I Gave Up Materialism for Travel

Materialism is sold to us in the form of aspirational lifestyles with luxury goods, fancy cars, and expensive houses. Success is presented as possession of many items of high dollar value, and this is supposed to make us happy. The increasing obsession with celebrities and their lifestyles places an importance on both wealth and the outward displays of wealth. This materialism is sold to us constantly through advertising companies that need to suck people into black holes of spending.

As a teenager, I absolutely loved shopping for clothes. I would always save up for after-Christmas sales, and bought new clothes whenever I had enough money. I would obsess over things that I bought and believed that it brought me some sort of joy. I accumulated so many clothes, but often bought things that I would barely end up wearing, or didn’t even really like that much.

A lot of people don’t understand the sacrifices that you have to make to travel. I have rejected materialism in many forms so that I can save money and prioritise travel in my life. No doubt I still spend too much money on food, but I still make an active choice to save from every single paycheck, and have done so since I was 18. I realised early on that material goods wouldn’t bring me any sort of joy in life, and that travel is what my heart truly desires.

How is materialism harmful to your mental health?

Materialism traps you in this cycle of wanting more. You are never truly satisfied, because there are always newer and better versions of products on the market. Fashions change, technologies are upgraded to the next version, new cars are designed, and new stores are always popping up online.

You get stuck in this weird competition of consumption with everyone around you. Certain brands give you status, and can be the target of envy from your peers. You may be satisfied with what you own, only until you learn that someone else has something better. A lot of this is happening at the subconscious level, where you don’t realise the deepening unhappiness that comes from mindless consumption.

Advocates of minimalism also argue that owning less overall is beneficial for your mental health. They explain that having many possessions adds extra stress and work to your life, because of extra energy that has to be dedicated to storage, organisation, extra laundry, and keeping tabs on possessions.

Simplicity is beneficial for the human brain because it allows you to dedicate time and energy to things that actually benefit you and fit your values. I think that a lot of people find a sense of security in owning many things, without realising that they are adding anxiety and stress. When you own more expensive things, you have a lot more to lose if something goes wrong.

Yellow building in Cartagena.

How have I reduced my materialism?

People often remark that my phone screen is cracked all over, and that the phone in general is poor quality. I actively make the choice to own a cheap phone and not pay it off on an expensive plan. It also helps to have an unlocked phone so that I can use local sim cards in other countries.

I rarely buy new clothes. I source most of my clothes from op shops like Savers, and only when I need them. I only have two pairs of jeans, and replace them only when they are torn or completely worn down. I often wear shoes into the ground, and will only throw them out when they are tearing apart at the sole or have holes in them.

In my plans for the future, I have no intentions of owning a fancy car or my own house. I see many people my age getting caught up in car loans for cars that are outside of their budget, and which they will want to change over in a couple of years anyway.

With the fact that most millennials will not be able to afford real estate in the same way that previous generations could, it’s not something that even crosses my mind. Owning a house would also mean committing to living in one place and choking my finances with mortgage repayments that would detract from my ability to travel.

Overall, I think that rejecting materialism is about adopting a new mindset towards possession and your priorities. Obviously if you are racked with debt or unable to get a job, then you will be unable to travel either way, and I don’t suggest that everyone has the financial means to travel. However, there are many people who could easily save more money for travel and still live within their means if they adjusted their attitude towards materialism.

Street market in Montevideo

Why do I value travel over materialism and accumulating wealth?

Travel has done wonders for improving my mental health. It has helped me to overcome social anxiety to a large degree, reduced my body dysmorphia, and taught me how to be fully independent and look after myself in unfamiliar environments. Travel itself didn’t do these things of course, but put me in situations where I had to rise to the challenge and face my own mental limitations.

Every time I travel, I learn more about the world around me and it adjusts my worldview towards global politics and international development. It also brings me pure joy in the opportunity to sample different cuisines and visit sites of great natural beauty. Travel has brought so much more value to my life than any material good ever has.

Everyone values different things in life, and not everyone wants a life entirely based around travel and saving all of your money to explore the world. However, that is exactly what I desire, and so I will choose travel over materialism, every single time.


What have you given up to travel?

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By | 2017-11-02T21:23:56+00:00 September 6th, 2017|mental health|27 Comments


  1. Medha Verma September 6, 2017 at 7:50 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with you Kate, we all have priorities. Some people spend money on cars, others on jewelry or expensive brand shoes or clothes. My money is also saved for travelling as a priority over material possessions.

    • Her Travel Therapy September 7, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

      I’m glad that you’ve figured out what is important to you in life 🙂

  2. Ritika September 6, 2017 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    I couldn’t agree with u anymore .. Reading ur blog was like reading my mind .. Thanks for sharing .. I luv ur tips on how to reduce materialism

    • Her Travel Therapy September 7, 2017 at 6:34 pm - Reply


  3. forever roaming the world September 7, 2017 at 7:32 am - Reply

    Such a true post, I love reading your posts, you have some very similar views as me on things. I can relate to this one so much. When I started to travel in 2010 I literally got rid of everything I own, even now my life can be condensed into my backpack, my laptop and a couple of small boxes collecting dust in the roof of my mums house. It’s funny when I came back home last year and went for a job interview I was asked by the interviewer if I considered myself successful. My answer was a resonate YES. I explained I may not have the mod cons he might consider as a sign of success but I had experienced so much, seen so much and ticked off so much off my bucket list so yes I was successful but he just didn’t understand. To him having a flashy car, a sparkly watch getting a mortgage and having materialistic things was more important. P.S like with Becca and Medha, I’m not sure if you’ve received it before but I’ll be nominating you for the blogger recognition award 😀 – Just got to get round to writing the post (prolly next week)

    • Her Travel Therapy September 7, 2017 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Wow, it must feel so great to be able to fit all of your possessions into a backpack, I’m a bit jealous that I’m not at that point yet. Did you end up getting the job or was there too much of a difference in opinion on the definition of success. Thanks for the nomination also 🙂

  4. Bee September 7, 2017 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    I love, love, love this post! I am happy to have came across it. I salute you on giving up materialistic joys, people also think I’m weird when I say owning property or taking out the all golden mortgage to prove i am successful and adult is something i’d like to avoid. It is true, owning less and not being in debt is by far less stressful. well written

    • Her Travel Therapy September 7, 2017 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      Thank you!

  5. dlp% September 8, 2017 at 4:34 am - Reply

    While reading, I felt that I could have said that also! I can really relate to what you have written: only have 2 pairs of jeans as well, and keep my shoes until it’s completely useless. I used to love shopping too until I natural’y stopped: I insist on the word “naturally” as I never really had to force myself to behave like this, it just became natural travels after travels!

  6. Roxanna September 11, 2017 at 6:33 am - Reply

    I can relate to this a LOT. Last year, I was driving a 2004 Pontiac Bonneville. You cannot believe the people who gave me a hard time about this. You make more than that. Don’t you care what people think. Don’t you want to fit in with us.. I finally started responding with, yes, when I am on the beach in Hawaii, knowing it was all paid for upfront, I am going to think about how much nicer your car is than mine, and feel inadequate. That Pontiac will probably run for another 5 years, BTW, and I only bought another used car, because my son needed something. I wish it was easier to convey that when we are 80 years old, we are not going to be thinking about how beautiful our cars were, but we just might think about that time I wondered off to Puerto Rico all by myself… Thank you for a great article! Scheduling to share on FB.

    • Her Travel Therapy September 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm - Reply

      That’s intense that so many people in your life were so critical about the car you drive! I wonder why it’s such a big priority for so many people to “keep up appearances” so to speak. I agree that when we are old and looking back on our lives, we won’t be thinking about the things we owned, but rather the things that we did, and the relationships that we had. Thank you 🙂

  7. World Travel Family September 16, 2017 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    We’re the same so no argument here! Sad about the housing situation though. I know we could never afford another house in London but we do still own one in Australia where prices don’t rise nearly as fast ( we stuffed up there!). It’s our retirement fund and makes us a small monthly profit in rental during the whole 4.5 years we’ve been travelling. But all we need is what’s in our backpacks. It’s enough, why would we need more?

    • Her Travel Therapy September 18, 2017 at 12:46 pm - Reply

      Yeah, I know a few people my age who have a house or are saving for one, but they’re definitely in the minority. Most of the people I know are either living at home or renting and scraping by paycheck to paycheck. The only reason I would want a house is for why you do, to have one to rent out to other people and make money from.

  8. Rhonda Albom September 16, 2017 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    We have given up a lot of additional pleasures in order to save up for travel, and now we only travel with a carry-on bag each. Who needs ten shirts when you can visit another continent?

    • Her Travel Therapy September 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Exactly right!

  9. nickwheatley September 17, 2017 at 4:34 am - Reply

    The more stuff you own the more stress and anxiety it creates – couldn’t agree more. Every time my wife and I get ready to travel we compress everything we own into a 5’x7′ storage unit and what doesn’t fit we get rid of. It always seems a bit stressful at the time – all the trips to Goodwill. But as soon as we’re travelling with just a duffle bag each the worries seem to drop away and we wonder why we even kept the stuff in the storage unit. Now if only I could get my parents to see it that way!

    • Her Travel Therapy September 18, 2017 at 12:43 pm - Reply

      It does seem stressful when you’ve formed attachment to your possessions and then throw them out, but I think overall the experience is very liberating. I think that people will always have different attitudes towards what constitutes success, but it’s more about what makes you happy. I’m glad that you have a wife that shares your same attitude towards life.

  10. Indrani September 18, 2017 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    We have given up on interior decoration of house with expensive fittings.
    I did rather and travel and stay out. I fully agree with your anti materialism views.

  11. Red Nomad OZ September 19, 2017 at 8:06 am - Reply

    I’ve copped a lot of flak over the years for suggesting that a lot of ‘necessities’ are actually lifestyle choices! I’ve saved countless thousands of dollars over the years by NOT having 1) loads of electronic appliances, 2) all the latest IT products, 3) a huge wedding, 4) ‘resort’ based holidays, or 5) a new kitchen/bathroom every few years! Some of our family/friends think we lead a deprived life, but to us it’s rich and full because we get to do so many more interesting things than they do! And that’s OUR lifestyle choice!

    • Her Travel Therapy September 20, 2017 at 9:46 pm - Reply

      I think when you strip it down, the only true necessities are food, shelter, health, and usually transport. Everything else is just a blessing and free to choose as you wish.

  12. quirkywanderer September 19, 2017 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    A heartfelt , candid write up! Resonate with it on many points. when you start traveling you realise how experiences make you richer. Travel helps you collect these experiences and you want to invest in those than material things. You have expressed it so well. Loved reading this!

    • Her Travel Therapy September 20, 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      Thank you!

  13. Holly September 20, 2017 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Everyone has different priorities. I always laugh when people ask me about travel, but all they do is buy sneakers and the latest phones. If thats what they want to do though hey.

    • Her Travel Therapy September 20, 2017 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      I think some people are definitely reluctant to give up materialism, and that’s their choice, but I don’t think it will bring anyone any great happiness at the end of the day.

  14. Meg Jerrard September 20, 2017 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Congrats on giving up materialism for travel, and for inspiring others to do the same. We’ve also gotten our lifestyle down to the bare minimum, and living with the basis is so much better for our mental health. Materialism is a vicious circle which never ends, as you said, it’s ALWAYS a cycle of wanting more. I’ve found I’m MUCH happier with a simplistic lifestyle and don’t need or want for more.

    Really wonderful and insightful post – I’ve recently started watching a Nat Geo People series which you might enjoy- it’s called where the wild men are, and it’s about people all over the world who have given up their material lifestyle, some were millionaires, to go and live in the wilds with almost nothing. The host goes from place to place to interview them, and even though their lifestyles are far too basic for me personally, the one thing they all have in common is that they’re truly happy – and their perspective on life is quite enlightening.

    • Her Travel Therapy September 20, 2017 at 9:42 pm - Reply

      That series sounds really interesting, I’ll definitely look it up! I hope to one day get to a point where I am just living a sustenance lifestyle on a farm with many, many dogs.

  15. Anna Johnston September 20, 2017 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    I loved this post, very inspiring. And… Congratulations on giving up materialism and for talking about it in a way that people can get behind. I have a few friends who are minimalists, but they are incredibly judgemental of those who don’t do as they do. When I lived in Canberra, had the big house with the big job, I found myself so incredibly miserable trying to keep up with what society expected, like you said, materialism is a vicious circle which makes you want more, more, more. But… When I sold up everything, left that vicious cycle behind and moved to the Whitsundays, dang I’ve never been happier, although that may be because home is one of Australias biggest travel destinations. Either way, life without all the ‘stuff’ is a whole lot better for my mental health. 🙂

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