For the past week I’ve been pretty busy, so there haven’t been any blog updates. I’m expanding one of my affiliate sites to other countries. I think there are some profitable, yet untapped markets out there, of which I want to take advantage. So I’m working on a strategy for that, and hiring people to make it happen. Exciting times!
I also had a CouchSurfer staying over: Sunny from Taiwan. She was my first guest in my new flat in Budapest, and it was great to host her. Two months earlier she had taken leave from her job, and embarked on a seven-month journey through Europe and South-America. We talked a lot about travelling, it pleasures and drags, and how to deal with the limitations of luggage.
Measure and weigh
It turned out that Sunny is an even more rigorous packer than I am. Her whole outfit for seven months fitted into a carry-on-size backpack that weighed less than 12 kg. That included a laptop, toiletries, and some medicine (stuff that is notoriously heavy when travelling). When I asked her how she managed to travel so light, she told me: “I measure and weigh every item I pack“.
Her t-shirts would come in at 80 grams each. Underwear would be enough for a week, but no longer. Her camera weighed less than a cell phone, and was old enough to be tossed if necessary. She had measured out 80 ml. of soap for the journey before leaving home. That was the amount that she was comfortable carrying and could take on board a plane. If she’d need more, she would buy it on the road.
For each item Sunny had literally weighed the burden of carrying it against the benefits of having it. This was definitely one step further in travelling light than I have taken. I would always carefully decide if I needed a certain item, but then just pack the type that I could get my hands on. For example, I have carried 250 ml. shampoo and shower gel bottles around Southeast-Asia, or 500g. bags of pasta through the Swiss Alps. Just because that’s what happened to be available in the grocery store.
Of course, all those heavier-than-necessary items add up, and at some point I ended up hauling way too much luggage. In Switzerland it got me a minor knee injury. In Asia I ended up cursing my backpack in the 37 degree humid heat. Sunny’s method of packing can help you take that extra step towards a super-light backpack, which will still be sufficient wherever you end up on your journey.
Do you want it or do you need it
Another topic of my conversation with Sunny was what to buy and what not to buy. When I told her how all my belongings should fit into two bags and a suitcase, sunny summed it up in one elegant sentence: “You buy what you need, not what you want.” I think that’s a great way of putting it.
There are many things that we want. Western consumerist society and its marketing instruments are designed to make you want more things. It works even on me: whenever I’m in the supermarket, or see a tv commercial, or hear a friend talk about a new gadget he bought, it will often make me want it. It is hard to suppress this desire, and probably quite pointless.
But it is good to ask yourself whether you really need something before you draw your wallet. Will it make your life so much better that you’re missing out if you don’t have a certain item? If the answer is ‘yes’, than you do need it, and you should buy it. If the answer is ‘no’, it is better to stay away. Acknowledge that you want it, but tell yourself that it’s not reasonable to buy it. And I would add: err on the side of caution (i.e. when in doubt, don’t buy).
Of course it is not always obvious whether you need something or just want it. Before I owned a smartphone, I dismissed it as a superfluous toy. After all, I had a normal phone, and anything more advanced I could do on my laptop. But after owning an Android phone one for two years now, I realise that it has made my life a lot easier, and that I wouldn’t want to go without one. I did need it after all.
But just reflecting on this makes me understand better what I want and what I need. If you do the same, you can reduce the amount of stuff you have even further, and live a happier, more worry-free life.