Tag: Travel

Do You Value Experiences Or Things?

I just booked my flight to South Africa for World Cup 2010.  I’m going with my friends Andy and Katie and we have tickets for all three USA group stage games, plus a the Spain vs. Switzerland group stage match.  Everyone I talk to says something along the lines of “oh wow, you must be rich to be able to go to the World Cup.”  When I talk about some of the other places I’ve been, people are even more shocked.

Although I am very lucky that I do not have any student loan debt and had a business where I made some money, I am not rich.  The reason I can afford to travel is that I value experiences over physical things.  Let me explain.

I value experiences like traveling, going to sporting events, eating good food and learning new skills.  I don’t value physical things like the latest tech gadgets, new cars, expensive houses, fashion and other material things.  That’s why I’ve traveled to Europe multiple times and am going to South Africa this summer.

I’m able to travel because I drive a scratched and dented ’95 Toyota Carolla (link isn’t my car, its too clean).  It is one of the cheapest cars to drive and maintain and my insurance is cheap because I don’t have comprehensive insurance, just collision.  I get 30 MPG and live close to my office, so I rarely drive.

I could afford to upgrade to a “better” car, but what’s the use?  I view a car as a way to get from point A to point B.  As long as the car is safe and reliable, why change?  I look at it this way:  I could have a new car or a trip to Europe each year.  The average US car payment is $400, or $4800 per year.  I’ll choose driving a “crappy” car every single day of the week if it means I can go to Europe once per year.

I also don’t need luxury living.  I pay $400/month to rent a room in a house that I share with 4 friends.  We have an entire house here in Madison and have plenty of space.  We have a great location, close to the Capitol, restaurants and bars.  I could live on my own for $700 or live with a roommate in a nicer apartment for anywhere between 600-1200/month.  That $200/month minimum difference in rent, or $2400, will more than pay for my flight to South Africa this summer.  It could also pay for my groceries, since I cook most days of the week.

I also have had the same cell phone for the past 6 years.  It’s functional, makes calls and I’ve had fewer than 10 dropped calls in that time period, unless I’m in an elevator.  Since I’ve had the phone for so long, I don’t have a long term contract and my rates are low.  I recently got an iPhone for business and the price difference is stunning.  My old phone costs about $40/month.  If this weren’t for business, a new iPhone can cost up to $100/month.

I don’t care about fashion.  Obviously, I want to look good, just like everyone else, but I don’t need to be on the cutting edge.  If I find something that fits and looks decent, I’ll wear it until its worn out.  I own (and wear) shoes from 2004, 2008 and 2009 that still are comfortable and look decent.  If you see me around Madison, you’ll probably see me in one of 5-6 different clothing combos.  I spent under $200 on new clothes in 2009.  I have friends who spend $200 on a single pair of jeans.  That savings will pay for my match tickets to 4 world cup games and my food while I’m there.

I also try to pack a lunch instead of going out to lunch.  A nice sandwich, salad and piece of fruit costs about $2 at most.  The average lunch at a sandwich shop costs $7.  That $5 per day difference goes toward eating dinners at interesting restaurants and trying new cuisines.

I don’t impulse buy.  I never buy cheap, plastic things that will only be used once.  I was talking with my friend Andy about buying things when we were on our way back from visiting our friends Mike and Pat in Chicago.

Andy said he remembered sitting in an intro Finance class sophomore year of college where the professor said “we all buy things everyday.”  She was trying to give an introduction to finance, but Andy couldn’t stop thinking to himself “No, I don’t buy things everyday.  Sometimes i even go 3-4 days without buying anything.”  I’m in the same boat.

In the US, you can say “we buy things everyday” and for most people, it is true.  I know when my parents were growing up, their families did not buy things everyday.  They bought a weeks worth of groceries at the store and cooked meals at home.  Eating at restaurants was rare and fast food places like Qdoba, Potbelly, Subway and others were nonexistent.  Going out was considered a special treat.  They wouldn’t buy candy from vending machines, cheap plastic junk from stores or close to 75% of the inventory in your typical Walmart.  It’s amazing that there can be stores in the US that only sell cheap plastic junk that will only be used once.  At least Walmart sells groceries and other necessities.  People buy all sorts of things without even thinking about them and many times, rarely use them more than once, if at all.

I think there are three subsets of people.  People who value experiences over things, people who value experiences over things, but get sucked into buying lots of material things and people who value things over experiences.   I don’t think there is a “right” way to live, although I personally can’t imagine being happy based on purchasing electronics, cars and clothes; everyone can be happy in any of the three categories.  The point of this post is not to chastise people who value things over experiences, but to point out that people in the middle group can get out of the “things” trap.  Instead of spending money on things to “keep up with the Joneses” they could save the money and actually do the things they’ve always wanted to.

What do you think?  Which category to you fit into?  What experiences would you like to be able to do in your life?

Beata’s Travels: Why Don’t More Americans Travel Internationally?

Note: This is the second guest post by one of my best friends, Beata Rak.  Here is a link to her first, about her travels in Europe.  After graduation, Beata moved to London, got a job as a tour guide and bartender at her local pub and has traveled around Europe and the Middle East.  After living in London, Beata moved to Australia to continue her adventure, where she currently lives.

In my travels I have come across pubs in London that have been around since 1666, churches in Paris built in 1207 and have seen pyramids in Egypt built in 500 BC. It makes you realize how young America is. It also makes you realize how rich in culture America is because it is truly a mix of nationalities from all over the world.

I think every American should Google their last name and find out a little bit about why their ancestors immigrated to the US. Even if its just to understand the origins of the name and historically understand what was going on in the world at that time. Then go out to those places and see where your family comes from. It will make you respect your great great grandparents more and will make you prouder to be an American. Visiting Berlin and Krakow truly made me saw the struggles my parents faced growing up in post WWII Poland and then it made me understand why they fled communism. Plus, you will add to the very low number of Americans out there traveling.

Another issue I wanted to bring up.  American backpackers!! Where are you? I have been traveling for a while and the number of Canadians, Australians and British people I meet far outnumber the Americans I meet. And in Australia? I can’t tell you how many Americans I did run into who have told me, you are the only American I have met traveling. Americans do travel yes, but just not to the same degree as other countries. WHY? We have much more people that Canada, the UK, or Australia.

Is it really because we are such a big country that when we want to travel we can just go to Florida or Colorado? That we really do not need to leave the country to vacation? Is it money? Perhaps, but there are people who can afford Hummers so there are people who can afford to travel. Non-American backpackers claim its America’s size that keeps Americans in its borders. I do not agree with this. I think it is time. Few Americans have the time to travel. And I think it is a shame. What is eating up all of Americans time? Is it work? School? To do lists? I don’t know, I could attempt to blame it on corporate America, but I know that wouldn’t be fair, or entirely true. This is a topic I have thought about a lot and will return later too.  It needs much more contemplation.

Only 20 percent of Americans even have a passport.  A shame.  Truly a shame.

After reading Beata’s email, I decided to include my response here.

So why don’t more Americans take time to travel?  I’ve seen it time and time again on my trips to Europe.  There are tons of Europeans and Australians and even a fair amount of Brazilians and Chinese.  I’ve seen about the same number of Canadians as Americans, yet Canada is about 10% the size population wise as America.

I don’t think it is size.  I think there are many factors.  First, work and vacation time.  Americans get the least amount of paid and unpaid vacation of any developed country.  Most companies start new employees with 2-3 days of vacation for the first year, whereas Europeans get at least a month.  Americans are putting in ever longer hours to keep up with the Jones’.  This leads into my next point.

Materialism.  There is a huge percentage of Americans who would rather have things than experiences.  They would rather spend their money on a big screen tv, a new Hummer or a house with an extra bathroom.  It seems to me that many people in the rest of the world would rather spend their discretionary income on experiences, rather than things.  Many Americans think in terms of things, rather than experiences.

Third, the bastardization of American exceptionalism.  I think that there is a decent sized chunk of the US population that thinks “America is the best, why should I go anywhere else.”  Whereas previous generations thought that America was great but still respected and wanted to experience the rest of the world, it seems that currently some think the rest of the world isn’t worthy of our time and energy.  This change is sad.  It’s the same phenomenon as when people made fun of John Kerry for speaking French when he ran for President.

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My Decade in Review

I started the decade as the class of 2000, about to finish up 8th grade.  I was 14 years old and remember going to y2k party at a friends house, wondering if the lights were going to shut off because of y2k.   I thought 24 was really old and couldn’t imagine being that old.  It seemed so far away.  I can remember the city of Milwaukee’s city hall bells ringing the new year in a few minutes early, thinking it was funny, but also being a bit disappointed that y2k was a bust.  After watching far too many episodes of Jerry Springer, Maury and countless 24 hour news channel interviews of crackpots who were preparing for society to break down, it was a little underwhelming to my 14 year old self that the lights didn’t so much as flicker.

The defining event of the 2000s was 9/11.  I still remember being in geometry class my sophomore year when someone told me “planes had hit the Twin Towers in New York.”  We were scheduled to take a test that day and our teacher was one of the only in the school who didn’t want to get off track.  Instead of allowing us to watch the news, she told us “it was only a small private plane, like a Cessna, don’t worry, it’s not a big deal, let’s take the test.”  We took the test and by the end of class, we rushed out to the library as the first tower crumbled.  I remember watching as the 2nd tower fell and not really believing it was happening.  It looked like something out of a movie.  After school, it became real as I went to get a splint for my recently and unrelated broken wrist.  I remember the real fear the next time I heard a plane fly overhead a few days later.

So much changed after 9/11.  America went to war, we had to take our shoes off to fly on airplanes, cable news stations adopted scrolling bars along the bottom of the screen permanently and the media began its full descent into the all out 24 hour news cycle.  Americans had to think about terrorism and our role in the world.

The Internet matured and became a part of everyone’s daily lives.  After the tech bubble of the late 90s, Americas really started using the internet for everyday tasks.  Now, 95% of Americans use email at least once per week.  Throughout the decade, Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, Last.fm and tons of other online services changed the way we live, learn, work and play.

More personally, I got to travel all over the United States and the world.  Between 8th grade and my freshman year of high school, I took at trip with my Aunt and camped on the beach along the pacific in Olympic National Park.  The next summer, I went to Rocky Mountain National Park and camped for a few days.  I got my first taste of Europe just before I turned 16, when my Aunt and I walked across Northern Spain and went to Paris.  I got to see the running of the bulls in Pamplona and walked from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostela.  I loved it and I knew I had been bitten by the travel bug.  I knew I would go back to Europe and see the world.

Back in the states, I learned how to drive and got my license.  I played a ton of soccer and still have friends and great memories from my soccer teams from the 2000s.  I also continued reffing soccer, a job that I had started when I was 12 in 1997 and continue to this day.  I even got to play high school football for a year.  I made some great friends in high school and had a ton of fun, learning along the way how to get things done.  I think my biggest lesson learned in high school is that authority figures do not know everything.  I think that this realization helped me get to where I am today.

I also continued to travel.  Our next door neighbors moved to Belgium to teach in an international school and we visited them twice.  By 2004, I was able to travel to Netherlands, Spain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany.  I biked around the Netherlands with my Dad, went to the 2003 Confederations Cup in Lyon, France (where the French booed our national anthem) and went to the top of an alpine mountain in Switzerland (and the site of a Bond movie).  I traveled around Spain with my class senior year and stayed with a great family in Segovia, Spain for a week.  I knew that I wanted to travel around the world.

In 2004 I applied to colleges, knowing that I really wanted to go to the University of Wisconsin.  At first, I was waitlisted.  After a few weeks, I finally persuaded admissions that I should be let in and was accepted to Wisconsin.  I remember being utterly shocked when I was waitlisted and even more angry when I lost the lottery for football tickets.  Little did I know that losing the football lottery would be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

I got to college in 2004 and loved every minute.  I made some amazing friends, learned a ton and attended hundreds (yes hundreds) of Badger football, hockey and basketball games.  I went to the Wisconsin vs. Purdue game where Scott Starks returned a fumble for a touchdown.  I remember the crushing defeat at Mighigan State and then traveling to Iowa to visit a friend and go to the Wisconsin football game.  If the Badgers won, they would go to the Rose Bowl.  Unfortunately, they lost and it was a long drive back to Madison.  I was in Milwaukee with one of my best friends, sitting on the glass, when Wisconsin won its 6th hockey national title.  I rushed the court when Wisconsin won the Big Ten title and was there when Wisconsin had a #1 ranking in basketball.  I loved all of our road trips that my friends and I took as well as the fun times we had doing all sorts of things throughout college.  I entered college being able to cook a few things, but not that well.  I left loving to cook and being able to make a whole bunch of things.

I ended up buying football tickets on ExchangeHut my freshman year.  I was the 1117th registered user.  After freshman year, I ended up buying the site with one of my best friends from high school.  I learned a ton and met some amazing people and realized that I was an entrepreneur and didn’t ever want to have a boss again.  Besides my friends, this realization was the most important part of my college experience.

I was lucky enough that I got to testify before a Congressional Committee, compete in a business plan competition, travel to Facebook for their platform launch and pitch ideas to angel investors.  By the end of my first senior year, ExchangeHut had been acquired.  I took a second senior year and graduated with a degree in Political Science.  By 2009, I started my blog, a consulting company and another startup.  I started Capital Entrepreneuers and have started to become part of the Madison community.

I also was able to check a few things off the bucket list.  In 2006, I went to the World Cup in Germany and saw the US in action.  After the US was eliminated, my friend and I traveled all over Europe, trying to be in countries when the teams were playing.  I’ll never forget being in Paris when France beat Spain in the Round of 16, being in an Italian bar in Barcelona during the semi-finals and being in Dublin for the final.  It was a great trip and I decided that I would do everything in my power to never miss another World Cup in my lifetime.  I was lucky enough to get to live in downtown Chicago for a few months, attend the Superbowl and go to the Final Four.  This past summer, I was able to visit my friend Beata in London and travel with one of my best friends in Ireland, England and the Netherlands and went to my first two weddings of friends from college.  I also got to do the punt pass and kick competition at halftime of the Wisconsin vs. Michigan game and succeeded.

The 2000s were amazing.  I can honestly say that each year has gotten better than the one before it.  I can only hope that my next 10 years are as much fun as these past 10.  At the end of the next decade, I will 34.  That seems old, but not as old as 24 seemed when I was 14.  I hope to travel to South Africa this summer to see the World Cup and be able to visit Australia, China and the rest of Asia sometime in the next decade.  I would love to go to Brazil for the 2014 World Cup and tour South America.  I know I want to live in a foreign country for at least a year at some point and become fluent in Spanish again.  I want to continue working for myself and continue to create successful startups.  I hope to be reading at least two books per month and continuing to write my blog.  Maybe even write a book.  Who really knows.  I hope that I am healthy, happy and continue to have the good fortune to live like I have in the past ten years.

What are your best memories of the 2000s?  What do you think was the defining event for the world and for you personally?  What are your goals for 2010s?

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Guest Post: Crossing the Coral Sea in a Sailboat

Note: This is a guest post by Linda and Michael. Linda was one of my Mom’s co-workers who retired a few years ago. Linda and and Micahel set off exploring the globe in their 37 foot sailboat and have been all over the Carribean and Pacific. This is an email they wrote after crossing the Coral Sea to Austrailia back in August. I didn’t post it until now becasue I wanted to get permission before posting. I think it’s inspiring that they are traveling all over the world and I want to do something similar, but most likely without the sailboat! I’ve left her email intact, execpt for adding links to terms or places that people may not be familiar with. They are currently parked off the coast of Malaysia and will be continuing their adventure shortly.

August 5, 2009
16 degrees 55 minutes South
145 degrees 47 minutes East
Safe & sound in Cairns, Australia
2901 miles to Singapore

Linda & I, on our sturdy and capable 37 foot sailboat have crossed the Coral Sea in route to Cairns, Australia. If you don’t know where the Coral Sea lies in the scheme of things, you could say it is the westernmost part of the Pacific. Sinbad the Sailor who sailed the 7 seas probably included the Coral sea on his list! But this is a sea and not an ocean. It doesn’t have the giant lingering swells of the Pacific. The waves are confused and closer together which gave our tiny ship & ourselves one heck of a ride. The southeast trade winds can strengthen here quickly and gales & storms can become unleashed with little notice – which they did.

When we left Vanuatu and pointed B’Sheret out to sea, all was well. The winds were light and the seas were small. All that was to change.

The next day out winds were up to 33 knots with 9 foot waves. A wave would strike the side of her hull with a loud “THUMP!” We were like a small rubber duck in a bathtub with little babies splashing around. But this wasn’t fun at all. We reduced sail quickly. Our jerry fuel jugs started to come loose from the rail as the lashings that held them in place slowly worked their way out. A wave buried the side gunnel (side of the boat) and made our life sling deploy. Out it went 300 feet or so with the life ring with it. Good thing we had it tied on well. Even by slowing down it took all our strength to get it back aboard. Then the wiring for our solenoid on the propane tank to our stove broke. Too sick to sit on the back pushpit clipped on of course with a life jacket, I couldn’t deal with it. We had no hot food, soup or hot tea for 3 days. I finally was better and wired it back in. Then one of our inflatable life jackets opened when a giant wave entered the cockpit. It surprised us as it inflated in front of us. At least we know they work. Books that were wedged in tightly on the shelves below were now strewed about the cabin. We stumbled as anything that was loose found its way to the cabin sole (floor) . It was a challenge to live like this for the duration of the crossing. It was a picture seeing Linda bracing herself at the galley trying to dig food out of the fridge and cooking it on the gimbaled stove. Not many women or men could do this great balancing feat.

We shortened sail some more to cope with the rising wind and the huge seas. We had a third reef in the main and what Linda calls a handkerchief of a jib for a headsail. We finally slowed from 7.5 knots to an easy 6 knots of speed. We learned later that Peter & his wife Fiona on Sayonara, 2 days ahead of us on their 35 foot Cheou Lee ketch, suffered a knockdown as a huge wave picked up their boat from a trough and flung it over onto its side. Water poured down below knocking out the GPS, radio, and electronics. The boat quickly righted itself and they were OK. For our 10 day crossing we were battered by wind and rain and sea. Our other friend, Peter on Mr.Percival, commented that we have gained a lot of experience in rough weather.

Today Linda & I are sitting comfortably in our berth at Marlin Marina. It is civilization again with big city life, great food & great people. It was like the crossing never happened, but it did. Looking back at what we just went thru we couldn’t recommend this route to Australia to any sane boat. We are now definitely seasoned sailors but we never want to get thrown into that frying pan again.

Michael & Linda
S/Y B’Sheret

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