Everybody always focuses on the “little things” you can do to make it easier to travel, like using soap as your shampoo or using a credit card that gives you miles. Well, here are some of the big ones. These are the tough ones that will really challenge you, but if you can do them, they make the biggest difference.
Cut your hair as short as you are willing to. Why? With shorter hair, you need fewer toiletries and smaller quantities of the ones you do need. That translates to more room in your bag and less weight to carry. Also, short hair can quite easily be washed in a sink, whereas long hair tends to require an actual shower or bath unless you want to start developing dreadlocks. Short hair also tends to be able to go longer without being washed, especially if you have turned the “bedhead” look into an art. I tend to have short hair anyway, but I get it cut even shorter when I go on trips. Before I leave for Mongolia next year I plan on getting it down to only 2-3 inches.
There are multiple reasons for this one. For one, smaller person equals smaller clothes equals more room in your backpack and less weight to carry around. The main reason, though, that I have this one on the list is that if you are thinner, you are much more likely to be able to fit into clothes purchased abroad. One of my big travel secrets is that I tend to pack light and buy more location-appropriate clothing once I’m in the country of my destination. Clothes are almost unanimously cheaper abroad, and it will save you a ton of space. But, people in most of the world are smaller than your average American (even a healthy American), and as such it can sometimes be difficult to fit into clothes made for your average Japanese, South African, or German. By losing weight, you will be more likely to be able to fit into clothes purchased abroad, thus allowing you more flexibility in packing. If you are healthier you will also be less likely to get sick while you’re traveling, and you will be able to enjoy longer days of exploration before you’re completely tired out.
When you don’t have much to tie you to any particular place, you don’t have much to tie you to any particular place! I’m not talking about selling your stuff to pay for your trip; there are tons of folks out there with way more experience with that than I have. It doesn’t matter how you get rid of them: donating, selling, giving away, whatever. Just try to pare down your stuff. One of the most liberating things about my nomadic year was the fact that I could carry my entire life with me in my car. If something went sour with my location, I could just get in my car and go someplace better. When I was in college I had stuff stored there over the summer and thus I always felt like couldn’t take a semester abroad, because then where would my stuff go? By contrast, when I was in Korea, I had almost everything I needed with me (the rest is still in bins at my family house in Texas), and when I considered staying abroad for a second year, my “stuff” didn’t even enter into my considerations.
I love pets. I’ve had approximately 30 over the course of my life, ranging from snakes to rats to dogs. In fact, I have two cats right now (though I also have a non-traveling boyfriend who takes care of them when I’m away). But…the truth is, if you want to be a long-term traveler, you’re going to have to say no to having pets. I cannot stand people who leave animals with disconnected family members for years on end, only to pick them up when they return. I also hate to see someone with rabid wanderlust being chained down by a pet they have to take care of. Unless you have someone else in your household who can take care of the pet while you are away, do not get a pet if you are a traveler. It will only result in heartbreak for one or both of you.
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