After living abroad for a few years now, my life seems pretty normal to me. I have a steady job, a consistent social life, bills to pay, and a favorite coffee shop that I visit regularly.

But sometimes it really hits me that my life today couldn’t be more different than it was 3 years ago.

And I don’t just mean the obvious, outward differences – like how everyone around me is speaking Thai, driving motorbikes, and eating really spicy food.

Sometimes it feels like I created a whole new world for myself when I became an expat.

When I think about my American life, I remember feeling so immobile and weighed down by all my responsibilities and possessions. I read a couple blogs about minimalism and location independence. The thought of getting rid of most of my stuff and being able to easily move where I wanted, when I wanted, was so attractive to me. But it also seemed impossible.

I had shelves and shelves of things – how could I move freely around the world?

Years later, when I was preparing to move to China, I loved the feeling of dropping off all my stuff at charity shops. I loved getting all my stuff down to just three bags.

When I moved to Thailand, I only needed two bags – both carry-ons.

One of my favorite feelings: being at the airport with a one-way ticket and only a couple bags.

Being abroad has reshaped my perspective in many ways – one of the most important ways is showing me how to fully embrace a minimalist lifestyle.

Why Minimalism?

So why is this such a big deal to me?

First, it has made life a lot more peaceful. The less things I have, the less I have to worry about. I don’t need a big apartment to fit all my stuff. I have less to organize and clean.

When it’s time to move, which happens often as an expat, it takes less than hour to pack. It still shocks me how little I really need, and I love it.

It’s also cheaper because I rarely shop for anything I don’t need. I now believe that spending money can easily become an addiction. I used to get a strange pleasure from buying something, even if I knew it wouldn’t have much use in my life.

Today, my money mostly pays for experiences and memories, not little knick-knacks. These expenses are more meaningful and worthwhile 100 times over, and they’ll never be lost, broken, or taken from me.

I’d much rather spend my money on creating these memories.

Minimalist Travel

I have also learned to pack very lightly when I travel. I don’t think I’ll ever go on another short-term trip with more than a backpack. Simon and I even share one backpack on trips that are 4 days or fewer.

Giving up giant rolling luggage has brought me so much freedom as a traveler. My stuff is easy to carry while staying handsfree. I can quickly throw everything in my bag and change locations every couple days without a worry.

Minimalist Tips

If you want to travel (or live) with fewer things, here’s the best advice I’ve received: Get rid of anything that you don’t find useful or meaningful. If you’re struggling to give something up, put it in a box and write the date on it. If you haven’t taken it out in 6 months, give it away. If you have a lot of nostalgic, sentimental items, take pictures of them instead.

Giving Up Souvenirs

For many travelers, souvenir shopping is a huge part of their trips. I used to be the same way, but I noticed that most of my souvenirs didn’t have that foreign spark when I got home with them. Again, these became meaningless trinkets that took up space in my bag (and later my apartment).

Here are some things I find way more valuable than a typical souvenir:

– Photos
– Videos
– Journal entries
– Screenshots of my social media posts or messages to friends during the trip
– A copy of the playlist I was listening to
– Contact information of new friends I’ve met

Has traveling made you less attached to stuff and more interested in life experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts.