The Freedom of Travel vs. The Paralysis of Stuff

Valuing Options Over Possessions

I have a confession to make: There are things I miss about a stationary life.

Once upon a time I had a four story house, with three bedrooms, an office, a purpose built school room lined with books and fun things, an enormous basement playroom, a dining room table that seated 12 in a pinch, 10 with elbow room. My bedroom was 22 feet long. We had two vehicles, a piano, a TV, washer and drier set, and the kitchen of my dreams. Truly. I designed it. Our life was very comfortable. We were very happy. Life was very, very good.

Just like that, we locked the door and walked away.

Want to experience the freedom that is long-term travel?
Want to experience the freedom that is long-term travel?

Now, my life is about making do, and everything I need in daily life fits into my backpack. I buy nothing I’m not willing to carry with me. I have one pair of shoes, three sets of clothing, and little more.

Seems like an odd trade to make, doesn’t it? From everything a girl could want and the “perfect life,” to perpetual discomfort and minimal possessions? I loved my house. I loved everything in it. I loved my beautiful property, surrounded by state forest that went on forever. I loved the comforts that a decade of hard work had afforded us.

But there is something I love more.

Seems like an odd trade to make, doesn’t it? From everything a girl could want and the “perfect life,” to perpetual discomfort and minimal possessions?

 

Can I tell you a story or two?

House during Christmas

It was a cold afternoon in January, almost two years ago, when the phone rang. Strangely, as it rang, I knew who was on the line and what the question would be.

“My Dad is sick, he’s in the hospital, he was supposed to go with me to pick up the boys, but now he can’t, and I don’t know what to do… or who to call… you’re the only other person I know with a passport… will you go to the Ukraine with me and help me bring home my babies?”

I laughed. I was leaving for Edmonton, Canada in two days and flying to Iceland for a mini-honeymoon with The Man right after that.

“Well, I guess I can fly straight from Iceland and meet you there – hold on while I change my ticket!”

Thus began the biggest adventure of my life to date: helping my friend bring her adopted sons across continents to their new home.

You see, for me, the ability to say, “Yes!” to the serendipities the universe sends my way is more important than having lovely things around me.

Jade contacted me last August: “Have you ever considered walking the Camino de Santiago?” she asked.

“Erm… lemme Google that,” was my nice way of saying, “No I haven’t, and I’ve no idea what you’re talking about!”

Turns out it’s her lifetime dream to walk it, and she wants to do it for her fortieth birthday. She wanted to know if I would go with her. It didn’t take me long to decide. We’re hiking this coming June; it will take us a month.

Freedom

Walking with my son

You see, for me, the ability to say, “Yes!” to the serendipities the universe sends my way is more important than having lovely things around me. Houses are hard work. Stuff is expensive and time consuming to maintain. There are people who have the wherewithal to maintain two lives – keeping their home and still traveling freely, but we’re not among them. We simply couldn’t afford to have it both ways, and so a choice had to be made.

We simply couldn’t afford to have it both ways, and so a choice had to be made.

At the end of the day, investing in memories and experiences is more important to us than investing in things, and so it was with an open hand that we let go of our “stuff” and turned our faces to the world. It’s not a choice everyone would make. It’s not everyone’s dream, but it continues to be ours.

Two weeks ago we touched down in North America after a 19 month wander through Southeast Asia and Oceania. Re-entry is always jarring, and the full body plunge back into one’s own culture is, on the one hand, refreshing, and on the other hand, a serious wake up call.

I forget, sometimes, what it means to be North American. I forget what excess in every arena looks like. I forget what the all consuming pressure towards the “American Dream” feels like. The television commercials leading up to Black Friday were appalling to me.

Did you see the one where they were singing “Buy, buy, buy…” instead of Jingle Bells? Did you see the news Saturday, and that there were people killed again this year in the press to get to the “good stuff?” I forget that there are people who buy into that mentality. I’d like to think that they’re the exception, not the rule… and in my friend set, they certainly are… but overall? I don’t know.

Maybe I’m weird (okay, I know I’m weird; humor me) but to my way of understanding, this is how it breaks down:

  • More stuff = more maintenance= more work & more time & more money invested
  • More stuff = less money
  • More stuff = more obstacles to move
  • More stuff = a need to work more (to keep the money coming in to get and maintain your stuff)
  • More stuff = more shit to worry about
  • More stuff = less time (because you’re working for the $$ and you’re maintaining it)

What are the two biggest obstacles to long term travel that most people cite inside the first five seconds of a conversation?

Time and money.

What’s tying up their time and money?

Stuff.

The solution seems simple enough to me. Stop right there. I hear you formulating your hate mail.

Here’s what I’m NOT saying:

  • I’m not saying having stuff is bad.
  • I’m not saying owning a big house in the ‘burbs is somehow less of a dream than travel.
  • I’m not saying you shouldn’t go Black Friday shopping (but for god’s sake don’t trample anyone over a toy)
  • I’m not saying you’re “wrong” for buying into the system if that’s what you want to do.
  • I’m not saying that one lifestyle is better than another.

I’m just saying that for me, I’d rather have options than possessions.

  • I’d rather be able to say, “Yes,” on a whim to my friend’s request for help
  • I’d rather be able to spend a month building someone else’s dream adventure
  • I’d rather touch my kids feet to each continent while I have them
  • I’d rather pick which European country to call our base for this spring than pick out new flooring (for about the same price!)
  • I’d rather have the freedom than the pretty things. My pretty things are my memories.

So here’s the thing: last week was Thanksgiving and we’re staring down the end of the year. It’s a good time of year to review, to take stock, to make plans, and maybe a few resolutions.

Perhaps this holiday season, instead of buying loads of stuff, you would be happier investing in your dream.

The odds are good, if you’re hanging out on BootsnAll, that you’ve got a little itch in your soul that’s begging to be scratched with a nice long wander through the world.

What’s holding you back?

Are you stuck instead of living your dream? Perhaps this holiday season, instead of buying loads of stuff, you would be happier investing in your dream. Perhaps it’s time to take back the reins of your own life, stop doing it “their” way just because that’s how it’s always been done, and start living intentionally in small ways, every day, building your dream.

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One way to jumpstart that process is to change your paradigm and start putting the Indie Travel Manifesto into practice by making choices that will place options over possessions.

What about you? What’s your dream? Which do you value more, and why? Comment below to share your thoughts.

Read more about valuing the freedom of travel vs. collecting stuff:

 

manifesto - options over possessions

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Leave a Comment

  • Lisa Morales said at 2013-12-06T00:36:37+0000: Wow. I was brought to this article by @miro and #Lanie. I am walking the Camino Norte in June, with my 10 year old. I hope I see you.
  • Vagabond Travel said at 2013-12-25T18:46:42+0000: A fantastic article. Not exactly my story but close enough I had to tweet and FB post it.
  • Renee Lo Iacono said at 2013-12-04T19:05:22+0000: Hi Jennifer, lovely article. I think a lot of people come to that point where accumulating more stuff isn't as exciting anymore and they would rather have more freedom to live and travel. As you said it's not bad to have the nice house and nice car, just sometimes our priorities change. Similarly, a few years ago I decided to buy a oneway ticket to Argentina. I loved packing up everything I owned into a 17lb backpack and making decisions like, "Should I go North or South today?" It was nice to have that type of freedom for a few years and I cherish every moment I spent traveling like that. Now, I live in Spain and am building a life here because my priorities have once again changed. I want a little stability and the comforts that come along with having a home. Neither lifestyle is better or worse, just different. The good thing is that at any moment we have the power to choose the lifestyle that is best suited for us.
  • Rhonda Fazio said at 2013-12-05T02:35:00+0000: Nice article my fellow North American. We aren't weird, just abnormally normal. ;D
  • Rose Godfrey said at 2013-12-04T19:19:33+0000: Needed this today.
  • Colleen Friesen said at 2013-12-18T19:24:18+0000: Well said! Thank you for this fabulous post (and yes, yes, yes (!) the whole Black Friday thing is appalling).
  • Shara Maso said at 2013-12-06T03:45:15+0000: Wow, this so connected with me! I couldn't stand to listen to those horrible commercials, the same one I loathed! My dream is to travel the world with my twin daughters. Since they are such home bodies, i wonder how they will be effected by a drastic change. I think about it EVERY day. Where do we start, when do we start, but mostly HOW THE HELL DO I GET RID OF ALL MY CRAP!! Well, most of it is not crap, I own nice things that I take very good care of. The thought of getting rid of "things" that I have taken such good care of is sad. Will I ever be able to let go??
  • Erika Andresen said at 2013-12-04T18:17:13+0000: What a great read! My family and I just landed in Uganda for a few months for many of the same reasons you stated. Our boys are 4 and 7 and our hope is to provide them with precious memories, incredible experiences and a different outlook on just how free and fun life can be!
  • Monet Tiran said at 2013-12-04T15:11:51+0000: What a wonderful article!! I relate 100% and I call my way of doing "Loosing excess baggage". www.anomad4life.com