Travelling is expensive, right? “How do you afford it? Your blog must be going well…..” If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard this, I’d be a millionaire. A real millionaire. Sure, I’ve had some great help with my blog, but that’s not how I fund most of my travel.
And then on the other end, there are the people who ask me when I’m going to “settle down.” They’re mostly family. I don’t think they’re trying to be rude or disrespect my lifestyle – they simply just don’t “get it.”
Let me tell you a story. I lived in my hometown, Adelaide, for 27 years before I hopped on that plane to Los Angeles to start my 6 months abroad. I consider myself as a traveller. Last year alone, I was overseas four times. I stepped foot in four different continents, but it wasn’t enough. I was constantly listening to podcasts and reading blogs from nomads, like Natalie Sisson . I yearned for a longer trip – one where I could take off my shoes and really get to know another culture. I chose Indonesia. At that time, I had no idea the amount of lessons I was about to learn. And one of the biggest lessons to top that list is money.
I saved $15,000 for 6 months living in Bali, including some travel around – mainly to visa hop. I have my own freelance writing business, but I didn’t want to rely on this. So, I know my situation is different than most peoples, because I’m earning while I’m travelling. But I’m not here to tell you to start your own business. I’m going to share the biggest lesson I’ve learned – my perspective on money.
We’re influenced more than we even know
I once heard this alarming fact. Every day, we’re exposed to approximately 10,000 advertising. Think about it. We scroll through social media. We flick through magazines and papers. We nurse our mouse, hovering down through websites. We hear it on the radio driving to work. We see it on billboards and buses driving home. Then we end our day watching TV, and we see hundreds more. The messages literally don’t stop… until we’re sleeping. A lot of what we absorb happens unconsciously. And this is the biggest problem. We don’t even know it’s happening.
Living in Indonesia, Bali to be exact, I’m away from all of this. I live in a little surf town, Canggu. I’m surrounded by lush, green rice fields and there’s a famous surf break at the end of my street. There are no billboards. No TVs. No clothing chains. My days are simple. I get up, watch the sunrise, do 3-4 hours of work at a café 10 minutes away, enjoy a smoothie bowl for lunch, go for an afternoon swim, and eat dinner.
I talk to locals. I Skype my family and friends back home. I set goals for myself each week, to grow my business. Life is good. Sure, I get stressed and worried, like everyone does – that doesn’t stop just because I’m travelling. I’m living life too, just in another country. But overall, I feel less stressed, anxious and worried here in this developing country, Indonesia. And I think the reason for this is I live within my means. I don’t have access to scales, to make up, and to the latest products. I don’t miss it either. My relationship with physical things has changed. I’ve never been a materialistic girl, but now I just look at things as just that – things. I’d rather spend my money on experiences.
And I’m not the only one. Jodi Ettenberg from Legal Nomads shares her changed perspectives from 8 years on the road.
If you buy this, you’ll be….. Cha-ching!
We’re consumer addicts. A lot of the time, we buy on feelings.
If you buy this top, you’ll totally look skinner.
It’s the new year. It’s time to get in shape. Join the gym.
Spend your tax cheque on a new car. Drive in style.
Sound familiar? In Australia, the temptation is just too great to live large and beyond our means. It’s impossible to escape the pressure to spend, spend, and spend some more. What’s even worse than spending all of our money is spending the money we don’t have. Many people are in debt, which is a big reason why they’re anxious. It’s like a snowball effect. They’re trying to keep up “the Joneses.” Keep up appearances.
Living here, I’ve been forced to go cold turkey. No billboards. No TV. No shopping malls. No “it’s your birthday, spend with us” emails. I’ve been able to replace these temptations for other things that motivate me and male me happy – such as travelling, meeting new people, going for walks, listening to music, reading, writing, getting to know myself without all the distractions.
This is an important point to flesh out. All of these “things we must have” are just distractions. Do we really want them? That new dress for a birthday on Saturday. We’ve got 10 dresses we could wear in our closet, but no, that’s not “ok to do.” New is best. Fashion is constant. We need to look good to feel good, right? Keeping up appearances is literally killing us. Making us unhappy.
How travelling moulds your view of money
It takes courage to unpeel these layers and get back to your true self. But let me tell you, it’s worth every tear. Just like unpeeling an onion creates temporary tears, that taste is so full of life.
Here are 5 financial lessons that living in Indonesia has taught me.
Money doesn’t buy happiness
Living in Asia, I’m constantly challenged. We get hassled. We struggle with the currency. We get ripped off. But we also see a lot of greatness. These people have nothing, really nothing. They’re living below the poverty line, yet they’re the happiest people you’ll ever meet. My friend and I did this social experiment, to see how many people (mostly tourists) looked up and say hello as they pass us. Probably 20% of people did. They’re on holiday and still, they can’t manage to simply greet a stranger. We found this baffling. And heartbreaking. This is proof that money and everything money brings, does not guarantee happiness. Travelling teaches you above love, loss, cultural difference, and challenging almost every perception you have. You become an observer, just like this backpacker experienced.
I need less than I thought I did
I’ve got a full backpack but do I use all the stuff in there? Nope. I have about three to four outfits on rotation, and I barely touch my toiletries bag each day. I’ve become frugal. Back home, almost every day I’d buy something. Whether that’s lunch, a bunch of groceries, a new outfit for the weekend, a book – the list goes on. Travelling has taught me to value experiences of possessions. Because hell, I’m not going to look back at my life when I’m eighty years old and think about that nice dress I bought. I’ll be thinking about that time I ate $1 street food on the side of the road in Pai, Thailand.
Read more about self-discovery in the World of Wanderlust’s book: A Year to Myself.
I value money more. I buy less
I look at money as a channel in which to buy experiences. Read more about my argument here . And as a result, I value it more (and buy less). I know when I go home I’m going to walk into a shopping mall and feel like a young child, gazing at all the different things trying to capture my attention. But I’m stronger than that now. Living out of a backpack for a good part of six months only had this affect on me. That backpack full of 10kg of my things was enough. It’s a huge lesson in valuing what you do have, no matter how little that may be.
Nothing is permanent
On the road, I’ve had both good and bad days. It’s not all cocktails and ticking off bucket lists. Travel, just like life, is challenging at times. It’s a journey and one where you’ll find lessons in the most unexpected of situations. I’ve learned to ride this wave we call life and not to take things too seriously. Nothing is permanent, so enjoy the good times and be patient during the challenges. Don’t make excuses. I’m lucky enough to be on this journey with my best friend, but there’s nothing wrong with going solo too. Nomadic Matt talks about how to solo travel the world fearlessly.
Financial freedom is possible
Think about all the exercise fads out there. People buy in to products because of false hopes, when really it’s simple – exercise more, eat less. The same goes for money and financial freedom. Sure, we all want to earn more and I’m not saying money isn’t important, but let’s simplify this too. You can either earn more or spend less. I’ve met some pretty creative people in my travels who housesit, couchsurf, or trade their time for a free bed. There are many ways you can spend less and therefore, have more. And to be honest, living like this is a truckload of fun. Let me ask you this: when you’re 80, will you remember that night you stay in another run-of-the-mill hotel or watching the sun go down and sleeping in a tent, under the stars? I sure know which one I’d pick, and it doesn’t involve any room service.
I’m not alone either. Be My Travel Muse talks about stargazing under the clearest sky on earth .
Being rich has little to do with money
Sure. Money can buy you a ticket around the world, but you don’t need nearly as much as you’d expect. I look at all of these tourists coming into Bali and sipping “cheap” $10 cocktails and spending the day lazing by the pool of their $200 per night resort. I wish I could just go up to them and tell them there’s so much more to life.
You can travel cheap, even for free, with a bit of local knowledge, creativity and confidence. You might have a few sleepless nights trying to swot off mozzies, as you lay out on the beach, just to save a buck or two. But hell, isn’t this what we travel for – to experience new things, to challenge ourselves, and to grow? That’s certainly what travel, what life, is for me.
Being rich comes in many forms. There are many ways you can be rich. But western society tells us having money is the most superior. You can have a rich life by simply spending less. Take me for example. I’ve been able to save more in 4 months of travelling that I did in an entire year at home. And I owe this to my change of mindset towards money.
To me now, my “rich” looks like this:
Living a life full of adventure and culturally vivid experiences. Having free time. Being challenged and motivated. Meeting interesting people from different parts of the world. Loving and being loved in return. It’s determining my wealth through my relationships. It’s living a life that’s true to me.
As philanthropist Lynne Twist points out:
Money itself doesn’t have power… It is our interpretation of money, our interaction with it, where the real mischief is and where we find the real opportunity for self-discovery and personal transformation.
The challenges, revelations and moments of wonder that travel affords have the capacity to change my world – to irreversibly alter their sense of self, including their understanding of their own capabilities, their vulnerabilities, and even their purpose in life.
Don’t choose throwaway stuff. Get on a plane instead.
Remember, the next time someone raises their brow and asks you why you’re wasting your money on plane tickets instead of fancy rugs, show them a photo from that night on the beach and ask them this: have you ever seen something so beautiful?
Your sophistication, self-awareness and damn right love for life will be infectious. And for those who still don’t get it and think travelling is a waste of money? Don’t worry. Not everyone will respect your journey.
Just like the white picket fence, the dog and the three kids aren’t. I know when I go home I’m going to look at all of my stuff and think it’s all s***. Excuse my French!
But it’s ok. I do love a good old spring clean.
If you liked this story, be sure to check out Happiness and Celebrating Simplicity. And if you’re looking to start a blog and share your own travels, no one explains it better than Blog Tyrant. Here’s a good place to start.