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Fleeing tyranny 101: How to be a full-time gypsy
“Sir, you need to leave your room right now,” said the receptionist at the lobby. Twenty minutes later I found myself out on the street, carrying all my belongings on my back, looking for a place to stay the night.
Yes, I was kicked out of my hotel 3 weeks ago.
Over-bookings, miscommunication, and errors are common where I am right now. Last year’s tourist season was cancelled in most of Latin America; so this year, hotel owners are desperate to break even. It’s all about survival for them at this point, and so, I stopped short of complaining too much. Complaining is what you do when you have no plan B. I should know better.
Within 15 minutes, I threw everything into my backpack and walked out in search of shelter. A hectic 4 hours later I was shown to my bunk bed in some hostel at the outskirts of town. There was no space anywhere else – it was Friday and everything was booked.
As one would expect, all sorts of colorful things can happen in remote hostels in Latin America. From sudden over-crowding, to erratic noise and overnight drama; I decided it’s not my scene. A few days later I bailed. And so it goes.
I’ve been city-hopping (and hotel-hopping) for much of the last 6 months. But there is method to this madness.
At a surface level, I move in response to practical factors, like expiring visas, bank accounts, weather changes, and so on. But more than anything else, what incites this journey is the controlled demolition of human freedoms around the world.
Every last country on earth, even the one I am in, is one government edict away from full-blown tyranny. That's what keeps me on this path.
Where it leads, I don’t know. All I know is, I couldn’t walk it if I had to carry anything more than what I currently do.
My entire life fits inside a 35 litre bag, and in this post I will tell you exactly what’s in that bag.
But before we start I’d like to address a common concern about nomadism; namely the option, or lack thereof, of preparing your own food. Does life on the move take a toll on your eating habits and health?
Full-time nomadism is anything but conventional, so don’t expect your eating to be conventional either. Case in point: I eat most of my food in its raw state, which negates the need for a kitchen. 70% of my caloric input is fruit mono-meals (during my decade as a vegan, it was 100%, which kept things simple). For the remaining 30% all I need is access to high-quality, ideally grass-fed beef. I place the steak in a metal container, boil water in the hotel-provided kettle, and pour it over the steak until it’s fully immersed. 2 minutes later I dispose of the water. That’s it. I’m now enjoying a juicy bleu steak without ever leaving my hotel. I can do the same with eggs but I prefer to eat those fully raw, if they are free-range and fresh.
Ok, let’s start. Here’s everything I own:
It was early April 2020 when I woke up to how deeply entrenched Apple was into everything that is wrong with the world. When the penny dropped, I sold my iPhone, Watch, AirPods, and MacBook.
Figuring out alternatives is not easy. Obviously, I couldn’t go with Windows. The only other option was Linux. But what happens to all my software? The answer was clear. Step by step, over that year, I shut down all big-tech accounts and replaced my software with open source alternatives.
In the summer of 2021 I installed Linux on a second-hand ThinkPad.
The amount of freedom you get with Linux is astonishing. I now truly own my computer. And I feel better about myself too. There is nothing aspirational about the Apple brand anymore. Their logo has come to signify Western degeneracy, unchecked woke-ism, and compliant groupthink. Again, Apple is the cheerleader for everything that is wrong with the modern world. And the optics are awful: AirPods, face diaper, empty stare into an iPhone — it’s dystopian.
But let’s keep going.
My ultimate goal is to stop using them. This may sound rather drastic . . . to anyone who doesn’t appreciate the threat smartphones pose to our freedom and well-being.
“But wait,” I hear you say. “How on earth does a nomad navigate without Google Maps?”
I asked myself the same question.
See, 10 years ago, buying a decent street atlas was easy. Not these days. You can’t find paper maps easily.
I considered downloading, printing and laminating a few maps myself. But what good will that do? Finding things won’t be any easier. Businesses don’t put the effort in to explain where they are any more. They just add themselves on Google Maps and call it a day. Ask a passerby for directions and most of them reach for their smartphone. They no longer know or remember where things are. Besides, why get into the trouble of articulating clear directions to a fellow human, when you can summon Google?
I then researched dedicated GPS devices. Well, those won’t cut it either. Yes, a Garmin can pinpoint my location very accurately but it doesn’t know where all the shops and restaurants are. I then tried all the privacy-focused mobile navigation apps, but those don’t really know where things are either — not the same way Google does.
The solution I arrived at after much trial and error was to install Google Maps on a dedicated phone. In other words, I arrived at a key privacy principle: compartmentalization. The phone I installed Google Maps on, is a single-purpose device. It is always switched off and tucked away in my day bag. I only turn it on when I need to navigate the last mile to somewhere. I then switch it off again. It runs on a disposable, prepaid sim-card, and did I say it is always switched-off?
Now, let’s talk about my primary phone.
In an ideal world I wouldn’t need a primary phone at all. In the real world, however, I kind of do. Case in point: many of those modern, fin-tech banks only work via a mobile app. You know, so they can verify your identity, and track your location. Stay tuned for when they block any attempted purchase beyond 5 miles of your registered address. But I digress.
I also use my phone for podcasts and calls. All in all, I cannot let go of my phone yet.
My current setup is a de-Googled Pixel 3a. You can find a used unit for under $100. I don’t use a SIM card on this device, so cellular is off. And since this phone has a headphone jack, Bluetooth is always off too.
The caveat with Pixel phones is that they are not easy to procure and they are only sold online. In hindsight, a more resilient option is to buy a generic Android device from a second-hand shop and de-Google it with Lineage OS. It is not the most high-tech setup but it allows me to get the job done offline, using off-the-shelve items.
In a future newsletter I will share a detailed critique and suggestions for privacy phones.
When not in use, my laptop and phone are stored in EMF sleeves. Those products are supposed to block all EMF (WiFi, 4G, Bluetooth, etc) but I haven’t tested those claims. My Android device is in airplane mode when not in use, and powered off completely when I leave the house. I also have an EMF kit bag for the rest of my electronics: cables, adapters and so on.
As soon as I check-in at a new hotel, I unplug the TV, aircon, telephone, fridge, and any bedside lamps. From that baseline, I scan the room with the EMF reader to find any radio or electricity hot spots. Based on the readings, I might rearrange my bed or just sleep on the opposite side, away from the wall.
If I’m renting for more than a few weeks, I scan the house before signing the lease. Last year I had to turn down a beautiful bungalow right next to the ocean. Turns out, much of the western expat and tourist rentals are drowning in EMF because westerners need their powerful aircon, fast Wi-Fi, and ice in the fridge.
Wallet + coin bag
5 years ago I thought I’d never use a wallet again. For years, I breezed through the London underground, buses, airport terminals, supermarkets, cafes, all with the self-assured swing of an iPhone. I’d forgotten what cash looks like.
There is no going back to that life. Not if I can help it.
There is something very human about exchanging cash for produce at a local market, or handing a tip to the person that puts food in front of me. You can’t participate in that energy exchange using credit cards, and certainly not with Apple Pay. I wasn’t aware of all that until I moved out of Europe.
Unfortunately, I still need to get my cash from somewhere, which is a bummer because I really don’t enjoy standing in front of camera-equipped ATMs begging for my money, while praying for no errors or hidden fees. As soon as the notes come out, I store them in my wallet.
And, since I don’t want to look like a drug dealer, I pull out a few notes every other day and put them in a small, daily wallet, together with my coins.
35L travel bag
Back in the days of frequent flying, the small size of this backpack was a huge plus because I didn’t have to check it in, even on domestic routes.
I ordered it from a travel gear company in the US, some 4 years ago. The actual backpack is great, however I will not be ordering any travel kit online again. To begin with, I paid a small fortune in customs. Sure, I can stomach that for something I really need. But international shipping can take several weeks, which means I’d need a fixed address. I’d also need to reside in a country where suppliers ship. Failing that, I’d need to use a re-shipping company.
I was okay with all this 4 years ago. But we live in a different world now. A world where supply chains have morphed into choke-points of control.
As such, my objective is to source everything locally. That is way more important than the benefits of any specialty item. If I was in the market for a travel bag now, I’d buy an off-the-shelf, no-frills, hiking backpack from a local store. Hiking bags are ergonomic by design, and they have all the straps, adjustments and air-vents for comfortable travel.
It holds water, extra layers, and food for the day. Essential features for my daily carry are:
No solid parts. It has to fold easily so that it fits alongside everything else in my travel bag for when I’m on the move.
Large capacity. I need to be able to walk to faraway open markets, load up on supplies and carry everything back without relying on taxis or public transport.
Chest strap for ergonomics. I won’t buy any bag without a chest strap.
I bought my day bag in Singapore for about $30 US. With some minor repairs, it has served me well over the years.
I was impressed by the existence of micro-climates in Latin America. Sometimes all it takes is a short hike and, lo-and-behold, you’re in what feels like a different season. I recently lived in cities where the temperature rises drastically in the afternoon and falls precipitously in the evening. I can cope with all that. What’s harder for me is the air-conditioning madness in supermarkets, cafes, and perhaps worst of all, buses. It pays to be prepared.
Here is every single piece of clothing I own:
Jacket: I bought a classic Aether micro-fiber Space Hoodie in New York back in 2010, and it still looks like new to this day. It’s great at keeping me warm, it weighs nothing, and it’s deceptively easy to compress into tiny spaces and pockets.
Inner layer: Another piece I’ve owned for more than a decade is an Arcteryx micro-fiber inner layer. Other than its obvious use as a heat insulator, it also functions as a pajama in colder environments and as travel-wear in longer flights and bus journeys.
Tank top: I’ve been wearing it almost daily for several years now. It’s incredibly comfortable and great at keeping me cool. I’m conflicted about it, however, because tank tops scream “tourist”. Blending-in has risen in my priorities as of late and I’m evaluating alternatives that don’t stand out.
3x tees: I use those in moderate or colder climates.
2x shirts: I throw one on whenever an aircon comes in sight.
Pair of trousers: I wear it when visiting immigration offices, places of worship, or in long bus journeys and flights. Yes, I also wear it when it’s cold.
Heat insulating leggings: Invaluable in cold climates, also functions as pajama in milder climates.
2x shorts: One for exercise or swimming, the other for daily wear.
Sandals: I spent much of my time in South East Asia completely barefoot. My sandals were stored under the scooter seat, just in case I went to the immigration office. Unfortunately, I cannot walk barefoot in Latin America. In fact, even sandals are not very apropos over here. But I can’t live without them. After all those years, my feet can’t tolerate shoes anymore. I could write volumes about (Xero sandals). They are incredibly light, you can fold them into your back-pocket, I can run and even hike with them (your millage may vary), and they are easy to repair. I dread at the thought of having to replace them.
Vibram Five Fingers: They are the only normal shoes I own, if you consider finger pockets to be normal (take a look). I use them for hiking and for places where sandals are not acceptable.
I fold most of my clothes into a small Eagle Creek container. It helps with packing, unpacking, and as stand-alone storage for clothes, especially during short hotel stays.
I discovered the Neti pot during a trip in India in 2010. I’ve been doing it daily ever since.
I apply a centimeter-long transparent plaster tape over my lips before going to bed. This promotes better breathing and reduces drooling. I’ve been mouth-taping for several years now.
Eye mask & ear-plugs
They come in handy during long bus journeys and flights and they help me survive the occasional hostel. If you travel often, you need both. A few notes on earplugs: I sleep on my right side so I only plug my left ear. Also, I replace them often. During a long stretch in a tropical island, I made the mistake of using the same pair all the time. I ended up with a nasty ear infection which lasted many weeks and caused permanent damage. Earplugs are an invaluable tool, but use them safely.
Blue light blocking glasses
I’ve been using my pair for almost a decade. They are a nice to have, especially if you need to use a computer late at night. I don’t see them as essential, however, and they are not easy to find in stores. As such, I won’t be replacing them.
And to finish up, here is a list of my remaining items:
Earphones: After getting rid of my AirPods I vowed never to use Bluetooth again. I then ordered a pricey pair of “EMF-free” earphones which broke after a few months. Now I know: generic, off-the-shelf, and paid with cash, is the way to go.
Pocket dictionary: Paper dictionaries cannot match the instant gratification of a translator app, but what you lose in speed you gain in optics. I don’t want a smartphone in my hands when I’m out and about. Besides, I can’t recall the last time I had to resort to a translator app. Most times, all I’m missing is a word. Locals are very good at connecting the dots from there.
Notepad + pen: It’s where I jot things down when I’m out and about. Occasionally, I journal on it too. When in meetings, I prefer to keep things grounded and focused with pen and paper, as opposed to iPhones and iPads. Again, optics.
Running belt: I bought it some 15 years ago for my daily runs. It now serves as a secret pocket for keys and cash.
Water bottle: I carry a 1L Nalgene bottle everywhere I go. I’ve been using those for a decade. Made in USA.
Electric shaver: This is not a must-have and it doesn’t belong in a truly minimalist setup. In fact, I don’t plan on replacing it. Going forward, I will shave the traditional way and, if pushed, I can always let it grow.
Electric toothbrush: Another item that won’t get replaced. It’s heavy, takes up space, and complicates the rather basic activity of brushing teeth. Besides, I don’t want to have to be on the lookout for brush-head replacements.
Hair trimmer: There is no manual equivalent to a hair trimmer; I cannot cut my own hair with scissors. The only alternative is a barber. Stated another way, a hair trimmer makes me look presentable without relying on 3rd parties. I’ll take that.
Toiletries: Interdental brushes, tweezers, nail clippers, comb, and a tong scratcher to boot.
Cables: A small ensemble of chargers, adapters, and USB sticks. Some of those are just-in-case items I can probably get rid of.
Paperwork: Passport, driver’s license, national ID, and so on.
Over time, and depending on where I am, I often accumulate some extra items. These days, I carry a spoon, knife, and tiny cutting board to the food markets so I can eat fruits (melons, for example) on the spot, without having to carry them home.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I failed to mention my mosquito racket. I did say I was going to list everything, didn’t I?
All items listed in this article, including the day bag (and mosquito racket) fit in my 35L travel bag, somehow. Could I live with fewer items? In my recent hostel stint I ran my entire life out of the day-bag for a week. This tells me I can rationalize further.
One item I may consider adding, is a car. Owning a vehicle will reduce my reliance on public transport and increase my range of movement. In other words it will upgrade my plan B. It won’t fit in my bag, though.
Before you go
Keeping this message from becoming a book was not easy. There is so much to say but I’ll save it for future installments.
Can you think of someone that may find this article interesting? Why not forward it to them? Better yet, why not post it on your social media page? Help me spread the word.