As the weeks ticked down before we set off on our travel career break, one big question slowly crept up. Exactly what are we going to do with all of our stuff? It’s a problem that anyone will have to face before taking a long-term trip. After going through this process ourselves and trying many options, we’ve compiled this guide to make it a little less stressful for you. From long-term storage to selling online and charity donations, this guide lays out the alternatives for dealing with your belongings before a big travel adventure.

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Preparing for the clear-out: useful rules of thumb

One thing to know before you even start considering your options is that you probably have a lot more stuff than you realise. Don’t underestimate it! We were amazed with how much box space our things took up.

There a few principles you can follow that will make the process a lot easier – not only when preparing to clear out your stuff before you travel, but when you get back as well.

These three rules of thumb have worked a treat for us:

Be ruthless

One thing travel will teach you is that having fewer belongings can lead to a much better lifestyle. Living from a backpack for a year can turn anyone into a minimalist! So, why not start early? Don’t hold back when it comes to getting rid of things before you set off. The moment you learn to let go, the clear-out process becomes quite liberating.

We thought we’d been ruthless before we left for our trip, but we could have gone so much further. When we got back home after a year away, we immediately got rid of about half the stuff we’d put into storage.

Cull more before you go and you’ll save time, hassle and possibly some money too.

Be savvy

Saving for a travel career break isn’t easy, and so any way you can make some extra money is a big help. Clearing out your stuff presents various opportunities to do that.

Read on below and we detail some of the ways you can make some extra cash from the clear-out. Always be on the lookout for chances to make use of them. However little you can make, it all adds up.

We raised enough from this process to pay for our vaccinations. Some friends of ours paid for a van just by selling stuff! Approaching the clear-out with a money-making mindset can go a long way.

Be generous

While it’s great to make some cash from the clear-out where you can, also think about how your belongings can help others. Wouldn’t you rather someone gets valuable use out of something you own, than it just gathers dust in a box somewhere?

Believe me, having a supportive network of family of friends is invaluable when you take a long-term trip. We received so many favours – and giving away some of our possessions was one way that we could give them something back in return.

At Heathrow Airport at the beginning of our travel career break with our lives distilled into our backpacks
At Heathrow Airport at the beginning of our travel career break with our lives distilled into our backpacks

The best ways to store/offload your stuff before long-term travel

So, let’s continue… here are some of the best strategies for storing or offloading your belongings before long-term travel:

1.  Put your stuff into long-term travel storage

If you have large, valuable items that you don’t want to get rid of, like sofas and TVs, there may be no other option than to invest in some long-term storage space.

Shop around for the best options in your location. Here are a few long-term storage services we recommend:

  • Safestore in the UK (and some locations elsewhere in Europe) offers 50% off storage for up to 8 weeks, and 20% off storage for 12 months or more. They also have services tailored for storage while you’re travelling.
  • Life Storage in the USA often offers free or discounted periods at the beginning of long-term storage.
  • Shurgard has storage facilities across Europe, and offers units for £1 for the first month.
  • National Storage in Australia has facilities in every state.

If you want to store smaller belongings too, then it’s well worth getting some stack and pull storage boxes to optimise the storage space.

2.  Sell your stuff online

This is easiest way to make some money from offloading your stuff. There are many different platforms you can use to sell your stuff online.

The most popular and widely used are Ebay and Gumtree. We’ve also found that Depop is a fantastic network for selling stuff anywhere in the world (clothes in particular), and Facebook Marketplace is another option.

In more recent times we’ve frequently used Vinted for buying and selling clothes. Services like this can be great for both selling on stuff you want to get rid of, and also finding useful items for travelling.

Whichever you choose – and it could be a combination of the above – it’s a good idea to do some research before you decide what to sell. Before our trip, I sorted through all of the books we didn’t want any more, and checked how much each one was going for on Ebay. Then I listed anything that was selling for over £10. Doing this saves time and effort on setting up listings for items that will make very little, if any money at all.

One way to approach this is to create a ‘potential sales’ pile. Just heap together the things you’re interested in selling. Then check across the various online platforms and filter it down to the most profitable items. With anything that’s left over, you can try the next trick…

3.  Sell your stuff at local community sales

Most places in the world have some form of local community marketplaces where anyone can show up and sell stuff. In the UK we have ‘car boot sales’, where you literally park up and sell things out of your car. In Canada these are known as ‘trunk fairs’.

Similar things exist in different guises around the world. Whether it’s a car boot sale, a trunk fair, a garage sale, a jumble sale, a bazaar, or whatever – you should be able to find somewhere you can rock up and sell your unwanted belongings. Usually you have to pay a small sellers’ fee, and you can make a nice little profit.

We paid £5 for a slot at a car boot sale on a Sunday morning, and left at midday with about £100. Not a fortune, but as always, every little helps. It’s better than throwing things away, and someone else will get usage out of your things.

While you’re there, take the chance to have a quick browse around other vendors’ stalls. You never know – you might find a really useful gadget to buy for travelling.

Car boot sale UK
Car boot sales in the UK are a great way to sell belongings. Photo by Dominic Alves on Flickr

4.  Donate to charity

If you aren’t able to sell your things, you’re short of time, or you just want to help a good cause, there’s always the option to donate your things to a charity shop (also called ‘thrift stores’ in the USA). We gave a few boxes of our clothes away to support organisations we love in the UK.

Look into the charity shops in your area and choose a couple that you’d like to help out. Here are some resources you can use to find a charity shop close to you:

  • The Thrift Shopper has a national directory of charity-driven thrift stores in the USA
  • Charity Retail Association has a store finder for charity outlets in the UK
  • OpShop lists stores selling goods for community and charitable organisations in Australia

5.  Give or lend stuff to friends and family

Another option that falls in line with the ‘be generous’ rule of thumb. Put together a list of your belongings that may be useful to people, and see if any of your friends and family would like to have anything while you’re away, or even permanently.

As an example, I own a ton of musical equipment, including about ten guitars. Before we went travelling, I gave most of my gear out to friends on long-term loan. More than a year after returning, most of my guitars are still with friends (and my very talented nephew). Most of the time I only used one of them before anyway, and now they’re all being used! Much better.

Why not set up a Facebook group where you can post the items you want to lend or give away, and invite people to join? If you’re concerned about getting things back, then just set up a spreadsheet to track what you’ve given out and to whom.

If you have any items of value that you don’t want to give away, you could still do a friend a favour by selling it to them for a bargain price. It’s easier than selling online or at a local sale, and you make a bit of spending money for travel. Win-win.

6.  Give things away on Freecycle

If you have anything left over that you can’t sell or give to charity or friends, then you can try giving it away on Freecycle. This is a global non-profit network of nearly 10 million people around the world, aiming to promote reuse.

It’s free to join a Freecycle local community, which are run by volunteers. You can then list anything you want to give away. We were amazed how quickly we found takers for the most random things. Children’s toys, car tyres, old kitchen utensils – there was always someone who wanted it.

7.  Ask around for spare loft space

If you’ve exhausted other options and you want to avoid long-term storage costs, you can always ask around to see if any friends and family have any space available in a loft or basement.

We were lucky to have a very generous and supportive network of people who helped us before we set off on our trip. Much of our stuff was stored away for the year in a few different lofts around the UK.

Our friends let us use space in their loft, so we didn't need to use long-term storage
Our friends let us use space in their loft, so we didn’t need to use long-term storage

If all else fails, you can throw things away – but this should be a last resort. If it does come to that, try to recycle things whenever possible.

Read our complete guide to managing money when travelling

How to pack away your stuff for long-term storage

Once you’ve decided which of these methods you will use to clear out your stuff – and it will likely be a combination of several – it’s time to get packing.

Schedule time for when you will sort through everything. How long you need obviously depends on how much stuff you have, but a full day at the weekend should be plenty to get started at least.

These tips are a combination of tricks we used ourselves, and things we wish we had known before we packed away our stuff.

Tips on getting organised

  • Get your house clean and tidy before you start the sort-out. A neat and clear space will make it easier and less stressful to start organising.
  • Set up a spreadsheet to organise the sort-out. Use different tabs or columns to record which of your belongings you are selling, storing, giving away etc.
  • Label all your boxes with exactly what’s in them so you can find things easily when you get back home. You could use a spreadsheet for this too. We didn’t do this and it caused a lot of frustration! After returning home, we kept having to rummage through boxes to find specific things we needed.
  • Get some sturdy leftover boxes from supermarkets. The type used to pack fruit are perfect. Ask your local supermarket when they will have empty boxes in. It’s often mid-morning after a delivery.
  • Also consider buying a set of stack and pull storage boxes to pack everything away neatly.

Tips on packing

  • Start separating things into piles of relevant groupings. For instance, you might have a charity donations pile, an online selling pile and a long-term storage pile.
  • When you start packing things into boxes, try to spread weight evenly. If you pack too much weight into a single box or case (for example by filling it with books), it will be difficult to move, especially if you need to lift it into a loft and lower it down again. For example, pack books and clothes together to balance out the weight.
  • Always put heavier things at the bottom of a box – you don’t want to risk crushing anything.
  • Use padding to protect anything fragile. You can wrap things in old newspaper or use bubble wrap, for example.
  • Lie books flat to avoid them bending over time while you’re away.
  • Make sure you seal boxes properly, because dust will accumulate.

Finally, try to enjoy it! The whole process may seem like a chore, but there are ways to make it fun. Put some music on, build some breaks into the day, and maybe treat yourself to a takeaway at the end of it.

See our ultimate guide to taking a travel career break for more practical insights on how to get prepared.

What else do you need to sort before you set off on your adventure? Read our long-term travel checklist to find out.

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One of the big tasks before travel is deciding what to do with all your stuff. Read our best tips on long-term storage, selling, donating & more. #longtermstorage #travelstorage #travelcareerbreak #storage #belongings

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