Travel: The Investment of a Lifetime

Old-generation mobile phones, a bread making machine and, dare I say it, a FitBit all gather dust somewhere in my house. I’d bet that you have a similar graveyard — of designer shoes, amazing kitchen gadgets, defunct laptops, and maybe all of the above. When you run across them, you just shake your head and wonder, “What was I thinking?”

Not that these things are or ever were bad. The stuff of life — I can’t think of a better term for it all — mattered once upon a time, at least for a little while. And then it became ordinary or went obsolete or became too embarrassing to be seen with in public. Like the proverbial car that loses 10% of its value the minute you drive it off the lot, things of all kinds morph from Gotta-Have to junk-drawer fodder in the blink of an eye.

I wish I could convert all the money I spent on those things into the (inflation-adjusted) money I spent on them. If I could, I’d invest it instead in an extra vacation or seven this year. The experiences I’ve had when I travel stand the test of time so much better. Watching sunrise on Halong Bay…snorkeling with my kids and sea lions in the Galápagos… displaying my (minimal) hip swiveling skills at a dance in Havana — those memories take up no shelf space, but they fill me with pleasure. That’s a pretty excellent return on investment.

Google “experiences vs things,” and you’ll see a whole raft of articles about research and observations that prove the same thing. Experiences have immeasurably more long-term value that objects. Things, no matter how expensive, depreciate quickly. Memories stay nice and shiny.

As a traveler, that will not come as a surprise to you. Even the iffy travel experiences — and we all have them occasionally — are good long-term assets. How many times have I told the tale of the ski trip that went downhill fast when we were dumped on by seven feet of snow?

But the positive experiences are the ones that echo through my life and pay back on days and in ways I never could have dreamed. At a farmer’s market last week, a local orchard had a bin of apples labeled “seconds”. A little bruised and a day or two past their prime, they gave off a pre-cider aroma, which teleported me back 20 years to a farm in France’s Dordogne region. We were at the entrance of a cave that a farmer used to store his apples. They gave off that same smell, which meant not a thing to me at the time. Past the crates of fruit, we walked into the cave to a wall that bears a 25,000-year-old painting. It was an amazing experience. And the remarkable thing all these years later is that standing in a farm market could trigger a memory as real as the bag of Golden Crisps in my hand.

Trust me, I’ve got a million of them. But of course, you do too. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Those experiences aren’t mere things. They are me, a part of me that nobody can take away. And okay, maybe I do have a new iPhone X, but only because I can use it during trip research travels. I swear.