calm.

When I first learned riding the motorbike two years ago, I was a nervous wreck just thinking of going 50kph in the city. Though it wasn’t so much the speed as it was the traffic that concerned me.

Nowadays I’m comfortable at any speed (as long as the wind isn’t buffeting me around), but it still tends to be the traffic that makes me a bit nervous.

On the highway I didn’t feel nervous at all, which was really quite amazing. I’m a very attentive and careful driver, mind you. So, 100kph is about as fast as I will go. My bike doesn’t have that much horsepower to go superfast anyway.

Anyway, this was my ride, there and back again:

159.3 km

Day 2

Off towards the Baltic Sea today. The weather was once again gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky and 26°C. It was pretty windy, though, which meant I was buffeted around quite a bit.

Riding today was much better than yesterday. Perhaps because I was unencumbered. For the most part, I was incredibly focussed on the road, but I could also simply enjoy the ride, especially when there was little to no traffic.

The landscape was beautiful, not just by the sea but anywhere I was.

I made regular stops at the coast, sticking my feet in the water, walking along some dunes, escaping when it got too crowded, jumping back on the bike and plotting the route to the next destination.

I briefly visited Fehmarn, which was lovely.

I really should be stopping more frequently to take some pictures. Isn’t the point of going on a road trip to stop whenever you want to and enjoy the moment? I did plenty of that today, but never on the side of the road to simply take in the landscape.

Of course, I can’t just stop anywhere as there is other traffic to consider.

I do have a few more days ahead of me, so I’ll see about stopping more by the wayside.

I love the ride, though. It’s not just about visiting places, which I’ve done plenty today. It’s simply about riding the bike.

There is so much freedom in that.

I don’t ride much during a regular week. In the city, I prefer to cycle. I need the exercise and Hamburg traffic just sucks. So, I need to get out to properly ride the bike and who has time for that?

Hence my little summer getaway. Today’s roundtrip will likely be the only one of its kind. Tomorrow I will go to Kiel, whether I might go elsewhere I don’t know yet. Depends on the amount of sightseeing I am going to do.

Anyhow, below is the route I’ve driven today. I made 189.5km in total. That’s pretty decent.

Travelling in the time of a pandemic

Travelling during a global pandemic seems, at best, controversial. Some travels, mostly for business or family emergencies, are still necessary. Though even business travel can often be substituted by a video conference or some such.

Still, at no point during this pandemic was there no travelling whatsoever. Most people, I dare say, travelled only the bare minimum, visiting family for major holidays (even skipping birthdays) or such business travel that requires people to be somewhere.

Many long-term travellers were stuck at their last destination because flights were grounded internationally. Getting home was difficult, if not impossible.

Last summer, when the first wave was over, people went on holiday. It was different than how we’ve experienced it before because all travel destinations were also pandemic destinations, where certain rules applied.

But on holiday people tend to be a lot more careless and so, the second wave was mostly blamed on holiday makers returning home with a Covid-19 infection.

This year is meant to be different. The third wave has been broken in Europe and many other parts of the world, vaccinations are progressing at least in Western Europe and North America, and the spread of the Delta variant doesn’t seem to deter anyone from going on a holiday.

So, here we are, wondering whether to take a vacation, sit the summer out at home, or perhaps just holidaying in ones own country, taking the car or a train to a nearby destination instead of flying into a high-risk area.

The need for some diversion, to get out and see something else outside of one’s own four walls or hometown is understandable. But it is also a luxury problem to have. A huge number of people around the world don’t get to take a vacation, go on holiday or travel beyond the immediate vicinity of their villages, towns or cities.

I love travelling. It is a part of who I am. I’ve done two trips around the world and have done tons of travelling in between. I am privileged beyond compare in this regard.

And, yes, I’ve missed it terribly. Though I don’t travel all the time, I leave the country for various trips several times a year. Last year, I took a motorcycle trip to the middle of Germany, riding a total of 1,000 km in five days.

I even went on a one-week holiday to Crete with my brother, though I wasn’t entirely keen on flying and all that. Still, all went well.

This year, I have only been to Berlin to visit my parents on two occasions thus far. I am not likely to fly anywhere anytime soon, though I hope to visit friends in England at some point. But like many others in need of a getaway, I decided to take a little motorcycling trip again. This time going north. The south is drowning in a deluge right now.

I am staying fairly close to home, exploring just within a 200km radius. I’m by myself, keeping my distance as necessary and I’ve been vaccinated once already as well.

I don’t feel like throwing caution into the wind. I don’t feel like catching Covid-19 now or ever. I don’t feel like jumping on a plane to party at a beach somewhere.

And I do not understand how others do.

Already quite a few people returning from holiday are reportedly coming back with an infection. Is it worth it? You get two weeks away, have fun and relax, but upon your return you must quarantine, potentially be hospitalised, and perhaps even end up with long Covid. Not to mention the potential for infecting others.

I do believe it is possible to vacation or travel safely even during a pandemic. I’ve managed to do that last year, never taking unnecessary risks. This year I wouldn’t do it again. We’ve been through three waves already and I am not keen on a fourth.

At the very least, people should get their vaccinations before heading out into a high-risk area.

We all want to enjoy a life without a pandemic again, which includes travelling. But if we are not careful now, things are unlikely to get better soon.

Up, up and away

I recently wrote about ‘Fernweh’, the longing for the distance and missing travelling. At the time I was on my way to Berlin, looking out the window of a highspeed train, watching the landscape rush by.

Right now, I’m sitting at my desk, looking at hotels for the first time in almost a year. That’s a long time for me. Not that I look at hotels a lot. Often, when I travel I’m totally happy staying at hostels or guesthouses.

But it’s my birthday next week and I’m not celebrating. Instead, I’m thinking of a little getaway. Yes, on my motorbike, staying at a hotel somewhere and checking out the local sights and riding around on my bike.

The longing has just grown exponentially.

If thought I’d suffered from Fernweh two weeks ago, I really have it bad now. I don’t even know why it hit me so hard all of a sudden.

Perhaps because I haven’t looked at booking a hotel in such a long time and it is a feasible endeavour again. This is not just me dreaming about a possible future trip. This is me considering a booking for next week. The hotel I like best is about four times the price I would normally spend on two nights somewhere. But it would be my birthday present to myself, and I have rarely felt so much in need of a getaway.

I’m ready to just pack a bag and leave. Now.

Never mind that we’re reverting more and more lockdown measures, getting more and more freedom back and I am back at my secondary job as well. Which I enjoy immensely. Life is beginning to feel normal again.

And travel is a part of my life. Even if it would just be a two-day trip to a town further up north.

It is late now, I’m tired and I had a glass of wine. But I’m fairly certain I’ll be making that booking tomorrow.

Sometimes when you need to travel, you just need to travel.

And I absolutely do.