Here’s Your Complete Pre-Travel Downsizing Guide

By Jane Mountain | August 26, 2015

I’m not going to lie. If you want to pack up your life and take off around the world, there’s a lot to be done beforehand. It’s hard work to get everything slotted away so you can go away worry free. Downsizing takes planning, dedication and organization.

I am a consummate organizer. Lists, timelines, and neat spreadsheets really get me going.

Yeah, I’m weird like that.

If you’re of a more normal, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may disposition, allow me to be your personal pre-travel organizer.

Our Travel Planner’s Cheat Sheet features a handy timeline for getting rid of (or storing) a life full of stuff before you take off around the world.

This complete guide to downsizing illuminates each of the steps on the timeline, so you know exactly what to do and when you need to do it.

You’re welcome!

travel planning timeline, downsizing timeline, downsizing guide

This pre-travel downsizing timeline is a part of our Travel Planner’s Cheatsheet.


Sell your second car

If you have a two-car household, figure out how to arrange your life so you can get rid of one of those money-sucking hunks of steel. Right now!

That might mean one partner needs to cycle to work (awesome!), carpool, or take the bus. Too many people view their cars as necessities when really they’re just ultra-expensive ways to avoid minor inconveniences.

bikes, Vancouver bike routes, sell your car

Selling your car will make you money and help you get fit, too.

You can sell your car privately, which is the most hassle but will also get you the most money. If you can’t handle the stress of a private sale, sell to a trusted dealer or to CarMax or someone similar. Yes, you’ll be taking a hit cash-wise, but it’s quicker and easier, which means you’ll actually do it now instead of waiting for a rainy day.

Related: See how much you can save by selling your car now in How to Save Money for Travel the Grown-Up Way =>

To Do Eight Months Before You Leave

Arrange to rent or sell your house.

Obviously this only applies if you actually own your place.

If you choose to sell, you’ll need to adjust your timeline based on the market in your area, but even in a hot market, you need to start at least 6 months out.

It takes time to find the right agent, dress your house, and arrange the showings. The paperwork after you’ve sold your house can also be a long process. It can also be complicated by the fact that you may have left the country by the time everything is finally ironed out.

Renting your house out is a great option if you know for sure you’ll be returning to the same town and you are absolutely sure you want to keep your house. But be warned, renting your house is limiting.

What if you arrange a one-year lease and you decide to keep travelling for 18 months? What if you realize after your life-changing experiences that you no longer want to live in that same city or a house that big? What if your renters ditch after two months, leaving you with an empty house to fill from across the world?

Enlisting a rental management company to take care of all the weirdness that can happen with renters is a must if you want a stress-free trip.

To Do Six Months Before You Leave

Start selling valuable items on eBay.

If you have records, designer clothes, or other collectibles that you can bear to part with – Yes! Part with them! You do not need them weighing down your soul. – leave at least six months to sell them.

record player, sell records, downsizing

No, you don’t need 7,000 records and 3 turntables. Just keep the ones you love and sell the rest.

I speak from experience. Every single time we’ve moved (and we’ve moved A LOT) or taken off on a trip we never get around to selling our collectibles. As a result, we’ve ended up dragging boxes of crap (valuable crap, but still) we don’t want to and from storage spaces and moving trucks.

So stupid.

Start now and use all the money you make to start padding out your travel savings account!

Request a leave of absence from work.

If you don’t want to quit outright, now’s the time to have a sit-down with your boss. Explain your plans, underline how much you love your job and ask them to grant you a leave.

Doing this early will give your employer time to find someone to replace you and it will give you time to work out a Plan B if they say no. For teachers, doctors, and other professionals who are lucky enough to be allowed sabbaticals, check the rules. You may need to give more than six months’ notice.

To Do Three Months Before You Leave

Sell your furniture and other big items

There’s is furniture around your house that you don’t really use or need. Even if you’re renting your house instead of selling, there are certain items you will definitely be better off without.

Now’s the time to sell them on Facebook.

Why Facebook instead of Craigslist? Using Facebook to sell our best stuff allowed us to avoid the Craigslist time-wasters and hard-bargainers while giving our friends and their friends a chance to get great bargains.

Another advantage of selling to friends? You can sell your stuff now and then get them to take it off your hands later, so you can still sleep in your own bed until you leave.

To set up a sale on Facebook, I took pictures of all of our items for sale and then created a For Sale photo album. For each item I wrote a description, specified if there were any flaws or scratches, and set a price. People put in bids or laid claim to items in the comments. Simple.

Then our friends came by to pick up their items when they had time, meaning we got a little social interaction along with the bargain. Everybody wins!

You might live in an area where there’s an active buy and sell group on Facebook. This is another great place to offload your unwanted treasures.

Arrange a storage space for the things you want to keep

By now, you should have a decent idea of how much stuff you need to store. If you’re renting out your house, try to reserve a room, the garage, or attic to store your stuff while you’re gone. If you’re selling, arrange to store your belongings in a friend’s attic or basement if you can.

You can pay your friends for storage, but pay them less than you would pay an official storage centre. The friends who stored our stuff for us put the money into a college fund for their young daughter. Win win!

If you go this route, remember your items may be damaged or stolen while you’re away. If you can’t handle that possibility, use a professional storage space that guarantees a certain level of security.

(Related: Find your perfect self-storage space in the UK with this price comparison tool from WhatStorage)

Pro storing tip. If you’re on the fence about a certain item, get rid of it! Do not hold onto old junk for nostalgia’s sake. When you get back you will look at the things you kept and wonder what the hell you were thinking.

To Do One Month Before You Leave

Give notice at work

Even if you’re only required to give two weeks notice, do your boss a solid by notifying them a little early. This will give them more time to arrange your replacement. You may even get a chance to train the new guy.

Pack and move everything you can to storage

Get ahead of the curve on this one. Don’t leave your entire move to the last minute. You’ll be stressed out and exhausted enough on the first days of your trip, without the added hassle of just having moved. Pack now and start getting used to living small.

Arrange a buyer for your car

Leave extra time for unexpected hassles with your car sale.

Even though we knew we’d be selling Stephen’s car to CarMax, which should only take a couple of hours, there was a paperwork SNAFU and we had three days (over the weekend) to get the right papers into CarMax’s hands.

We were extremely lucky it all worked out, otherwise we’d have had $10,000 locked up in a car we didn’t manage to sell in time! We would also have had to figure out what to do with large hunk of automobile for two years while we were away.

To Do Two Weeks Before You Leave

Hold a Giving It All Away party

You’re so close. All the big stuff has been squared away and you’ll be winging your way towards adventure oh so soon. And yet, you’ve still got a shitload of stuff sitting around that you can’t take with you and you don’t want to store.

The solution is easy and fun. Invite everyone you know (especially anyone in their 20s) to a party at your place. Announce that they should bring bags with them and take away all your stuff.

To get ready for our Giving It All Away party, we put everything we hadn’t been able to sell on shelves and in boxes and baskets around the house. We labelled bigger items, like patio furniture and potted plants. We emptied our liquor cabinet and let the booze flow freely while our friends “shopped” in our house.

Some people left with a carload of stuff, others left with small mementos of our friendship. Everyone left happy and we were left with a barren house; 99% of everything we had put out was gone.

Seriously, it was like locusts had descended!

We asked our friends to take pictures of our stuff in their homes and when we got homesick on the road, looking at those pictures always made us feel a little closer to home. Stephen still gets a kick from seeing our cacti in friends’ Instagram photos.

Give away any bulky remaining items on Craigslist

You’ll probably end up with one or two items that nobody wanted. Now’s the time to list them on Craigslist’s free section. It doesn’t take long to move furniture when it’s free. In a matter of days, your house will be truly empty.

To Do One Week Before You Leave

Give away smaller items to a charity shop

Though we didn’t have much left after all that selling and partying, we did end up with a trunkload of final items that we needed to drive down to Goodwill. After that, our cupboards were officially bare.

Move your final things to storage

Now you’re down to the wire. Your house is empty and echoey and you have to sit on the floor because you gave all your furniture away. You’ll be nervous and excited and unable to sleep. Make sure you move your final boxes to storage early in the final week to leave time for any unexpected hiccups, like a messed-up truck rental or a misplaced storage key. You might want to sleep in a friend’s guest room for your final few nights. Or, try out your camping gear in your living room.

Squaring away all of the items you’ve gathered during your decades of adulthood is not an easy job. Start early, use copious checklists, calendar alerts, and handy timelines to keep all your downsizing efforts straight. And be ruthless. You don’t need nearly as much stuff as you think you do.

Getting rid of your stuff before you leave might just be the hardest part of long-term travel. Here's your complete guide and timeline to pre-travel downsizing.

Even though getting ready for a trip can be a huge job, you’ll get there eventually. We promise it will be worth all the effort.  


  1. Comment by Sunny Kumar

    Sunny Kumar January 24, 2018 at 7:05 am

    LOVED this post! I’ve never seen a more organized way to downsize – this is helpful when you are downsizing a parent into assisted living also. I’m sending this to a friend who is doing that right now.

    Thanks for the great info!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane January 24, 2018 at 9:33 am

      Thanks Sue, I’m so glad it was helpful. Downsizing takes a lot of patience and organization – and a steely heart when it comes to getting rid of beloved knick knacks. But it’s all worth it for that feeling of freedom that comes when you’re done.


  2. Comment by nancy

    nancy September 9, 2015 at 5:54 am

    i’ve always wondered how you two can afford to travel and live such interesting lives…is that too personal a question? i saw your post on freedom…trying to figure out how to achieve it…thanx for your great insights!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane September 9, 2015 at 11:13 am

      Not at all Nancy. Right now, to be honest, we are not affording to travel! Stephen gets paid to do so, but I can’t go with him because there just isn’t enough money. Most of the ways we saved to go are in this downsizing post and in our post about Saving Money for Travel, which is right here:

      Right now we are doing our best to keep costs waaaay down. Which means living in the garden suite of my sister’s house for very little rent, no cable, no cell phones, one car we never drive, and almost no beer (a huge sacrifice for Stephen!).

      We will write more about this soon, I promise you.


  3. Comment by Jane

    Jane August 28, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Thanks so much, Sue. I hadn’t thought of this as a guide for helping parents downsize, but you’re absolutely right, it might be helpful there too. Thanks for sharing and commenting!


  4. Comment by Sue Anne Dunlevie

    Sue Anne Dunlevie August 28, 2015 at 6:37 am

    LOVED this post! I’ve never seen a more organized way to downsize – this is helpful when you are downsizing a parent into assisted living also. I’m sending this to a friend who is doing that right now.

    Thanks for the great info!

  5. Comment by Lauren

    Lauren August 27, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    Thanks for a great post – I know I have a hard time getting rid of stuff! Just found your site and I’ve enjoyed browsing.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 27, 2015 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks a lot Lauren! I love getting rid of stuff, but Stephen hates it, therein lies our challenge.

  6. Comment by Mike L

    Mike L August 27, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Some great tips here for travellers and non-travellers alike!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 27, 2015 at 9:33 am

      Hey Mike, you’re totally right. These tips can definitely be used for non-travelling downsizers too. Or just by anyone who wants to save a little cash and clean up their junk!

  7. Comment by bob

    bob August 26, 2015 at 8:19 pm

    nancy is right; You are amazing. Just to let you know, I must depart and don’t want to be rude but this is mostly n/a now as i started my modest traveling adventures 3 decades ago and if I ever was a dynamo about it, I’ve certainly slowed now. you have a ball.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 27, 2015 at 9:32 am

      No problem, Bob. Thanks for sticking around for a while. I’m sure after another few years we’ll be slowing down on the travel lifestyle, too!

  8. Comment by nancy

    nancy August 26, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    THANK YOU! I may be going back to CA soon and I need this! You guys are amazing…really. Best times I had Stephens early class…I felt great afterwards between his knowledge and teaching in general. Best to you both!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 27, 2015 at 9:29 am

      Thanks, Nancy. Good news that you may be headed back to Cali, but I know it was tough making the move away, so I hope this time goes more smoothly!

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