Handling Finances while Traveling—part 4: Minimalism

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There's something I learned over the years: I spent way too much money on souvenirs, things I “need” to be able to travel, and tourist traps. This fourth post of four is dedicated to minimalism. It's an art and a true passion for me, not only for travelling, but also at home. I'm not telling you to sell all your stuff and go live in a hut in the mountains. I'm simply bringing forward a mindset that could help you travel for less and longer.

  1. Budget (Read)
  2. Bill Payments (Read)
  3. Travel Per Diem and Savings (Read)
  4. Minimalism

Real Chocolate, Cancale, France

Some people freak out when they hear the word minimalism. It gives them heat waves or a panic attack. The idea of scarcity doesn’t make many people feel good, but minimalism is NOT about scarcity! It’s abundance. How?

Minimalism gives you a lot more money and the choice to do what you truly want. It doesn’t mean that you sleep on a park bench and eat a basic ham sandwich every day. It doesn’t mean that you avoid all tourist spots. They're tourist spots because they're amazing to see.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

It means that you choose to see what YOU truly want to see, without following what you're expected to do. When you go to Paris, you're not obligated to visit all the dozens and dozens of museums there are over there. Imagine, if you don’t like museums, and a lot of people don’t, and you spend half your day in the never-ending line-up at Le Louvre, pay the entrance ticket, and buy stuff at the boutique. How good do you feel about that?

To cut unwanted expenses and travel a lot more with the same amount of money, there are four topics I want to discuss:

  • What you really want to do
  • Souvenirs
  • Rest days
  • What you really need in your pack

What you really want to do

It’s important to figure out what you really feel like doing. When I went to Italy, I wanted to see everything. Well, there's a lot to see and fourteen days is not enough. I had to cut somewhere. We decided to cut Venice. I got a lot of comments “What? You can't not go to Venice!!!”, “I'd chose Venice over Florence”, “Rome sucks, it’s dirty.”, and so on. I'd cut Florence and I'd get the same thing. They'd chose Florence over Venice… Go figure. Anyway, they're not the ones going on the trip and it’s not their money.

If you feel like flying to Italy, renting a house in a village with no name, and not visiting any of the big cities or museums, so be it! You probably will get even better food anyway.

Tour Bus, Firenze, Italy

The same way goes on the opposite. Some people judge the red tourist bus tour. They think you should bike, walk, or rent a scooter. Sure, you can do that. I happen to like the red bus tour when I get in a big place. It gives me a good understanding of the layout and what I can see. I then choose one or two things I want to see on the next day. You hate it? DON’T DO IT!

The idea here is to be honest with yourself. You can’t do everything. You can easily burn yourself and your entire wallet out. If you want to do all the big spots, it'll cost you more money. Budget and plan in consequence.

The idea is to not be afraid to cut stuff you don’t feel like seeing or doing. Trying to do it all because of the fear of scarcity will only make the rest of the trip stressful and you'll continuously feel like you're missing out. If you make the conscious decision to cut something and do exactly what you want to do, you'll feel empowered and the opinion of others will not phase you. It takes a bit of practice.:)

Simply know that there'll always be too much to see in one shot. So don’t worry about it! Make your selection and enjoy it. The hell with the rest!

Souvenirs

Ah, souvenirs! You may not realize how much of your money goes in that bottomless pit.

I used to be a compulsive shopper and buy junk and trinkets until I had no coins left. There are a couple of times where I had to buy a second suitcase!

Obviously not everyone shops as much, but a lot of people think they have to bring back a gift for everyone they know. That’s a killer. You spend most of your time shopping, trying to figure out what you could get them. The bill goes up fast.

Asia (way too many) souvenirs covering my bed

Over the years, I realized that most souvenirs are more of a hindrance on me and even on the ones receiving them. Not everyone like what they receive. Out of politeness, they wear it or display it.

On this picture, only two or three things remain. Yes my sisters really like their pearl pendentives, but all the hair pins are broken, my stuffed cat is in a box, and I got rid of the robe which was fun for a few minutes. Anything in between is somewhere in the oblivion.

I'm not saying to be mean to your family and friends, I'm saying to be mindful how you spend your money. You have no obligation to bring back gifts. Do it if you find something very special. You can take this occasion to buy them a gift for their birthday or the holidays if it's something you do.

Petrified bas-relief from Les Grottes Savonnières, France

Try to think if it's something they would truly appreciate or something you really want. Can you imagine yourself walking away from that store empty-handed? One week after the trip, would it matter as much to you or is it just the spur of the moment? Is it just something you think is cool and can you simply take a picture of it?

The real test for me was when I visited the abbey on Mont St-Michel. The place is incredible and their boutique has awesome medieval stuff. In the past, it would have itched me really bad to buy everything in there. Well, I didn't. I looked at what I liked in there and left it there. It’s not because I liked something that I had to have it in my house! I'd need to own a castle with 650 rooms!!

Back from my road trip in Brittany, France, the only thing I bought was this bas-relief from Les Grottes Pétrifiantes. I thought it was beautiful and special. Over two years, the cave dripped lime stone water in a mold to shape this stone. That’s the ONE thing I bought. :)

Rest Days

Rest days are often something we forget to plan in. We have so few littles days on our vacations that we load every day with a series of activities. I understand. It’s as if we'd get punished or we're guilty of something if one day we don’t do anything.

Rest days in Parco di Principi Hotel, Sorrento, Italy

There are moments when you'll want a break from visiting and touring. I find it quite useful. As you know, travelling can be quite tiring, especially with jet lag and beating sun.

What I found to be the best for rest days is to avoid planning anything on the first couple of days when I arrive in a new place, especially with a 5-hour plus jet lag. Going to Italy and Greece, the first four days, we didn't plan anything. Our main idea was to disconnect, rest, and get used to the heat and time. When we felt like it, we walked around the town, hopped on a tourist tramway and went with the flow, but most of the time, we enjoyed long conversations during meals and rested on the beach.

It now happens naturally during most of my trips to take a couple of rest days somewhere in the middle and do nothing. I watch some tv, clean up a bit, enjoy the garden, and sleep.

What do rest days have to do with finances? Simple, you spend nothing or pretty much nothing!!

What you really need in your pack

It’s time to prepare your bag. All of a sudden, you have nothing and you need everything. That’s because we indulge ourselves the moment we give ourselves the green light to go on vacation. It’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Although, you have to keep in mind that it’s another source of travel budget spending and you may want to reduce that.

“My old jacket is not good anymore. I need a new one.” Is it true or do you just want a new jacket? Let’s say you decide to buy a new one, are you willing to bring the old one to the donation center? Hey, you may really need a new jacket. I'm not questioning that… but you should.

Also, don’t forget that a lot of places where you'll travel to will also have shops and pharmacies. You don’t need to overbuy or overpack (maybe except if you're going into the wilderness and very remote places, safety first!). Make sure that your safety kit is good, and have your passport, IDs, phone, and bank/credit cards. Beyond that, you need some clothes, toiletries kit, pen, envelope, notebook, shoes, and a hat. You can add whatever else is needed to this, but you can generally already overload your suitcase with what you have at home.

* A little note: brand new shoes or boots that you didn't break-in may cause you bad surprises while extensively walking abroad. Make sure you wear your new shoes a few times before leaving.

Do I spend or not?

Overall, the idea is to look at what you're doing when preparing and going on a trip. Are there places where you can refrain from spending? Can you plan in some rest days? Are you doing exactly what you want to be doing? Do you have to buy gifts for everyone you planned on your list? Are you buying new stuff because it’s needed? Maybe yes. My main advice is think about it and take the decision that suits you best.

Who Am I? I'm many things. I'm passionate about tons of stuff. I love travel. I love self-improvement. I'm a sucker for optimization, efficiency, and minimalism. I renewed with mathematics and science, those are so amazing. Astronomy and chemistry are just plain awesome! I'm a student, a mentor, a traveler, a learner, an artist, an animator, and Disney brings me tears of joy! I love to grow and I will never stop! So who am I? All that and everything else I have not discovered about myself yet. It's a never ending answer!

Qui suis je? Je suis beaucoup de choses. Je suis passionné des tonnes de trucs. J'adore voyager. J'adore la croissance personnelle. Je suis vendue à l'optimisation, l'efficacité et le minimalisme. J'ai renoué avec les mathématiques et les sciences, des mondes tout simplement incroyable. L'astronomie et la chimie sont tout simplement génial! Je suis étudiante, mentor, voyageuse, artiste, animatrice et Disney m'apporte des larmes de joie! J'aime me pousser à fond et je ne cesserai jamais! Alors, qui suis-je? Tout cela et tout le reste que je n'ai pas encore découvert de moi-même. C'est une réponse sans fin!