This year marks our third year of traveling and working abroad. If you had told me in 2011 that I would be writing this article while sitting in sunny Sucre, Bolivia with a view of the stunning Andes, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
When we left the UK, our initial plan was to go to Cambodia for some voluntary work for six months. But as some of you may know, due to some unexpected but very welcome work opportunities, six months in Cambodia turned into two years, and thereafter we set sail to South America where we find ourselves now.
With hindsight, it is difficult to understand why I was so worried about taking that leap in the first place, knowing what I know now. However, when you have an interesting job with the UK government, great colleagues, a lovely house, and great friends and family, taking such a big step is not easy. I remember to this day how panicky I was about packing all of our stuff away. When you have a three bedroom house you accumulate quite a lot of random stuff. Had we known that we were going to stay in Cambodia for two years beforehand we probably would have just taken a lot of our things with us and used an international removalist. However as we didn’t and as we couldn’t possibly have kept everything anyway we sold some of our stuff, gave away other belongings to charity shops, but also put some of our belongings into storage.
While it felt stressful at the time, because we didn’t know if we would have to do the same thing in reverse just six months later, it was also a great sense of relief. We were one step closer to living a life with only a few basic possessions that we could fit in our backpacks. We no longer had a car, I didn’t have a wardrobe full of clothes I never wore or a drawer full of cosmetics I never used, and I no longer owned anything that wasn’t useful on a day-to-day basis.
Even though we lived in the same flat in Cambodia for two years, we managed to avoid the temptation to accumulate a lot of stuff. For the whole two years we had just two plastic cups, two plastic bowls, two sets of cutlery, and a pot and pan left behind by the previous tenants. On top of that we had just enough clothes to get us through a full week – which I wore for two years straight until they had so many holes in them that I was more than happy to bin them – toothbrushes, a camera, and a few other knick knacks such as sun cream and anti-malarials for occasional trips into the field. When we left Cambodia we left our few kitchen-based possessions in our flat for the next tenants and everything else went back into our two 65l backpacks – with room to spare.
The sense of freedom you feel when you don’t own a lot is perhaps hard to describe if you haven’t experienced it, but it is a new lifestyle I wouldn’t change for the world. I don’t have to worry about buying the latest pair of Jeans, my 50th pair of shoes, or yet another nail polish I never use. For me moving abroad and living a lifestyle like this meant starting a simpler life but it also made me realize that for me it is more important to see the wonders of the world, rather than owning a flashy car or lots of jewelry.
How about you? Are you able to live with just a few possessions and, as my ex-military husband always says, ‘travel light, be fit to fight’ – or do you instead subscribe to the alternative maxim, ‘travel light, be cold at night’!?