Less is More: Zen as an alcohol free minimalist

May 7, 2019
Brendan Lee


This week for ZTT #16 I’m very happy to welcome our second male contributor to Zen Tip Tuesday – Brendan Lee!  Brendan’s story is such an interesting and inspirational one.  He went from being an Accountant wanting to be rich in $$’s to Travel Blogger who is richer by minimalism.  In a post he wrote that links from this one here today he uses this quote by Jackie French Coller “There are two ways to be rich. One is by acquiring much, the other is by desiring little.”  Brendan shares how he gave up alcohol, changed his diet, embraced minimalism, and the peace and freedom that doing these things has brought to him.  Enjoy the read, and of course you can learn more about Brendan at his Bio at the end of the post.  

If you’re joining us for ZTT Link-Up #014, welcome and I look forward to reading your post!


Brendan Lee


I came up with the idea to quit alcohol almost by accident. I’d just had a very long, inebriated night with some new friends in Namibia, arrived home half conscious at 4am. I woke up the next morning exhausted, head aching, dehydrated, a little poorer, a little unhealthier; a feeling that had become too familiar over the years.

I wouldn’t consider myself a heavy drinker. Even during my prime backpacking years, where people literally drink every night, I’d only have one or two heavy nights per week. But it was during these years that the foundation for my no-alcohol journey began. Five years on the road, living out of a backpack, I’d learned to live without a lot of things. One pair of shoes, three tee-shirts, no television, no car, many nights I didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. I slept on floors, couches, often used a tee-shirt as a towel, hitch-hiked, wore second-hand clothes. And I came out the other end not only unscathed, but enlightened. Minimalism almost became like a religion to me. I stopped buying new clothes, new toys, new things. My bank account started to grow. Even when I wasn’t on the road, nothing changed. I continued the simple life. No stuff. No stress. I loved it. It was a world apart from the corporate life I’d lived years earlier.


So as I lay on my couch that morning in Namibia, I decided it was time to downsize another aspect of my life – my diet. If I could live without purposeless things, surely I could live without purposeless food too. I started a month-long challenge that day. All processed food was out. All fast food was out. All sugar was out. And of course, all alcohol was out. I went to the supermarket, stocked the fridge with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and herbs. I bought a blender, drank raw smoothies twice daily, drank herbal teas, ate wild-caught fish and vegetables every night for dinner. Instead of partying, I joined the kickboxing gym and exercised hard every day, prioritised sleep, rest, recovery.

After six weeks I was in the best shape of my life.


When I returned home to New Zealand that summer, I decided I’d carry on my new diet. I started the year with a juice cleanse. For ten days I gave up all food, fasting on only fresh vegetable juice 3-4 times a day. On New Years Eve, while the country was intoxicating itself en masse, I was with friends at home, drinking a green juice. Not only was it a rewarding mental challenge, my body loved it. I dropped to single digit body fat, cleansed piles of waste from the body. I started to realise, even when it came to food, the answer was less, not more.

By this time I’d now done two months without alcohol. I thought to myself, why only do two months? Why not do a whole year?

So I did.

Brendan Lee overlooking Luxembourg

Brendan, looking out over Luxembourg

That year I continued backpacking, sober, through Europe, east and west Africa. A sober backpacker is somewhat of an anomaly. It became not only a mental challenge, but a social challenge too. Travel blesses you with new friends almost daily, but how do you socialise with new friends without drinking? I’d never tried. As it turns out, it’s rather easy. Most people didn’t look at me funny when I told them I was a non-drinker. Rather, they were curious about it, respected it. Most times, it was something interesting for us to talk about.

When my sober year finally ended, it wasn’t a big celebration. I went out for a bowl of noodles, came back to my hostel and got to bed early. But I was happy. I was healthy, rested, clear-headed, stress free. Most of all, peaceful. And I’ve learned those are not trivial things. In fact, they might be the most valuable things to strive for, yet things so many of us are still struggling to find.

My alcohol-free year was an important step for me towards zen, but as you can see, it was only one chapter in a longer journey.


Brendan up on lifesaving tower at the beach in Mallorca

Beach at Mallorca

To me, zen is peace. Peace in your mind, peace in your body. And the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is we don’t achieve that peace by adding things to our lives. We achieve it by removing things. Life is not complicated. If it is, it’s only because we’ve made it so. We have money problems because we spend too much, we buy houses with too many bedrooms, we buy new shoes when we already have eight pairs, we have health struggles because we eat too much junk, we watch too much television, we feel down because we spend too much time with negative people. And the thing is, nobody forces us to do these things. We do them to ourselves.

But if we can recognise these things that hold us back – alcohol, junk food, material excess, television, negative friends, video games – we can address them. And we don’t need to do anything special. In fact, we don’t need to do anything at all. Just stop. Don’t drink the alcohol. Don’t eat the junk food. Don’t turn on the television. Don’t buy the new clothes. The answer is literally; do nothing. What could be simpler than that?


However, simple does not mean easy. Giving up is difficult, we need to work at it, every day. But it starts with a single step – it might be alcohol, Netflix, shopping, sugar. But the important thing is that you start. Today, as a backpacking blogger, I earn far less than I did as a corporate accountant. But my bank account has never been healthier, my body has never felt better, I’ve never smiled or laughed more. The amount of space “giving up” has created for amazing things to come into my life has been more than I could’ve wished for. It’s been a long journey, but a beautiful one – start it today and enjoy it. Zen is right in front of you, if you’re ready to find it.


A photograph of Brendan Lee
Brendan is a former Chartered Accountant from Auckland, New Zealand. He left the corporate world in 2011 to travel the world, a journey that still hasn’t ended. He blogs about his experiences at brenontheroad.com.  You can connect with Brendan here: 



#ztt, #zentiptuesday, #zen, #balance, #mind, #body, #spirit, #tuesday


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  • Reply Denyse Whelan May 7, 2019 at 8:37 am

    Congratulations to you Brendan on such a health-filled change you made. I sure do understand commitment and zeal is needed to go against the flow. Alcohol from what I see and read (never been interested in drinking) can be such a pull for many, that is not helpful at all for living life welll. Thanks for sharing Brendan’s story Min.


    • Reply Min May 7, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      It’s a wonderful story isn’t it Denyse? It shows great strength and commitment on Brendan’s part and proves again the truth to less is more! 🙂

  • Reply Jo Tracey May 7, 2019 at 7:20 pm

    What a great story! I’m now off to visit Brendan’s blog

    • Reply Min May 8, 2019 at 2:57 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  • Reply Retirement Reflections May 8, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Hi, Min – It’s such a pleasure to meet Brandon here and to read his inspirational story. He provides so much great food for thought. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Reply Min May 8, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      So pleased you enjoyed reading Brendan’s story and words of wisdom Donna! 🙂

  • Reply Natalie May 8, 2019 at 8:06 am

    Hi Brendan – Nice to meet you and congrats on your healthy transformation! My days of traveling light as a backpacker taught me a lot, too, more life experiences and less material possessions. Thank you, Min, for introducing Brendan here. #MLSTL

    • Reply Min May 8, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      It’s so true isn’t it – more experiences and less things! Glad you enjoyed Brendan’s post Natalie. 🙂

  • Reply jo May 8, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Such an inspiring story. Thanks Brendan 🙂 In fact speaking personally we’ve got older we’ve decided that less is more in many areas of our lives. One car, a smaller house, less nick nacks, better eating habits – but wine, oh dear – I’d like to give it up and I’m sure I would feel better, but a glass of wine with dinner is such a treat 🙂

    • Reply Min May 8, 2019 at 3:00 pm

      So pleased you enjoyed Brendan’s story Jo. Don’t mean to skite but I’ve managed to ditch the nightly glass of wine as I prepare dinner (and/or WITH dinner) but I have other vices! lol

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au May 8, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    What an interesting life and I love that making healthy choices have paid off as well as they have Brendan. I’ve found that life is so much easier (and a LOT cheaper) if you aren’t buying alcohol, fast food and new clothes and gadgets every week. We’ve always lived frugally and it has paid off big time now we’re in our 50’s – we’re debt free and have the freedom to work or not work now and that’s such a blessing.
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    • Reply Min May 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm

      Brendan’s made such a transformative change in his life hasn’t he? I found it a very inspiring read. I’m not sure i could say I live frugally but I sure don’t spend up as much as many of peers do! Thanks for sharing on your SM Leanne. x

  • Reply Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond May 8, 2019 at 5:56 pm

    Hi Min and Brendan, I can relate to Brendan’s story. My husband needed to remove alcohol from his life and in March last year booked into a detox centre for three weeks. He came home to an alcohol free house and since then neither of us have had any alcohol. After 50 years of drinking alcohol I’m very proud of Mike’s progress. I agree with Brendan totally about one step at a time and fits well with my #microsteppinginmay challenge. Loving the guest posts, Min and Brendan is a great example of how we can change our lives. #MLSTL

    • Reply Min May 9, 2019 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Sue – well done to your husband and to yourself as well! I barely ever drink alcohol anymore. If ever I do, it would be at a social occasion and only ever one glass – wine or champagne. I do enjoy some Bailey’s on ice now and then but that’s rare too. I’m so pleased you’ve enjoyed Brendan’s post and yes it does tie in with your #microsteppinginmay challenge! 🙂

  • Reply Debbie May 8, 2019 at 9:50 pm

    Hi Brendan and Min, I too have made a shift by reducing sugar and carbs from my diet after . abad lot of blood test results and a virus. Although not a drinker I just stopped having any alcohol and as i wasn’t a regular drinker anyway, it’s not been a big deal . I haven’t had anything to drink since August 2018. I can relate to much of Brendan’s post and wish hime well. Zen is a form of peace and everyone has their own state of zen. I admire Brendan’s efforts and thanks for sharing this story here Min. #mlstl

    • Reply Min May 9, 2019 at 12:58 pm

      Hi Deb! It’s not easy to remove or even reduce sugar and carbs from your diet so well done you! I’m not much of a drinker either – rarely having a drink at all these days. If I had to give it up all together it wouldn’t be a problem. 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer May 9, 2019 at 8:11 pm

    I love this, “I’ve learned is we don’t achieve that peace by adding things to our lives. We achieve it by removing things.” I’m starting to understand this. In the past three years, my husband and I have moved three times. And while we’ve reduced a lot of what we have, there is still so much. I was actually surprised by how much we were unpacking considering how much we already gave up. But that actually just spurs me on to do more.

    • Reply Min May 10, 2019 at 8:55 am

      I’ve always been a believer that too much clutter around us clutters the mind and it sure does seem to have that effect on me. A good decluttering always feels good. I think this principal applies in many aspects of life! Three moves in three years is a lot! The good thing I guess is the opportunity to get rid of stuff you don’t need. Good luck with it Jennifer! 🙂

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