Experiences, not things

Nothing beats seeing London for the first time.

Except maybe seeing it the second time.

The first came during a family vacation in 2007. Fresh from my college graduation and still bearing that the-world-is-my-oyster glow, my parents, sister and I hopped on a plane across the Atlantic. It was my first truly international experience. (Sorry, Canada; you’re our lovely northern neighbor, but I don’t count Toronto. Plus, you’re all so nice and I didn’t experience any culture shock. So.)

Arriving at Gatwick Airport around 6 a.m. local time, we immediately experienced the joy of being barked at in a British accent, having to throw ourselves on a busy commuter train and the shock of seeing a woman’s unclothed torso in a city newspaper — but it was no matter. I was too distracted by the “Mary Poppins”-esque buildings sailing past our windows to care much. The sunrise was just beginning to bathe the towns in pinks and golds. I sucked in a breath. I felt . . . away. So far away. From my world, my life, my worries. It was like I’d stepped out of a Megan-shaped skin for a much-needed break.

That joy was a drug.

And it’s why I travel. Why I’d rather empty my checking account on experiences instead of possessions. Why I’ll likely never have a McMansion or a fancy car or a housekeeping staff. (That and, you know, I’m a writer. I’m not exactly bathing in cash.) But that’s not important to me. I don’t need a Coach bag for each arm, don’t need fancy shoes or expensive hair treatments. What I need is my passport, my camera, my man and a plan. I’d rather be out and experiencing life than watching it on my expensive television. I’d rather be elsewhere than wandering my expensive house, trapped and anxious as a caged animal.

When I returned to England to see a friend studying abroad in 2009, I worried London might have lost some of its shiny-slick appeal. But I was as excited to get away then as I had been years before — and that was my first solo trip, the first time I’d gone anywhere alone. When Stacy met me at Heathrow, standing in the international arrivals area, I almost cried. It felt like a turning point: a before and after. I will always remember her face, that hug.

The details of that trip can’t be separated from my emotional responses. I can’t recall the cute British hot-dog vendor in Hyde Park without remembering the thrill of being single for the first time in my young adulthood. When I went home days later with a numb toe, the pinched nerve from too much walking in flip-flops was a bonus souvenir — and I nursed it proudly.

And I still can’t listen to Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” without remembering that terrifying, amazing moment of riding back to Heathrow Airport alone — save my iPod. And giant suitcase stuffed with English candy, London piggy banks and snowglobes. I chose that soundtrack specifically for that moment: the song I wanted to play me home.

I bought my plane ticket to England and the return fare home. But that pure moment? The euphoria of being 24 at that specific time and place? It couldn’t be purchased. It wasn’t for sale.

“Buy experiences, not things,” financial editor and expert Jean Chatzky told USA Weekend. “Spending on experiences makes people happier than spending on things. Things get broken and go out of style. Experiences get better every time you talk about them.”

And that last bit is probably why I write, too.


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18 thoughts on “Experiences, not things

  1. That’s my life philosophy as well! And I went to London in June, arriving on the 6 am at Gatwick … you captured it perfectly, and took me back!

  2. I agree with you. Having a lot of money would enable you to do what you wanted, travel and all, but in order to get all of that you’d have to work a lot harder, at least at first. Less time to travel until later, and a lot more to worry about.

  3. That is pretty much our mantra in the Nawrot household. We spend our money on vacations, especially now before our kids get to the point where they don’t want to be seen with us. They still talk about Hawaii, and that their favorite vacation ever was the one to the Grand Canyon/Yosemite/San Francisco.

  4. I love that thought- spending on experiences rather than things. And it’s true- we remember and cherish those experiences long after a fancy Coach bag has had it’s day in the sun!

  5. I agree! I have stepped up my travel for just the same reason and London is my favorite place on earth. I think that we often substitute things for happiness and honestly, we are bombarded with that every day so it is small wonder that so many folks walk down that path. Thanks for the post!

  6. Reblogged this on Write Life Now and commented:
    I very much enjoyed this post and as someone who needed to think hard about letting go of things, I liked the trade-off she so perceptively outlines. If only I had that about it that way sooner!!

  7. Great post! I have a good friend which I have done ALOT of traveling with and she and I always remark how no matter what we will find the funds to travel – the experiences are priceless. I am willing to give up other things throughout the year to enable a good trip!

  8. Very well said. When I turned 50, Carl asked me what I wanted. My answer, “a memory.” He just didn’t get it – I think I need to show him this post.

  9. I would must rather go do some really amazing things and travel to really amazing places than have a bunch of things. Memories are so much more powerful!

    Watching the Olympics is making me really, really want to get back to London!

  10. What a beautifully written post, Meg. In this materially-driven culture, it’s refreshing to hear someone else talk about the value of experiences. And I love England. It’s where I live in my head.

  11. Amen.

    I was not put on this planet to accumulate crap. I was put here to roam freely and savor everything this world has to offer. Everyone wondered why I was wanting a small studio apartment when I have a decent job and a decent salary.

    And the reason is I’d rather spend everything on traveling and pursuing my interests. The point is to not BE AT HOME ANYWAY.

  12. It’s much better to spend your money buying experiences rather than things. Because you get ‘things’ from those experiences – you get memories. And great memories are far superior to a new pair of shoes, or a newer car, or a bigger house.

    And the next time you come to England? Travel and experience the rest of the country outside London – completely different from the big city, but just as charming and fascinating in its own way 🙂

  13. I love this post so much. The first time I went to London I was just in awe. The second time I had the chance to explore the surrounding country side. I’m completely with you, buy experiences not things.

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