Shopping is synonymous with travelling. Perhaps this is because human beings spent millennia seeking out new things in far off places that would help us survive and improve our lives; things we couldn’t get back home. In the modern world, however, you can get almost anything anywhere – so why do we still spend so much money on shopping when we’re on holiday? Psychologists have discovered that new things don’t make us happy for very long, but that experiencing new things does.

Psychologist Elizabeth Dunn lead a research team at the University of British Columbia that studied happiness. She told the WebMD website that there are three main concerns in terms of happiness, but that we aren’t very good at deciding how things will impact them before we actually spend money on something.

“People mispredict what will make them happy, how happy it will make them, and how long that happiness will last,” said Dunn.

This makes it difficult to know what to spend your money on when traveling, but the research strongly suggests that a good rule of thumb is that material things won’t make you nearly as happy as experiences. That’s because our brains view new experiences as something novel that must be remembered, but things that we own just become part of everyday life – the novelty wears off more quickly. New things make us happy for a short while, but experiences make us happy for as long as we can remember them.

Our brains view new experiences as something novel that must be remembered, but things that we own just become part of everyday life. New things make us happy for a short while, but experiences make us happy for as long as we can remember them.

Matt Gross, who writes the ‘Frugal Traveler’ column for the New York Times says that people have varying priorities when traveling, but deciding what is important to you before a trip is key to not wasting money – and, perhaps more importantly, time.

“When people travel they don’t know what’s really important to them … People wind up spending a lot of money because they’re not sure what their priorities are until they get somewhere,” says Gross.

“Focusing on what your priorities are is the way to save money and not blow it on things you don’t care about.”

For Gross, food experiences are the most important thing when traveling, but that doesn’t mean he necessarily hits the most expensive restaurants in town. He says that some of his best meals have been from street vendors and two-star restaurants. The point is that he chooses to spend his time looking for them. Wasting money shopping is also wasting time that could be better spent on new experiences.

Matt Gross ‘The Frugal Traveler’ interviewed for Big Think