A Month At a Time: Why I Quit Travelling And Started Living Mini-Lives

It’s like living your normal life, just in a different city.

The author poses with his book in Buenos Aires.
The author poses with his book in Buenos Aires.

I have a confession. Are you ready for this? I feel like you’re going to judge me.

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Okay, well here goes…I don’t really like traveling.

I feel like I’m the only person. It seems everyone fantasizes about quitting their job and traveling around the world, sleeping in hostels with all of their possessions on their back—and I’d be shocked if I ever saw an online dating profile that didn’t mention traveling.

But to me, it’s not that great.

It throws all of your routines out of whack. If you’re going to travel “right,” you can’t bring much stuff with you. So you have to use crappy hotel shampoo, eat all of your meals in restaurants, and generally not have space to yourself.

Then stuff goes wrong: your luggage gets lost, you get lost, or your Couchsurfing host failed to mention the thick coating of cat hair covering everything in his apartment.

Traveling is also often associated with vacation. I’ve made specific choices in my life to ensure that I actually love my job. I don’t really want to stop working to go look at buildings and old broken stuff for two weeks.

People say they like to travel because it connects them with other cultures, but then they only end up staying a couple of days in each place, which to me is like licking a filet mignon. You get a taste, but you don’t get nourishment.

So, whenever I hear about someone traveling to every country in the world, or I see a video of a guy riding on a camel for a few moments before jetting off to another country, all in pursuit of “making it count,” I’m pretty much: “meh.”

I’m not the first person to feel this way about traveling. Take Seneca, for example:

“The primary indication, in my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place…Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.”

Far be it from me to argue with one of the most influential philosophers in history, but, even for me, that’s a bit much.

Travel can be incredibly valuable! It can shake the cobwebs off of your most outdated habits and rituals, it can introduce you to new ways of thinking and living, and it can bring you towards a sublime version of yourself.

When you force yourself to live in a different place and culture, you begin to notice which traits of yours are inherently yours, and which traits are just the product of your surroundings.

When you’re in New York, maybe you get impatient walking down the street. Everyone seems to be in your way.

When you’re in Medellin, maybe you sit in the front seat of the taxi. To paisas, it seems, everyone is a friend.

When you’re in Buenos Aires, maybe you realize that yes, in fact, you are still capable of staying out until 8am. The atmosphere has that much energy.

The process of immersing, then extracting, yourself from various cultures smooths the form of your self. It fills in the gaps where you were unaware of, and polishes off the edges where you were rough.

This is why, even though I don’t really like “traveling,” I’ve made a habit out of living “mini-lives.” It’s like living your normal life, just in a different city. It lets you experience a new place on a deeper level without having to take a vacation or sleep in a different bed every night.

I’ve lived mini-lives in Rome, Buenos Aires, Medellin (twice), and Brooklyn, and I think they’re a great opportunities to live a life rich in experiences.

What is a mini-life?

A “mini-life” is when you spend one month or more in a location other than your hometown, all while living a life that closely resembles your usual day-to-day. Change is inherent in being in another location, so there’s no need to force it beyond that to get the benefits of a mini-life.

Mini-lives are not to be confused with “mini-retirements,” which are a little more vacation-like, and mini-lives are less disruptive to one’s regular routines and relationships than pure digital nomadicism, which can often leave people feeling alienated.

To live an effective mini-life, rent out your usual place, then use that rent money to get yourself a place in any location you wish. You can get a house on a beach in Thailand, an apartment in Berlin, or treat yourself to a month in an expensive city where you’d never normally live.

While you’re living in that other location, meet new people, and try on some of the local habits. You can use a mini-life to make business connections in a city other than your own (I met Ryan Holiday during my mini-life in NYC, which lead to this article), learn to Tango in Buenos Aires, or go way beyond your Duolingo sessions to finally learn that new language (I gave my first presentation in Spanish in Colombia the other day).

Mini-lives stick with you in a way that normal travel can’t. I’ve traveled all over the world promoting my book and speaking, and the extended periods I’ve spent during my mini-lives have been much richer in influence and memories than the times I just spent a few days in city.

What’s so great about mini-lives?

A mini-life lets you get a taste of living in another location, and all of the personal growth that comes along with new experiences, without having to take a bunch of time off of work, or ending your trip feeling like you missed out on something. You get to experience a new culture far more in-depth than when bouncing from place-to-place.

Shake out the cobwebs from your regular life

Routines are great. Maybe you eat almond butter and apples for a snack every night, or you read at the same cafe every Saturday. However, routines can stagnate. Eventually, we’re just going through the motions, and our routines lose their purpose and pleasure.

Mini-lives change all of that. They help clear the cobwebs from our day-to-day, so only the things closest to our cores remain.

You have to make lots of preparations to do a good mini-life, and that often involves doing things that you’d normally put off.

For example, to really pull off a mini-life budget-wise, you’ll want to rent out your usual home using Airbnb or Craigslist. So, you have to get ready by getting your place organized, throwing away, giving away, or selling all of that junk that you’ll never use again, and getting your place clean and ready for your tenant.

If you’re anything like me, none of that stuff will ever get done without the deadline of an upcoming mini-life. All of that junk will just sit around, getting old, and collecting cobwebs.

Get introduced to new things

After your mini-life shakes the cobwebs off of your old, stagnant routines, you start to have more space for new things in your life.

Maybe your new apartment building has a steam room that you start using after your workouts, or your Tango classes are at 2pm. Maybe the apples aren’t all that good in Colombia, and you discover that almond butter isn’t to be found anywhere. Part of what’s great about a mini-life is that you can generally live your normal day-to-day life, but being in a different location inherently brings serendipitous changes.

It’s great to bring a friend or two on a mini-life, but you’re going to start off with a much smaller social circle than you had in your home base. This forces you to start meeting new people, and is especially useful if you’re trying to learn a new language during your mini-life. Most major Spanish-speaking cities have language exchange events where you can meet locals: you teach them a little Spanish, they teach you a little English.

Beyond just meeting locals, even the other expats you meet on your mini-life will be some of the most interesting, resourceful, and creative people you’ve ever encountered. These people do not make excuses for not living the life they want! One of my travel buddies met her husband – a fellow mini-lifer – the first day of her mini-life in Buenos Aires.

Reintegrate into a more pure self

Once your mini-life ends, you have a new version of yourself: you’ve kept everything that was already great, thrown away what wasn’t, and added new experiences, habits, and relationships that are all a part of a new you.

When you get back to your hometown, you’ll surely be eager to go read at your favorite cafe again, or have lunch with a friend to fill them in on your adventures, but you’ll find that you want to replace some of the routines of your old life with those of your mini-life.

Sometimes it’s those “exotic” things that you didn’t even know that you could get back in your hometown. You may find yourself going to Tango concerts and sipping Mate back in your home base, or going out of your way to find a restaurant that serves arepas. These things take on a richness they never could had they not already been a part of your life for an extended period.

Not everything you pick up from a mini-life will have to do with the local culture. Mini-lives can allow you to share space with a friend for a couple months without the friendship-killing aspects of being indefinite roommates, so you may pick up habits from them as well. One friend I roomed with got me in the habit of making vegetable smoothies, and another convinced me to try – and finish – the entire INSANITY workout program.

But, but, but…tune in next week

Some of you are surely on board with me, especially if you already work online like I do. But, some of you probably don’t think you can pull a mini-life off, financially, or logistics-wise.

Next week I’ll tell you not only how to get the freedom to take off to another city for a couple months, but also how to make your trip a huge success once you get there.

Or, maybe I’ve inspired you to take off on a mini-life tomorrow morning. Just don’t forget the almond butter.

David Kadavy is author of the Amazon best-seller Design for Hackers, and has lived mini-lives in Rome; Buenos Aires; Medellin, Colombia (twice); and Brooklyn. He blogs about Design, Productivity, and Entrepreneurship at kadavy.net, and tweets at @kadavy. He lives in Chicago (when it’s not too cold).

A Month At a Time: Why I Quit Travelling And Started Living Mini-Lives