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Travelling with Less Clothes and Dumpster Diving

Hi guys, greetings from London where we’re sweltering in the final throws of summer. We made the mistake of taking the tube into China Town on the hottest day of the year for a family lunch today.  It was a great lunch, it’s a family tradition of ours to do lunch on Chef’s day off, but we were hotter than the noodles. It was Chef’s only day off for a while so we had to make the most of it. Which brings me around to a few points about this living differently theme ( in our case, a nomadic lifestyle with kids) that I’ve been talking about lately.

The Pho that made us want to go back to Vietnam ( update, in 2017- 2018 we lived there). Does it look good to you?

a. Chef’s is currently bound by the constrictions of working for a top London hotel. So even though the tube was a sauna, it was our only chance to go into town. We can’t wait to get back to living more, working a normal job less and having zero time restraints. ( update, Chef totally quit work early in 2017). We do, of course work very hard on the websites, but when you work for yourself you pick and choose which days you take off. If you haven’t visited this post yet, maybe check out, “Did Travel Blogging Fund our Long Term Travel“.

b. The kids are homeschooled, so when Chef’s only day off is a Wednesday, that’s absolutely fine. We still love that educational system and had a great afternoon yesterday doing intensive maths in a coffee shop. It always goes better in coffee shops.

c. We have the itchiest of itchy feet again. We’ve been in the UK too long and that bowl of amazing pho in our favourite Vietnamese restaurant spoke to us of far off lands, we’re ready to move on. More importantly, we’re free to move on, we’re always free to move on, more or less, that’s another of our joys.

So why aren’t we packing our bags right now? Well, Chef is competing in an Ironman event in a few weeks. He’s been blogging about it over on World Travel Chef, so if you’d like to read “My first Ironman” about his first race back in Cairns, that’s where you need to go. He also posted about how he manages to work less, travel more as a Chef, if we have any fellow Chefs here.

But back to the post, part of creating the freedom we now enjoy comes with owning less “stuff” and a lot of the stuff that we ditched back in 2012 was clothes. We no longer have a wardrobe full of outfits for every occasion, we own very little. At the moment, in our cute AirBnb in London, we really want for nothing. We have clothes, toiletries, electronics and, currently, a pile of books and toys thanks to gifts from Granny ( which will go to the charity shop when we’re done with them). We don’t need anything more.

Over 3 years on the road has taught us that living and travelling with fewer clothes is good. We are better off financially because the temptation to buy has gone, we have greater freedom, spend less time in work or chores and more time enjoying life. We live out of backpacks, everything we own and need fits into the two large packs and a couple of small ones. ( there’s information on what family travel gear we carry, and in what, here) . On shorter trips it’s easy enough to travel with carry on only, we never miss clothes, only books, toiletries and electronics when we choose the ultra-light method. Before I tell you how we manage travelling with fewer clothes, let me tell you a story.

How the Cleaner Put Our Clothes in the Trash

At 4am I sat bolt upright in bed as I realised that most of our clothes may have left the building never to be seen again. We’re house sitting 2 gorgeous cats and the owners have a cleaner.

For the last 3 years we’ve kept our dirty laundry in plastic bags. It moves around with us, from floor to backpack and we think nothing of it. Sometimes I hand wash it, sometimes we have use of a machine and sometimes we find a cheap Asian laundry service. As usual I’d thrown the dirty laundry bag out of my backpack on arrival, but this time I’d stuffed up.

The door in the bedroom kept blowing shut so I’d tried to prop it open with a small decorative bin. That wasn’t heavy enough for the job so I’d weighed it down with the dirty laundry bag, we had an almost laundry-in-bin scenario. Not exactly because it was kinda perching on the top and I’d opened the top so the kids could throw their socks in, but to me it was obviously laundry. To the cleaner it was trash.

Our clothes aren’t the best after 3 years on the road. But trash?  I actually cried, not because of the financial loss, but because the kids’ T shirts are currently all from Nepal, bearing various slogans and images of yaks and Everest. They’re of huge sentimental value and I really didn’t want to lose them.

Nepal with kids, Kathmandu with kids. Yak Dangers
Everybody loves yaks. Right? On our Everest trek 2016.

I checked back and front doors for bin bags, no sign. I found various trash-stash cupboards around the flats, not there. Eventually, I found a huge blue industrial dumpster that was the collecting point of the various rubbish chutes around the building. I could climb up and look, but if I jumped in there was no way I was ever getting out again.

I needed to know for sure if our clothes were in there before I took drastic action and ideally have back-up to avoid ending up in a trash-compacter incident.  I don’t think I’d be as adept as Princess Leia in securing escape.

The rubbish got collected every day so the clock was ticking. It was around 5 am. Chef was in work serving $900 cheesecake to Arab Royalty and the kids were asleep. So I went to email.

Village life in Romania. Traditional Maramures outfit
Yes, we do speak a little Romanian, badly, mostly thanks to this lovely family, our landlords, neighbours and minders in the village.

Around 8 am the cleaning lady showed up, her boss had sent her over to help me out. She speaks no English, she is ROMANIAN! Hurray, we can communicate, never has speaking a bit of pigeon Romanian been so useful.

Yes, indeed, she had slung our clothes into the big blue dumpster. Chef arrived moments later from a night shift and in blue plastic gloves and running gear, hopped in with the trash. It was an easy job to find the bag and we were gladly reunited with our limited wardrobes. Chef hit the shower before hitting the sack.

Are our clothes really that trashy? Is that what happens when you’re on the road living minimally and ultra-careful about what you buy and what you spend?

I really don’t think so.

When you are travelling around Asia long term, yes, clothes do get very worn out and faded by perspiration and sun. Shirts rip beneath backpack harnesses, pants split through constant wear and camel mounting and if you’re travelling fast there may not be time or shops to replace them.

I guess this is why some people buy those special “travel” clothes. We don’t, never have, never will. ( See what family travel gear we carry here, it’s not exactly a packing list). Yep, most of us look a bit ragged on the Asia circuit but really, who cares? We don’t. If you want to dress up you go buy something in a shop for a few bucks.

Jeans and T shirts, that’s us, every day. Not always matching! Here on a farm stay in Romania.

The bit about the camels is absolutely true by the way, twice in Dubai my jeans have split through clambering aboard a camel. The same camel! She was called Sheila. I now know exactly which jeans to grab off the shelf in Gap Dubai Mall.

So take that as a warning ladies, camels and older jeans don’t mix. Generally I find jeans last me 12 months on the road, with constant wear and less-than-gentle laundering. They’re the toughest fabric and for me, most comfortable for any climate, so I always have 2 pairs of jeans in my pack. Kids too, live in jeans. You might disagree ( you probably do, I know I’m weird), but after years of practice, that’s what works best for us.

Sheila the destroyer of jeans, and look, same outfit!

Up Everest we came up with interesting wardrobe adaptations to deal with vigorous walking, sweat and cold. Both D and Chef trekked in shorts with leggings beneath.

Again, we didn’t get sucked in by the marketers, bought no special trekking gear, and did fine. Chef actually wore running shoes for the whole trek, none of us had boots.

Everest region trek kids
No special gear for Everest, D and Chef trekked in leggings and shorts. I wore yoga pants. The only additions were down jackets for the kids and a thick fleece for me, both bought ultra cheaply in Kathmandu. Everything else, we already had. Oh, socks, we did buy more socks, we don’t wear those very often normally.

So why the story?

Well, let’s rewind to the “I cried” bit. No way should anyone be sobbing over clothes. This comes down to good old Buddhist dis-attachment, I shouldn’t be having emotions in relation to possessions, particularly not clothing.

I’m not quite sure how to fix that but Nepal is very special to me and so are those T shirts. That’s why I got a Nepalese tattoo on my wrist while we were in Kathmandu, a constant reminder and connection to the spiritual joy I feel in the Himalayas.  ( Did I tell you about the tattoo? I have video, I will share at some point.)

So maybe if those clothes had been ordinary cheap T shirts like the rest of our wardrobes, there would have been zero drama, easily replaced an minimal expense, no problem.

Items get lost or stolen when you travel, it does happen, we find it’s best not to have expensive or much-loved gear because it’s just not worth it.

I used to love shopping, now anything that makes me look half decent will do. So long as I’m clean enough and not naked I’m generally happy. I like to have good jeans because they last longer and fit me better and occasionally I’ll buy 1 special garment as a treat, but that’s enough. Plain black long sleeved T shirts see me through most eventualities and drastically reduce clothing decision-making time. That’s an idea I picked up through Tim Ferris’s books that gave me a big boost inspiration-wise last summer The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, it’s a classic worth reading – see it here)

Anyway, back to travelling with less clothes.

World Travel Family travel blog
Maybe we are kinda scruffy, but we’ll do.

Clothes and Shoes are Easy to Cut Down

The trick with the clothes is to have garments that do for every eventuality. My winter and summer wardrobe is barely different. When it’s -20º C in Romania, I wear everything at once, in the heat of a tropical summer I’m in the same jeans, a base layer T shirt and flip flops.

The other skill lies in upgrading our wardrobe as needed and discarding easily.

We had to buy the kids down jackets in Nepal, I had to buy a dress and heels for a cruise ship, Chef has to buy sports clothes for his Ironman competitions. Once those events are over, if garments aren’t going to see constant use they can go to the charity shop. There is absolutely no point in hanging on to clothes because you “may” wear them again.

I’m a woman and I used to be normal, I had a wardrobe stuffed with special outfits that never saw daylight. I know what it’s like and I know I feel better without the clothes clutter in my life. That huge space in my house to store clothes cost me extra money, got dusty and the clothes, in tropical Australia, perished before I could wear them again. I also used to beat myself up about being too fat for some of them. I’m glad those days are gone.

If you need less storage space, you don’t need such a big house, you save money to enjoy life more.

Shoes too. I own flip flops, they’re always handy for showers or inside use, along with every hot-weather purpose along with a pair of closed hiking shoes or similar. Quite honestly, that is all I need for every-day use.

Travelling with less clothes ( I should probably say fewer) certainly saves us  money and our bags are lighter. I don’t think anybody is missing out by owning less and I know I feel freer with an emptier pack. So that’s why we won’t ever publish long packing lists telling you to buy this, buy that. You don’t need to buy anything, just work with what you’ve got. I would quite happily hop onto a plane in just the clothes I was wearing ( jeans, obviously) so long as I had a stash of extra nice M&S underwear in my pack because some things are non-negotiable and can’t be bought in Kathmandu. But they can in Kuala Lumpur.

Patan Durbar Square Kathmandu, Nepal
Meeting Prince Harry in Kathmandu
Malaysia Travel Blog

The Family Voyage

Tuesday 28th of March 2017

Great post and such a good reminder not to get caught up in the stuff! We're going to slowly clear house in preparation for a year of RTW travel, though we do anticipate eventual "re-entry" into the typical working professional lifestyle in the US so I don't think we can get rid of everything. On our travels we have always packed fairly light but packing for a year will definitely be a challenge!

Travelling Coral

Tuesday 6th of September 2016

Hi - love this. Currently wearing a t shirt I bought for $5 in NZ from TUI in 2011. Wear it constantly all seasons both home and away. It has holes under the arms, basically on its last legs but I wore it every day whilst travelling for 12 days in the Northern Territory. We dumped our too big bags we stupidly brought to OZ with us, got 40l backpacks and travelled carry on to Tassie and NT. Managed with minimum clothes but jolly glad didn't have jeans but linen trousers due to an unfortunate rash. Also discovered that the t shirt from TUI had a hidden message in the design that no one has noticed for 5 years when you get a photo at night with a flash. Hmm amused all the tour. Now back housesitting and collected big bags and could not believe how much we brought with us. After 2 weeks living with less it overwhelmed us. Not even the smart hotel we treated ourselves to in Alice Springs batted an eyelid when we walked in with red sand on our trainers, dishevelled clothes and battered backpacks. But then, that's Alice for you. Using this house sit to cull all the clothes and for me that means dumping the jeans and sweatshirts and embracing lightweight merino and hiking trousers as they turned out to be clothes I can carry in a pack. By the way, clambering over rocks at Jim Jim and scaling Kings Canyon may not be the same trek as Katmandu - but for me they were the most challenging, limb aching hikes I have done in a long time that reduced me to tears. However, as I said at the end of both, like childbirth, painful and hard work but worth it in the end.


Tuesday 6th of September 2016

Are you over in Australia again Coral?


Saturday 27th of August 2016

I once accidentally helped throw my oldest son's girlfriend's (now wife:) entire "trash" bag of shoes into a charity pick up place when they were moving apartments. She had one pair of flip flops to her name and since she plays in orchestras that was tricky! She's forgiven us thankfully. I'd be devastated at losing shoes as I can only wear certain ones comfortably and more so when they are worn in (birks). We do have those travel outfits though -- what makes me smile are the ones with little pieces of colored thread tied on them from Asia (used to mark groups in laundry).


Saturday 27th of August 2016

Yep, we have those too Kate! My dad put my best suede platforms in the bin once, they were gorgeous and VERY expensive. He thought I didn't want them because I'd put them in a weird place. I was normal once, I bought those things! I bet I'd still have them in the attiic gathering dust had he not done that.


Saturday 27th of August 2016

I'm glad to hear you got your clothes back from the dumpster! Andrew and I have very few clothes too (well, by Western standards I suppose) and we wear them until they fall apart, customise them and replace them as cheaply as we can on the road. I've actually always hated clothes shopping and always had a limited amount of stuff even when we lived in the UK, so this suits me well. The only thing I always stock up on in the UK is underwear as it's so hard to get in my size in Asia! Where are you thinking of heading after London? Chiang Mai is treating us well so far :)


Saturday 27th of August 2016

We're in Wales next Amy for the ironman, then probably Romania for the skiing. Then, next year probably Thailand.

Charlotte richardson

Thursday 25th of August 2016

Hi Alison I have been reading your blogs for the last 3 months and enjoying how you have made it happen. We are about to embark on our own journey with 3 children on a sailing yacht, starting in the Caribbean and possible across the pacific back to Australia. After 11 years of making home here... House, business, farm life including chickens dog and cat, to ripping it all apart and leaving for the unknown and a dream we have always dreamt of sharing with the kids.

I was reading you were from a small village in far north qlds, port Douglas. We are living in Mossman. What a small world!! Love what your doing Charlotte


Thursday 25th of August 2016

Cheers Charlotte, yes, we know Mossman well. Are you living there now? Or in the Carribean? We're not from Port Douglas, but we lived there for around 7 years, we still own a house there ( which we should have sold!). Good luck, your voyage would scare me to death, I admire people who can take on the sea like that.