LIVING THE RICH LIFE
WHY MONEY IS BEST SPENT ON TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
WORDS BY KATIE PALMER
How do you spot a rich person? Likely you’d look out for the flash of an lavish watch exposed by a plush, well-tailored sleeve; or listen for the rip-roar of a car engine that cost roughly the price of a small mortgage; or perhaps what would give them away is the subtle aroma of expensive perfume mingled with the unmistakable whiff of cold, hard cash.
But that all depends on how you interpret ‘rich’. CEO and Founder of Beyond Luxury Media, Serge Dive, points to the rise of a new “Dream Society”, which is based on the trade of emotions and dreams rather than quantifiable commodities. In this society, where experiences are valued over material possessions, ‘living the rich life’ denotes something else entirely.
According to psychology professor Dr. Thomas Gilovich, “Our experiences are a bigger part of ourselves than our material goods. You can really like your material stuff. You can even think that part of your identity is connected to those things, but nonetheless they remain separate from you. In contrast, your experiences really are part of you. We are the sum total of our experiences.”
For the sophisticated consumer, living the ‘rich’ life means living a life full of adventure. While travel has long since been a favoured pastime of the wealthy, the trend for escapism and excess is waning in favour of immersive, culturally vivid experiences; wild, physically-challenging activities; and peaceful moments in nature that draw travellers from their comfort zone and expose them to the world, raw and real.
As such, clued-up high-end experiential travel operators are broadening their offering accordingly: a traditional Indian yoga and Ayurvedic spa experience in the Himalayas; a cruise along the Mekong aboard a design-led, ‘floating boutique hotel’; polar bear-watching on an Arctic safari; a hot air balloon ride over the valleys of Cappadocia; a five-course tasting menu on board a private train to Machu Picchu; or a cycling wine tour through the beautiful Tuscan countryside.
For a subset of society whose financial security is often a byproduct of being in a position of power, adventure translates as the opportunity to relinquish control, cast aside predictability and change worlds completely. Moreover, as travel writer Pico Iyer explains, “Travel itself educates us in possibility, and in geography and culture – it shows us how incomparably rich and various the world is.” This highbrow audience considers adventure as an exciting learning experience that changes the way they perceive the world and their position within it.
For the self-aware consumer, living the ‘rich’ life means living a life that is true to them. As philanthropist Lynne Twist points out, “Money itself doesn’t have power… It is our interpretation of money, our interaction with it, where the real mischief is and where we find the real opportunity for self-discovery and personal transformation.” The challenges, revelations and moments of wonder that travel affords have the capacity to change the world of the traveller – to irreversibly alter their sense of self, including their understanding of their own capabilities, their vulnerabilities, and even their purpose in life.
Added to that, the sense of freedom a traveller realises by changing worlds and finding themselves in a different place or routine (or better yet no routine), is a healthy reminder “of how much we’re not stuck in our daily lives or in the habits and perceptions by which we sometimes define ourselves,” as Iyer puts it. By removing the limitations of everyday life, travel both literally and metaphorically exposes uncharted heights, opening up the physical and mental realms of possibility.
Iyer points to a traveller’s luggage as a key facilitator of personal transformation, suggesting that by limiting ourselves to essentials we are forced to reassess those assets – be they physical or nonphysical – we value most. Indeed, Gilovich’s findings show that our ability to adapt to material possessions causes the initial happiness they trigger to diminish over time, whereas the happiness brought about by experiences can actually increase as time passes
For the connected consumer, living the ‘rich’ life means living a life in tune with others and the world. If financial gain comes at the sacrifice of personal connections – with family, who are asleep when they leave for work in the morning or arrive home at night, and friends, with whom social arrangements are near-on impossible thanks to a hectic schedule – then it is understandable that they would want to spend the gains of such employment on reconnecting with those loved ones.
As Co.Exist writer Jay Cassano explains, “shared experiences connect us more to other people than shared consumption,” which implies that investing in a travel experience with family or friends is a better way of reconnecting than buying them a material gift, for example. The reason for this, says Gilovich, is that “We consume experiences directly with other people. And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”
Even strangers who share a past experience – be it positive or negative – are more likely to bond over it than two people who own the same model of television, for example. In this vein, travel experiences can be a facilitator of new connections as well as a restorer of existing ones in a way that material possessions cannot.
Added to this, the human connections we make with locals across the world contribute to the greater learning process travelling affords. At a base level, the interactions we have with people from other cultures can provide us with a heightened sense of self-worth; but on a more complex scale, these connections can help to change attitudes and eliminate false stereotypes. As author Maya Angelou puts it, “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.”
Correspondingly, for the conscientious consumer, living the ‘rich’ life means living a life full of purpose. It is no longer enough to build an empire or amass a fortune – today’s philanthropically minded financial moguls want to leave a legacy that will change the world for the better.
Twist points out that the original purpose of money, “for empowering and facilitating the sharing of goods and resources so everyone could have what they needed”, has been largely lost. Attempting to correct this imbalance, Eisenstein proposes that we view objects or outcomes of nature, culture, society and spirituality as a type of capital – so-called natural, cultural, social and spiritual capital – and that these forms of capital ought to be valued as ends in themselves. Conversely, he claims that financial capital has no inherent value, but is purely a means to creating or preserving these ends.
In Eisenstein’s words, “A life full of throwaway stuff is not a rich life… let us not lose sight of the heart of this endeavour: to restore money to its true purpose as a connector of gifts and needs and as a magical talisman that coordinates human creativity toward a common end.” Done properly, high-end experiential travel is just such a “magical talisman”.
So, how do you spot a rich person? They are sophisticated, self-aware, connected and conscientious. They seek out adventures that force them to leave their comfort zone and change worlds; they crave emotionally charged encounters and shared experiences that change their world and help them reconnect to themselves and others; and they persist in their quest to change the world for the better. Yes, they may be wealthy; but above all, they are living the rich life.