Traveling is good for a lot of things. One question in particular that I am constantly turning in my mind, especially when on the road is: what do I ever really own? What is truly mine? Skirting around the necessities such as clothes, passport, and money, and the non-essentials such as electronics, books, and souvenirs, I am forced to question what really matters. If none of those material things existed, if it were just me and my two legs to get around, what is there? What sticks? The answer is inevitable and obvious: experiences. I have life-lessons, stories; I am in fact, a culmination of the places I’ve gone, people I’ve met, and the things I’ve done. This all sounds beautiful in theory, but in practice being non-materialistic can be challenging.
When traveling through Peru circa early 2015, I splurged big time on a new, unlocked iPhone6. I invested a large chunk of my savings into this electronic device, and it’s served me incredibly well. It’s multi-functionality as a phone, camera, GPS, e-reader, and so much more has truly been a blessing in both my travels and daily life. It easily qualifies as my favorite and most heavily used device. I can be found carefully guarding my phone at all times, either consciously or unconsciously, keeping tabs on its location in reference to me.
Later that year when living in Spain, I gave myself a minor heart attack when I was browsing a corner store and nonchalantly patted down my jacket pockets to feel the usual lump that is my phone on my person: not there. Concerned, I dropped everything I was doing to search anxiously through my purse: also not there. I took a deep breath and went through the checking process again of both my body and bag, but even more rigorously, trying my best to stay calm and collected but starting to panic on the inside. After realizing that my phone was misplaced, the next course of action I took was to meticulously retrace my steps, searching the faces of the people around me, suspecting everyone.
The catastrophizing reached a fever pitch with a sick feeling in my gut as I imagined my life without a phone, recalling how much money I would have lost and knowing I couldn’t afford another one. I imagined painfully adapting my lifestyle for the rest of my time in Spain and beyond without my beloved phone. In that exact moment, I touched my hand to my face, shaking my head in remorse and felt the device on my wrist – I had stuffed it up my jacket sleeve, an unusual placement that I had never used before and had forgotten to check. Besides immediately feeling like the silliest person in the world and being washed with intense relief, the experience forced me to seriously question my priorities.
We all have stories like this, of misplacing something valuable – seemingly crucial –whether we are amidst travels or simply going throughout our day to day home life. The heart-dropping sensation accompanied by the overwhelming relief when said object is found is a common human experience.
In my example, after I recovered my phone I pondered on what would have really happened had I lost my precious device. My life would surely have adapted to the change, but in what ways? Would it have been so terrible? Most importantly, would I still be able to be happy without it? The experience forced me to reassess where and what I place concrete value on. Of course if I’d actually permanently lost my phone, I would’ve initially regretted the moment of neglect that caused the loss; but life would have inevitably moved on.
Having a phone is no doubt a huge luxury, but it isn’t a requirement of life nor of happiness. I paid for the inanimate object with my heard earned savings, but wasn’t that exchange only ever a representation of hours of my work, of my life experience, traded in?
Losing material items or having the scare – especially those that we hold such intense value for – can be a huge opportunity for growth and a reminder of what is truly of worth.
When I think back to my time in Spain for example, I need to dig deep in the recesses of my memory to bring back this blip of an experience. I much more readily recall the lovely family I lived with, the familiar streets and landmarks, and all of the good times with my group of friends. Those things can never be lost, misplaced, stolen, bought or sold. They are mine, and just the thought of them gives me so much joy.
In the bigger picture, the amount of pain experienced from the loss of my phone would not even come close to equaling the amount of pleasure and happiness earned from my travel, from my life experiences, remaining forever permanent and precious in my minds eye.