Packing Up Your Life to Travel Long-Term — The Struggle Is Real


Trying to downsize for traveling long-term isn’t easy. Image by Flickr user Sam Lavy.

Planning for long-term travel is more than organizing finances, transportation, and accommodations. It’s packing up your life and downsizing some of your most treasured possessions.

This is the not-so-glamorous side of travel, and I’m currently in the midst of it. I am getting rid of almost all I own before I embark on a trip abroad. As someone who cried when Tom Hanks lost Wilson during the movie Cast Away, you can begin to understand how hard this process is for me.

The struggle is real.

As I near my departure date with the goal of owning the bare minimum of possessions, panic grows as I attempt to downsize my life to fit into a few small boxes.

To help anyone thinking about picking up her life to go overseas, I wanted to share my own packing process. Or at least share my struggle of packing up 35 years worth of memories and a fully furnished apartment to travel abroad.

Tidying Up as Part of Your Packing Plan

To get started on my downsizing, I focused on easy tasks, like creating separate piles for items that wouldn’t Wilson-level pull at the heartstrings if they got tossed.

Suggested Categories:

  • Junk mail
  • Scraps of paper with scribbles of ideas and quotes
  • Clothes
  • Photos

Once the items were sorted, I found it was a great time to go for a run, organize my sock drawer, and download CDs onto my computer. You know, really important tasks that were an efficient use of my time.

If you’re like me, when you return to the task at hand, you’ll feel proud of your organized piles and will be able to throw away credit card offers and any photos where you look drunk without a second thought.

Shedding the Weight of Memories

Nobody was exactly high-fiving me on productivity at this point.

To help me get motivated, my friend lent me the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by  Marie Kondo. I enthusiastically read the first few chapters and realized I was only procrastinating. I didn’t need to tidy up; I needed to trash half of my belongings.

But how do you throw away 35 years’ worth of journals? How do you let go of souvenirs from life-changing travels?

Well, you don’t. If you find yourself in a similar situation, you call your parents and ask them to come visit and….“Oh, would it also be OK if you took back one or two boxes of important items to keep for just a short while?”

I mean, seriously, how could I possibly throw away all this blackmail material?

travel journals
A lot of cringe-worthy material in these diaries, but I couldn’t part with them. Image by Jill Robinson.

Dropping the Literary Habit

With my treasured possessions safe at my parent’s, it was time to face the real challenge at hand….

I have an embarrassing attachment to jars and hardcover books, so you can probably understand my pain at trying to get rid of these incredibly unique items that I will never be able to find in any other country.

The jars I recycled in a moment of clarity. The books, on the other hand, required a bit more ceremony.

If you are struggling with this step in the process, it’s best to hold each piece of literature and consider, as Kondo suggests in her magical Tidy book, “Does it bring you joy?”

Another helpful question I asked myself was, “Did I even read this book?”

Then make three piles of books:

  • Books you don’t want anyone to know you own
  • Books you would like to give to friends (even though they’re trying to get rid of theirs as well)
  • Books you have to keep to feel complete

After narrowing down my books, I opened a bottle of wine to celebrate. I found it mysterious that my “keep” pile had grown by my second glass while flipping through all the books I had meant to read in the past 12 years.

Books for days
This is after I narrowed down most of my books! Image by Jill Robinson.

Time As the Great Motivator

Nothing creates a sense of urgency like a deadline, especially if this deadline is a one-way ticket to a new country with only three bags in tow.

My limited time left in Chicago has created a sympathetic yet focused understanding of what I truly need. My copy of Siddhartha, while treasured, is not going to be carried from country to country. And, no, of course I don’t need to mail home a Himalayan salt lamp “just in case I’ll need it.”

While this packing process has been ridiculous at times, it’s been a necessary journey in itself. It’s OK that I’ve spent three weeks deciding if I should keep a creepy horse-head mask or lamenting over how I would part with all my herbs and essential oils. The fact that I even have the luxury of choosing to keep or give away a bunch of stuff is a reminder of all I have to be grateful for in my life.

I’ve also realized that my struggle to get rid of my material items is not a reflection of how I value or define my life as a whole. It has been my way of grasping onto the familiar before I embark on this next travel adventure into the unknown.

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10 Tips to Pack Up Your Life For Long Term Travel | Wanderful

Have you struggled with downsizing your life to travel abroad? Share your stories below!


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