I’m a minimalist. To be a long-term traveler you really have to be. I don’t have the space to carry with me all of the modern conveniences I used to have living in the same place for extended periods of time…plus, I have to carry all of my belongings on my back, sometimes moving daily, so having too much makes my backpack awkward, bulky and way too heavy. I’ve met people along the way who bring just about everything (including the kitchen sink) with them, but they’re vacationers. Some will even collect souvenirs, which I must admit I’ve been tempted to do but know that it will very quickly weigh me down.
I also decided 6 years ago that I was going to stop collecting “things”. It happened after a couple incidents really changed my perspective on having too much stuff. The first one wasn’t a big deal, but preemptive to my current lifestyle…it was my very first international trip in 2012. I flew to Berlin and then went with my favorite German to Istanbul. I packed all kinds of things for my 2 weeks away, but by the time I got to my layover in Belgium I felt really embarrassed by how over-prepared I was. My bag was fuchsia pink and completely stuffed full, weighing very close to 50 lbs/23 kgs. Way too much for a two-week holiday! It made an impression on me and I vowed to never make that mistake again (even for my first year and a half trip around the world I started with 40 lbs/18 kgs and lightened up my load along the way).
The second incident that made a crazy impact on my views was later that year when Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast. I had already started my coaching practice and had some flexibility with my schedule, so after such an awful natural disaster I knew I wanted to help as much as I could. I went up with a group one weekend and then coordinated and arranged a group the next (sadly the last weekend they allowed volunteers to participate in rebuilding because of some dangerous issues with mold). I really hadn’t considered before-hand, how terrible things would be, but it was so much worse than I had envisioned. Some homes were flooded 8-10 ft/2.5-3 m above the ground floor, others were pushed off of their foundation, some were completely demolished, parts of neighborhoods suffered from flood damage but were also burnt to the water level after massive fires freely jumped from house-to-house completely uncontained… while yet others had entire floors and walls ripped away exposing the contents of the homeowners belongings…all of the beautiful and perfect “things” which they’d spent their whole lives collecting and lost everything in 1 day.
After trying to gain composure of myself, I got to work. The work was really hard, physical labor. We started with debris removal from homes which survived but had been flooded. We tore up walls and threw out every single thing (including toilets, bathtubs, sinks, etc) in the house under a height of 8 ft/2.5 m from the ground because the flooding waters had mixed with cesspool so everything was swimming in filth and bacteria. The piles of trash were as tall as the homes themselves! Everything had to go. Photographs, memorabilia, furniture, EVERYTHING. I can’t even image what these people must have been experiencing, but as a volunteer I was tortured imagining it!
After those 2 weeks I went home and cleared out more than half of my things and vowed to never collect like that again. However, I didn’t want to give up collecting entirely because collecting can be a really fun hobby! But I decided to collect less disposable substances and more priceless memories, which is when I started collecting 2 things: pictures of funny things I see and PEOPLE.
I collect people from all over the world like I’m collecting baseball cards: who’s good at what position, what are their strengths, what do they contribute to society and my life? I feel really strong that my work in the near future will include many of these people who I’ve been blessed to get to know and become such close friends with, so I treat these relationships as if they’re the most valuable resources I can find on earth! The plus side, I get to meet all kinds of really cool people and experience some really deep and unique bonding experiences with them, which I believe will make a big difference at some point in the future as our lives better fit together once again.