A life lesson I’ve learned: the best “bang for your buck” in terms of happiness, joy, novelty, and excitement in life is purchased through EXPERIENCES, not stuff.
To be clear, I don’t think that just having experiences for the sake of experiences will find you the ultimate sense of joy, purpose, and passion in life. But, I do think that experiences help you in many ways:
- Exploration of other cultures (cultivated open-mindedness, and exposure to new ideas, which can be integrated into your everyday living)
- Less fear of the foreign and unknown — makes you less xenophobic, and have more “xenophilia”— love towards strangers and the foreign. I know that after I experiences being in Beirut, Lebanon and going to Dubai, my attitude towards the Middle East changed from being a culture of fear and the unknown, to realizing that Arabic people are some of the kindest, most generous individuals.
- Experiences stay with you: I don’t remember any of the stuff that I bought in the past that has brought me continual joy or memories. But, I still do remember the nice dinners I’ve had with Cindy, our travels to Kyoto and Uji, the nice experiences we had going camping with our family, traveling with our family in Portugal and Japan, and nice experiences at coffee shops and teaching workshops and meeting new students.
- I’m sure when I’m on my deathbed, I’ll be more grateful for my array of interesting experiences in life, rather than trying to take my Lamborghini with me after I die.
- Experiences help you grow and become stronger as a person: All of my positive and negative experiences in life have helped me become who I am. I’m grateful for it all. From the shitty childhood I had (at least in terms of finances), to all the hate I got trying to make it in the photography world. My negative experiences made me stronger, gave me a sense of drive and hustle, and helped me find more gratitude in the simple pleasures in life.
Probably 80% of my money goes towards travel and living abroad with Cindy. The last year and a half after we got married, we have been in:
- 8 Months in Hanoi
- 2 Months in Saigon
- 2 Months in Kyoto
- 1 month in NYC
- 1 month in Berlin
- Currently in Prague
And future plans: Marseille, Lisbon, London street photography workshop, NYC for workshops, Kyoto and Uji for creative photography retreat, and Tokyo for travel photography experience.
At this point, Cindy is in the middle of writing her dissertation for her Ph.D thesis at UC Berkeley on the Vietnamese-French Colonial Libraries, and she can write wherever. So we decided to live abroad, before we move back to the states.
Why live abroad? To not accumulate stuff (happens too easily when we get too comfortable in the states), to stay a little uncomfortable (uncomfort leads to creative innovation), and for the chance for us to have more novel experiences in life.
Experiences to buy
For myself, these are my favorite experiences that I buy:
- Dinner with friends and loved ones
- Traveling with family (paying for the Airbnb and flights) — how we have brought over my sister Annette Kim for HAPTIC internships.
- Living abroad: Feeling less guilt spending money on AirBnb — because the opportunity to live abroad is the ultimate experience. To visit the local grocery stores, to live abroad like you’re living at home. To visit the local coffee shops, to not visit touristy landmarks. To enjoy nice local restaurants, and go on little walks together.
I think that if we really want to grow and develop as photographers, the ultimate experiences include:
- Photography workshops/seminars
- Photography books (even though a photography book is a physical object, I still see it as an ‘experience’ — because you experience the images in a more HAPTIC way when it is printed (you hold the book, smell it, feel the pages, and turn the pages).
Traveling won’t make you a better photographer, but it is a good way to stimulate your creativity, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone of everyday living back home.
I would recommend when it comes to traveling, stay closer to home. For example if you live in the states, you don’t need to travel all the way to Europe. Rather, explore more of America– I recommend New Orleans, Seattle, NYC, Portland, Chicago, and close by — flying to Mexico City (where Cindy and I had our honeymoon).
Keep it cheap. Fly economy (kayak.com), and either stay at cheap hotels (hotels.com) or Airbnb (if you like to cook, and live more like a local while you’re traveling). Pack light, just bring your camera, iPad, and keep to one carry on backpack. I recommend traveling with Merino wool clothing (just 2x pairs of everything).
Either go solo, or bring your partner, and a family member. Split expenses, and also keep a personal photo journal or diary when you’re traveling, to record your memories.
2. Photography workshops and seminars
I made a list of global street photography workshops I recommend, and if you visit a foreign city, perhaps contact some local photographers to give you a personal 1:1 workshop, or just email a local photographer if they want to hang out and have a coffee.
When you’re traveling, I like the idea of learning while away from home. This way, you can bring back something tangible that you can apply in your photography and life, when you’re back home.
3. Photography books
If you want to buy yourself a gift, or ask for presents, ask your family and friends for photography books. I made a list of my 75+ favorite street photography books, or check out the free/print books by ERIC KIM.
My favorite HAPTICPRESS books:
Also check out the HAPTIC GIFT BOOK SET.
When in doubt, buy books, not gear.
Experiences is what make us human
To be human is to have memories, and a sense of “self”. You can only build memories and your sense of self through experiences.
So in life, don’t regret spending money on experiences. The more interesting experiences you have in life, the better.
You were born for a great, epic, and heroic life. Don’t get suckered (as I did) with materialism and consumerism. I’ve bought pretty much all the stuff in my life I dreamed of (Leica cameras, Nike shoes, expensive North Face clothes) and none of that has brought me lasting joy. It is the experiences which keep breathing inspiration into my veins — for me to keep exploring, for me to keep learning, and sharing.