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.
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
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
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.
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:
- 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.
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.
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.
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
- Episode 1: Solo Travel and Working Abroad before we met
- Episode 2: Our 5 year honeymoon living and traveling the world
- Episode 3: The Dark times and Birth of the girls and travel blog
- Episode 4: Embracing Family Travel and our 18 month Australian road trip
- 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?