The Freedom of Travel vs. The Paralysis of Stuff
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.
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.
But there is something I love more.
Can I tell you a story or two?
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.
“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 hiked it in June.
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’ve spent much of the last year 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 TV commercials are appalling. The continual battle cry of consumerism being trumpeted from every screen in every communal space, from living room to gas pump.
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?
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: This month is 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.
[quote]“Perhaps this holiday season, instead of buying loads of stuff, you would be happier investing in your dream.”[/quote]
[section]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?
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.
Read more about valuing the freedom of travel vs. collecting stuff:
- Give Memories, Not Things: Using Travel to Celebrate Milestones
- Why You Should Forgo the American Dream and Let Travel Transform Your Life
- Downsizing Your Life
- 11 Reasons to Stop Dreaming and Start Planning Your RTW Trip
- Read our collection of transformational stories and see how travel has impacted these people’s lives