The first morning rays tore through the mesh of my one-man tent. Soon the Sudanese Sahara would shimmer in the scorching sun. It was time to pack up the camp I had set up on a barren rock face flanked by the expanse of the desert on one side and the green palms of the Nile on the other.

A little over a year ago, I had stepped back from being a product design engineer, homeowner and stuff accumulator to take on a minimalist, nomadic life on a motorcycle. The plan was to slowly journey back to India after a decade in the US along a route that meandered through South America and Africa.

In the build-up to my journey, a one-way trip, I realized that everything that couldn’t fit on my motorcycle had to go. I sold whatever was of value in my house and the house itself. I gave the rest away. It felt incredibly liberating not to be defined by my possessions. I had a highly capable motorcycle and top-quality gear, but that was it. Minimalism in this context is not simply a sell-everything-and-be-free mantra, but one in which you pare your possessions to suit your lifestyle.

I was getting ready to fire up my petrol stove to make my staple oatmeal breakfast when a swarthy young man dressed in tattered denim shorts and a faded Chicago Bears T-shirt emerged from the palm grove. With a warm smile he waved me over with that universal gesture for food. This stranger’s invitation, as I knew by now, was not unusual. Packing up my stove I followed him through the palms and down the embankment to a small beach in a bend of the Nile. Another man, his companion, was feeding a small fire in the midst of their rudimentary fishermen’s camp, cooking a thick, flat bread on an open pan. Surrounded by beached dhows and strewn nets, we ate the bread with some of their leftover fish stew flavoured simply with onions and salt.

More than being a minimalist, I was now used to a simple life. The freedom that comes with this lifestyle choice has been extolled in numerous studies. The shifting away of focus from material wants allows one to live a truer life that concentrates on personal connections and being mindful of every waking moment.

I had my fill and as I got up to leave, Saleh, the head fisherman, arrived. He encouraged me to stay, which I did for the next four days. Being a nomad on a motorcycle allowed me to roam and go with the flow of life. Saleh had a spacious mud house that insulated us from the sweltering afternoon temperatures that soared past 50 degrees Celsius. We ate meals of fish, pigeon, greens, rice and dates with sweet mint tea. All of it, except the tea, was grown right there by the Nile or came from it. These men lived on essentials, owning little, and thriving. They understood that in my own way I, too, was living on essentials.


Ø The simple mantra is to pare your life to the essentials that allow you to focus on what’s important to you. Start by taking an inventory of everything you own and reduce that number to 100. That’s counting every piece of clothing, gadget and utensil. Coming from a life of mass consumerism, this can seem impossible and unrealistic. It might be if you continue living your old life. To make this transition, perhaps a journey is needed. It will give you the impetus to take a hard look at how you tread on this planet. Owning the bare essentials will focus your life on quality. Declutter junk, debt and toxic relationships so that you can expend your time on this planet on the
quality of things, connections and life.

Jay Kannaiyan recently completed a three-year motorcycle journey that took him to 33 countries from the US to India, through Latin America, Europe and Africa. He is now about to launch an adventure travel company.