What a Trip Around the World Taught Me about Money

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shutterstock_97739021For the past five weeks, I’ve been fortunate enough to realize one of my wildest dreams: Taking a trip around the world. A whirlwind tour due to various professional and personal responsibilities, I flew over 30,000 miles and visited 13 different countries in the span of 40 days. Aside from an extreme exercise in jetlag and culture shock, my travels introduced me to the various ways that money—or the lack of it—plays a role in societies around the globe.

The Quest for More

At home, I live in Boston. A mecca for education and business development, my city is overrun with smart, successful people. Unfortunately, a lot of those people are driven by their quest for money. $100 dinners and designer suits are a dime a dozen here, and it’s sometimes hard to find your path if you’re not someone whose motivation is tied to a bank statement or an investment property.

Now of course there are plenty of seemingly happy people who live here in New England. But even those people can feel the squeeze of an exorbitant cost of living and the ever-present pressure to earn more and have more and consume more. It’s a pretty amazing dichotomy to live in a place like Boston yet travel and spend time in less developed countries where people might not know where the next influx of cash is coming from, let alone their next meal.

Being Happy Regardless of What You Have

As I traveled through places like Bali, Fiji, Thailand, and Egypt, I found myself awestruck by the beauty around me. But I was utterly mesmerized by how happy the people were despite the circumstances surrounding them. These are people who have little to nothing to their names; who are lucky to even have a roof over their heads—even if it is a pile of sticks that leaks profusely during each rainstorm.

Speaking of rainstorms, the rain is celebrated in Bali because its arrival means bath time. During a downpour, you’ll find some of the locals washing themselves—in the ditches along the side of the street which are usually filled with garbage, debris, and animal waste. But as the water rushes over them and they’re able to take a “shower,” you’d never once guess that any of them are anything less than elated.

While money is a priority and a main source of stress on many levels, it doesn’t dictate these peoples’ sense of self, confidence, or priorities in their lives. The man who walked down the dirt road barefoot was genuinely happy and well-adjusted whereas the tourist with the $3K camera around her neck was overheard complaining about having to walk a few blocks…

Placing Less Emphasis on Money

While I had plenty of time to process what I was observing and have plenty of other anecdotes that could be shared, the main takeaway for me is that life shouldn’t be all about the money. Yes, I need to eat and have a place to sleep, but I don’t need to have the latest and greatest of everything. And I certainly don’t need to fuel my life through the constant quest for more money.

What we need to do is to stop, take a look around, and be thankful for the non-monetary blessings in our lives. When you strip away the money, the fancy cars, and the nice clothes, what do you have? If there isn’t substance below the surface, are you truly living a happy life as a happy person? I think my new friends in Bali are on to something—walking barefoot down a dirt road isn’t all that bad when you have someone you love next to you.

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Jen is the owner of The Happy Homeowner, where she writes about living a healthy, balanced life one cent at a time. Previously, she paid off $14K in credit card debt in less than a year and hasn’t looked back since. Follow along on Twitter with her financial, fitness and travel adventures @bthhomeowner!