Do you remember what gifts you received for your 9th birthday? Your 20th? What about your birthday just two years ago?
Do you remember childhood vacations? Or class trips to museums, factories, or sports events? (I don’t think classes go to factories much anymore, but in early elementary school, my class went to watch the production of Wonder Bread and Jay’s Potato Chips).
My guess is that you remember the experiences longer than you remember the material possessions you have received. Recent psychological studies at Cornell University have explored why this may be the case. The authors of the studies looked at anticipation for experiential and material purchases, and then people’s responses to them.
The authors found that people are more patient when anticipating an experience than they are when they are waiting for a material purchase. They recognized that experiences become part of a person, while material objects do not. Finally, the authors discovered that people find happiness in sharing their experiences, but this doesn’t happen as much with possessions.
How Does This Relate to Travel?
Obviously, travel is an experience -one that is often looked forward to with anticipation. It has often been said that the best part of a vacation is planning it. I can almost agree with that statement. I find planning extremely satisfying, although I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is more fun than the vacation itself.
I’ve mentioned before how much travel can influence your life. It becomes part of you – more than any possession ever could. Material goods can break, be damaged, or just get old, but your travel experiences will always be with you.
Travel experiences can be shared – I do this all the time through this website. If you know me personally, you know that I love to talk about my experiences whenever I get the chance. I enjoy sharing – the great sites I have seen, the mistakes I have made, and the joy I have experienced. I love reminiscing with my family about the trips we have been on together.
Making Travel a Priority
It’s easy to say that travel should be a priority, but it is often hard to accomplish this goal. A shift in your mindset can help. The experience of travel does not have to only be a large expensive trip – you can begin by planning experiences close to home.
Instead of giving gifts of “things,” give a gift of an experience. For children, a trip to a children’s museum is great. A science museum, an art museum, a natural history museum, or an aquarium can also be a wonderful experience. You could take your kids camping – or on a day hike in a nearby park. Your children will not only remember the experience well after the toy would have broken, but they will learn about nature, art, or history.
For older children, travel experiences often come through their school. Summer trips or study abroad opportunities are available in many high schools and colleges. Although the costs may seem out of reach, the education received through these programs is unmatched. There are many ways to fund study abroad programs.
In the summer before her senior year of high school, my daughter had a chance to study in Germany for seven weeks. At first I tried to dissuade her – how would we ever come up with the fees? She applied for grants, asked friends and family for donations, and saved money from her part time job. We held a bake sale with the family of another participating student. With a little creativity, my daughter was able to go on the trip – she will never forget that summer.
Ideas for Adults
The idea of giving experiences as gifts also holds true for adults. All of my daughters would love a membership to an art museum, a yearly pass to their local state park, or a mom-and-daughter dinner at a special restaurant.
If your budget allows, plan a weekend away for the whole family. I’ll never forget the times my parents took the whole family to Turkey Run State Park for the weekend. The family then included children, grandchildren and even a couple of the grandchildren’s boyfriends. My current family is much smaller – we are thinking about renting a cabin somewhere. If we can work it out, the experience will probably be remembered for the rest of our lives.
A few years ago, I wanted to go to Europe with all four of my adult (or nearly adult) daughters and one son-in-law. My husband and I were able to save up some money so we could pay part of each one’s trip. That year for Christmas, we gave each of them a small toy airplane to symbolize that we would pay for their plane tickets. It was a special trip – one that will probably never be repeated – but one whose memories will always be treasured.
Do these ideas seem beyond your budget? Look back at your bills from this past Christmas. If you gave less “stuff,” could you give more experiences? It’s surprising how quickly material purchases can add up.
Making it Happen
Start small – for the next gift-giving occasion in your family, give an experience instead of a something material. Instead of upgrading your phone, computer, or car this year, wait until next year and put the savings into your travel savings account. Look for opportunities to spend your discretionary funds on a trip to the area you’ve been dreaming about. I wrote more about saving for your European vacation in an earlier post.
Making travel a priority is a worthy goal. Travel experiences have been proven to make people happier than other purchased items. Imagine the fun you will have planning the trip – whether it’s a weekend camping trip or an extended vacation abroad. Think about the fun you will have reminiscing about the trip with your travel companions. Telling friends about your adventures can be exciting for you and for them. Start planning today.
Have a great time!
Thanks for this perspective, travel is worth the saving and waiting. I like giving experience gifts, many people don’t need more stuff. My kids are a little young yet to understand a gift of experience (also though they are young enough not to understand the value of a material gift so an option could be a smaller material gift along with the experience), but I have been considering when an appropriate age would be to gift a museum trip/pass.
I agree that young children may not understand not receiving something to play with immediately. Like you said, a smaller gift with an experience gift could be a good solution.