“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” – John A. Shedd
Almost everyone has their go-to clothing store. In college, mine was a trendy but cheap store that likely made all of their clothes in sweatshops. While they were able to mass produce clothes that were constantly keeping up with the ever-changing world of female fashion, they didn’t last long. After a few washes the clothes would shrink or fray, which meant one thing: buy more. Since graduating college, I’ve moved residences five times, and with each move I reevaluate the items I keep. As you might have guessed, the clothes from this particular store never seem to make the cut. In my early twenties I wanted to keep up with the latest trends: T-shirt dresses, off the shoulder boho tops, flow-y floral skirt with a two foot slit. Now that I’m in my mid twenties I’m starting to realize how dangerous cheap fashion can be, and ultimately, how limiting it can be to constantly try to keep up with what everyone else has. As I’ve grown and explored more as an (almost) adult, I’ve discovered the clothes that hold up in my life and those that don’t. I’ve uncovered that my true desire is to collect experiences and friendships around the world, not clothing items to look trendy while doing so. When I look back on old pictures, I don’t notice or care about the clothes that I am wearing. I notice the friends I’m with, the weather from that day, and the emotions in my face that say “THIS is where I want to spend my money”. Not on things, but on places, people, and experiences.
With this in mind, I’m going to explore why shifting to spend your money on experiences rather than things is such a good idea, and also how to make those initial steps. This post is for those who may not have contemplated the value of travel and new experiences and those who have not yet explored new cultures or who want to do so more. If that’s you, I challenge you to get to the end of this blog. Then, seriously reflect on the value that your possessions do or do not provide.
Experiences are an education
“I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.” – David Rockefeller
The best investment you can make is in your own mind. What better way to spend your money than on the betterment and improvement of your thought processes, emotional growth, and storytelling material. It’s because of my travels that I now have incredible and rare stories, like the one powerful and memorable experience of walking across the Sixaola River between Costa Rica and Panama with an indigenous community leader. You have to travel to find opportunities like these. I learned heaps of information by speaking to Native Ticos (Costa Ricans) about how they live, why their land is important to them, and how they maintain their culture in a time of mass globalization. I’m not talking about textbook information — these are perspectives and insights you won’t get in school. Traveling and “consuming” experiences gives you opportunities for engagement that simply cannot be accessed in a school environment. Meeting individuals from remote communities is the type of education that provides perspective and appreciation for what we have and what exists outside our limited western lifestyles.
Sure we may have cars, iPhones, and the latest fashions, but we have to realize not everyone lives like we do, and how enriching it can be to educate ourselves on other cultures and customs. There are people who still make their own chocolate from raw cacao, weave palms together to make roofs for their neighbors, and build bow and arrows for (actual) hunting. They are even willing to show you how to do it. When you invest in travel, you not only invest in yourself, you also invest in others. Pairing your vacation with a little education is easy, and as a result, you feed your own mind as well as the hearts and bodies of friends you meet along the way.
A way to meet new friends
I once met a friendly Canadian approximately 15 seconds after getting off the plane in Bali. Two days later he ended up busing across the country with his friends to bring me snacks during an intensive yoga teacher training. Two other friendly travelers I met while abroad ended up coming to the U.S. to do some seasonal work with me over the summers. While studying in Costa Rica, I met one of my best friends, who has since come to visit me in Austin and I’ve gone to visit her in Hawaii. Traveling and meeting new people isn’t just about the experiences you gain — the friendships are phenomenal too. The more international your crowd is, the richer your experience. My intensive yoga training in Bali introduced me to new friends in Hong Kong, Brazil, Australia, London, The Czech Republic and many other countries that have since made my travel shortlist.
If I had spent that couple grand on a new stereo system for my car, a Turkish rug, or an intricately carved dresser I would have never gained the stories and wealth of fulfillment that comes from making new friends from all over the world. The best part about traveling with an open mind is that most globetrotters do too. Just like your first year of college, meeting people is effortless because everyone else is trying to meet you as well. What’s your story? What’s your passion? What brought you here? All good questions that could introduce you to your newest best friend or future significant other.
Things depreciate in value, experiences do not
As long as you can remember your experiences, they will hold their value. You can elongate your memory and experience’s utility by writing them down, making them timeless. You will never regret learning how to surf in the warm waters of Costa Rica or learning how to tune into your breath and body with Pilar in the Bodhi Shambala Yoga Center. It will never get old to reflect on rare experiences from your travels. One memory that always sticks with me was watching a family of Rastafarians play “organic music” on instruments they made from surrounding rainforests in Trinidad. The elderly father had dreads so long they could wrap around his waist and tie a knot. While these experiences don’t come up in casual conversation, they will never leave me and never depreciate in value. You cannot say the same thing about things, clothes, or cars.
I’ve lost several Ray Bans, scratched my car multiple times, and broken a few iPhone screens. Things will come and then they will go, but memories of your travels and adventures can stay forever. Buddhists teach non-attachment because things are fleeting and have no permanence in our lives. Experiences, however, don’t depreciate as soon as you drive them off the lot. They add on top of one another, with an infinite amount of room to add more.
Gifting to someone is hard, experiencing with someone is easy
It’s always hard for me to figure out what to give my brothers as gifts. I have two brothers and I’m always forced to ask them what they want for Christmas in fear I’ll get something they don’t like, need, or want. Two years ago, my brother’s fiancé knew exactly what to get him for their anniversary. I don’t know how often you change your cover photo on Facebook but my brother has had the same one since July of 2015. It was then that his fiancé gave him the greatest gift she could have purchased: the photo is him standing on a race track behind a sleek, black Lamborghini Gallardo he was able to zip around the track a few times one afternoon. He loved that day! She didn’t buy him an apple product or a new car. She bought him an experience he never thought he’d get to have. She bought him the opportunity to flex his masculinity in a new way, and he savored every second. He still enjoys that experience. Every time he logs into Facebook his brain fires endorphins at the sight of that picture and the thought of that experience.
Companies such as Bodhi Surf + Yoga make trip-planning and experience-gifting easy by bundling your stay with yoga, surfing, food, accommodations, massage, and community engagement. They also do their part to take care of the environment and local community, making Bodhi’s 7-night surf and yoga camp a fantastic gift for the adventurer/environmentalist/socially aware individual in your life. Don’t have a passport? Now’s the time to get one! Can’t afford international travel? Look for travel contest opportunities or coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, which do a lot of the hard work for you by categorizing and reducing the price to make gifting experiences easier than ever. Spend some time with your loved ones at the beach, in a lake-side cabin, or at a surf and yoga camp. Driving overnight to see white sand in Destin, Florida and floating on a lazy river in San Antonio, Texas were my favorite memories as a child. The memories I made with my brothers and parents didn’t cost a lot. The toys and gadgets from my childhood are not what we talk about around the Thanksgiving table. I know, it’s probably hard to believe that my 1998 Sony walkman isn’t the pinnacle of my childhood — that’s probably because in 1999 they came out with a brand new one and my gift became last year’s news within a few months. My family trips to the beach, however, still to this day bring me joy. Make your gifts last; gift experiences, not things.
Transitioning from buying things to buying experiences
In this section I’ll give you a few easy steps that will help you make the transition to buying more experiences and fewer things.
When your loved ones include the words “I’ve always wanted to…” take a mental note of what that is and research ways to make that happen.
2. Do some research
- Try using words like “eco,” “sustainable,” “responsible,” “local,” when Googling or researching destinations, accommodations, rental cars, and food.
- Learn about the place you want to visit before going. Make sure the season’s match up with what you plan to do while there.
- Technology has progressed so much that you can stay in someone’s home for about half the price of a hotel making it easier to travel the world in comfort.
- Contrary to popular belief, you can get single rooms with locks at hostels and inexpensive hotels. I’ve never felt unsafe in my hostels.
- Read reviews on the places you plan to visit or stay. Google collects this information so a simple google search can do the trick.
- Pro Tip: If you’re okay with waiting until arrival to make specific plans, ask a local what they recommend. You could get a unique perspective most tourists will never find out about.
3. Evaluate Spending
Look at where your money goes each month. Websites like Mint and Dollar Bird track your spending, make budgets, and help you plan financially. They are free and easy to use. I personally use Mint and only have to tweak a few automatically assigned categories each month to track my spending. I know what percentage of my money goes to food, entertainment, utilities, gas etc. When I get close to my budget cap, Mint sends me an email reminding me to slow my roll on spending. I also have a budget for travel and savings for upcoming adventures. A wise finance professor at University of Virginia’s Business School once told me not to spend more than 30% of my income on housing and utilities. Growing up, my parents made me set aside 10% of my allowances for savings and now I save closer to 35%. Its because of this conservative approach to spending and that I can finance my travels, eat, pay dog sitters, and live a fulfilling life of adventures and travel. You can too, it’s just going to take some intentionality.
What have we learned?
Your things will depreciate, break, and weather. Your experiences will persist. You can collect an infinite amount of experiences and memories and they will never decrease in value or utility. As you grow your adventures will change. What gets you excited to travel might shift from meeting people to showing your kids the world. Give yourself the gift of learning about a new culture. Give your children the gift of spending their summer exploring outside with you. Give someone else the gift of meeting you and learning your story.
Experiences cost money but they don’t have to cost a lot, you simply need to know where to look. When it comes to your things, take a long, hard look at them and tell someone else why that item holds value. Is it because it makes you appear wealthy or more financially stable than you actually are? Are you addicted to buying the next best thing just to keep up with the Joneses? Who are the Joneses, even, and what proof do you have that their things make them happy? When was the last time you bought an experience? If your answer is “too long” use the resources above to make the change towards buying experiences and not things. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Written by Katie Jones