What would you do with money if you had enough of it?
New house, new car, new furniture, upgraded mobile device? New clothes, new 4HD screen, treadmill, exercise equipment?
The great thing about being a grownup is you get to make your own decisions. All of the items listed above may be right up your alley. But now that our children are grown, my wife and I take a different tack. Once the bills are paid and we’re comfortable with the amount of money in savings, we fly.
We gladly scrimp so that when the time is right we can get out of Dodge. A passport with some stamps on it is worth far more to us than a new couch. My flat screen is seven years old, but my pictures from Guatamala haven’t aged a day in ten years.
One year for my birthday I was able to take a couple of days off. “What do you want for your birthday?” asked my wife. “I don’t know, let’s just drive to Calgary for a few days.” From eastern Idaho, where we lived at the time, Calgary was about ten hours north. My birthday presents went into the gas tank, and to the manager of a very modest motel. But we spent my birthday hiking around Lake Louise and Banff, and had dinner at a hole in the wall Pakistani restaurant. Great pictures, by the way.
We’ve saved up for trips to Scotland and Spain. Our kids were along for the ride as we visited all three US coastlines with a lot of stops along the way. We consider National Parks our backyards.
Meanwhile, our lawn is not landscaped. My shoes could use an upgrade.
Travel enriches and teaches, but only if you make sure you don’t go all that way just to stay insulated from it. In Quetzeltenango, Guatemala, my wife and I stayed in a home with dirt floors and we played pick-up soccer in the town park until the monsoon hit and the lightning got way too close. In Monterrey, Mexico, we bought our lunch every day at the outdoor square where nobody spoke English, nor tried. We survived, we all laughed, and the fresh papayas were great. In Montreal we dropped in on some street fairs and parlezed some mangled Francais. We avoided the tourist spots because we couldn’t afford them. No problem—we hung with the locals, and learned at street-level how America is viewed by our neighbors to the north. (They’re baffled, for the most part.)
We’ve learned how to make killer gumbo in Louisiana, posole and tamales with fresh-ground masa in New Mexico, and about five different kinds of hand-made pasta in Pennsylvania.
For the record, I still stand in front of the giant 4HD screens in the box stores and think how cool it would be to own one of those bad boys. I’d really like to get one of those in-house weight sets. My wife has her own someday shopping list.
But when push comes to shove, we prefer to junk the stuff and hit the road. In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that “it is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide.” Maybe old Marley would have liked us and the many fellow wanderers we’ve met in our travels. For all we don’t have, we’re pretty happy with what we’ve acquired—the first hand knowledge that for all our varying cultures and cuisine, our differences are surprisingly superficial, and that what unites us is infinitely more important than what divides us.
Just don’t forget to bring your camera.