Less Is More: Is All Your "Stuff" The Reason You Can't Travel?

by Ronnie Charrier

I want to start this off by saying that I don’t care if you travel. I’m not going to tell you that it’s the most transformative experience you’ll ever have or that anyone who doesn’t travel doesn’t truly experience the world. I believe that all people have the right to make their own decisions as long as those choices don't hurt others. This article is for the hundreds of people I’ve come across in my life that say they want to travel, but think that they can’t.

Recently I had a discussion following this question: “How would you spend one week if you magically had no responsibilities and unlimited resources?”

Take a second and think about what you would do.

 
 

 

If you’re like almost everyone that was in that discussion then your answer probably involved some form of travel.

So I asked what I thought was obvious: “Why don’t you do it then?” It seemed like a simple enough thing. Most of the places people talked about traveling to weren’t even that expensive to begin with. If that’s what you would do in this magical world, why aren’t you doing what you can do make that happen in your actual life?

This is a common question that I get a lot: “How do you travel so much?” And the short answer is just “because I do”.

Think about all the reasons that you come up with to stop you from going to the places you want to.

Job, bills, rent, friends, responsibilities, don’t know how, etc., ad nauseum, blah, blah, blah. Look, I’m not saying that any of that isn’t important, and there are plenty of people who have REAL reasons that they can’t go somewhere…. right now. But have you ever stopped to think about whether or not you’re spending more time acquiring stuff that’s tying you down instead of simplifying your life?

Chuck Palahniuk famously wrote in the book Fight Club, that “the things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.” Fight Club isn’t exactly about travel (although I think a lot of travelers enjoyed the “single serving” airplane scene), but rather about one of the underlying issues that stop a lot of people from traveling; America values work over travel.

I hate generalized statements like the one I just made, so let me provide some numbers for you. There are more than 134 countries that have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. is not one them. According to the International Labor Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” If you use the standard 40-hour work week, you find that some of the most productive nations in the world have employees that work between 3 and 12 weeks less than Americans.

Capitalism and popular culture have driven our need for greater consumption and acquisition. The “American Dream” has been overrun by advertisements telling us that we need the latest gadget, or the newest fashions, or the fastest cars. A “buy now, pay later” mentality only feeds this addiction for “more”, fueling an insatiable cycle.

And trust me, I get it.

There was a time in my not-so-distant past that I actually bought a Cadillac Escalade because I wanted to snowboard more. I purchased three snowboards, because, you know, stuff. $100 a week in gas didn’t mean anything to me, to say nothing of the exorbitant car payment and car insurance that I was forking over each month. What did I care? I would just work harder and make more money the next month.

That all happened at the end of my sales career. My sales manager at the time had a favorite saying that went, “I love having sales people who are in debt.” It’s not that he wished something bad upon us, he just understood that debt is a good motivator for two things: First, you will work hard; And secondly, you probably won’t leave.

And there it is.

You. Can’t. Leave.

 
 

Once I quit that job and sold my car and snowboards (Well, I may have kept one), I felt physically and emotionally lighter. It was a scary feeling, and I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. But when I looked around at all the stuff I had accumulated over the years, I knew that something had to change.

So I started selling more stuff. And then more stuff. Anything that seemed to have any value went on eBay. Other stuff went to friends or Goodwill, and the rest was mostly thrown away or packed up into my parent’s basement, where my younger brother often visits if he needs a new t-shirt.

I purchased a one-way ticket to Costa Rica and I had a single backpack that carried more than enough.

I’m not telling you to do the same. But I think everyone from time to time should stop and ask yourself, “do I really need all this crap?”

So try something for me; Sell something this week. It doesn’t have to be your car, but maybe that 5th pair of jeans you own or a necklace that you never wear anymore. Even better yet, if there’s anything you haven’t worn in the past year, pack it up and drop it off at Goodwill. Then see how you feel. Maybe it won't make any difference, but what do you have to lose?

I gave you the short answer earlier to how I travel so much. The long answer is that it’s a state of mind. I haven’t owned a car for years, and other than a dream of one day living in a van, I don’t plan it. I’ve moved to different countries twice in the last 3 years and both times I was able to do so with two bags. That’s it.

For me, if it doesn’t fit into those two bags, then I don’t need it.

 
 

One of the hardest things for me was physical books. I used to have two bookshelves full of them. Now I have a Kindle. It may not have the same elegance as the mini-library that I was acquiring, but one of them I can take with me and the other kept me in one place.

If you want to travel, then just travel. It really can be that simple.


If you're looking for some actual how-to type articles, here are some other inspiring money-saving posts that may find useful: