About five years ago I was sitting in my tiny studio apartment in the center of Amsterdam, working as a freelance writer, thinking about how I needed a change.
It was rainy, grey and cold, and I was about six months away from decent terrace-sitting or picnicking-in-a-park weather. I hadn’t seen the sun in days and was practically living in my pyjamas. I was even lacking the energy to lift myself up from my beanbag and walk over to the kitchen to prepare something nutritious.
Then I had a thought: Working remotely meant that I didn’t have to be in any office, and there was no need for me to actually brave the long rainy winter months when I could be somewhere a lot friendlier. I decided then and there to buy a ticket to Nicaragua in Central America and rent out my place for six months.
As my travel date neared, my anticipation grew, but so did my dread to buckle down and pack up my life into boxes to put all my things in storage I didn’t bring on my trip.
I was shocked. Not in a million years did I think I had so many belongings, after only about two years living in this apartment. My frustration grew as I tried to fill my backpack with the things laid out on my bed to bring with me on the trip. I couldn’t even fit half.
As I looked out of my water-stained window that night, a glass of red wine in hand, I realized that I needed to get rid of all the things I didn’t really use and wear anymore. Not wanting to lose momentum, I quickly put my thought into action the following weekend, when I organized a little flea market for people to drop in and buy my stuff for little money.
To my surprise, I didn’t have any problem filling up a few boxes designated for my going-away-sale. I even prepared some coffee and bought a cake and cookies to serve to curious potential shoppers dropping in for a browse.
This event allowed me to reduce my wardrobe by half, earn a little pocket money for my trip and most importantly, it made some students with a tiny budget very happy. I felt truly lighter.
When my travel day arrived, I left Amsterdam with only the most necessary things in tow and an overwhelming desire to spend the next couple of months in the sun. Little did I know that I would not only find sunshine, the most gorgeous views and the most welcoming people in Nicaragua, but also a new habit of living a more conscious life closer to nature.
My six-month adventure eventually turned into ten months away and I didn’t miss anything I didn’t have with me. There was a certain freedom connected to knowing that I could carry all my belongings on my back wherever I went. I also shied away from buying lots of new things as this meant extra weight to lug around and check in.
When I eventually returned to Amsterdam, I noticed that my relationship with my personal belongings had changed. I didn’t want to spend all my free time window-shopping anymore, which always ended up in me buying a few little things because they were cheap. Instead, I’d have picnics with friends, pick up an interesting book or visited the gym for a group class.
When I was out shopping I started asking myself whether I really needed that item or if I just wanted to buy it because it was on sale. Whenever I really had to purchase something, I would try to get a higher quality version that lasted me much longer than its cheap counterpart that needed restocking far too often. Furthermore, I completely stopped my habit of impulse buying and haven’t missed this rush since.
Five years, fifteen countries and countless adventures later, I know that traveling had made me more conscious of what I really want and need in life. When you carry your life in your backpack, you think twice whether that third pair of shoes is really necessary. Discarding things and living a lighter life freed up a lot of energy for experiences and new hobbies and passions.
Today, I no longer struggle when packing my bags as I have fewer things to bring with me.
This, in turn, saves me
a) a lot of back pain having to lug around a huge backpack and
b) money as I don’t have to pay exorbitant fees at the check-in desk anymore for my oversized luggage.
I also kept up the habit of regularly cleaning out my closet, and I give shoes and clothes I no longer wear to charity. I can truly say that traveling turned me into a minimalist. I never looked back.
Originally published at https://nosidebar.com on April 26, 2019.