The promises we never keep

Pretty much every time I go overseas, the same thought occurs to me: I own too much junk. Too much junk that I don't need.

Back home I'm as consumed with consumerism as everyone else – getting the latest iThingy, a new shirt, that bag I saw, all the fancy, glittering and ultimately fairly pointless gadgets in the travel shops.

I've got an apartment that stands as a proud testament to my love of stuff: sporting equipment, CDs, furniture, clothes, electronics. All that crap.

It's only when I go overseas for a while, carrying 13 kilos' worth of the items in my house that I've deemed truly essential for life on the road, that I start to think that I really should get rid of most of the things I own.

Give it all away. Live more frugally. Never worry about losing stuff, because I'd have no stuff to lose.

All you really need to survive in this world could fit into a backpack – in fact, you could get away with a lot less. That's a liberating realisation, knowing that all the cool stuff you obsess over back home is really just peripheral rubbish that's completely unnecessary.

So I make a pact with myself to stop buying the iThingys, stop searching out the well-cut, expensive jeans, stop buying the DVDs I'll never watch, stop wasting money on stuff I don't really need.

And then I come home and do it anyway.

A couple of weeks back I was writing about epiphanies, and how things suddenly occur to you when you've been travelling for a long period of time – that you need a new job or a new home or a whole new life.

What I forgot to mention is that for most people, the vast bulk of those epiphanies are never acted upon. You get home, you slip back into normal life, and forget about all that crazy things you decided you were going to do while you were on the other side of the world.

It's disappointing, really. I still buy loads of pointless stuff I really don't need when I'm at home, but that's not the only thing.

I've decided I desperately need to learn another language, oh, about a thousand times now, and yet I'm still limited to orders of beer and enquiries about toilets in pretty much every country I visit. Parlez vous Anglais?

After my first trip to Africa I was inspired to become some sort of backpacking philanthropist, a crusader for social justice not just around the world but in Australia too – that, sadly, must have been forgotten sometime in between the iPhone 3G and the MacBook Pro.

And ooh, look at that cool watch.

I've got loads of respect for people who decide to make these grand changes to their lives and then actually have the drive to go through with them when they get home. There are plenty of inspiring stories out there, and I can't even manage to stop going to the Apple store.

In fact, I've made plenty of decisions while travelling that have fizzled out into nothing.

I've decided to see more of my own country. But still haven't.

I've decided to watch less TV, because I really don't need it. But still haven't.

I've decided to take a photography course. But still haven't.

I've decided to do some simple volunteer work for a charity. But still haven't.

I've decided to make it my life's work to introduce the concept of the siesta to mainstream Australian culture. But still haven't.

The truth is, life gets in the way when you arrive home. When you've got a job to do and friends to catch up with and parents to placate and sporting teams to cheer for, all of those noble intentions just fade into the background.

Things go back to normal. You still plan to make those changes ... just, you know, soon.

Have you had trouble acting on the decisions you've made while travelling? Or have you just gone ahead and done it?

Follow Ben Groundwater on Twitter @bengroundwater