As I slept with my four pillows the other night – two under my head, one my arms were wrapped around, and one between my knees – I started to think about the little luxuries I will not have on the road and how I will adapt. I don’t foresee letting the small comforts of home go being a problem. I am happy to give up my four pillows, comfy bed, apartment, and other luxuries to have the adventure of a lifetime exploring the world.
It also got me thinking about the American culture of owning lots of stuff and having the mindset that things like houses and vacations have to be extravagant and expensive to be “good.”
Americans & All Their Stuff
Are you at home? If so, I want you to look around. Can you easily count the number of items in the room? How many are items you actually need, vs. items you like or want? Could you live without anything? Could you live without all of it?
I’m going to take a guess and say your answer to that last question is an absolute “no.” My answer, however, is “yes.” I currently have a 600-square-foot apartment jam-packed – in an orderly sense, this is not an episode of Hoarders! – with material things that I am working on selling. The further along I get in this process, the more I realize how unnecessary owning so much stuff really is. Sure, we all need a certain amount of stuff, but sometimes I think we take it too far.
Letting go of everything is hard for a lot of people to comprehend. Minimalism is not the American way. Every time my mom visits she finds a new thing she can’t believe I’m selling. “You’re selling that…won’t you need it when you get back?!”
The truth is, probably not, and I probably don’t even need it now. Sure, there are plenty of things I will have to re-invest in later, but I don’t see myself going back to the lifestyle of accumulating – and being tied down by – a household full of stuff.
There was a Super Bowl commercial this year for Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans that really got my attention – you can watch it below. The premise is simple: use a smartphone app to get a mortgage and fill your home with stuff, which will stimulate the economy and result in more home owners buying more stuff.
When I saw this ad a light bulb went off in my head. “Yes!” I thought, “this is exactly what I’m talking about! This is the problem!”
The statements “need to fill those homes” and “necessary household goods” especially stood out to me. American society teaches us that owning lots of things is good and is a measure of success, while minimalism is bad. We are in a constant state of keeping up with the Joneses. We believe the more stuff we have and the newer and more expensive it is, the better.
Advertisement agencies have developed the perfect strategy to get you to buy into their scheme. We don’t even realize that it’s happening or that most of what fills our homes are things we can live without.
Our lives are flooded with advertisements like the one above, persuading us to buy the latest and greatest version of everything under the sun. If a company can make an “upgraded” version of something and convince you that you’ll be happier, cooler, and better off all around, it takes just money out of your pocket makes them richer.
With online shopping it’s easier than ever to blindly make purchases without really thinking about it. We can simply go to any store’s website and, with just a few clicks, fill our virtual shopping carts with new clothes, furniture, home appliances, and more. I’ve done it myself, and it’s an easy trap to fall into.
Think about it, though. Do you really need a new smart phone every year? I’ve had my iPhone 5 for three-plus years and it’s still going strong. Is that state-of-the-art name brand kitchen appliance absolutely necessary? Sure, it’s prettier and shinier than the hand-me-down you got from your mom, but when it comes down to it, doesn’t the old one still work just fine?Do you have to buy every video game, book, and DVD new? Can you get these things free from the library instead?
If you didn’t take every upgrade, kept those old hand-me-downs, and shopped second-hand you could save hundreds of dollars per year. We are so caught up with maintaining our status, we don’t realize that it’s not necessary and we can actually let go of a lot of our material possessions, and still be okay.
So what does all of this have to do with travel, you say? How does American consumerism limit us from seeing the world? Not only are we led to believe that bigger, newer, and more stuff is better, but we also think travel has to be bigger and better, and that round-the-world long-term travel is unattainable, and even silly.
Some of you may be thinking that you’re doing just fine with your house full of stuff and you can even manage to take a luxury vacation every year or two, and what the heck is wrong with that?
Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. If you are okay with spending exorbitant amounts of money on high-end resort vacations where you never interact with locals or truly experience another culture.
The bottom line is, the more we spend on stuff – especially stuff we don’t really need – the less money we have to do cool things like snorkel in Australia, hike Patagonia, and backpack through Europe, Southeast Asia, or wherever else your wanderlusting heart desires.
Resorts: The Great American Myth That Travel Has to be Extravagant & Expensive
Budget travel – have you heard of it? I hadn’t until a few months ago. I was never told that travel could be affordable, or that I could slowly travel the world with limited funds. “Vacations” were always reserved for trips to exciting or exotic locations with expensive hotels, attractions, and restaurants.
Advertising and media again have a lot to do with this way of thinking, in many ways, but I am going to focus on all-inclusive resort-style vacations.
We are shown commercials for resorts like Universal Studio Orlando and Sandals, and this warps our perspective and convinces us that travel can’t be affordable. Going on extravagant all-inclusive vacations is yet another way to keep up with the Jonses. See the commercial below for an example.
I have noticed since I began making my plans is that Americans “vacation” while it seems people from other countries “travel.” We don’t believe in budget travel, and long-term travel is practically unheard-of.
Before I read an article online about a 20-something traveling the world full time, a life of travel was a far-fetched dream which held no place in reality. I used to wish I was independently wealthy so that I could travel and see the world.
If a person is only exposed to travel as a luxury and only sees ads like the one above, his or her perspective will naturally be skewed. Travel agencies and resorts aren’t going to let you in on the secret of budget travel – their revenue is on the line! They are going to push as hard as they can to get you to believe that places like the resort highlighted above are the best way and the only way to vacation.
Not only does this kind of advertising make us believe that travel has to be expensive, it becomes so deeply ingrained that long-term international travel seems taboo. Outside of these resort destinations, where nothing is really foreign even if you’re out of the US, we assume the world is a scary and dangerous place, especially if it is drastically different from what we know, especially for solo female travelers. Places like Paris & Madrid are okay – for a lavish two-week getaway – but visiting more foreign or off-the-beaten-path destinations are frowned upon.
Our culture’s attitude is why would you want to schlep a heavy backpack around a bunch of countries where (eep!) the people might not even speak English, and stay in dirty hostels when you could enjoy a perfectly comfortable all-inclusive vacation at a luxury resort with all the comforts of home, and more.
Do not let mass media and America’s “go big or go home” mentality cloud your judgement. Long-term travel is possible. Budget travel is a thing! And it’s not even a bad thing! You don’t need overpriced all-you-can-drink luxury resorts to have the time of your life. If you want to travel more, whether it’s more frequent trips or long-term travel, remember this: if you don’t automatically buy into the hype of fancy new products and vacation packages, affordable travel can be a reality.
And if you too are thinking about dropping everything to see the world, I have two words of advice: do it. People won’t understand. They will question you. They will warn you of all the dangers out there, as if the US is perfectly safe and harmonious. But you will also have plenty of friends and family members who are thrilled for you – and jealous. And you will find a community of like-minded people all over the world, from all over the world, who will support you.
Disclaimer: The featured photo is a still shot from the featured Quicken Loans Rocket Mortgage ad. I did not take and do not own this photo.