Have you ever traveled for more than a month? If so, you might recall that it’s completely overwhelming to know what to pack as a newbie long-term traveler. When’s the last time you had to think about what you might wear five months from now?
I remember packing for my first gig as a dancer on cruise ships—a 7-month contract. I’d never even been on a cruise and I had no idea what to expect aside from the vague packing list they sent me. Naturally, I jam-packed my massive suitcase with everything I deemed possibly necessary. I mean, who wouldn’t need giant ladybug slippers while away for 7 months?
I ended up sending half of it back home once we were at sea. As I sailed away without those extra shoes and shirts and my adorable ladybug slippers, I also left behind my reliance on other creature comforts like a big kitchen, a car, or going to the store without planning ahead. I’m not gonna lie: At first, it was super awkward.
Then something wonderful happened. As the months went by I felt freer and more reliant on myself. I realized I had so much more than I actually needed to be happy. I became obsessed with the concept of living better with less.
Fast forward to today and the Japanese organization celebrity—yes, “celebrity”—Marie Kondo has built an empire around her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Not a week goes by when I don’t hear about people who’ve “Kondo-ed” their closet, their filing cabinet, their digital lives…or even their relationships. When your name becomes a verb, you know you’ve made it.
The Kondo-craze got me thinking how most long-term travelers end up KonMari-ing their inner and outer worlds. As “life-changing” as tidying up can be, travel also helps declutter our spaces and our minds, helping us weed out anything in our lives that doesn’t spark joy. Whether you’re on a cruise ship contract like I was or backpacking around Asia, you realize:
1. Essential > Excessive
This was a big one for me when I started working on cruise ships. I shared a dark, teeny tiny closet cabin with another dancer—and if there’s one place where you’ll learn how to minimize, this is it. There’s one wardrobe for your clothes and about 5 small desk drawers per person. You have no choice but to live only with the things that are necessary or make your life dramatically better.
2. Lasting Meaning > Impulsiveness
Instead of snagging souvenirs and tchotchkes from my travels, I bought fewer, more useful items to remember my trips, like gorgeous boots in Barcelona and pretty lingerie in France that I wore (and loved) for years afterward.
3. Experience > Things
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day clutter of our lives—work, bills, buying stuff, working more to buy more stuff. When you remove the mind gunk you afford yourself the ability to be truly present. Be honest, what will make you smile ten years from now, the memory of waking up in the bush with an elephant drinking out of your plunge pool, or a closet full of shoes that hurt your feet?
What’s at the heart of the KonMari craze is a deep desire to create the space we need to live our best lives. When we’re surrounded by possessions, commitments, work, and relationships that don’t truly serve us, we limit our own happiness and stay stuck. What Marie Kondo is really teaching is also one of the biggest takeaways from long-term travel—how to let go.