I was in a bar with my not-yet-husband in the small Peruvian town of Nazca, and we were chatting to a couple of other backpackers who had also done the only thing that people come to Nazca to do – look at the lines in the desert.
The Nazca Lines are an archaeological mystery. Created between 500BC and 500AD and visible only from the air (or some from a nearby hill), these linear hummingbirds, whales, cranes, monkeys and spiders are testimony to a religious rite by an ancient Aztec tribe.
To see them in all their glory, you have to get on a small plane (the lines were first noticed in modern times when commercial flights started operating over the desert), and fly over the site while the plane tilts wildly from side to side to afford its occupants the best view.
It’s an exhilarating experience, both from the perspective of surviving the wild flight and because of the treat of viewing ancient lines as only the gods could have observed them at the time they were created.
Or so I thought. But to hear the guy at the next table in our bar talking about his experience, he felt that we had all been soundly ripped off. “Those lines were boring!” he was telling a group who hadn’t done the tour yet. “There’s almost nothing to see. It’s dusty out there. And then there are just these vague shapes in the sand.”
OK, so he had a totally different experience from mine. Perhaps his expectations were too high (maybe he wanted something like Disneyland?), perhaps he lacked the imagination to be blown away by something pretty darn amazing if you think about it, or perhaps I’m wrong, and it’s not worth paying good money to go up in a bumpy little plane to look down on two-thousand-year-old art that the artists would have had no way of viewing.
What you gain from travel
People see the world differently. That was one of the most important lessons I learnt from my trip around our planet. You can be overwhelmed by something that someone else finds dull. Someone else’s favourite thing can leave you cold. Essentially, travelling is an intensive course in perspective.
That’s what I tell anyone who questions the fact that I gave up a fantastic publishing job and spent a fortune on a year-long jaunt around the globe. It’s a life experience that you can’t get any other way.
When I am old and grey (and I hope still full of awe and wonder), I won’t look back on my life and remember the best things I owned. I know that I will remember the year I spent broadening my figurative and literal horizons, experiencing the world, as a highlight of my life.
Because of this, I understand exactly why they say you should spend your money on experiences rather than things. It’s because owning stuff doesn’t change you for the better. Material things just exist, experiences live on – in the person that you become because of them, and in the memories that you bring out time and again, like a scuffed photo album, to transport you back there.
The reality of doing it
Of course, I am not actually encouraging anyone to give up their job, sell their house and car and go on a find-yourself sabbatical. That would not be logical, Captain. But I am saying that if you have the opportunity, or if you can create the opportunity before circumstances really make a difference – before you have children and responsibility and real estate – do it. Sure, you might end up with a hollow in your bank account where all those lovely rands once were. But your soul and mind will be full.
And I’m not just talking about travel (although, travel is great, so go travel). I am talking about educational experiences, time spent with family, art viewed, songs heard, theatre watched, meals eaten and sights seen. These are the things that you will be the richer for.
The one caveat is that you shouldn’t spend money you don’t have on experiences – or at least money that you don’t have a reasonable shot at paying back. Cover your financial bases, make sure you have enough to eat, and then spread your wings…
Photo by: Procsilas Moscas via Flickr. CC by2.0