We all know the story.
Early 20’s, college educated, taking a year off to travel the world. Backpacking, hostels, train rides, minimal hygiene, maximum experience. Not a care in the world.
We also know another story.
Late 60’s, successful, making up for all of the time they lost working their corporate jobs. Maybe living in a winnebago, maybe traveling abroad. Not a care in the world.
Apparently that 45 year gap in between is reserved for being miserable and having a 401k match. Or something like that.
For a 34 year old, that’s depressing as hell!
10 years ago I said “I can do my work from anywhere,” often acting on that impulse for a two weeks at a time.
Every time I attempted to live that dream full time, something pulled me back. Mortgage, job, relationships, home, stuff, reality.
Two years ago we decided to do something about it, and today I am sharing perspective from my current temporary home on the island of Maui.
Somewhere in between backpacker and retiree
One of my least favorite words is minimalist. To the point that I am almost offended when someone calls me one.
Sure, the past two years of my life have been a period of downsizing, but that was due to a cross country move and a lack of space. Everything we own now fits into a 5×5 storage unit or our checked luggage, but is that really minimalist?
I have no idea, and frankly I don’t care.
Compared to the average American family or traveling retiree, we are minimalist.
Compared to the average 20 year old backpacker? We are maximalists.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Traveling without sacrificing lifestyle
Thankfully, we are past the ramen noodles and youth hostel phase of our lives. Way beyond that, to the point Mrs. Jeffsetter has nicknamed our lifestyle “Champagne Facts” as a clever wordplay on the tagline from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
While Champagne Facts is an exaggeration, it helps frame up the type of lifestyle we are hoping to recreate while traveling full time. Living well, eating well, financially sound and enjoying semi-retirement.
Our budget calls for more than hostels and ramen. It allows for Condo’s and Seafood. It allows for overwater bungalows and the occasional bottle of Veuve.
It also means we can take on some additional baggage to make things feel like home along the way.
Just how much baggage?
A giant suitcase and giant duffle bag.
Plus three carry-on suitcases and two laptop bags.
We are officially the hoarders in the sky, and I kind of like it.
Maximizing your travel in the allotted timeframe
Travelers are trained to maximize their time by seeing as many things as possible in a short period of time. In Salzburg this spring I overheard two female American college students bragging about their European experience.
“We have been to 40 cities and 12 countries in 30 days”
Cities were crossed off like achievement badges. There was no sense of when one country ended and another began.
They created memories that will last forever (or at least until they cancel their Facebook account). They traveled light and they (may have) traveled cheap. They maximized everything before closing that chapter.
I was exhausted just hearing about it.
It’s all about soft landings
Mrs. Jeffsetter and I joke that our relationship is like partners in a buddy cop film. Using Lethal Weapon as the example, she is Riggs (Mel Gibson) and I am Murtaugh (Danny Glover). She is the wildcard and I’m “getting too old for this shit.”
For both of us, the thought of 40 cities in 30 days is cringeworthy.
At the outset of our one-way neverending experience we decided that we would visit each of our destinations for a month at a time. There would be exceptions, of course, for unique travels. We also had to work around my speaking and teaching schedules, but we aimed for a month-long stay whenever possible.
These month long stays are great in many ways. First, we save significantly on airfare expenses by using miles to purchase two mid-haul, premium cabin, one-way tickets a month. This is about 1/3 as many miles as it would take to fly long-haul international from the US.
Second, because we are spending so much time in each location, we don’t mind checking multiple bags along the way. While 5 checked bags will eventually consolidate down to 3, we are not incurring an additional expense by traveling heavy. This is because our mid-haul flights are all in business class and allow for multiple checked bags for free.
Third, with no incremental baggage charge, it is the same amount of waiting for 5 checked bags as it is to wait for one. Sure there’s 5x more risk of lost baggage, but I also don’t see the big concern when island hopping. Knock on wood, but my baggage delivery record is pristine when the TSA doesn’t get their grubby hands on it.
Checking baggage is a necessity for our type of travel.
Things feel more like “home” when you have the conveniences of home
With that out of the way, let’s get down to the original premise of this post: why it’s OK to bring a lot of crap with you while traveling abroad.
First, the setting. We are currently staying 29 days on Maui in a ~800 sq foot condo that we rented through AirBNB. There are cooking utensils and a few spices provided, along with some shampoo and soap.
But for everything else we are on our own.
Thankfully we have 5 suitcases to hold all of our useless crap priceless possessions.
Long time readers know we love our wine. Well, we brought a few bottles along with us! Can’t do that in a carry-on.
The wine opener in our AirBNB is broken. Good thing we brought our own wine openers (yes, plural) in that 5th suitcase.
Last night we aerated the wine with our aerator and poured it into two Govino glasses.
That moment felt exactly like home.
To meet our budget (with Hawaii being very expensive), we decided to try home-cooking for our first few weeks on Maui. Good thing we brought our own salt and pepper shakers. Those have been clutch.
Every morning we pour hot water over hand-ground Maui Peaberry coffee, using our Aeropress as the coffee delivery vehicle.
Just like home.
Home is in the familiar
Homesickness is an interesting thing. I believe that homesickness comes from a disconnect with home. That can mean family, friends or facilities. But I think homesickness can be (at least somewhat) cured by making the place you are visiting feel like home.
Hawaii feels more like home when we bring home along with us. At this point it has cost us nothing to keep up this facade.
So far we have not been burdened by the comforts of home, even if it means using 5 suitcases to get there. I kind of like that I have 6 options for shampoo at the moment, and can choose a scent per day to keep things interesting with Mrs. Jeffsetter.
6 iPhone charging cables? Who cares – we will lose a few along the way anyway! Our own wireless router? You never know when it will come in handy.
Alcohol is much cheaper when you bring your own wine collection along with you.
I brought 10 books along. Physical, lumpy, heavy books. And you know what? It will feel great leaving them behind in Hawaii. Or Tahiti. Or wherever.
The appropriate amount of baggage is…
When we first decided on this lifestyle two years ago, I imagined my entire life in a carry-on.
I researched carry-ons and agonized the purchase. When I finally pulled the trigger and received my bag, I realized that I was solving the wrong problem.
The solution for me was not in traveling with the fewest things possible. The solution was in bring home to each place I traveled.
In our first pass it took 7 bags to get there. At some point, we will get down to 6 bags. Then 5. I doubt we will get much lower than that.
Our baggage may force a few sacrifices. We may pay to check bags at some point. We may not be able to fly standby. We may be forced to wear the same clothes two days in a row (but spoiler alert, I have already done that).
Sure, we can’t run onto a train with our 7 bags, but that isn’t the point. We are in our 30’s. We are not poor college students, poor college graduates, or any of that.
We are successful professionals who wanted a change. But not too much change.
That’s why traveling heavy is the right choice for us.
@ Jeff — Thanks for the continued motivation to get the hell out of of San Francisco!
Do it! (When you are ready of course)
I’m with you on checking bags. Many in the game, and even local publications talking about island escaping to a neighbor island for the weekend here in Hawaii, frown upon checking baggage. “It’s just a weekend” or “it’s waste of time/money/it’s a hassle” or all of the above. But I like to bring my own toiletries and not have to buy a new bottle of sunscreen wherever I go. In the case of our last jaunt to Maui, we came home with 3 bottles of wine and a cooler full of goat cheese… not something you can do by traveling carry-on only. So I will continue to and always will check a bag to take some of home with me and to make it easier to bring back stuff I may buy.
As for never-ending travel, that would be great! But first I need to find a job or go out on my own to be able to do that…
I think it depends on the situation. Checking bags is bad if your travel plans change often or on a whim. Not so bad if you know exactly where you are going/what you are doing. That’s awesome you could re-supply on your trip! Still need to get to the Surfing goat, which we will do when we finally rent a car.
I think you are right – how much you take on the type of travel you choose and how much “home” you want to bring along. If you are stationary for longer periods, having a lot of luggage is not that big a deal.
I do think that the longer you travel, the fewer stuff you need to “feel at home”. When I started a similar adventure (neither college kid nor retiree), I reduced my luggage over time. A friend who inspired me to travel would not go anywhere without her Chanel 5 eyeliner – her comforts from home fit into a pencil-size package!
I do think your destinations will also impact the amount of luggage – dragging your luggage over cobble stone streets or broken pavement in developing countries or loading them on an outrigger boat to a small island are a pain in the butt. So, for many people between needing less of home and the extra effort required, the luggage tends to shrink over time!
Lastly, you can always check some of your luggage at a “hub” – it worked well for me. I’d leave a big duffle with friends or at a hotel, before exploring some off the beaten path destinations. That way, you can take more of your stuff with you, without loosing out on some less travelled, more fun locations.
Have fun, travel safely!
Awesome. We are already feeling that we have too much stuff, so what you are saying makes complete sense. It’s all about a gradual transition. We do have a few hubs already where we will drop stuff off along the way.
About using a hotel as a hub. Do they charge for this often, or is it complimentary? How long do they let you check? We are hoping to leave bags in Tahiti for a week as we go to Bora Bora. Wondering if that would be allowed? Do you have to stay at the hotel on return?
yeah, the more nice people I met and the more great experiences I had, the less “stuff” seemed to be necessary… although I still travel with my “favorite” this and “lucky” that…and I won’t leave home without an emergency stash of coffee and candy!
I have always spent at least one night on the return and never had to pay or have any problems, regardless of it being a high-end chain hotel or family-run budget hotel… I have also used airport or train station storage for short periods and left it with friends…
Awesome. Will be doing this from time to time for sure!