Dear friend,

Advice I wish I could have told myself a long time ago: invest in experiences, not stuff.

I: Memories never die

Stuff is fleeting. Stuff fades to dust. But our memories will live with us forever.

For example, I still remember all the good times that I had with Cindy traveling around Europe, or the time I (recently) had with Cindy’s mom, my mom, Cindy’s two sisters, in Seoul, Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hanoi.

I loved traveling as a photographer with family.

II: Build experiences with loved ones

I regret wasting so much money on gadgets, gear, cameras, lenses, and all this shit I didn’t need. I had the wrong impression that by buying the new “X” — it would bring everlasting joy and satisfaction to my life.

Rather, investing experiences is a much better ‘bang for the buck.’ For me, investing in an experience can be small. That can be going out with Cindy to enjoy a nice simple 2-dollar Yelp restaurant. It can be going hiking, camping, or traveling somewhere domestic in America (Portland, Seattle, Chicago).

The great thing about experiences is that they are best spent with loved ones. I love going on road trips (one road trip, Cindy and I and her sister Jennifer drove from LA to Berkeley to Portland — and we talked the entire way, and got so much closer together).

With experiences, you build memories that last forever. Of course some of our memories fade over time, but nobody can ever take a memory away from you. A creditor can take away your home, a creditor can take away your car, and your money and possessions. But positive memories with friends, family, and loved ones— nobody can ever take that from you.

III: Attend photography workshops

One of my most memorable experiences in photography was when Cindy encouraged me to apply for a Magnum scholarship for a workshop. I got in, and spent an unforgettable week with Constantine Manos and David Alan Harvey, and my friends Karl Edwards, Quoc Trinh, Kile Brewer, Kristen, and others. I remember waking up super early everyday (5am), enjoying a nice coffee with my buddies, shooting the morning light, and all of our random chats. It was like summer camp — but better.

IV: Have a few cheap experiences instead of one expensive experience

Also in terms of psychology, it is better to have many (cheap) experiences compared to a few expensive experiences.

For example, it is better to go on 1 small trip a month than 1 big trip a year. Because no matter what experience we have, we will sooner or letter ‘get used to it’ (they call this ‘hedonic adaptation’).

I know for me as an American, some of my favorite trips have been pretty close. I loved Portland and Seattle, and Chicago to me is more beautiful and interesting than NYC. I am also a huge fan of Vancouver, and Mexico City was probably one of my favorite international cities for food and culture. They are all close to me as a Californian.

Even living here in Hanoi — I certain got a better ‘bang for the buck’ experience here than going to Tokyo (although I love both). I truly believe that when it comes to traveling for experiences— stretch your dollar, euro, or local currency. Travel to inexpensive places. I recommend Hanoi and Bangkok in Southeast Asia. For Europe, I love Berlin and Prague.

V: Buy experiences, not stuff

So the next time you think of spending that $1000 on a new camera or toy— consider investing that money in an experience. Go on a few domestic trips, or on an international trip. Buy some books, attend a workshop, a class, learn how to cook, watch a theater show, go to a live music show, or any other experience that will open up your mind, and help you evolve artistically and creatively.


Learn more: BUY BOOKS, NOT GEAR >