Steps for preparing for full time travel

One of the most exciting things about preparing for long term travel is packing up your possessions. That’s the moment where it all starts to feel real, and at times, a little scary.

When you live a life of travel you get used to owning memories rather than possessions.

It seems as soon as you get a permanent address, possessions arrive in waves. The dust collectors pile up and suddenly you ain’t breathing well. It’s rare a day goes past without Craig or I saying,

  • “Look at all this shit. Where did it come from?”
  • “I can’t wait for my belongings to fit in a suitcase again.”
  • “Why do these girls have so many toys? They never use them. Give them a cardboard box and they’re happy”
  • “Right that’s it, time for a declutter.”

Finally, we’re getting the chance to move back to owning more memories than stuff.

When you leave for long-term travel, you can’t take much more than a backpack.

In the months leading to your departure, it’s all about decluttering, culling, and the clearing of the dust to get down to those bare essentials.

Steps for packing up for long term travel.

Decluttering and moving

We have relocated internationally ten times, so preparing and packing for long-term travel is a fine art for us.

It can be overwhelming and full of mixed emotions. You’re taking years of memories and boxing, donating, or selling them and you’re leaving everything behind for a life you are unsure of.

Swapping certainty for surprises.

Hold onto the joy and excitement of that, rather than the fear and longing.

We become so attached to our possessions, we often lose sight of who we are without them. When you strip down to just a few things, you can finally get to know yourself, without the clutter butting in.

(Note: If you are preparing for long-term travel with children, it is important you involve them in this process. It’s important they feel the adventure is theirs to own too and they understand the very valuable lesson that possessions should not be the focus of life’s journey.)

We show you how to do that more in-depth in our family travel planning toolkit. Click for access!

1. Let go

We hadn’t even announced our road trip around Australia, and we were out in the garage throwing away piles of stuff.

Some we laughed at, some was a great trip down memory lane, and others brought a bit of angst and tears. Boxes reminded us of our painful past and all the stupid mistakes we made.

“Let’s not hold onto them anymore. Toss it. Don’t even donate it, it has such bad energy surrounding it.”

With each toss, we said our thanks and gave our blessing to the past,

“Thank you for the lessons. We wouldn’t be here now if it weren’t for you.”

The only way you can make peace with your past is to understand how it helped you to stand in your shoes now.

2. Eliminate the back door

packing for long-term travel

A few months ago, I made the decision to burn my teaching license. I didn’t want any doors for quitting and retreating to be left ajar. It was scary, yet liberating.

But, I had held onto my teaching resources: boxes of books, posters, units of work, and lesson plans. I went through each file, pondering the hours I had spent researching, planning, teaching, worrying, and helping my students.

Teaching took me around the world. It’s hard to turn your back on those memories, but that chapter of my life is now over. I hated teaching in the end, but I loved my students and all they taught me.

The biggest hurdle was releasing the fear attached my 15 years of teaching wrapped up in the box. I had carried them around with me across five continents, terrified that if I did not have them for backup, I wouldn’t survive. I wanted to keep holding onto them just in case what we are doing now doesn’t work, and I may need them again.

It’s difficult to give up the just in case and trust your chosen path is the right one. What was once my security was now holding me back.

I lovingly took my valuable teaching resources down to the local school for other teachers to use with their students.

No more back doors.

3. Detach yourself

There’s no doubt; you’ve been planning your long-term trip for a long time. Don’t leave it to the last minute to reduce your possessions down to a backpack. You won’t give yourself enough time to adjust to the huge change.

Start detaching yourself and reducing your dependency on your stuff a few months away from your departure date. Box up a few things and make yourself go without those extra handbags and shoes and books.

Ease yourself into it. Once you start giving up a few things, you’ll see that it’s easy, and you don’t think about them much.

4. Sort in stages

packing for long-term travel

Some like to eat the frog first; others like to start with the small stuff and work up to the awful ones. We ate the frog first by sorting through our possessions in the garage.

Work through it one space at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself and don’t leave this to the last minute; it’s huge amounts of stress you don’t need just before you embark on your trip of a lifetime.

Be strict with what you choose to keep and get rid of. It costs a lot of time and money to maintain your things. What will it cost you to hold onto your items?

Many of my things have been sitting in boxes now for 15 years. What is the point of that? True, many hold precious memories, but what good are they to me in boxes. How are those boxes stuck in a garage holding those memories alive?

They aren’t, my heart is.

Every time I go through my boxes, I cull the insides by at least a third. I’m often baffled as to why I wanted to keep them in the first place. I’m baffled now because I am very different to the person who first boxed them up.

Have four boxes and fill them in the following way.

1. Keep

preparing for long-term travel

Be very strict with your decisions; Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to keep this?
  • What purpose does it serve?
  • How will it help me when I return?

We usually keep:

  • photos.
  • special mementos.
  • souvenirs or artifacts.
  • appliances and utensils.
  • furniture that can be stored at limited cost that we feel we’ll need and use upon return.
  • any good clothing that can be stored and will be used upon return.

Don’t hold onto anything that has bad energy attached to it.

On our clean out last week, we discovered boxes of books and materials that we were keeping that had a lot of bad energy attached to it. As soon as we opened it up the horrible memories came flooding back, and we felt sick.

Don’t box up sickness.

You’re choosing to start a new life, allow only goodness to flow through with you.

2. Sell

preparing for long-term travel

There is nothing like making a bit of extra cash to take on your trip with you.

  • What can you sell?
  • What are things you have of value, that are still in good condition, and you feel someone else could use?

Put it in the sell pile. You have a lot of work to do coming up with selling it, but it will be worthwhile as you’ll make a bit of extra cash. We’ve always pocketed an extra few hundred to thousands of dollars doing this.

$5 might not seem like much, but in Asia, it will give you a few beers. That makes you a happy rich traveller.

Once you have your sell pile, decide how you will sell them. You might like to have a garage sale, or sell them on sites like EBay, Craigslist, or Gumtree.

3. Donate

preparing for long-term travel

Work out which of your possessions you feel you have outgrown and have no need for anymore.

Can they make a difference in someone else’s life?

Anything you feel you can’t sell, or can’t be bothered to sell, donate.

We usually sell the large stuff that will bring in a bit of cash, the smaller stuff that could only fetch us small amounts, we’d rather give away. It’s not worth the extra time.

Throw it in the donate box and then arrange to have it dropped off at your local second-hand store or the Salvation Army.

4. Trash

preparing for long-term travel

Then there are the things that are no good to anyone. Dump them. Make sure you follow the recycling guidelines as we want to be as kind to the environment as we can.

De-cluttering, culling and clearing the dust, this is the most liberating thing you can ever do. You don’t have to be travelling to make space for the things that matter. We recommend you do it frequently. At least yearly, if not every six months.

A good rule of thumb is if you have not used it in the last six months, or with the full seasonal cycle, then you do not need it. Decide to sell it, donate it, or trash it.

Clear your life of the clutter and give yourself more space to appreciate and enjoy the moment. That is where the lessons, the growth and the joy comes from.

Here is to the open road and a backpack my friends. I don’t think I’ve felt this happy and free in years.

Want more help with conquering the clutter?

More packing posts to help you:

Our travel story

  1. Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
  2. Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
  3. Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
  4. Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
  5. Episode 5: Getting a green card and traveling the US (our dream realized)

Over to you:

Tell us how you prepare and pack up for long-term travel?

Do you love to clear the dust to make more room for memories?

46 thoughts on “Steps for preparing for full time travel”

  1. Thanks for this post Caz – I feel like I could have written it myself! I have, for the last few months, been doing exactly what you suggest…going through sections at a time so it doesn’t feel overwhelming, donating and selling things and also learning to let go of painful items or reminders that I had kept over the years.

    This is the first time I’ve ever had the need to do this (as I’ve obviously never began a life of indefinite travel before) and it’s certainly becoming a steep and emotional learning curve. I feel like I’m grieving for the memories some of my possessions hold so I feel a little lighter every time I get rid of a bit more but I know that it’s the right thing to do.

    Lovely post as always 🙂

    1. It really is like a grieving process Toni. I’m feeling quite a release doing it, although crying a bit too much!! Better out than in. I’m at the stage now where I just want to gather everything in my site and trash it!! Good luck with yours, not long now!!

  2. Hi Guys
    Once again a great read. You make your posts simple and easy to understand..well done..look forward to following you every step of the way.. regards Liz

    1. Oh there is and it can be so overwhelming, just step by step. A few weeks ago, I was frantic thinking we wouldn’t get it done, but I’m feeling more in control now. The slow and steady works.

  3. I’ve been doing the same thing lately! When I left NZ, after 4 years of being an expat my jaw couldn’t help but drop at the amount of crap that we had accumulated! I had a huge biff out, hit the market to sell as much as I could and whatever didn’t sell, was donated. We left a much smaller pile of stuff with Thom’s mum, for us to re-assess when we return to NZ next summer.

    Since coming back to my parents house, I tackled their basement – the boxes that I’d stored while I went away to university, and their belongings that they’d hid ‘out of sight, out of mind’. We had a huge yardsale, and everything that we decided we didn’t need anymore, wasn’t allowed back in the house!

    Minimalism is so liberating! Even if I don’t continue a life of indefinite travel, I will certainly try to employ buying and keeping less crap!

    1. It is one of the biggest benefits to travel. We really don’t have much stuff, but even then it is way too much. It causes me so much stress and at the moment, it feels as if it is growing out of the walls. We cull and I feel clearer and then I turn and there is more!!! Where does it all come from?

      It’s tough when you have kids–the toys they acquire drives me bonkers. we’ve got them each a small toybox and they are allowed to fill that with their must haves for our road trip, and then the rest is going. I secretly can’t wait. Give them the sand and a few sticks and they’ll be much happier! (at least I will be)

  4. Great advice in the article. I recently did this and got rid of most of my possessions. I moved countries at fairly short notice so didn’t have many months to prepare. I managed to sell most of my furniture and gave everything else away to a couple I know who would distribute it to poor families. It was all fairly stressful when I was worried that we wouldn’t sell the furniture and would be left with it.

    I kept all my travel mementos as they hold such wonderful memories. The most difficult thing to let go of was books, especially guidebooks. I have every guide book I’ve bought in the last 20 years and have visions of them lining the walls of my home when I finally ‘settle down’ in one place. A lot are in storage in my home country but those I’ve acquired in the last 5 years where laid out in front of me and I desperately wanted to keep them. In the end I couldn’t let them go, they are in storage too but when I go back to Dubai (where I was living) to collect more stuff I may have to bite the bullet and just bin them.

    1. We struggle with the books too. I was pretty good this time in letting more of them go. I’ve really been strict with the “Am I really going to use these again?” rule. IT’s been so difficult, but with each new release it is getting easier.

    2. After having to previously get rid of many books, I now try to only buy digital books as much as possible so I don’t have to go through the ‘pain’ again.

  5. Great post. New to the whole blogging world but just ran across this post and felt compelled to comment. Everything you say is so true. Its incredible how much stuff you can accumulate and how quickly you can do so. I’ve lived on my sailboat for the last four years and with such a limited amount of space you really have to be actively de-cluttering your life on a daily basis. If I get something new, something goes. If I haven’t used something in the last year (this gets you through all the seasons), It’s gone. The more I get rid of, the better I feel. It makes me wonder what my limit is. Probably flip flops, trunks, and a row boat. Not quite ready to put that to the long term test just yet though.

    Lugging two stuffed sail bags of dirty laundry to the laundromat a couple days ago I was appalled at the amount of clothes I had. Could barely cary it all. If the times I’ve spent living out of a backpack tend to be the best of my life, why do I have all this crap. Half of everything never made it back on board. Getting ready to head off on a long voyage in the next couple of months, I find myself going through what you just wrote on a daily basis… or at least should be. Freeing up a space the size of a shoebox can be a game changer. I can only imagine the amount of junk that piles up in most homes! On that note, I think Ill just post this little comment and pack up another bag of crap to unload before the sun goes down.

    You guys have a great blog going, glad I found it!

  6. I enjoyed reading your downsize strategies…we are divesting of our belongings in trade for some long term travel. Current goal is “sell one thing a week!”

    Here’s where I’m having the most difficulty: letters. Letters from family dating back to before the 20th century! These chronicle journeys, loves, wars, moves, deaths, historical witness as well as the mundane! What second life can we give these??

    1. It’s hard to through out personal things like this. I’d look at scanning or typing the letters onto the computer and saving them somewhere safe. Or, just keep them boxed away somewhere special.

  7. Thanks Caz,
    this is a really timely post for our family, and I really appreciate you sharing your plans and tips. I’m also a teacher who recently donated and binned all of my teaching resources to mark the beginning of our journey toward long term travel and living with less, (really why do we keep so much??!). But most of all I can relate to your feelings about attachment to the items all families inevitably collect when we settle in one place. Thanks for sharing your tips on how to purge and only keep the things that matter. You’ve given me the motivation to keep going, no matter how overwhelming the process can feel at times. Thank you 🙂

    1. Awesome Gina! Overwhelm is usually masking some sort of fear. If we take it slowly, step by step, we usually uncover the fear and release the overwhelm

  8. Great article Caz! During my many international travels I have come to realize that; how you pack plays a big role in the outcome of your trip especially if you don’t make long trips very often.

  9. Loreena @ Little Aus Travlrs

    So awesome that you guys are heading off for a year, or for however long it is you get addicted to exploring Australia for 🙂 It’s been a truly emotional roller coaster for us, as far as selling our business, parting with everything and finding our way to a better, more free, calm life.
    We did the same, sorted, donated, threw out and ended up keeping things that we really will end up getting rid of now the move is over.
    None of it has been easy, and we’re still not quite where we want to be, but nothing feels better than knowing that our backyard is the entirety of the country 🙂
    Hope to catch you guys on the road, and can’t wait to see what you get up to!

    1. I really can’t wait to have nature as our backyard. It’s all I think about and will be so happy when it arrives in 2 weeks! Yay. Hope to see you on the trip too!

  10. Don’t have much experience in long term travel and packing for it but we had to move into the “rentals” home while we organise ourselves (long story…) and are limited to a small bedroom, it is always full of rubbish! Every Sunday I tidying up to get ready for the next week and go through a few boxes, throw out a heap of stuff and think I don’t want to do that again .. yet the next Sunday rolls up and I have to do the same thing. I have no idea how we accumulate so much rubbish! I would hate to have to go through everything if we were travelling full time. I might just throw it all away!! I’m forever going through everything, feeling guilty when I give away/sell or throw something away, each thing seems to have a memory attached!

    1. IT always feels as if it grows out of the walls. We’ve been decluttering for weeks and it still doesn’t look like we have done anything. I’m over it!

  11. These are some really great tips even if you’re not traveling. It’s never good to hold onto bad memories, etc.

    Getting really excited to read all about your road trip!

  12. Awesome tips Caz and Craig. Packing and losing the possessions has always been a freeing experience for me. Coming back from New Zealand, I didn’t have much besides what could fit in the backpack, im but I have accumulated some things while back in the US. The biggest is my bed, which after a year in hostels was my prized possession. But I’ll have to get rid of, and some other things, before leaving to SE Asia in 2 months. And I’m really excited to start packing again 🙂

    1. Oh having a nice bed again is always so lovely. What’s great now is though you’ve learned how to easily pass these things on instead of staying attached. The beauty of travel.

  13. Great tips here. While I do not plan to move for a while I will make sure to bookmark this page for the future. Sorting and organizing is something I am good at already. I buy stuff to resell on eBay, so that will be easy.

    Learning to detach myself from somethings will be hard though. I have so many childhood memories with so many different items it will be hard to determine what to keep and what to throw away. I’ll have to figure it out once that time comes.

    Great post!

  14. Great tips guys, really nicely laid out and structured! We were away for a year last year, and after 4 months back we’ll be heading off again so going through the same packing up process again! This time I think we will actually get rid of some stuff instead of simply putting into ‘storage’ (read: parents house!).

    Thanks for sharing!

  15. I take pictures of things so I can keep the memory and give the things a new life with someone else. DIGITAL pictures, of course 😉

  16. Really, really excellent tips! I went through this process over a long period of time about 2 years ago when I was living semi-nomadically, but still have stuff stored at my mother’s house. She’s now moving house while I’m away and will move what little of my stuff remainds at her house to my partner’s mother’s house and no doubt when I get back there to sort it myself, I’ll find all kinds of rubbish I didn’t need to keep. The way I see it: if I’ve been parted from it for a year and I didn’t remember I still had it and/or didn’t miss it, I probably don’t need it…so I’ll be following through these stages again in a few months when we return to Europe!

  17. Awesome post! And great timing. My husband and I are doing a working holiday in Australia for a year leaving mid October. We are in the process of deciding what to bring and what to leave behind along with de-cluttering. Maybe we’ll see you there while you are on your journey around the country 🙂

  18. I agree with your packing steps. Getting rid of things was actually easy for me. Not so much deciding what to keep… The whole process took more than a year and it was exhausting! So I’d only add, give yourself time for de-cluttering, minimizing, and packing. As for the Keep box(es), make it, then go through it again in 6 months, then again at least once more. You may be amazed how much smaller the box gets.

  19. reservationresources

    Imagine that storage facilities that rent locker space are found world-wide because sure are all over USA. Problem is that it’s too easy to lose track of what’s in a storage locker because they are typically not that close to home plus they can be a big money waster if just paying for items in storage. So try to avoid them if possible by keeping things simple and minimizing number of items stored using methods that you and comment writers suggest.

    If coming to major USA city, might want to rent a low cost short term rental room or apartment at http://www.reservationresource.com.

  20. Remembering to label the boxes is key. I think it’s ok to put stuff in storage and then come back as some point and try to pare it back further.

    I find it hard not to accumulate duplicate kitchen stuff e.g. end up buying a new can opener on the road.

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