Brian and I celebrate the winter holidays mainly by acknowledging just how very fortunate we already are. (So, lovely family members reading this, please don’t feel the need to buy us any gifts. We’d ask this even if we weren’t planning on carrying around our worldly possessions on our backs for the next year and eight months.)
Just a few blocks from our apartment in Buenos Aires, I found a shop with the best chocolate truffles I’ve ever eaten. The texture, the chocolate, the flavors – it was all perfection.
The day of our flight to New Zealand, Brian bought a box for a coworker in Auckland. “Wait, you didn’t get any for us,” I joked. Well, not really joked. That afternoon, I bought a second box to eat during difficult travel moments when we need serotonin. Chocolate while traveling is a ritual for us at this point. (For fans of Harry Potter, just imagine that we’re trying to keep the dementors away.)
Please don’t consider this post prescriptive– instead, it’s just an outline of what we’re currently trying, with the thought that it might spark ideas for others!
As you’ll see below, I like experimenting with various self-enforced policies to keep our moment-to-moment actions aligned with what we value. Currently, we’re experimenting with purchases, transportation, donations, and (of course) food.
Mostly Used Stuff (And Not Too Much)
We sold and donated most of our possessions before leaving on our trip. Since returning, we have been attempting to obtain most of our household goods and clothes second-hand from thrift/consignment stores, relatives, yard/tag sales, etc.
In addition to wanting to pull stuff out of the waste stream instead of buying new, we decided to focus on second-hand objects to give ourselves an automatic distance between wanting something and actually obtaining it. In this gap we sometimes realize that we don’t actually need something, or that we can make-do with something that we already have.
Thus far, we’ve been mostly successful, though we have made exceptions and bought some items new: the most sizable being replacing Brian’s four-year-old iPhone, obtaining a mattress for our bedroom, and buying parts for the computer Brian is building (the case and monitor are from the thrift shop).
The main downside to this decision is that it can take a lot of time to find specific items, including lots of hours scouring thrift stores. While I’m lucky to have the time right now, I still don’t particularly like shopping. Then again, sometimes this is even more motivation to just make do with what we already have, and keep the total amount of stuff that we own to a reasonable level.
No Clothes Dryer
Our residences as we traveled were generally pretty nice, but we hardly ever had a clothes dryer. Since we managed for most of two years without one (and since most of the world, including Europe, seems to not prioritize them), we bought just a washer and are drying our clothes on lines in our laundry room. It requires a little more planning (we need to wait for a load to dry before starting a new one) but otherwise has been pretty easy.
We are currently meeting our transportation needs with just one car, supplemented by a bike and a bus pass. I work from home, and we purposely selected a house in a pretty walk-able area, so this isn’t so challenging for us. (We didn’t have a car in California, so being able to run to the grocery store any evening of the week already feels like a luxury.)
Since Brian takes the car to work each day, I pick up Theo from school on foot. Our walk home has become one of my favorite times with him. We pass plenty of prompts to discuss everything from dandelions to dead squirrels.
Not Hoarding Good Luck
At this point in our lives, our regular income meets all of our immediate and savings-related needs. (We are very lucky.)
So, when we have unexpected financial good luck, we take that money and send it to people who need it more than we do, on top of the 10% of our gross income that we regularly send. This year, the money has gone to UNHCR, GiveDirectly, and Amnesty International.
Similarly, now that we are using the library for our books instead of buying Kindle books, we will donate the money that we were spending on books to the library.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was learning to cook some of the local food in each area we visited. While I don’t always have access to the same ingredients and resources as I did while traveling, I’ve been trying to replicate some of this experience here at home, by picking a country and cooking about 50% of our dinners from that country for a month. I’m starting with Indian food, though a variety of other cuisines have been sneaking in as well, depending mostly on what we find at the farmers market each week.
Even though I miss the variation in available ingredients as we travel, having a consistent set of kitchen equipment is really great!