Franca receiving a present - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

I have never been a shopaholic, I tried to avoid shopping altogether because I thought it was boring (I still do), unless what I was searching for was something I cared about.

I remember I used to go to my favourite music shop every Saturday and came out with at least one CD (usually more, especially if there were special offers). I didn’t mind spending money on the music of the bands I loved or was hoping to learn more about. Bookshops too have also always been a dangerous place for me to go to, I’d often buy more books than I had the time to read. I don’t like shopping but somehow I used to collect so many objects and little things that would remind me of a particular moment of my life. I even collected receipts from trips on which I’d sometimes made notes because I thought losing them would make the memory fade with time.

I always had way more than I needed, shoes I wore once and never used again. Clothes that I’d worn in my teenage years and had kept in the hope that they’d fit again. The worst was when I was at university, away from home for the first time with a whole bedroom all to myself to fill up with whatever I wanted to. In fact, I think I still have boxes at my parents house filled with things I collected during those years that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of.

Franca shopping for trousers in Taiwan - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

Shopping for trousers in Taiwan

Are Possessions Important?

Why were physical possessions so important to me? Did I need to collect so much stuff?

I have to admit that I improved a little with time, and when I moved to the UK I didn’t take much with me, mostly because it wouldn’t have been so easy to do so. Somehow I ended up collecting far more than I needed again, and given I had seven years in which to build up a whole new collection of stuff, it was easily done.

When I moved in with Dale our quantity of ‘stuff’ doubled, we didn’t have much, but we surrounded ourselves with the few things we liked and cared for the most. I enjoy cooking, for instance, so I kept buying tools that enabled me to make whichever Jamie Oliver recipe took my fancy that day.
Dale would keep buying plenty of CDs, DVDs, and games for his games console. Neither of us thought were that crazy about shopping, and though we didn’t buy much, somehow our collection just kept growing.

It was only when we decided to save to go travelling that I realized how much we could have done without. We stopped buying “unnecessary” things, cut out so many subscriptions and began to find other ways to enjoy life. We had to if we wanted to save, our desire to travel demanded it.

At that point I didn’t know why I was particularly attached to my possessions, some of which I had for far too long. I couldn’t ever bring myself to let them go, I managed to always find a reason to keep them. That top that I still had since I was 15, was so small I could barely fit one arm in it, but every time I came across it I kept saying to myself that I might become skinny again one day and be able to wear it, so it stayed in the wardrobe on the pile of the rest of the clothes I hadn’t worn for years. No matter how good my intentions were, there was always something that would convince me somehow to keep my stuff.

Then about a couple of weeks before we needed to leave the house to go travelling, I had to face what I had been trying to put off for days. We didn’t have the budget to keep our possessions in storage so we had no option left, we had to get rid of them. I started to go through my things, from the least important to the ones with the most value to me. I had to force myself to accept the fact that there were no more excuses to be found, I couldn’t keep them, not any more. Amongst the piles were some items I’d forgotten buying and I clearly didn’t mind giving them away, but some others were incredibly precious to me, but I did it. We both did. We sold what we could and we gave the rest to charities or friends.

Packing my possessions - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

Packing my possessions before we started travel long-term

It was one of the most difficult things I had to go through before travelling, separating myself from everything I’d always loved and collected for years. Selling memories so that we could make new ones in another country, another continent. To step into the unknown and start an adventure of which neither of us were sure what to expect or what we’d go through.

Everything happened so quickly. I remember the last week before our rental contract ending being so stressful that on the last day in our flat we were sitting cross legged on the stairs and eating from paper plates because we had nothing else left. It hit me that I had nothing else left, that all my possessions were gone, and this time forever. I had a funny feeling, my stomach shrank with the realisation that a part of me was gone, in truth at that moment I felt quite sad.

Finally The Realization

It has been more than 2 years now since that day and I cannot help feeling so stupid for being so upset about letting go of my possessions. We have been travelling the entire time with just our backpacks, never buying any souvenirs, only buying new clothes when the last ones were threadbare and as full of holes as Swiss cheese.

Franca’s new shoes - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

Only recently did I buy my first new pair of shoes after 28 months of travelling. I’m not looking for an award for that, but I feel that it’s a symbol of how much travelling has completely changed my view about possessions, that it has made me more minimalist, or the closest I can be to it. I’m quite sure that if I look into my bag there are plenty of things I could still do without and manage perfectly fine.

Experience Before Everything Else

Freeing ourselves from our possessions has enabled me to experience more. I’m far more focused now on what experiences or new food I could try in a country for the same price of so many CD’s we bought before travelling. I’d much rather keep the same tattered wardrobe of clothes in my backpack until they’re unwearable, instead of buying a “Same Same” t-shirt in Thailand or a pair of flowing trousers in Istanbul.

Walking on a bridge in Luang Prabang, Laos - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

The Feeling of Freedom

Owning nothing more than the contents of my backpack has freed me both physically and mentally.

There’s a saying that “The more possessions you own, the more they own you”. Having seen both sides of the coin I can’t help but agree with it. My possessions we’re a limitation to my freedom. Once I let them go I had nothing else left to worry about, to return to, to look after and to manage. They didn’t “control” my mind any more. I’ve never felt so incredibly liberated, free, or lighter. Embracing a life of travelling with very little to carry and worry about made me appreciate minimalism and minimal living.

"Franca with her backpack on at Berlin’s train station - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

More Happy, More Dreams

Having less has given me more happiness than I could have ever dreamed. It enabled me to focus more on my dreams and making them come true, like my current life or perpetual travel. When I was getting rid of my possessions I soon realized that I wasn’t so attached to the physical objects themselves, but more to the memories they awoke in me. Owning less also means having more money to spend on other things that are now more important for me, plus it’s also taught me a deeper value of self control in relation to shopping, always asking myself, “Is this necessary? Will this enhance my life in any way?”. Now I only buy things I need through necessity alone, and not through desire.

Freeing myself from my possessions helped me to evolve more my sense of self. What I own now can clearly tell you which kind of person I have become which I like to believe is more real than the Franca that months ago was hiding herself behind all her stuff, stuff that most of the time was barely even used.

Travelling helped me to realize that I don’t need much to be happy and that I’m better off without all the possessions I used to own. ‘Things’ are replaceable, memories are not. I’d rather have a backpack full of memories that a bookcase full of ‘stuff’.

Franca looking the river in Nikko, Japan - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

Did Travelling Make Me A Minimalist?

In my eyes, no. I wouldn’t say that I’m a completely minimalist. I don’t have much, but there are some items in my backpack that – in my eyes – I’d have to remove to really be true to minimalism. I’d have to remove my laptop, the camera, the few paperbacks that I carry, but I simply don’t want to.

For me, minimalism is about letting go of those parts of your surroundings that don’t make you who you are. Travelling these past two years makes me who I am today. The possessions before may have contributed to that in some way, but the memories associated with them are far more important.

Franca people watching at a Berlin market - How Travel Made Me More Minimal

I’d like to think that one day – when and if we will ever have a place somewhere we can call home again – I won’t be that person that starts surrounding herself with new possessions. I think travelling has changed me and helped me to understand what I need and what I can do without, but I’m still way too far from being a “true minimalist” in the eyes of some.

Do you try to be more minimal with your life?