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What a trip around the world taught me about money

Written by Linda Vergon - 7 Comments

This post comes from Jen Smialek at our partner site Quizzle.com.

For 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.

More stories from Quizzle:

How to Create a “Fun Fund” for Safe Splurging

Investing 101 for First-Time Investors

For Sale By Owner? How to Make It Work

Published on October 21st, 2013
Modified on October 18th, 2013 - 7 Comments
Filed under: Travel

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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7 Responses to “What a trip around the world taught me about money”

  1. 1
    dojo Says:

    We did some traveling ourselves and it made us realize that money is not always the thing we need to strive for. Time together, experiences, beautiful places we have seen really rank high in our own top things. Sure, it doesn’t mean we’d start being reckless with our money, but we need to see more in life than the $ sign.

  2. 2
    Michelle Says:

    Love this post Jen! Life does not need to be all about money, and this is something that W and I have realized. Money does not equal happiness.

  3. 3
    Insurance Hunter Says:

    Once you get a chance to take a look at other cultures close up, it is amazing hoe much emphasis is placed on money in North America. While money is a source of stress, it is not the only thing.

  4. 4
    Booker Says:

    I’m so tired of these condescending articles on happy natives. I grew up in India. Trust me, those people bathing in sewage and crippled by poverty are not happy just because they’re smiling at you tourists. They’re miserable. They are crushed by poverty. They have no hope, no choices, no escape. Even their very lives do not belong to them. They owe money to criminal slumlords and gangsters. Some have to sell their children to human traffickers.

    I don’t know what world you live in when you think people bathing in sewage are “happy”.

    I recommend a recent book: “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”, by Katherine Boo.

  5. 5
    Booker Says:

    And for the record, I live in the US now. I have a comfortable salary, a very nice house, and other material possessions. My children have access to healthcare and can attend the best colleges in the world here.

    I’m here to tell you I am much happier than I was in India.

    Try living the life you romanticize instead of just walking by it as a tourist, then come back and write another article.

    Your article reminds me of people who encouraged me to visit the red light district of Amsterdam because it was so much fun. All I saw were miserable women selling their bodies due to who knows what horrible circumstances in their lives. No fun at all. They were smiling, though.

    More books to read: “Between the Assassinations”, by Aravind Adiga, and since you visited Egypt, the Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz. No happy smiling slum dwellers there.

  6. 6
    Cathy@Citicards Says:

    Inspiring article Linda. In my country you will see so much of poverty, financially they are not happy for sure but each morning comes a hope that everything’s going to be okay and that you should live life no matter how hard it is to struggle. For those people who have enough money in life, the statement â??money is not everythingâ?? is much easier to say since having lots of money made them realize that there are other more important things in life. I hope there would still be more rich people who in some ways find their true happiness in helping less fortunate people.

  7. 7
    BG Says:

    “…I don’t know what world you live in when you think people bathing in sewage are “happy”…”

    Well said, Booker.

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