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Money Lessons Learned While Traveling Around the World

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I asked our tour guide, “What’s the difference between people in the South and people in the North?”

My wife and I were traveling through Vietnam on a small boat somewhere in the Meekong Delta. Our tour guide was a young local guy, raised in Northern Vietnam but moved to the South because he liked the people and lifestyle there better.

I’ll never forget his answer to my question…

“You see, unlike the North, the people in the South have good weather all year round, which means they can grow crops almost any time during the year. They don’t have to plan ahead or save any harvest for bad seasons, because each day is the same as the next. They rest well at night knowing that the land will provide for them again tomorrow.”

He continued…

“Locals don’t use banks much here. We only make the money we need to live for that day, then go home to rest. If I can sell all my fruit at the market before 10 a.m., there’s no reason to get more fruit and keep selling that day. When we’ve sold “enough,” we stop for the day, then do it again the next day. In the North, people don’t know what “enough” is, so they are never satisfied. I like living in the South because people here are happy with “enough,” every day.

As much as I disagree with the Vietnamese mentality of not using banks or saving money for the future, I must admit that I was kind of jealous about the lifestyle of “enough.” There’s something so beautiful and peaceful about realizing when you have enough, and feeling fulfilled at some point every single day.

*****

I had a similar epiphany 10 years earlier, this time in Thailand. I was probably 20 years old at the time…

My family and I had traveled to a tiny island called Ko Tao in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve ever been. But as beautiful as the island was, the locals mostly lived in poverty (or what I thought was poverty, compared with my privileged upbringing). 

I saw a group of kids laughing and playing in the dirt, kicking around a deflated soccer ball. They wore dirty clothes, had no shoes on, and were somehow having the time of their lives!

I remember asking my Mum, “Why are those kids so happy? They have nothing in this world. Crap clothes, no money, probably sleep on the street. It’s crazy that they are smiling.”

(My parents really are the best parents in the world. I can’t thank them enough for exposing me to worldwide travel early in life. Travel cures bias, expands the mind, and cultivates appreciation.)

Mum explained… 

“Joel, you don’t need money and things to be happy in life. Happiness is free. These kids live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A place others have to pay thousands for just to visit for a few days. You want to learn about real happiness? Go play soccer with those kids!”

*****

Dear whoever is reading this…

I truly hope you are working hard, saving money for the future, and building wealth for your family. This is a money blog — and I want to help you grow rich!

But, this is also a happiness blog. No matter where you are on your financial journey, I encourage you to keep these 2 important things in mind:

  1. You don’t have to reach FI or be a multimillionaire to enjoy the feeling of “enough” in life. Satisfaction can be realized daily, as you are continually working hard and achieving things.
  2. You can be happy no matter how much money you have. It’s about enjoying and playing with the things you DO have (even if it’s just a flat soccer ball), vs. thinking about all the things you don’t have.

Thank you for reading and letting me share my stories.

OK, now get back to work, you slackers! Your bank accounts aren’t gonna grow themselves!

Love, Joel



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