My buy-nothing-principle – minimalism when traveling

After having written about my ‘money hacks when traveling‘ I wanted to elaborate on something that helped me a lot in saving myself money. As I wrote in my previous post, I find it useful not to buy too many souvenirs. I actually made that a principle over the last year, thus this post.

I’ve been a pretty non-materialistic person most of my life. I’ve never cared much for brands or the latest trends, but things still accumulated when I had the space to store them and went shopping for ‘fun’.

This changed once I started moving from country to country (living, studying, working) and I was sort of forced into minimalism. Packing bags and moving apartments every few months reminded me of the fact that I had so many things that I didn’t really need, i.e. trinkets I bought because they ‘looked nice’, clothes I got because they ‘were on sale’. And then I had to say goodbye to about 2/3 of my things every time I moved (side note: Shipping boxes around the world is very expensive and will make you think twice about what to keep).

I had backpacked in Australia, my first long-term destination and remember ending up with a good 5 kilograms more in my bag when I came back (and a huge box that made its way back to Germany by boat over the course of three months – the cheapest option but also the slowest). 

When I backpacked in Asia for 2 months in 2014 I proudly started with 7 kg in my backpack and came back with 12. 

And now? I’ve been on the road for over 13 months and implemented a new principle. The buy-nothing (or to be exact: buy-absolutely-nothing-unless-you-really-need-it-) principle. That means I’m not spending a lot of time at markets anymore. I usually hardly glance at things (because then you’re immediately urged into buying them by sellers). I don’t go into any clothing stores ‘just for fun to have a look’. I don’t shop when I’m bored.

And I bought exactly 2 pairs of earrings that I didn’t really need in this time (but I guess every rule has an exception).

So I guess some people would say ‘How could you pass on that awesome alpaca sweater or scarf and all those handmade unique souvenirs?’ First of all, most things you can find are usually mass-produced and not as unique as you’d think. Second of all, I don’t want to carry around mountains of souvenirs for an indefinite amount of time. And third, give this a try: When you see something that looks nice to you and you want to buy it in the spur of a moment, give yourself a day. If you don’t remember it anymore then did you really want or need it?


Also, you can avoid the temptation by passing by all those souvenir-shops and simply keeping your eye on life on the street and in the city instead of the artisan goods 😉

I had a nice chat with a Venezuelan jewelry seller who talked to me while I was sitting in a park in Cusco. When he approached me, I told him straight-away I wasn’t going to buy anything as a matter of principle and also avoided looking at what he sold. This actually turned into a conversation as he was interested in hearing me say how physical objects are not adding much to my life and that not spending money on them was helping me with my own budget whilst traveling. Wondering, whether I should have bought something just to support him, he actually mentioned that there were enough tourists in Cusco who still loved to buy jewelry and I was happy he respected my principle.

I think it’s smartest to buy souvenirs right before you’re ready to go home. Like this, you have a ‘shopping date’ where you can go crazy if you feel like it, use all your left-over cash and fill your backpack until you can’t put anything else in 🙂

Also, I am aware that this idea works best when you’re traveling as you’re almost forced to do this. However I hope to be able to continue with this mindset once I have a ‘temporary or permanent’ home again. I am expecting this to be harder to follow through with but I’m going to be mindful about the possible purchasing urge.

It feels really liberating to not own that much. Fewer things, less trouble!

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