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.
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.
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.
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:
– 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.
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