The decision to travel long term is a big one, but it isn’t the only one you have to make. From travel arrangements to inoculations, it can begin a domino effect of other choices you need to face before you can actually get on the plane. One of the major decisions is what gets left behind.
When we set out for a nine month trip, we were pretty ruthless. We had a garage sale and rid ourselves of a lot of less-than-new small appliances, extra bedding, garden tools and the like. It was quite a fascinating exercise, and when we returned we were pleasantly surprised by how little we actually missed of what we had done away with. There were a number of things we didn’t sell off though, and the deciding was the tricky part.
Essentially, we considered what it would take to store our belongings, both in effort and cost, and then what it would take to replace them. Obviously some things are irreplaceable – family heirlooms, photo albums and personal treasures were all being kept, without question. There were a couple of musical instruments that we knew we couldn’t replace if we got rid of them, and one or two newer appliances that were worth keeping. We held onto a filing cabinet that housed all our important documents, too. After that it became a matter of practicality. Each thing we wanted to keep needed to be weighed against the cost and convenience of storing it. Furniture is one of the biggest household items, and most of ours had seen better days. We kept our beds and washing machine, which were relatively new, and a bookcase with sentimental value. The rest we sold.
Vehicles are another item that need to be thought through. Depending on where you live, there may be ongoing costs associated with maintaining a vehicle’s registration or roadworthiness, even when it’s not in use. Certainly there will be insurance to pay for. If the car won’t be driven it needs to be properly decommissioned for the period, with the battery disconnected and fuel drained. The tires will deflate too over time, so ensure it is on blocks or axle stands. If instead you are letting friends or family run the vehicle in your absence, you need to carefully work out who is responsible for maintaining it and any costs. Once, we left our car to my sister in law while we went overseas for six months, and we received a slightly nervous phonecall to tell us it had been stolen and recovered – on the same day!
Thankfully it wasn’t damaged at all, but it begs the question of whose insurance should be used for the period you are away.
Storage itself is important. There are numerous options for renting storage sheds or lockers, and you can always use a friend or family member’s attic if they are willing, but make sure your things are well labelled and the site is secure against the weather and pests. We labelled every box with our name and a contact number, and numbered each box too. We held a list that outlined what was in each box, by number, and gave a copy to family. We made sure we sorted our belongings into things that must be kept and things that could be kept but weren’t essential. That way, if we decided to stay away longer (or permanently!) we could ask someone to sell or donate the contents of certain boxes and know we still had our most precious things waiting, but we weren’t cluttering up someone’s basement unnecessarily.
Clothing will always be tricky, because of changes in style and season. If you are sure to be going away for some time, consider only keeping really special or valuable items. Remember that children grow – fast – and if you are away much more than six months, clothing that was too good to give away but not going with you, may no longer fit upon your return. Likewise their toys need to be negotiated with them, as anything you don’t take may no longer be of interest when you return. This is again where a must-keep versus could-keep storage system can be helpful.
Coming home after an extended trip can sometimes be hard, but it is reassuring to know you have thought through what you need and what waits for you. Going shopping for a few replacement items can also be a nice treat to make your re-entry into normal life a little easier. One thing is for sure though – after cutting down on the clutter and living more simply on the road, you will be surprised how little you really need once you get home.