Last week I was listening to a podcast where the host was discussing this question with callers. As the discussion progressed, callers fell into two camps. The younger callers would make the trade in a heartbeat. They reasoned that hey, they’d be dead soon after 50 anyway, so why not live it up? The older crowd was more reflective. They dreamed of seeing their children grow and enjoy spoiling their grandchildren.
The radio host made an interesting observation that rang true when I heard it. He said that America as a society was materialistic and most people would gladly trade what could end up being in big chunk of their life in exchange for having a big house, the boat, and the flashy cars. In other words, the host said, material things were more important than creating memories.
Flicker @ Derrick Coetzee
I can’t help to think this was very sad. Is accumulation of “stuff” really what makes people happy? I certainly had to trade possessions in order to free myself to be able to travel.
In first-world countries we’re constantly reminded that to be “making it” our lifestyle has to be the same, if not better than that of our peers. Self-worth is very much tied to what neighborhood you live in and what design label you endorse.
Want vs Need
One of the reasons I love living abroad is that it gives you a different perspective on life, specially if you move to a far poorer country than your own. Let me give you an example.
A few weeks back I struck up a conversation with the local vegetable seller, a friendly, wise older man who makes the rounds every Tuesdays and Thursdays on his motorbike. As he pulled up to our house, he seemed entranced by something next door. I greeted him and that seemed to snap him out of it. I looked in the direction he was staring and found nothing out of the ordinary.
“That’s a washing machine, right?”, he asked, looking in the direction of our neighbor’s garage.
“Yes, it is”, I replied, suddenly aware the noise I probably wouldn’t have noticed had he not pointed it out to me.
He stared at it for a few seconds longer and told me, to my astonishment, that this is the first time he’d ever heard a washing machine in person. Sure, he’d seen them before at the store and on TV – enough to recognize one easily. It’s just that he’d never been in the presence of one that was… doing its thing.
He told me that his daughter had recently had become the proud owner of a washing machine – something he and his wife couldn’t afford. His wife had recently begun to take loads of clothes over to their daughter’s house to wash. Freed from the drudgery of spending hours hand-washing clothes, she could now spend a bit more time helping him out financially by preparing meals she could sell to make ends meet.
“Life’s conveniences are only that when we get used to having them around.” And with that, he drove off into the night.
First World Problems
Later that night, as I reminisced about the conversation, it struck me how right he was. I recalled a comment a friend had made on Facebook, more than a year ago. She thought it was such a drag to have to sort out and put away clean laundry. Both washer and dryer, mind you, were conveniently located a few steps from her bedroom. Why couldn’t clothes just, you know, sort and store themselves?
And I thought about how spoiled we can be sometimes, where modern conveniences don’t cause us joy anymore. Instead of seeking to use that newly found time to do something positive in the world, to expand and share our knowledge, we devote even more time and resources to load up on more “stuff”, which we end up having to work that much harder to maintain.
This is yet another reason I’m glad for Slow Travel. It forces you to leave behind that which is not essential. It opens your mind to see how the rest of the world lives and realize that the petty first-world problems we often complain about are really inconsequential.
Pursuing the accumulation of material things – no matter how nice, will never be as fulfilling as living life to the fullest. I understand that in today’s society this may not be the popular choice, but that’s alright.
Material things grow old, are stolen, get lost. But memories, oh wonderful memories, those will stay with me a lifetime. Whether I ever get fifty billion dollars or not.
Do you have a travel memory you treasure?