Answering the Question: How Do You Do It?

May 13, 2015

A while back, a good friend asked me a very big question…

“So serious question, how do you do it? Getting rid of everything and traveling so light?”

After an inappropriate amount of thought on how to answer this very big question, I decided to take a stab at it. Teague has an excellent post about the financial aspects of the answer. I however, will cover the more psychological aspects…

The task of preparing for a RTW trip can seem rather daunting at first, and at second, and third. But it is totally doable. You just have to be realistic and get to know yourself. Getting a handle on your finances is all well and good, but the mental portion of all this was the tough part for me. Training your brain to think in different terms is never easy, but it’s worth it.

Getting yourself to stick to your budget is hard. Looking down the next year or so of your life and seeing only sacrifice and boring nights because you are saving all your pennies makes the whole process even worse if you’re like Matt and I. We are very social people and the thought of holding ourselves captive just so we could save was an unbearable one. So we allowed ourselves a small entertainment budget for the occasional dinner, drinks, concert, etc. Yes of course we probably could have saved a little more if we hadn’t done this, and I thought I might regret our decision once on the road, but I haven’t at all. It made it much easier to swallow all of the other sacrifices we were making.

Once you look at your finances and decide on a departure date, you need to bend your mind. You need to start looking at your material possessions and realize that they are just things. When going through our house to pull out things to sell or donate, I realized that I had amassed a gigantic collection of craft supplies, some of which I had had since I was in middle school. That’s like 20 years. That’s too long. I mean, who was I kidding at that point? If I hadn’t used it by then, I think it’s safe to say someone else deserved it.

But I have this whole ‘What if I need it in the future?’ mentality. Like maybe someday I will really want to create a mosaic with the tiles I picked up at that garage sale that one time, and if I get rid of them today, I won’t be able to. Or I’ll have to buy new tiles, which seems like a waste of perfectly good money seeing as how I already have tiles that I could use. So I should probably keep them. Right? Yeah no. I needed to break this cycle. If I should one day want to create a mosaic, I would probably be able to find other cheap tiles just like I did the first time, and that’s okay. Once I realized that, it was really freeing. Those self-help books are right! Getting rid of clutter and excess material items is actually incredibly liberating!


I started dumping things with gusto and came upon another mental problem: nostalgia. I have a ton of family heirlooms. Three out of four of my grandparents were artists and I have thusly acquired a hefty amount of their artwork, not to mention trinkets and tokens. On top of that I had things that reminded me of family, friends, and times I didn’t want to forget. I am very sentimental and realized that I had sort of forced nostalgia onto these items. It was like everything I owned was in some way a memory, and getting rid of those memories was not something I wanted to do.

I had to make some hard decisions. The family artwork was staying. No question. But the pin collection I had been going strong on for a decade during my formative years? Gone. Some other person would enjoy my rad Aretha Franklin and Alf pins for sure. And maybe I didn’t need all of those old shoulder pads from my Grandmother’s sewing box. Maybe someone else would recognize that the 80’s were coming back and make use of them.

It may sound silly, but I had hundreds of those little decisions to make, and while each one stung a little, each one stung a little less than the last. Until I was left with only the things that I truly wanted to keep, the things that really meant something to me. And it felt good.

Now rinse and repeat until all your worldly possessions are whittled down to a manageable size, and you breathe a sigh of relief because you feel so light! 


As for traveling so light…it’s a lot easier than it seems. If you’re like me, your pack contents will be constantly evolving, but for the most part if you stick to a good packing list you’ll have the things that you really need. When preparing for what I was going to pack, I did a quick Google search of different people’s packing lists. I correlated about six of them, and took the average numbers for shirts, pants, etc. The items that showed up on all or most of the lists, made it onto mine. Items that only showed up on one or two, I made an executive decision about. Anything above and beyond that, you can either get wherever you are going, or you can live without. It’s that simple. It does take a minute to get used to this idea, and in fact there are plenty of times even still that I wish I had a certain something, but I don’t, and I get over it.

You become like a MacGyver too. It’s almost like a fun challenge to see if you can make due in situations with only what’s in your pack and on hand. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve made cups out of plastic bottles. Things like twist ties and plastic bags become invaluable tools. 

I will say that while we do have smaller bags than most would probably bring on a trip like this (50 liter pack for me and 40 liter for Matt), Matt and I have afforded ourselves some luxuries that most people wouldn’t waste the space on. For instance, we carry a little kitchen bag with a good knife, a good vegetable peeler, a small cutting board, tongs, and some spices and sauces. I cannot express how worth it this has been. Most hostels have horribly stocked kitchens and having something other than a butter knife to cut an onion, can really make a difference. Be sure to allow yourself some creature comforts, but know where to draw the line. There are some that are obsessed with keeping their bags as small and light as possible (**cough**Teague**cough** Tongue Out), and that's fine for them, but I am not one of them. There have been plenty of times when I wished I had a lighter pack, but there have been even more times when I've been glad that I packed what I did. I'm clearly not hiking up mountains with my full pack on, so I'm usually just fine. It's all about balance and what you're comfortable with.

For me, the important thing is recognizing where I am most likely to be uncomfortable, whether it's not doing the things I love for a year so that I can save money, or not allowing myself a pair of jeans because of the weight in my pack, and then allowing that tiny bit of leeway to keep myself on track. Especially while traveling, those little creature comforts go a long way in making the road feel like home.


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