Travel Rule: Buy Something, Throw Something Away

Derek Travel Tips & Advice 10 Comments

It took me 20 minutes this morning to find the charger for my cell phone. I had to sift through my big backpack, another small backpack and a whole pile of crap that I had stuffed into two corners of my bedroom.

As I was digging around, I had to lower my head in shame. It occurred to me that lately, I have failed to adhere to one of the most important rules that I follow when traveling.

Located somewhere around Page 3, Section B, Paragraph 1, in my imaginary personal travel manual, this all-important rule (The Freedom of Traveling Light Rule) is stated as such:

“In order to avoid complications resulting from the accumulation of too much ‘stuff’ while traveling, you are hereby required to throw or give away one item from your backpack every time another item is accumulated, whether purchased, found, received as a gift, won in a contest or flat-out stolen.”

There are far too many travelers out there struggling to move from place to place because they are carrying around extra backpacks full of useless stuff. I used to do it too. In fact, I once lugged a 5-foot long handmade sword around Spain for two weeks.

The aim of the “obtain something, get rid of something” rule is to ensure that you always maintain the freedom associated with traveling lightly by forcing yourself to only acquire things you truly want, need or can afford. You’ll certainly think twice about buying that miniature wood-carving of the Taj Mahal or that Mayan Gods-themed chess set if you must get rid of something in your backpack in accordance with this strict rule.

And if you do end up buying the multi-colored Thai-style triangular floor pillow, well, you’ll just have to throw away a belt or hat or pair of jeans. There’s simply no way around it.

My favorite part about this rule is that it also proves that possessions aren’t really so important after all. Usually, by the next day, I can barely even remember what ‘dear possession’ I tossed out or what ‘cool souvenir’ I decided not to buy in the end. There’s a valuable lesson in that.

So back to this morning…after finding my phone charger, I immediately set out to re-gain the balance that I’d recently lost. I got rid of about a dozen things to make room for the sarong, nail clippers, Mexican wrestling mask, Spanish-English dictionary, etc. that I’ve obtained over the past month.

Now all of my belongings fit nicely into my one main backpack again and I’m back to being a completely free and mobile nomad. It’s a feeling I can’t describe, knowing that my possessions in no way inhibit me from deciding to go somewhere new. I can quickly pack up and be ready to go in minutes if I should so desire (or if the sound of approaching sirens forces me). It is without a doubt a major aspect of my freedom.

Here are a few tips:

Tip #1: Instead of throwing things away, try giving them away. Almost anything you have will be useful to someone else and you’ll feel much better about letting it go.

Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to get creative, especially in the beginning.  For example, if you buy a new t-shirt, just throw away one sock. You won’t feel like you’ve lost too much and you’ll have another sock to toss the next time you obtain something. (Sure, you could theoretically buy a bongo and only throw away a shoelace, but things tend to even out in the long run despite any differences in size.)

Tip #3: If you want immediate liberation, I suggest buying a small souvenir (i.e. keychain) and then giving away the largest item in your backpack (i.e. jacket or towel). You might experience some extreme nausea at first, but you’ll get over it and you’ll soon feel the liberation you deserve.

Whether you’re already out there on the road or about to start an adventure, be sure to give this rule a try…and don’t forget to let me know how it goes…

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Comments 10

  1. HP

    Hey Earl, I’ve been reading loads of your posts and came across this today, and I have a question for you: When you first started your travels 14 years ago, what did you do with your possessions? DVDs, books, CDs, and any other minor things. Did you sell them, give them away, put them in storage, convince a friend to put them in their attic?

    Again, I’m really enjoying the blog, and also picking up some great tips.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey HP – I didn’t have much at all at the time since I started traveling right after university. So all I did was pack my stuff into 2 boxes, left them at my mom’s house and that was it.

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  5. Elizabeth

    I will definetley give it a shot as I normally end up after a few months of travelling carrying around 60 pounds somehow! (My back thanks you in advance! hehehe)

  6. AngellineM

    Hey Earl, I’ll be packing next weekend for our upcoming trip to Puerto Vallarta (maybe I’ll see you in Sayulita)…anyway this blog has helped me re-think my packing plans. I will pack with the thought of any chacharas I buy in PV must include the rule of giving something away that I brought with me from home.

  7. Adrian

    I would love to hire a personal simplifier – someone who makes the gut wrenching decision for me – as to what gets tossed and what stays. I’ve simplified my pack several times, yet it seems to be chocked with stuff. Hmmm – i think its those damn used bookstores. Why is Adrian carrying around 10 books?

    I’ll start there.

    Thanks for the reminder – I need to travel lighter.

  8. Ben

    I do this with people, too. Every time I make a friend, I get rid of another one. It’s mostly symbolic, but actually erasing them from my address book makes it oh so real.

    In this sense, you have to treat family like sarongs. It’s never appropriate to get rid of them, or to let anything get between the two of you.

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