Last week, I shared how I had ditched my travel bucket list in favor of choosing to travel to one new place each year with intention. This year’s trip was to Raleigh, NC. In addition to sharing about my trip, I would like to show how I applied what I have learned about happiness over the years to this trip in order to make it a little more magical.
1. Money Does Not a Good Experience Make. This was a bit of a budget trip for my husband and I; we each spent an average of about $300 including food, hotel, and transportation. Because I knew going into the trip that we would be watching our dollars, and because I knew that I didn’t have to spend money to have a good time, I searched for free things to do in the city. Raleigh happens to have a fantastic -and huge– natural science museum. We spent hours checking out the dinosaur and whale bones, local gem stones, and creepy crawlies. There was even a butterfly room that also had an adorable sloth! While our time there was free, I did make a small donation as a token of thanks and also purchased a bar of fair trade chocolate from the gift shop.
2. But Novel Experiences are Worth the Splurge. I suppose an experience can be novel without being a splurge, but there was one novel experience that we wanted to splurge on while we were there: Brewery Bhavana. It’s a creative space that is part brewery, part book store, part florist, and part dim sum restaurant. Oh, and did I mention it’s gorgeous? The dim sum restaurant, which has been internationally ranked, was well worth the splurge and was one of the best meals we have ever had. We celebrated our anniversary there.
3. Spend on experiences, not things. Knowing that experiences bring more happiness than physical things, I spent most of my money on the experience. I did purchase one non-food souvenir, my weekly purchase for that week, at the Raleigh Flea Market. It’s a ring which I believe is made out of rhodochrosite. I thought that was perfect for me because it is supposed to represent the heart, both giving to others but also self-care. It’s also native to North Carolina. It was a nice little memento to remind me of the trip.
4. Travel according to your values. I don’t know about you, but I always feel better when my actions align with my values. When my husband wanted to check out the local farmer’s market, I was all on board. Raleigh has a very nice market that is a lot bigger than the one near our home. We enjoyed looking at all the local vendors and had lunch at a seafood restaurant on-site afterwards.
5. Leave time to recharge. Because we had our own transportation, we had a little leeway in terms of planning and decided not to plan every second of the trip. This left us with some time to wander, to relax with a cup of tea or coffee, and also some time to recharge in our hotel room. As an introvert myself, I always appreciate taking a little time to relax when away from home, and I always find that a hotel room is the perfect place for a little extra pampering and self-care.
Now, I’d like to clarify that I wan’t going around calculating the way to maximize my percentage of happiness on my trip minute-by-minute. That would be no fun at all! I simply naturally found myself applying these skills because I have been cultivating them for years at this point. So, if you are trying to go for a happier trip, maybe try to incorporate one or two of these skills, or maybe read over the list ahead of time, but ditch any “formulas” for the trip itself. After all, having an intentional, mindful experience is also key for a happy vacation!
What do you do when you travel that makes the experience more magical?
When I was younger, I had a dream of visiting all seven continents. Ambitious? Maybe. But truth be told, I was very fortunate to be off to a good start. I had already visited Africa and Europe and I live in North America. Since my husband is Korean American, there was a good chance that we would visit Asia at some point in our lifetimes as well. I’d had a good friend who had already accomplished this goal of visiting every continent in her early twenties, which made it seem even more achievable.
Despite the fact that I was farther along with this goal than many people my age, I realized it wasn’t making me happy. The reason was that I was focusing on this one big goal rather than traveling with intention. I have talked about before the impact that daily intentional activities have on our happiness. Trips that didn’t help me reach that goal felt insignificant, rather than the gifts that they were. Furthermore, I worried how disappointed I would feel if I never met my goal, rather than feeling gratitude that I had the ability to travel, a privilege denied to many.
As I have grown older, I have focused less on big life goals and more on living with daily intention. While going through this change, I came across this quote:
Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.
This quote is often falsely attributed to the Dalai Lama and I can’t find its originator, but nevertheless, it stuck with me. To me, this became a much more proactive, intentional way to vacation than focusing on one big bucket list. Moreover, it depended much less on how much time I had because the trip could be the next town over or a cross-country road trip. It depended less on how much money I had, because I could camp out in a tent or splurge on a five-star hotel. It also depended less on personal limitations, like who would watch my dog or if I had a physical condition later in life that limited travel.
The main reason I like this philosophy of travel better, though, is that I had four continents left, but *hopefully* I could have 60+ years. That is potentially 56 more opportunities to get excited, to plan, to daydream about my upcoming trips, than if I was focusing on reaching the remaining continents. It means every year I will go somewhere new! I think that’s pretty exciting! And hey, maybe I will still get to visit every continent, but if I do, my mindset for going will be, in my opinion, more healthy.
I even keep this philosophy in mind on a weekly or even daily basis. Since I have recently moved to a new city, I have ample opportunity to explore new places regularly, whether it be a new grocery store or a park down the road. When given the choice, nine times out of ten I will choose a novel choice over a familiar one because novelty has been shown to be correlated with happiness.
The first year I started this new plan was the year of our honeymoon; we went on a cruise, so I got to visit three new places: Haiti, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman. Last year, we didn’t go on any big trips (though we attended two out-of-town weddings at locations we had been before), but we did go to Cherokee Casino, and I had never been to Cherokee, NC before. And this year we are going to… Raleigh, NC!
I’ve stopped in a mall in Raleigh, once, and spent some time in Durham, but I haven’t spent time in Raleigh Proper, so I’m pretty excited. Pictures and details to come!
Have you ever had a time when you re-evaluated a life goal because it wasn’t making you happy?
A controversial quote here, but a new favorite of mine. I love Mandela’s perspective on the prospect of making money as a freedom denied to many due to lack of societal upward economic mobility. We talk about a lot of freedoms in this world, but having the freedom to earn a living or achieve success through working hard is one that, in my opinion, we could champion a lot more. I am thinking of my fellow humans who have been denied that freedom today.
It’s time for more Little Life Charms! After taking a bit of a hiatus, I recently went back to my method of purchasing only one item a week. This includes everything from soap to car parts to clothing and makeup, but not food or medication (I see those two as absolute needs and don’t find value in restricting them, personally.) It also does not include gifts. While I am glad that I took time to try other means of budgeting and loosening the reins a bit, re-starting this method really reminded me how much I love- and truly enjoy, only purchasing one item a week.
- It saves me money. I had no idea how many small, thoughtless items I purchased on a regular basis before changing to this method. If you haven’t ever counted or made a list of your day-to-day purchases, I’d encourage you to do so at least once. It’s enlightening! I generally find that, barring some kind of last-minute unexpected emergency, purchasing one item a week still gives me all my needs and then some. In purchasing only one item a week, I can put additional income from items I would have purchased, but didn’t need, into savings. It also allows me to invest more in experiences, which research has shown leads to greater happiness.
- I enjoy what I purchase to the same extent. Happiness research shows that part of the reason we enjoy making purchases is because we get a burst of dopamine when we make a purchase. I don’t like buying a bunch of things at once because I have realized that I have the same “zing” in my brain whether I purchase one thing or one hundred. Better to space them out, I feel. I also feel more gratitude towards being able to purchase some of my needs, and have realized that some things I had considered “needs” are actually “wants.”
- It keeps my space tidier. Not only do I bring less items into my life, but I am more likely to use up things that I already have. I recently was running low on foundation. I decided to use up one I wasn’t too keen on, but that worked just fine, before purchasing the new one.
- It helps me to be more eco-friendly. Purchasing one item a week allows me to really prioritize what I need and not buy things in excess. If I only want a new tshirt but I need a new shampoo, I will only purchase the shampoo that week and save the tshirt for later. And you know what- I find that I really look forward to using the shampoo in a way that I maybe wouldn’t have before. It also helps me to think about how long the product I am purchasing will really last, and I find that I lean more towards reusable products and towards quality products that will last a long time.
- It is easier to make better, more ethical purchases. Because I purchase less, I tend to think through every purchase more. I will think about where the pants I purchased were made, or if it might be better to try to find them secondhand. Slowing down my purchases allows me to really think about quality and to use that mental energy I might have been focusing on multiple items I wanted to buy and hone it towards that one item.
- It saves me time. Despite spending a little more time considering each item up-front, I still don’t spend as much time shopping as I used to. I turn that part of my brain off after deciding what my purchase will be for the week and I focus on other things. And again, an emphasis on re-usable, more durable, or bulk products means that I have less decision fatigue.
- It allows me to be creative. I was recently going to purchase some re-usable cleaning cloths, but then I realized that I could make some instead out of some used fabric. I’ve also made my own cleaning products and found new uses for old pieces of furniture. In short, I find a lot more joy and gratitude in what I already have, rather than focusing on what I don’t have.
What about you? Do you have little spending “charms” or rules that help you to feel happier or to better meet your goals? Or, do you find those types of things restrictive? Are you a hard-liner when it comes to the rules, or do you allow yourself a little wiggle room?
Three things happened to me this past week that were a wake-up call:
- I overheard a volunteer at my work refer to me as a “lady.”
- A younger coworker commented that I “looked tired.”
- I wasn’t carded when I ordered a wheat beer at a restaurant.
All of those things were true. I’m not a girl; I’m a lady. I was tired. I’m not twenty-one; I’m thirty.
So why did I feel bad? Maybe because I’m not at the point in my professional life where I thought I’d be at this age? Maybe because life hasn’t exactly played out how I’d anticipated it would? Maybe because society pays attention to (or objectifies) younger women while ignoring older women? Or maybe because I have a husband who still gets carded when buying video games?
Rather than sit in the muck for too long about this, though, I turned my attention to Wabi Sabi. If you are unfamiliar with Wabi Sabi, it’s a Japanese philosophy that states three principles:
- Nothing is perfect.
- Nothing is permanent.
- Nothing is complete.
In short, it’s a reverence for the transience and imperfection of life. Wabi Sabi philosophy believes life is all the more beautiful for its continuously changing state. The bumps, cracks, and rough edges of Wabi Sabi objects make them all the more beautiful. You can find Wabi Sabi in a patched dress or a cracked mug that has been repaired.
We can also find Wabi Sabi in ourselves. We are all imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Rather than having that be a source of stress, it can be a source of beauty. The cracks and bumps we acquire, inside and out, can make us all the more beautiful. The wisdom we have accumulated over the years shows up not only in our minds, but can be seen on our faces. I think that is a beautiful thing, and something worth celebrating.