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In just a few days, I’ll be setting off on my first long-term travel adventure. The kind of adventure where I don’t own anything besides a 20kg baggage allowance. The kind where I roam all across Europe and Asia for an indefinite amount of time.
I have never been a hoarder, but stuff just accumulates from living in the same place for a while. The dust piles up and somehow you get quite emotionally attached to that postcard your best friend sent you years ago or that trinket you got as a gift but never really liked. I always used to make up excuses along the lines of “that was a present, I can’t throw this away!” or justified the bursting closet with “maybe I want to wear that again one day!” It was hard but eventually I ended up giving it all up and feeling good about it.
Here’s how you can do that too:
1. Get rid of that apartment
Paying for something that you aren’t using is, unless you are filthy rich, not really an option. My old flatmate and I decided to find someone new for her to live with. The process wasn’t easy and it took a few weeks to get everything settled, from placing an ad for the room on a local website to interviewing people, showing them around and then picking someone and organizing everything with the landlord.
The housing market in Zürich is still so dried up that I still remember vividly the desperate process of trying to find an apartment years ago when I first started university. It involved standing outside in huge lines during apartment viewings, the sickening feeling when realizing that once again there were a hundred other people applying for the flat and getting more and more desperate with every new rejection letter. Once I got almost punched in the face when a nasty brawl between a few other applicants broke out over an application form. When I was successful at securing an apartment in a good location after a few months of trying, I swore to never let go of that place. Ever!
Of course, when I had made up my mind to give it up, thoughts along the lines of “what if you want to go back? You will never find a flat like that again!” made their way into my mind. If you know that you will be back eventually, there is always the option of subletting your room, apartment or house, but I personally didn’t want to worry about some apartment half a world away while I’m trying to enjoy myself.
Getting rid of that apartment also involves canceling the cable and internet. Additionally, make sure to terminate all magazine or newspaper subscriptions and mail going to your old apartment. I have set up my permanent residence address at my parents home and the few things I’m still signed up for (government stuff, bank correspondence) will be collected by them. I suggest you do something similar with a person you trust.
2. Trash, Trash, Trash
When you first decide to go travelling long-term, you will soon realize that you own way too much stuff. Apart from a box full of memorabilia (consisting of photos, old school yearbooks, a beautiful wooden jewelry box a friend had gotten me in Nepal and other souvenirs, prized possessions and gifts I had picked up in the past few years) and my beloved books as well as some clothes, I decided to get rid of everything. My parents are graciously storing my few remaining possessions in their attic, but apart from that I will only own what fits in a suitcase for an indefinite amount of time.
To separate the wheat from the chaff, I employed a radical system that served me quite well: I set up a garbage bag (which had to be thrown out and replaced repeatedly), several “to donate” boxes and one single box that would hold the things I decided to keep. I told myself that I was only allowed to fill that one box to force myself to choose wisely and not hold on to unnecessary things.
Several afternoons were spent surrounded by cardboard boxes and knee-deep in old possessions. Often I found myself almost tearing up over throwing away a birthday card or lost hours when I suddenly decided to leaf through an old photo album. I’m not going to lie, it is an emotional process, but at the same time incredibly freeing. It was only after everything was over and the last boxes were donated that I felt like an incredible weight got lifted off me. I hadn’t realized before how much that old and mostly useless stuff had tied me down and that I had desperately held on to such mundane things for way too long.
It was then that I decided that from now on I would start collecting memories and not possessions.
The only, but by far the biggest things I sold, were my pieces of furniture. I admit that I’m just way too lazy to spend all the time required on Ebay selling a couple hundred pieces of junk and yard sales have never caught on in Switzerland. There are flea markets but the effort for me was just too big. Therefore I only sold big and valuable things and gave everything else away for free. Good Karma brought on by laziness 😀
While it is compulsory for all Swiss citizens to have basic health insurance, the insurance system is horribly messy, confusing and frustrating and nobody really seems to get it. There are a million different insurance companies, deductibles, exclusions, limits and supplements. I hope that wherever you are from this stuff is easier, but then again, dealing with insurance companies seems to be a pretty horrible experience anywhere.
I’m not one of those hardcore travelers who decide they can live without it and I’m forced by my country to get the insanely expensive insurance anyway, therefore I had to find the “cheapest” and best option for me. Make sure your insurance covers you worldwide and add travel insurance.