Is Travel The New Way to “Keep Up With The Joneses”?
Travelling has become a commodity, as it is now so easy, convenience and relatively cheap. Travel is a way to keep up with the Joneses. The pressure to go on exotic vacations is very real, as people don’t want to “miss out” on things other people in their peer group get to do. Seeing others having amazing experiences (living abroad, swimming with dolphins, being on fabulous beaches etc) makes people want to do those things too – sometimes just to fit in, be an “interesting” person and have a story to tell. During the recession there has been more airing of the concept that buying stuff won’t make you happy so instead you should spend your effort and money on “experiences”. The idea is that after your basis needs are met, having more “stuff” doesn’t actually make people happy, but spending time with friends, on hobbies, or just doing some simple activity that you like will make you happier. But the message has been co-opted into not just spending time on things, but also spending money. The marketers and advertisers want us to buy fancy dinners, or exotic trips, or pricey theatre tickets. People are encouraged to re-prioritize their spending from acquiring objects, to spending money on trips and experiences. There is a competitive element, and one of not being left out of the fun.
Here’s something that went through my mind as I click through my friends’ Facebooks and look at the glorious pictures of their time in Europe or Asia or Africa: Can travel become another form of consumption? Another way to “keep up with the Jonses”?
Experts tell us that spending on experiences tend to make us happier than spending on stuff. What can be the best embodiment of experience than a really awesome vacation? Instead of coveting and surpassing the Jonses’ shiny new roadster or Italian handbag or big mansion with a pool, are we now trying to top number of countries visited and rank our most exhilerating experiences? Has trekking through the Australian outbacks, jetting to Paris in the Spring and hanging out in Bali in November become what the “cool kids do?”
I enjoy traveling – I love going to new places and immersing in the sense of “out of the every day” that a good trip brings. But sometimes I feel badly because I felt that I haven’t traveled enough – not enough for my own enjoyment and not enough compared to the people I know. It seems silly to let something that bring me so much joy bring me down because I feel as if I haven’t done enough – after all, some wise man has said that comparison is the thief of joy. I try not to compare, but then those damned Facebook pictures come up. My eyes devour those pictures, like a fashion blogger might covet a Celine bag or a hungry child would salivate at a cake.
It has been two years since my 5 Year Travel Plan post, and I have only made my way to one of those places, and that was for a family emergency, not a vacation. That means there are only 3 years left! Now, instead of trying to keep up with someone else, I’m trying to keep up with the me I thought I’d be. Perhaps I have met the Joneses, and they are us. My biological clock has kept very silent, but I certainly feel the travel clock tickin’. I couldn’t be the only one who feels this way – I have several friends who joke that they are all just driven by this sense of restlessness – to see more, do more, travel more – that is exacerbated by the copious amount of information we have on other friends or friends of friends who seem to jet off to Hong Kong at the drop of a dime or who managed to snag jobs in places such as Austria, Ghana, and Germany.
Do you ever feel the pressure to travel to foreign & interesting locales? Do you think travel has become a status symbol?
… and there are lots of comments below this blog, on the link above, with people agreeing about a being a status, keeping up with the Joneses, being “an interesting person” etc points of view.
Minimalism, and the now-fading frugality movement that had swept the nation during the great recession, has brought about this idea, by now a cliché I think, that buying stuff won’t make you happy so instead you should spend your effort and money on “experiences”. The idea goes that having more “stuff”, after basic needs are met, doesn’t actually make people happy, but actually being free to spend time with friends, on hobbies, or just doing some simple activity that you like will make you happier. So you’re better off taking the time to “do something” rather than just working harder so you can buy yet another gadget or new car or whatever.
Somehow, this message has been co-opted into not just spending time on things, but actually spending money on them. So, instead of encouraging people to cut back on work hours and using the time to indulge in a hobby like cycling, hiking or reading; people seem to jump to the conclusion that they should reprioritize their spending from acquiring objects, to spending money on these activities that really don’t require much money to do at all.
It seems, from the studies they’re based on, we ought to be reading articles along the lines of, “Don’t buy an iPad to be happy, instead cut back at work and take up snorkeling!” But instead I see healines more akin to, “Don’t buy an iPad to be happy, instead go to Barbados!”
To me it sounds suspiciously like a bit of pop-psychology co-opted by the travel industry in order to get people to spend more money on airfare and less on gizmos.
Whether you’re falling prey to consumerism by buying gadgets, or you’re falling prey to consumerism by buying fancy dinners, or exotic trips, or pricey theater tickets, the end result is still the same; spending money according to how marketers want you to.
How come these fluff pieces never mention the type of happiness that can come from having significant savings? Or enough money to never work again? Or being free from ever having to worry about paying a bill again? How about comparing the happiness that comes from not even having monthly bills to pay as compared to the happiness from an expensive luxury vacation that cuts into your savings?
One caveat, I do think consumption and spending money carefully and thoughtfully on both material objects as well as “experiences” can be enjoyable and not at all a waste. I just object to the morphing of the message of ”people derive more happiness from experiences than from possessing property,” to the popular media message of, “spend money, just not on stuff!”
Do experiences make people happier than possessions? – Maybe. – Apparently.
But that doesn’t mean then that people ought to take all the money they’re blowing on stuff and turn around and blow it on services. You don’t have to pay other people in order to have an enriching experience, it turns out you can do it yourself for little and often no money.
The tourist vs. traveler one-upmanship game
Apr 1st 2010 (Lonely Planet website)
* Going with a package tour
* Staying at a hotel with more than one star
* Having anything other than a backpack as luggage