REAL STORIES | A holiday or a handbag?
Why I choose to have stories to tell not stuff to show
Two weeks ago I purchased the final plane ticket of three so that Mr T could join me on a work trip to Canada. Just Mr T and I.
A kid-free adventure abroad together for the first time in seven years. There was a lot of procrastinating and guilt for a good couple of months over whether or not, based on our current financial situation which is pretty grim, we should spend what it would cost to have him join me.
I winced when the fare flashed up on my computer screen – two-hundred-and-fifty-frigging-quid on a one-way, 45 minute connecting, domestic flight. On top of the £500 I’d already spent on getting him over to Dublin and across the Atlantic. I winced and cursed the airline as I typed in my credit card details. Robbing bastards.
Fast-forward a week and what could have funded a new wardrobe for us both, (and believe me, the contents of ours are long overdue a refresh) has instead resulted in a million more memories to add to our memory bank and a new lease of life for our relationship, which needed a little injection of adventure and some ‘us’ time away from the kids, work and mobile phones. I’m so glad I convinced Mr T to whack it on the plastic so that we could reconnect and do what we love to do the most… go on an adventure, travel and see the world. This time it was to be Canada.
Back in the day… A house or a holiday?
In May 2006, nine months after meeting, Mr T and I packed a rucksack each (well actually he re-packed mine – removing the hair straighteners, the excessive amount of toiletries, the just-in-case-heels) and off we trotted on a year-long back-packing adventure around the world.
In 12 months, Mr T and I visited over 18 countries and did some crazy shit.
We swam with sharks in Belize, learned how to play polo on a polo ranch outside of Buenos Aires, raved on Christmas Day on Bondi Beach, ventured deep into the jungle in Cambodia on the back of an elephant. We tackled class five rapids down the Amazon river, swam in sinkholes in Mexico, scaled glaciers in New Zealand and walked tigers in Thailand. We quad-biked across Easter Island, climbed mountains in Peru, had tango lessons in Argentina. All of which came with quite a hefty price-tag – over forty thousand quid between us for what was essentially a year-long holiday.
There were some depressing, poignant points too – we spent a few days in an orphanage in Thailand – of course we didn’t want to leave those kids behind when the time came to leave. We witnessed extreme poverty and child prostitution in Asia, violence and crime in the Favellas of Brazil and Guatemala City and upsetting racial segregation in New Zealand and Australia. We visited harrowing sites such as The Killing Fields in Cambodia and chatted to orphaned children whose legs had been blown off by mines and adults who’s severe deformities were the result of agent orange in the Vietnamese war. It was a fucking eye-opener, it really was. Everyday life for a lot of the world.
Mr T and I met in our twenties, both had good jobs in London, and savings. I suppose, ultimately, those savings were for us both to throw into the ‘nice house’ pot…. when me met ‘the one’ – only after we both met ‘the one’ we decided fuck it, life’s for living – lets travel the world.
Our parents thought we were crazy, why, in our mid-and-late twenties were we not investing in bricks and mortar – our future… our children? But to us, that was our future. We wanted our future to be made up of adventures and stories… not things. Memories to relay to our children.
It didn’t take us long to decide to blow the lot on the mother of all adventures. About 30 minutes on a pissed-up night out together to be exact. I’d been in relationship since I was 18 with someone who was so insecure, he wouldn’t even let me go to my office Christmas party so my late teens and early twenties where not filled with the stuff they should have been. I needed no convincing at all. My dad was driven by money. And probably still is. I haven’t spoken to him since he refused to give my sister away at her wedding in 2002, but that’s another story…
Within a week Iain and I had handed our notices in and booked a round the world ticket each. Fucking crazy really. The lesser crazy option would have been to put a hefty deposit down on a house together in suburbia. But where’s the fun in that? Play ‘who’s got the biggest house and nicest car?’ No thanks. I’d witnessed how money and possessions can destroy families and friendships. It breeds jealousy and discontent. Keeping up with the Jones’? No thanks. Keep away from the Jones’ is my advice.
So we pissed forty thousand pounds up the wall and had the time of our lives. Not one single regret, just a million memories of adventures together. Memories we talk about every day. The foundations of our relationship. There’s not a day goes by when one of us doesn’t say to the other… “Do you remember when we were travelling and we did (some crazy shit)…”. If we are having a bad day, we reach into our memory bank and relive one of them. We are soon back on track. I’m not sure polishing a Gucci handbag has the same effect.
We returned to London broke, with nothing but the flip-flops on our feet, a cracking sun tan and the most awesome memories. We bunked down on a relative’s sofa-bed until we found jobs and were able to scrape together enough money to rent a tiny London flat.
10 years on…
Fast forward 10 years and after making the decision to quit the nine-to-five and a 40k a year salary to start my own business we haven’t got a pot to piss in. We probably over-stretched ourselves when we decided we wanted to buy a run down, derelict house just outside of Ilkley in West Yorkshire and triple the size of it.
“Well if you are all about experiences and not things, then why the fuck do you feel the need to have such a great big house?” I hear you. But the answer is, once again, to make memories.
Our house is the only one that’s big enough to host Christmas, Easter and any other family occasion. It’s our house everyone piles back to after a night out, and our children’s birthday parties are always thrown at home.
There’s always other people’s kids running round, music playing, wine being drunk, impromptu BBQs on the go and lots of fun being had.
Meanwhile outside on the drive sits our clapped- out, 10 year old, scratched to fuck, old banger of a family car – why? Because who ever had a party, sleepover, girly night or big family Christmas dinner in a car? No one that’s who.
A month ago the hubby started a new job that came with a brand new flash company car. Quite frankly I’d rather have the £370 a month that they are taking out of his wage to pay for it, to go on something less showy and grandiose that essentially exists to get us from A to B.
We could use that money to help pay off the stupendous amount of money we owe on a house we built to make family memories. A house that we have come very very close to losing.
I’m not trying to be morally superior. There are a couple of designer handbags and a pair of expensive shoes in the back of my wardrobe collecting dust. Purchased in my 20s when my hard earned money went on me and not on the kids and a giant mortgage.
My point is, our happiness with the things we buy goes down while our satisfaction with things we’ve done goes up and up and in a lot of cases, forms the basis of the relationships we have with the people we know and love.
Of course I’m not going to relocate to a tree house in the Balinese jungle or trade running my business in for running a yoga retreat in the Nepalese mountains anytime soon, but I will continue to spend my money on experiences, and the more money we earn and the older our children get, the more wilder those experiences will be and the more memories we make as a family.
Two weeks in a luxury five star all-inclusive in the Caribbean just isn’t for us. Two weeks travelling across India on a train almost certainly is and we can’t wait until our children are old enough to carry their own rucksacks and see the world – the good, the bad and the ugly parts of it. It’s important they get to see it all.
It’s an adventure over a brand new sofa any day… I’m happy with the battered second-hand leather one I’m sat on right now. I purchased it from my local community buying and selling Facebook page for a couple of hundred quid – it does the job and when my kids have their mates round they can jump all over it to their heart’s content. Our house is rammed with second-hand furniture and my children’s Christmas and Birthday presents are largely made up of second-hand, up-cycled play kitchens, sweet shops, prams and the like, and their wardrobes are filled with hand-me-downs.
When did a six year old ever feel they lost out because their clothes weren’t designer and their toys weren’t all brand new? Never.
It’s important to me that my children understand that unnecessary things are not important. Living life and making memories is what’s important folks.
Fill your life with adventures and collect memories not things. You can’t take any of it with you.
And if you are at all interested – there’s a few of our million memories from our travels in the gallery at the top of the page so have a flick through.
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
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