Adventures in Experientialism: Why I Gave Up Buying Things to Travel


This is a guest post by my friend Anthony Ongaro.

It was a dark and stormy February night, or at least a cold Minnesota winter night, if I recall correctly, when it all came together. It had been a long time since I had traveled anywhere. Winters are long here in Minneapolis and it was definitely starting to get to me. Months of below freezing temperatures tend to make a person go stir crazy after a while.

Traveling has always been one of my favorite things to do, but in recent years it just seemed like I could never quite pull it together to go on fun adventures with friends and family. The weird part was that I wasn’t in debt, yet always seemed to have barely enough money at the end of the month. No particular purchases stood out as being expensive or particularly high in amount, so I was struggling to figure out where all the money was going.

Before that fateful February night, opportunity after opportunity had been missed, my friends going on epic adventures while I continuously lived on the edge of financial responsibility. What was it that was eating into my finances so deeply? I worked full-time for an investment bank and wasn’t making six figures, but made enough money to live comfortably. It really shouldn’t be that much of a stretch, right? That’s when I decided to dig a little bit deeper.

After reflecting on my spending, I discovered that 95% of my non-food purchases were made through Amazon via Prime, the membership for free two-day shipping. To be fair, the site provides incredible convenience when it comes to one-click ordering. On top of that, I figured I was saving money and time by avoiding the checkout aisles and commutes to various stores. Toothbrushes, bluetooth USB dongles, various audio cables, I’d get it all on Amazon. I figured that my order history would be a good place to start, so I pulled about four years worth of purchases from the site.


Looking at a spreadsheet with over 350 purchased items in it completely blew my mind. There it was. There was my extra money, $25 at a time, spread across four years of constant cardboard boxes arriving at my doorstep. Reviewing further, it became clear that there were no purchases of resounding significance, either. Whether $10 or $20, small items made up the majority of the purchases on the list. It was right then, on that freezing cold night that it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was giving up my ability to travel and spend quality time with loved ones for countless insignificant impulsive purchases made without much thought. The total damage done in four years? Let’s just say that I could have easily purchased seven or more international round trip flights for what I spent online during that time. I felt sick to my stomach.

Over the following few months, I made changes that had a significant impact. I ended my online shopping days with a quasi-shopping ban and took steps to make purchasing via one-click a little more difficult. The result was less stress, more savings, and less clutter around my home. The problem was that the excitement that came with those life improvements soon faded and I found myself looking for more. Perhaps a new challenge, if you will. Finally, 2015 rolled around the bend and I decided to take things a step further: I’d make my first ever experientialist travel pledge.

To me, experientialism is very simple. It is the philosophy of prioritizing experiences over the acquisition of physical possessions. Based on my desire to travel more and own less, I found that it perfectly encompassed the lifestyle I had been lacking. My new challenge would be this: Embrace a fully experientialist life and travel every single month in 2015. Twelve months, twelve trips throughout the year. We’re over half of the way through the year and I’ve had some amazing experiences so far. I visited friends in Los Angeles and Chicago, attended a bachelor party in Las Vegas, performed a wedding ceremony in the U.S. Virgin Islands, attended a wedding in Boston, did non-profit photography work in Honduras, visited family in Louisville, spent the weekend in Manhattan and more.


It may seem like I am overdoing it a bit, and you may be correct in thinking so. It has been an incredible year so far, but of course I’ve learned plenty along the way. My initial goal was to spend the same amount of money on travel this year as I had spent on purchasing physical things on an average year before. It was an experiment to exchange my spending 1:1 to see if it would make me happier, feel more fulfilled and provide the desired lifestyle shift that I was looking for. So far, it has accomplished everything that I had hoped it would. I’ve pushed myself to find great travel deals, I’ve slept on friend’s couches when possible and did a fair bit of travel hacking to make a lot of it possible. I’ve enjoyed every single moment of hopping on planes, saying yes to more adventures and buying a lot less stuff. What I have realized though is, despite this massive shift in philosophy and lifestyle, a balanced budget is still absolutely critical.

Instead of spending my disposable income purchasing things, I am now spending the same amount on experiences. I am happier and having more fun than ever, but still not saving as much money as I would like to. At this point, I am adjusting my budget to compensate for the fact that I need to make up for my missed goals earlier in the year. Weekends being devoured by flights and wandering around new cities makes keeping up with work, writing and other responsibilities even more difficult. Minimalism has absolutely helped on that front but, at the end of the day, most of us still need to clean the kitchen after we cook and eat.

Despite my shortcomings, I know that taking on this challenge was the right decision and I will continue through the end of the year. It really does feel as though I’m solidifying my decision to live an experientialist lifestyle in a big way. When I started out, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, nor the destination for any of my trips. In fact, I still don’t know where I’m going in October or November. But I’m looking forward to fully reflecting on the experience and sharing what I learn upon its completion.

Whatever passions we pursue, I’ve found that we must also seek balance throughout our lives. Living on less than our means, saving for the future, and creating opportunities to have experiences like this on a longer-term basis are all incredibly important. My biggest takeaway is that if we’re going to spend our hard-earned money, let’s make sure to spend it in ways that bring us the most lasting joy and fulfillment.

For me, changing the way that I spend discretionary funds has made all the difference. I’m confident that I will always hold dear these fantastic memories of trips and the time shared with friends and family. On the other hand, I don’t remember much about the contents of those brown cardboard boxes that have arrived over the years.

Anthony Ongaro is the author of Break the Twitch where he helps others explore ways to live a more intentional life. You can follow Break the Twitch on Twitter and Facebook
  • Great post. I’ve never gotten into the online buying but I’ve seen people that really go overboard with it and rack up costs they never expected. It’s good to see that you analyzed it and combated the issue.

    Happy Travels :)

  • I love this so much. Money is what allows us to do things. When we harness our finances, we allow it to really let us do what we WANT. It’s so easy to purchase away a bit at a time and then run out before we get to do the exciting stuff. This is an awesome challenge! Congrats!

  • I fell trap to the ease of online ordering a few years ago… ended up with a bunch of random and hilarious knickknacks that I totally don’t need… they are probably all stored in boxes in my basement now… I love that you have been able to travel so much using the money you would have otherwise spent on stuff. That is pretty inspiring! Thanks for sharing your experiences on here!

  • I love how you’re prioritizing memories over things. We’re currently working on this, as well. I also think it’s great that you’re still keeping a balanced budget in mind. It’s so easy to trade one excess for another (guilty), but it sounds like you’ve found a plan that works ideally for you.

    • Penny, I hear you regarding trading one thing for another. This whole thing feels like one big journey of self discovery and life optimization. I’m sure we’ll continue to evolve as things go as well. Thank you for your thoughts. :)

  • Thank you for sharing your story, Anthony. This really got to me:
    “I was giving up my ability to travel and spend quality time with loved ones for countless insignificant impulsive purchases made without much thought.”
    That’s really powerful.

  • Experientialism – I’ve never heard this term used to express that idea, but I love it! I completely agree with your point about using our money on things that bring us joy. I have always left room in my budget for travel, but your post inspired me to look deeper into my budget for further savings. Maybe next year I’ll make it to both Peru and Scotland rather than just one :D

    PS: Hi Cait, I just recently started reading your blog and am loving it!

  • Great post. I am intrigued with the idea of shifting spending, rather than simply cutting spending. Way too much mental attention is given to base frugality: it’s a handy tool, but it ought not be the only one in your box. Moving spending from one place to another gets to a whole nother kind of efficiency, and one with better results.

    • I’d never thought about it that way, but I essentially did the same thing when I started my shopping ban: stopped spending money on stuff but allocated 18% of my budget to travel (over the course of a year). At the same time, I also got all my living expenses down to just 51% of my income and saved the other 31%. Compared to what I was doing the year before, this was a dramatic difference – on all fronts. Thanks to both of you for the shift in perspective!

  • I really like the term experientialism – there’s research that supports what you recognize anecdotally. Hedonic adaptation is the idea that our level of happiness will shift back to a set point, so buying stuff makes us happier for a short time but eventually we just go back to our set point.

    Experiences are different in that it lengthens the time we’re happy because you take all of the time you’re anticipating and planning the trip, then the trip, then all of the fond memories. So dollar for dollar, you get more value out of an experience.

    • Jim, I love your comment. I’d never thought of the fact that my enjoyment starts when I begin to plan the trip, not when I get on the plane to go on the trip. I absolutely LOVE the planning and anticipation of the trip–almost as much as the trip itself. When I think of the months of enjoyment I have before even leaving home I realise how well-spent my money is!

  • Hi Anthony!

    Thanks so much for this post. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about this very topic over the last few weeks. Up until last month I had not taken any type of vacation whatsoever in two years — and this includes staycations! But about a month ago, as a result of some serendipitous circumstances, I got the chance to go camping in Hawaii for a week. This trip totally changed my perspective on travel and reminded me how important it is to take time to see new places and have new experiences. I’m planning to specifically budget in travel from this point onward. So for me this post was timely. Thanks again. :)


    • Sarah, thank you – I’m so glad to hear it was helpful. It’s wonderful to hear that you’ll set a chunk aside for more trips, it really is super important. Experiences like you had last month can totally change our view of the world in so many great ways. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

  • While my husband and I aren’t traveling once a month (our jobs would make that challenging), we have prioritized our lives to allow us one “big” trip a year. 2014 – Mediterranean Cruise – 2015 – Iceland – 2016 Caribbean Cruise with friends. We are still negotiating 2017. While we are not on a shopping ban per say, we are be very mindful with everything we spend. Yes, we needed to replace the light that was shorting and sparking – no we don’t need to go to the movies. It is an interesting journey. Safe travels!

  • Great post and story to share! This is why I think budgeting is so important, and why I don’t understand when people cringe at that though of budgeting. Yeah, if you are spending excessively it might hurt at first. But if you have a decent budget to begin with, it’s all about cutting expenses and restricting spending on things you don’t care about as much (like impulse buying on Amazon) so that you can shift that money towards things that ARE important to you (like travel).

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