4 Lessons Learned About Life And Money From 64 Days In Southeast Asia

My name is Andrew and I am an ordinary 22 year old from Ontario, Canada. I recently started my blog, Quest for Billions, to document my experiences and lessons learned in improving my financial literacy. I am just starting out, and hope to relate to and help others take action as well.

Do you have an experience that truly defines you? One where the stories still come up in conversation years after it happened and one that you can look back on and say with confidence has contributed to the person you are today?

In the summer of 2015, I embarked on such an experience.

64 days.

19 cities.

5 countries.

1 backpack.

Here are 4 lessons I learned about life and money during my travels in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

1. The backpack metaphor

The thought of living out of one backpack for over two months was overwhelming. How much clothing should I bring? What about toiletries? Medicine? Sunscreen? I didn’t want to forget anything that I might have needed. The result? I ended up bringing way more than I should have, and bought a large backpack to fit everything. My backpack ended up being 32 pounds fully loaded. I hated it once I started the trip. It was big and heavy and annoying to carry around. And one thing that I did not foresee was that it was also too large to take as an airplane carry-on. For the discount airline flights I was taking, having to check a bag was often more expensive than the flight itself!

About halfway through my trip, I bought a new backpack in Malaysia. It was very cheap and low quality. But it was 10 pounds lighter fully loaded because the backpack itself was much smaller and I also got rid some of my heavier clothing, like a couple sweaters and a pair of pants, which did not fit in the smaller bag. So I saved money (by not having to pay future check-in baggage fees) and made my backpack easier to carry by getting rid of clothing that I was not using. Downsizing was fantastic!

When travelling with luggage, we often pack way more than we should with stuff that we thought we would need but don’t end up using.

More stuff = more space = bigger luggage.

The same idea applies to our possessions. The more stuff we have, the more space we need in our house or apartment or shed or garage or storage unit, etc.

And in addition to taking up more space, these things can often create a future financial burden. Having credit card debt is like adding extra weight to our backpack. The more weight we have, the more of a burden it is to carry around. We often try to fit in as much stuff as possible into our large suitcases and backpacks, without thinking about the future consequence of having to carry this extra weight for the trip. Similarly, we often make purchases without considering the long-term burden of the interest payments we end up paying to own these things.

Imagine that you permanently carry your possessions with you in a backpack. What you really need in your backpack is your essentials. If you are buying other things, make sure they are providing enough value or happiness to justify the extra weight. Anything else is just a burden you have to carry around. Before buying something, ask yourself, is this something worth carrying around?

2. “Success” is personal

On the east coast of Thailand, there is a small, lesser-known island called Koh Tao. This is a place where you plan on staying for a couple days but end up spending a week. The fantastic beaches and amazing restaurants make it difficult to leave the island. One restaurant in particular stood out. It was a lovely little Italian place called Thaita, and it had the best Italian food I have ever tasted. And I’m part Italian. And this was in Thailand!

Thaita is rated as the top place to eat on TripAdvisor in Koh Tao. But they only have a handful of tables in the restaurant. It filled up very early. Many people would show up and be turned away.

What was the first thing that came to my mind? “They don’t use their space very well in this restaurant. They could easily fit in a few more tables to make more money.” I was convinced that I could help them make their business more “successful.”

But the owners of Thaita were not running this restaurant to become a huge chain and make millions. The restaurant was owned by an older couple who were born and raised in Italy. They wanted to share their Italian culture with their guests. In addition to making their pasta from scratch every day, they also personally greeted and explained each item on the menu to all customers before cooking the meals. And this is what they loved to do. They wouldn’t be able to create the same experience for their guests if they had a larger restaurant.

Albert Schweitzer once said, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” I’m sure the older Italian couple didn’t have the goal of becoming the top rated restaurant on the island when they started. Their success is a result of doing what they love.

I learned an important lesson from this little Italian restaurant. Don’t try to get everyone to like you. Try to get a few people to love you. The people who were turned away when the restaurant filled up probably were not too happy. But I can guarantee you the few people who do get to experience Thaita each night love the place. I sure did.

3. I need very little material things to be happy

Most people in the countries I visited make very little money and own very few things. Their lives are not cluttered with all the material goods and luxuries that are a part of our daily lives in the Western world.

My travels opened my eyes to living a simpler lifestyle. On the road, I lived with just the basics, with no more possessions than what I had in my backpack. But really, what else do I need? I visited amazing places and had great company, great experiences, great food, and a roof (or tent) over my head every night.

The media constantly bombards us with things that we should want. Fancy homes, home renovations, second homes, designer clothes, motorcycles, watches, boats, luxury cars, second cars, the new iPhone, the new MacBook, the new Apple TV… The list could go on and on with endless wants.

But how much happiness do we really get out of our things? Sure that new iPhone 6s might bring us joy when we make the purchase. But it feels ancient when the iPhone 7 comes out a year later. Is that new iPhone really that much better than the previous model? No. But Apple does a great job at convincing us it is. We are always excited to see (and buy) the next big thing.

I learned on this trip that experiences bring more happiness to my life than material objects do. I did a Thai cooking class, became a certified scuba diver, tried white-water rafting, attempted to surf and went mountain trekking. An object quickly becomes a distant, forgotten memory. Experiences create stories. My time in Southeast Asia created stories that I will be talking about for the rest of my life.

4. Concurring “Excusitis”, the powerful disease of inactivity

In his book, “The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz talks about “Excusitis”, the mind-deadening thought disease that leads to inactivity. Two prominent excuses that I am often guilty of defaulting to are:

  1. “That’s impossible”

  2. “The timing isn’t right”

“That’s Impossible”

It is amazing how many people think that doing something like long-term travel is impossible. I had a cousin tell me that he could never do what I did. And with that mindset, he will never be able to. When you believe something is impossible, your mind goes to work to prove why. But if you shift your thinking from “I can’t” to “How can I”, your mind helps you to find ways to do it.

I spent $4,114 CAD while in Southeast Asia which works out to be around $60 CAD per day. That includes everything except my return flight from Canada to Bangkok (~$1300). And I could have cut costs significantly by not visiting Singapore and by not taking the scuba diving course (I’m glad I did both by the way).

“The timing isn’t right”

“For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you. If it’s important to you and you want to do it ‘eventually,’ just do it and correct course along the way.” ~ Tim Ferriss in “The Four Hour Workweek”

For things like travelling, exercising, eating healthier, saving money, investing money, or starting a business, we convince ourselves that we will start soon. But “next month” or “next year” soon become never. And the longer we wait to do something, the more psychological pain we feel for “what could have been.” Waiting increases fear, action fights it.

Once you get started, you begin your learning process. You can only learn so much from standing on the sidelines. Towards the end of 2015, I decided that I wanted to start a website. I had no coding experience. I had no WordPress experience. I had written a few essays in high school and university, but I had never written a blog post before. But I started my website questforbillions.com anyway.

I am still by no means an expert in any of these areas. But I have learned significantly more in the last couple months by doing than I did by researching what to do before getting started. I have made many mistakes already. I accidentally deleted my initial two posts when switching themes on my website. I also didn’t realize that my comments were turned off for the first couple weeks. These seemed like massive mistakes at the time. Looking back, I know they are just a couple minor hiccups along the journey. I will make many more mistakes. With my website. With my money. With my life. But I am learning.

Do you have any life or money lessons learned from travelling?


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