Do you get attached to your belongings? I do, and it makes packing light for long term travel an absolute nightmare. Here are my tips to travel light when you love everything you own!
When you’re travelling long term, eventually you end up settling somewhere to work or recharge. After living out of a rucksack for months, the opportunity to unpack completely and stay in one place for a while is exactly what’s needed. However, living and working in one place usually means amassing more things- clothes, souvenirs, books, a bike, towels… And if you’re anything like me, it’s difficult to go back to travelling with only the bare essentials. How do you travel light when you form an emotional attachment to everything you own?
My family, as a rule, are terrible at throwing things away and I’ve inherited it. I have boxes of memories, cards, weird ornaments and stuffed animals that I’ve collected since I was a kid. They’re all sitting in the back of a wardrobe in my parents’ house, along with all the kitchenware I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of when I moved out of my flat in Sheffield. I’m the other side of the world and the only reason I’m thinking about these things is because of this post. I obviously don’t need them- I’ve managed without them this long!
I came to Australia with a large rucksack plus a smaller carry-on bag. I thought it would be everything I needed but when I arrived in Queensland and moved into a room in a shared house with my friends, I immediately started buying things. Small things that soon added up to create at least another suitcase full of stuff. Things like clothes, shoes, a beach towel, books… all things that weren’t a problem while I lived in one place but when it came to leaving to start a road trip, they were just taking up space in the car. It was all extra weight to lug in and out of hostels and by the time I arrived in Melbourne, I was sick of it. I travelled to Mildura with only a large rucksack again after paring down what I needed.
And it was so hard. Despite the fact I’d worn them once in nearly a whole year of travel, I deliberated for a whole day about getting rid of a pair of wedge heels. The giant fluffy bath towel that would take up half the rucksack? You better believe I tried to roll it for half an hour trying to get it to fit in amongst soooo many dresses and playsuits I didn’t need! It wasn’t just that I thought these things might be useful someday because I know things can be replaced. It was hard because all of these things reminded me of good times. Yes, even the towel! When I think about that towel, I remember buying it on my big first shopping trip with my best friend at Woolworths in Bowen, Queensland. It probably sounds stupid to a lot of you readers but I bet there are some of you, like me, who get emotionally attached to your belongings because, y’know, memories!
See, most of the time, having a bit of clutter and stuff around isn’t an issue. If you live in your own house or are renting somewhere long term you have somewhere to keep things. However, when you’re travelling around the world, moving every week or month, extra possessions and weight become a problem. It sneaks up on you and the potential back pain from carrying a heavy rucksack for extended periods of time is not something you want to mess around with. I think about this every time I cycle the two miles from town to my house with four bottles of wine in my backpack.
My Tips to Travel Light When You Get Emotionally Attached to Everything You Own
Okay, my first response when it looks like I need to get rid of some stuff is to just make it fit. Packing cubes are a godsend. You know how many dresses you can shove into a medium packing cube?? LOADS. Packing cubes make being a travelling hoarder feel so much more organised. These are the ones I use and they come in all sorts of sizes, but the medium and small ones are my faves because they slot into my rucksack nicely.
Make Things Multitask
I’m not saying buy those horrendous trousers that zip off to become shorts. Just think about ways to consolidate what you own and what you do. For example, if you have a laptop (and WiFi) you can stop buying journals, newspapers, magazines and writing out to-do lists. I’ve got a sarong that I use as a beach towel, a regular towel, a skirt and to
mop up wine when I spill it down myself in bed a blanket on planes. Get creative!
Don’t Even Go There
You can’t get attached to something if you don’t buy it! As nice as it is to window shop, if you just stop going places where you’re tempted to buy things, you’ll find it so much easier to travel light. For me, this means avoiding book and stationary shops because if I am left to my own devices, I will buy a notebook (minimum) every single time I enter one of those shops. Even if I’ve purchased one the day before. Even if I have ten empty notebooks at home. I have plans for them okay.
If you’re like me, a Kindle is essential. I can browse Kindle books to my heart’s content knowing I can buy as many as I like without taking up any space. The only thing this doesn’t really work for is guidebooks, so I do still like to have a Lonely Planet for wherever I’m travelling.
Simplify Your Wardrobe
I wish I was one of those people who could create a capsule wardrobe where everything matches and looks fashionably minimalist. I’m not. I’m sartorially challenged so I have two strategies:
Stick to a limited colour palette– looking at my wardrobe right now, the main colours are grey, black, burgundy and bottle green.
Buy dresses and playsuits– one item, one outfit! No worries about matching things together and they can be casual or fancy depending on your shoes and if you’ve chosen to brush your hair that day. Big thumbs up from me.
Simplify Your Beauty Regime
One thing I love to hoard is makeup and beauty products. Like face masks! I own so many but literally use them at most twice a year. What’s the point? While I’ve been living in Margaret River I’ve stopped wearing makeup, except for a bit of concealer. Surprisingly, I have not (yet) been chased out of town with pitchforks and fire. Learn to love- or at least tolerate- your regular ol’ face and keeping your toiletries down to just the essentials becomes way easier.
Send Things Home
If you truly struggle not buying things or getting rid of them, you have the option to send them home. You’ll need an address to send things and someone to keep them safe and it might be quite pricey but only you can work out if it’s worth it to you. When I leave Australia, there are certain things that I’m going to post home because I don’t want to risk taking them around Southeast Asia with me. Things like cards my family have sent me, a few books that I couldn’t resist buying, ornaments (I have a thing about gnomes) and a few items of clothing.
But I love my stuff!
If you’re feeling like you’ll struggle with this, don’t worry, I do too! I’m so bad at taking my own advice. See, I dream about being an ultralight traveller with only a carry on bag and my passport but I just can’t do it. I can get rid of my possessions to a certain extent but when I think about eventually settling down in one place (eventually) these stupid little objects are always there. Sure, I could get rid of my collection of gnomes but then I won’t get the future pleasure of moving them around the house and telling the kids I don’t know anything about it. I want a book shelf with my dog eared copy of The Alchemist and the His Dark Materials box set that Tim took a five hour coach ride to buy me for Christmas. I’m super sentimental and proud!
So many travel blogs I read go on and on about taking only the essentials and provide impersonal packing lists, but that’s not going to work for everyone. It doesn’t work for me at all. Sure, maybe on a short trip it’s easier to travel light but when you’re travelling indefinitely, the things you carry around with you are the only constants you have. They need to be useful and make you happy. If that means carrying pictures of your family, a favourite book or a stuffed animal (no judgement here) then so be it! You’ll find out your own way of packing that works for you by trial and error.