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How Travel Changed My Relationship With Clothes and Belongings

travel made me a minimalist

After a glorious semester in Italy spent basking in ancient architecture, engorging myself on countless afternoon gelatos, and most importantly, living with just a suitcase of clothes and random belongings, I came home and did something a bit unexpected.

Instead of being excited about the reunion between myself and my closet full of clothes, I felt the exact opposite.

I opened up my big swinging closet doors and instantly felt the weight of dozens of shirts, sweaters, pants and shoes upon my shoulders- shirts, sweaters, pants and shoes that were… not needed, not wanted, not used, and not conducive to the idea that I might head off on European adventures again in the future.

Because the countdown to my next trip was definitely on.

My Reverse Culture Shock After Studying Abroad

I rebelled.

I refused to turn my phone on for a week or so, avoiding both normal life and my friends from back home.

I listened to all my Italian music 24/7 trying to recreate the vibe of the previous months.

I emailed with all my new study abroad friends, reminiscing the good times. 

And I cleared out my room, feverishly dumping anything and everything I felt like wasn’t useful or worthwhile. A downsizing story worth talking about here, even if it wasn’t around packing for a trip.

Bags, boxes and bins of things all got the cut.

minimalist wardrobe

The Purge: Minimizing My Belongings at Home

Now it’s not like I was a fashion queen (like this girl) or girly girl of any sort, but I also wasn’t someone who was concerned with my over-accumulation of clothes and things in general. But at this point in time, I purged like I had never purged before. 

And it felt freeing.

I’m sure part of this had to do with my want to feel control over my life and situation when all I really wanted was to be thousands of miles away from home still. The denial that my long-awaited semester abroad had ended was strong.

Another part was definitely the fact that, and I remember saying it out loud:

“I lived for the past few months with nothing but this one suitcase of clothes. And I was fine. I don’t need all of this stuff.”

I began to see things very differently.

Not only was I redefining my concept of need in my normal life, but I was also minimizing in order to make myself more mobile. I was setting myself up to be able to hit the road to travel once again without having too much stuff weighing me down.

Because I definitely was planning to get my butt back to Europe as soon as possible!

Travel Made Me Minimalist and Being Minimalist Helped Me Travel

That’s how this all began, really: my future travels around the world, my obsession with living life with only what I need, the seed of both minimalism and wanderlust that would eventually grow into Her Packing List.

It all began when I returned home from my semester in Italy nearly 16 years ago.

It’s so interesting to look back at this period of my life and see where I’ve traveled since, both figuratively and metaphorically. Even the way I set up my home over the years has been dictated by my wanderlust and the reminder of what I actually need to survive on if I were out exploring the world.

Travel helped make me a minimalist, and being minimalist has helped me to travel- and to do so while packing ultralight.

This is the story of how travel completely changed my relationship with clothes and belongings, for the better.

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Written by Brooke

Brooke Schoenman runs the show at Her Packing List. Inspired from years of travel experience, Brooke decided there needed to be a travel gear site focused on the needs of a wandering female.

Add your voice & leave a comment!

Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Lola says

    Hi Brooke!
    Thanks for your article. Last August, I felt exactly the same. I was kind of happy to be back to France, in my room, sleeping in my own bed after more than 11 months, but I realized I survived with what I packed for my study abroad in Seattle and that I didn’t miss any of my belongings I left home. So same.. I did a big cleaning! I think it’s good not to be attached to things too much if you like traveling. It makes it easier to pack and leave things behind (even though I can get attached to some clothes sometimes 😉 )
    cheers!

    • Brooke says

      That’s a very similar experience, Lola! It’s also good to have fewer things in your life because you actually use them more often and get your money’s worth 🙂

  2. Tammy P says

    I loved this!!!! I keep avoiding the growing mound of shoes and STUFF I keep meaning to try on or pair up.. it’s almost as though it is robbing from me! I need to set myself free soon!

  3. Sarah says

    I just got back from a two and a half week trip to Europe, and I’m in the middle of purging everything now as a result of living out of a backpack for that time. It’s nice to have more variety in clothing and shoe choices, but I’ve definitely realized I don’t need everything I have. It’s a really freeing feeling!

  4. Stef_D says

    Nice article! I can also recommend selling the purged items via online auction to help fund your next adventure. I’ve been doing this to help fund my upcoming trip to Hawaii & SF, and the money I’ve raised so far has already paid for my AirBnB stays!

  5. Natasha says

    I’ve been watching lots of minimalist videos the past few months and I’ve been slowly purging for the past few years but have only started to get close to where I want to be recently. I’m planning a 2 week trip to Belgium later this year and planned the clothes I’ll be taking way in advance. Since making my list I have almost ignored all my other clothes because I just don’t need or like them as much as my travel capsule wardrobe.

    • Brooke says

      Well that’s a good sign that you’re packing smart if you love everything you picked for the capsule wardrobe more than your normal wardrobe! 🙂

  6. Ashley says

    Oh man, haven’t we all been there!? The first thing I did after returning from Asia was purge 16 (16!!!) big black garbage bags of stuff from my apartment. STUFF weighs you down! 😉

  7. Heather Sinclair says

    Hi Brooke,
    That is so *exactly* how I felt after living abroad for two years! I came home and at first it was like Christmas: my stuff! my stuff! I have…so much stuff.
    In the past year I’ve sold off, donated, consigned, recycled, and given away most of my things. You are so right about it being freeing: no looking at a stuffed-full closet, no worrying about where to store my crap while I’m away, no wondering where things are because I don’t have much.
    I wrote a post about it too, on my blog. It’s about how to start becoming minimalist.
    Keep going! You’re on the right path!

  8. Lotta says

    Interesting! I’ve also been thinking a lot about owning less since my two weeks with only a 16l backpack last September. I decided to do a no buy year (with a few exeptions) this year, cleaned out my wardrobe and am actually listening to Marie Kondo’s tidying book to get more ideas! And I’m someone who loves my stuff and have hobbies that require tools! But I also love to travel and would like to do more of it, and going ultra light was such a revelation. I just had no idea this was a common reaction to packing lighter!

    • Brooke says

      I love Marie Kondo! She makes being neat and tidy look so easy, and I’ve used a lot of her teachings to redo my home life. 16L travels is a big achievement – congrats!

      • Lotta says

        Yes! I really liked her series on Netflix, and the audiobook is really good as well! I don’t know that I will go full Konmari, but I’m reconsidering so much. And I don’t think I’m ever going back to huge suitcases.

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