Experiences are Worth More than Material Things

Inspired by a 3-week trip to the North African country of Morocco

Everything in life has an opportunity cost. Every decision we make means that we have foregone a different one.

It’s not uncommon in our society to get caught up in feeling like we need to own the newest phone, a fancy car, and a big house. For me, the key is value. Why? Because unless we are millionaires with endless wads of cash at our disposal, the reality is, buying expensive and luxury goods usually mean giving up something else of value. It means we make a choice, either consciously or unconsciously. We often decide without truly evaluating the opportunity cost of what we give up.

Experiences are priceless. While a product will get old and lose value over time, our memories and learnings from each adventure we take will forever be with us.

Sure memories fade. We may not remember the exact date we visited our favourite country, the name of the first kind-hearted local person who helped us find our way in a foreign country, or the name of that beautiful monument we snapped a hundred photos of. But the feelings we experienced never go away. The challenges we face on each of these adventures make us grow stronger. The beauty from these trips gifts us with a sense of wonder and contentment. Each trip expands our mind. Not one in particular is life-changing; rather, over time, the collective experiences have together changed us into better people.

When we travel we see beautiful places and do exciting things. On a recent trip to the beautiful North African country of Morocco, I got to see beautiful rock formations on the Atlantic coast, hiked the High Atlas Mountains amongst traditional villages, wandered the maze of thousand year old Medinas (mazes) in Imperial cities such as Fez, visited ancient Kasbahs where shows like Game of Thrones were filmed, and rode a camel across the great Saharan desert. I watched the sunset over a city painted in blue, and ate delicious tagines and couscous, the traditional foods of Morocco.

Ait Benhaddou World Heritage Sight, a small dessert town that used to be the caravan route from Marrakech to the Sahara, and now famously known for the site of Game of Thrones.

But if you ask me what the highlight of the entire trip was, I would say it wasn’t a specific place or a sight. Instead, it was a feeling I had when I experienced certain things along the way, which caused me to question my first-world western values, and forever altered my perspective of the world. After visiting Morocco, my understanding of the world is a little deeper, and my perspective of people a little different. Let me share with you some of the true highlights of the trip:

It’s when we met a local Moroccan family and they invited us to their home for lunch. We experienced the hospitality and warmth of the local people. 

It’s the unexpected conversation on a local bus with a man who told us why he would rather live in Morocco than immigrate to Canada, and gave up an opportunity to work in Canada years earlier. While In Morocco he lives on the countryside with a modest salary, with the warmth of his family by his side, he is happy, despite not being wealthy. This man on a random bus ride in rural Morocco understood the importance of relationships over a materialistic life in a far away land.

It’s the friendly man who offered us a ride in the South (yes we hitchhiked!), and told us that after traveling to many western countries, he feels that Morocco is comparatively more social. We saw this first-hand when a man on the bus greeted the others passengers like old friends. They were in fact strangers. 

It’s when we got chased by a desperate laborer in the Northern city of Fez, after visiting a leather tannery. He repeatedly asked, “how much did you pay the guardian?” (the guardian oversees the tannery and we paid him for the tour). It was a grim eye-opener of how unfortunate some people’s lives are and the difficult work they must do to earn money. We realized unfortunately he probably wouldn’t get any of the money we paid. It made us realize how blind and naive we tourists can sometimes be to what’s truly happening behind the scenes, and made us question if our money is going to the right hands.

Labourers in a Leather tannery in Fez, Morocco

It’s when we realized that even in Morocco (a comparatively wealthier country than some of its African neighbours) some villages still do not have running water. We saw the locals waiting for the daily water truck in the desert Oasis. We were told in a mountainous village that the locals had only recently gotten electricity, and their primary mode of transportation is still the donkey.

Donkeys are still used often as a mode of transportation in smaller towns of Morocco.

It’s when we became a little bit less naïve when we were tricked by a taxi driver who used all the means he could think of to cheat us of our money. When called him out on it, he said he has young kids and needs the money. If he had shared this with us and treated us well, we would have voluntarily given him a big tip.

Experiences are worth much more than material goods – they are priceless memories and life lessons that will never lose their value. When we travel, we not only see the beautiful places in the world; we learn about the world first-hand unlike any book or teacher could teach us. And when we learn about the world, about people, about different realities that exist, only then do we realize that our reality is only one perspective, and our values are only one way of living.

Thoughtful travel allows us to open our minds and learn to be tolerant, accepting, understanding, and empathetic of others. If more people traveled with thought, perhaps, we can reduce the racism that plagues the world, as people become more accustomed to different ethnicities and different cultures. But all these things do not come automatically with traveling. Rather, they only come if we truly open our eyes and truly want to see.

So next time you think about treating yourself to that designer bag or that new phone, maybe considering treating yourself to experiences instead. And if you do decide to travel, don’t just take beautiful pictures. In return, bring with you an open perspective and frame of mind. Let yourself be changed by the people you meet and truly embrace the culture you experience.

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