If it doesn’t fit in the backpack, we aren’t bringing it. Money lesson from traveling the world.


how do i money money lesson

Matt and Elizabeth – friends of ours – are traveling the world right now. Working remotely, house sitting, resisting the temptation to live like kings and queens on vacation.

I’d like to share an amazing money lesson they shared with me.

(They took this pic in Tokyo, more pics at the end of this post!)

Before they left, they lived on his salary and used hers to pay off debt and save. They planned.

They had a pretty good plan for their money before they left, but planning for a year-long trip around the world is like planning what your life will look like after you have kids. (hahaha! “plans” ahahhah!!!)

Nope… you just pull the trigger, laugh at your “plans” and then figure it out along the way.

There’s a massive difference between a year long vacation (expensive!) and long-term travel (cheap if you do it right!). It’s something that you can only learn after you pull the trigger. It can be researched, but it can’t be taught. (We learned this lesson on our 5-month road trip. 60% of our plans went right out the window within the first 2 months even after 10 months of intense planning.)

Matt and Elizabeth’s travel-budget started slipping a little and just a couple months in they had to make adjustments.

Part of an email they sent me about how they changed their thinking went like this…

So I sat down with Matt and he suggested that we really use the budget app as a guide to whether or not we should spend money on something. If we don’t have the money, it doesn’t matter. That’s really driven a lot – if we don’t have the money, it doesn’t matter that we can get a relatively cheap dinner out, so let’s eat in with the food we already have. It’s helped re-define what we think we need – we don’t have any extra space in our backpacks so it doesn’t matter how small or interesting something is.

It’s that last line about re-defining what we think we need and the backpacks that really hit me.

The comparison from a backpack to their budget is powerful.

Anyone who has traveled or hiked long distances knows what my friends here are saying. You can only fit so much in a backpack and what you bring, and don’t bring, is important.

You get half way up the mountain and suddenly wish you hadn’t brought that 10-piece cooking set. You ditch half of what you brought at the next stopping point. Damn, that space could have been better used to bring more water! Lesson learned.

It’s helpful to think about your budget as a list of things you are going to shove in a backpack with limited space and carry with you for a whole month.

Do you really want to carry that gym membership in your backpack all month? Getting heavy isn’t it? You’re starting to realize you don’t need it and there’s much better use for that space money. Maybe you can ditch it at the next ranger station.

You ditch the membership and pick up your backpack It’s much lighter now, it feels better. Your mood increases, you’re walking a little faster now, you start humming a tune, you smile.

Ditching one thing leads to ditching another. If I can do without that, maybe I can ditch more stuff! Next thing you know you’re down to the basics.

Maybe this little story could help you re-define what you think you need.

There’s limited space in the backpack. What you don’t bring is just as important as what you do.


P.S. You won’t believe this. Matt and Elizabeth took amazing 360 degree PhotoSphere pics of a few places they’ve visited.

Here’s two of my faves…

7 Responses to "If it doesn’t fit in the backpack, we aren’t bringing it. Money lesson from traveling the world."

  1. J. Money   May 20, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Love this analogy man – smart friends!

    • Derek Olsen   May 22, 2016 at 1:16 pm

      Yeah man…

      Sometimes a tangible analogy makes visualizing a budget much easier.


  2. Elizabeth   June 5, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    I hope you’re cool with it but I directly quoted you in my latest post about managing money this year abroad. It’s from the email you sent that talked me off the ledge, so to speak. Really grateful for your input. That was the turning point, and it’s not always perfect but we’re doing a LOT better now.


    • Derek   June 6, 2016 at 7:27 am

      So glad you guys are doing better. Keep fighting!!!

      Give updates when you can.

  3. ZJ Thorne   June 28, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    This is a perfect analogy. Only bring things you need on the journey. Anything else will make the journey harder with the excess weight.

  4. Mr Crazy Kicks   July 10, 2016 at 10:00 am

    We just got back from a 2 week trip where we definitely packed too much crap. Half way through we repacked and realized we only needed half the stuff. Thats a great idea to look at all our other stuff/expenses the same way.

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