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“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! We are happy in proportion to the things we can do without.” – Thoreau

A couple of years ago I was out on the crumpled ice of the frozen Arctic Ocean. It was bitterly cold. And I was deliriously happy. It was the stark simplicity of life out on the ice that I enjoyed so much. I had very few things to focus on each day, but I had to do each one to the best of my ability. If I did not then the consequences in those conditions could be severe. I decided, as my hands and nose thawed out back in the tent, that when I become King of the World this would be a good decree to run the world by:

Concentrate only on the stuff that really matters. Cut everything else.

Do what you do to the very best of your ability. Do this every single day. Otherwise you die!

Walking across India was not a case of life or death. But it was a similarly refreshing draft of straightforwardness away from the noise and clutter of the 21st Century.

As I walk upstream towards my goal the river becomes smaller and smaller. There are fewer diluting, polluting branches or confusing tributaries. Slowly I am moving away from the broad, stagnant channels of the delta towards the single holy well at the source.

I wanted simplicity. Simplicity of purpose and to travel as light as possible. I wanted to pare life down to the basics again. India was a crash diet for me after the creeping lassitude of easy living.

Simplicity of possessions felt difficult to achieve, accustomed as I had become to life, liberty and the pursuit of stuff. Yet it is liberating and enriching. Carrying all my possessions through a hot Indian day is a sweaty penance for materialism. It helps me focus on what I need. What I really need. The clothes I stand up in, plus a spare pair of socks, a lungi, flip-flops and a clean shirt now feels ample. A wise man once said that the things you own end up owning you. On the road you have few owners. Thoreau got it right, wanting to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life.”

As I remove myself from needless material stuff, my mind also begins to unwind and I enjoy a lighter mental load too. I cleared my diary, turned off my phone and computer, and cleared off. I have de-cluttered my mind. I am wandering across a country, chatting to people, taking photos, making notes and drinking tea. By the standards of the real world, I am bumming around. I am not earning money, for heaven’s sake! Isn’t it time you got a real job, young man?

“Adventurer and Writer?” comments a bright woman with a sparkle in her eye as she reads my business card. “Some may say, Alastair, that you are actually a wastrel. A vagabond.”

I disagree with her poetic description. I am filling my days with purpose, even if it is only a very simple purpose. That is not a waste.

Each day I have to walk as far as I can, as near to my river as possible. And I must find food and water and shelter. That is all. If I do just those few things then I have not wasted my day. Far from it. I have used my day fully. A day working hard on a project I care about is a day well spent. Find something you love. Do it well. Do it a lot.

It feels good to carry my world on my back. I smile in the sunlight. I could travel and live this lightly forever, I remember as I get into my stride.

This is an extract from my book There Are Other Rivers. I’ll post the next chapter here at the same time tomorrow evening. 

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  1. Simplicity is certainly the key to a calm life. Great article 🙂



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