Packing light - or at least attempting to - has been somewhat of a challenge for me. The weight of my pack(s) decreases with each trip, but I still have too much stuff. I mean, did I come here for new and exciting experiences or to lug a bunch of stuff around like a boat anchor?
I also had some insight into my own hypocrisy. I want to live and travel minimalist, yet I still fall into the trap of buying souvenirs for myself and for others. At least half a dozen times during this trip so far. The stuff is really hard to resist. At first glance it's shiny or colorful or exotic or "such a bargain." But in reality you just end up with cheap junk. I've been to many markets in many different countries and it's all the same: local handicrafts that will end up sitting on a shelf and collecting dust, cotton elephant pants and t-shirts that don't last, jewelry that just gets added to an overwhelming pile and ultimately ends up getting sold at garage sales, brand name counterfeits and knock-offs, and the list goes on. Not to mention the vendors can be incredibly aggressive or persuasive and it's easy to get guilted into buying things you don't even want in the first place.
With nothing but the best intentions, you attach the amazing experiences that you saw, heard, touched, smelled and tasted to the things you buy. So you attach feelings of fondness to these inanimate 'gifts.' But the recipient did not experience these things so she/he will appreciate the sentiment but the thing will probably get used once or twice then disappear into the darkest depths of the closet. Or the thing may not get used or appreciated at all.
For Christmas last year, I gave my mom a silk scarf from Cambodia and a jade bracelet from Vietnam and I have yet to see her wear either gift. I knew she already had piles of jewelry and a collection of scarves before I purchased these things but I felt obligated not to come home empty-handed, especially around the holidays. I'm not upset and it's nothing personal against my mom - it's human nature to want more than you need and to not use all that you have, at least in the West. With regards to the holidays, I'm sure my mom appreciated my gifts of time and effort like cooking, chauffeuring, conversing, teaching yoga and even a foot rub or two more than anything tangible that was under the tree.
Not to mention unplanned souvenirs and gifts can easily blow your travel budget. If you're on a tight budget, you're gonna buy cheap stuff that is mass produced so that a thousand other tourists can buy it too. If you have a bit more money and want to buy some exotic furniture or decor for your home, the item itself may seem like a steal but the shipping costs and risk of damage during transit quickly add up.
So here's my solution. It's unrealistic and setting myself up for failure to think that I can go the rest of this trip without buying anything else. So after Nepal, I am limiting myself to one item per country. Quality over quantity, one of my core values. Each thing also has to be useful and lightweight. And I have to like it, love it, can't live without it. No buying it even if I'm on the fence or have an inkling of doubt.
And no more junk for family and friends either. There are several reasons why I've determined postcards are vastly superior souvenirs.
1) Each is handwritten and personalized for its intended recipient.
2) It's a nice, somewhat nostalgic surprise that stands out among the monotony of junk mail, catalogs and local advertising.
3) It's cost effective - most often less than one US dollar for the card and postage.
4) If you look hard enough, you can find unique cards that still support local artisans/photographers.
5) If the recipient doesn't feel the need to keep it, it can be recycled.
6) They are sent right away and don't weigh you down, taking up precious space in your backpack.
7) The personal connection of seeing a picture and hearing how much you loved traveling to a place is more likely to inspire someone else to travel there too instead of a generic trinket.
I'm leaving some stuff behind in Nepal but I'm still stuck lugging around a bunch more junk from home that I've since decided I can live and travel without.
This lesson I've learned from long-term, solo travel is so applicable to the rest of life too: