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Is Travel The New Way to “Keep Up With The Jonses”?

Here’s something that went through my mind as I click through my friends’ Facebooks and look at the glorious pictures of their time in Europe or Asia or Africa: Can travel become another form of consumption? Another way to “keep up with the Jonses”?

Experts tell us that spending on experiences tend to make us happier than spending on stuff. What can be the best embodiment of experience than a really awesome vacation? Instead of coveting and surpassing the Jonses’ shiny new roadster or Italian handbag or big mansion with a pool, are we now trying to top number of countries visited and rank our most exhilerating experiences? Has trekking through the Australian outbacks, jetting to Paris in the Spring and hanging out in Bali in November become what the “cool kids do?”

I enjoy traveling – I love going to new places and immersing in the sense of “out of the every day” that a good trip brings. But sometimes I feel badly because I felt that I haven’t traveled enough – not enough for my own enjoyment and not enough compared to the people I know. It seems silly to let something that bring me so much joy bring me down because I feel as if I haven’t done enough – after all, some wise man has said that comparison is the thief of joy. I try not to compare, but then those damned Facebook pictures come up. My eyes devour those pictures, like a fashion blogger might covet a Celine bag or a hungry child would salivate at a cake.

It has been two years since my 5 Year Travel Plan post, and I have only made my way to one of those places, and that was for a family emergency, not a vacation. That means there are only 3 years left! Now, instead of trying to keep up with someone else, I’m trying to keep up with the me I thought I’d be. Perhaps I have met the Joneses, and they are us. 😉 My biological clock has kept very silent, but I certainly feel the travel clock tickin’. I couldn’t be the only one who feels this way – I have several friends who joke that they are all just driven by this sense of restlessness – to see more, do more, travel more – that is exacerbated by the copious amount of information we have on other friends or friends of friends who seem to jet off to Hong Kong at the drop of a dime or who managed to snag jobs in places such as Austria, Ghana, and Germany.

Do you ever feel the pressure to travel to foreign & interesting locales? Do you think travel has become a status symbol?

  • Sue - I think to a certain extent it has become a status thing. I'm really lucky (through hard work at school, choosing a vocational degree etc) that I'm able to live in London and earn a decent wage that allows me to travel often (about every second weekend currently, less in the winter) and see a lot of Europe and surrounds. My English friends often remark that I've seen more than them of Europe but it's mostly through a sense of urgency or need, knowing I won't always have the opportunity (I want to move home to Australia in the reasonably near future) and it just makes sense to see a lot whilst I'm here. Equally, my friends back home and especially my cousins (I was raised as a city slicker I guess but most of my cousins were raised on farms and in small rural towns) comment on how jelaous they are or lucky I am. But as much fun as I have seeing the world, I really believe I would give it up to have the stability of a loving husband and children and the lifestyle that they have. So rather than keeping up with the joneses, for me it's the grass is always greener ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - You guys might be the Joneses to each other! Funny how the grass is greener syndrome plague us all, no? ReplyCancel

  • DontDebt - I'm kind of stuck (although I'm not sure that's the appropriate word) in a different situation. I have a boat load of debt from my past, and I'm married to a man who is at the point in his life where he's supposed to be traveling and enjoying himself. Don't get me wrong, he's not missing out on anything. We're going to the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC this month and then to the beach in Florida for an entire week in September. But I'm in two worlds here. The world of having debt and needing to get it paid off, and the world of travel and fun.

    I definitely agree with you that travel can be another way that folks think they need to keep up with others. At any given time in the last seven weeks, I've had at least four different facebook friends in Disneyworld or Panama City Beach. Those are 'THE' places to go from my neck of the woods. ReplyCancel

  • Stories from Austin - I love to travel, and so does my husband. We've been very fortunate to travel a LOT in our 20's (and now his early 30s). We did it because it's someting we love to do, not because we wanted to compete with other people.

    However, I have noticed this phenomenon probably around when we got engaged, with the honeymoon. It was almost like a competition to who could go to the most exotic place—it was odd! Of course we picked the murder capital of the world (Honduras…we were on an island off the coast though, so it was safe), but we enjoyed telling people that. We planned a vacation to Big Bend, which is a national park on the border of Texas and Mexico for our first anniversary (it's a 10 hour drive for us) and people kept calling it our "budget" vacation. Um, it wasn't that cheap! We went there because it's our favorite area in the world and spring is a nice time to go. We had a few people suggest we try to go to Cabo or somewhere in Mexico instead, to get out of the country.

    So weird. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - There's a sense among my cohort that unless you are traveling in a specific way (outside of continental U.S., to very exotic places, doing very adventurous things), your experiences just aren't as "cool." I love to go places because, well, I love it, but I am not immune to those pressures on getting more and traveling more. ReplyCancel

  • Leah - Feeling that crunch over here too! I've got a very well-traveled circle of friends, and right now I can't keep up with job/wedding/family obligations. And yes, I feel like I need to "keep up"!

    It's kind of the same with food. If you're a frugalista, it's cool to spend money on organics…but not to eat out…and DEFINITELY no lattes.

    Funny how we rationalize spending our dollars… ReplyCancel

  • @financialsamura - I think traveling has become a commodity. Very easy to do now given the convenience and relative lack of cost.

    Congrats on your weddin btw! ReplyCancel

  • mochiandmacarons - Yes. I think travel is the new consumption.. although it always was.

    Think of why tans are so popular — it was because Bardot and other celebs popularized St. Tropez and beach tanning in general.

    Personally, travel is overrated, for business and for pleasure. It's nice in small doses. Saving up for a trip, not having to travel every week and/or be on a perma-vacation is actually really nice and rewarding.

    There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and travel is one. It becomes a chore when you do it for too long. ReplyCancel

  • Careful Cents - I don't really feel outside pressure, since most of my close friends and family don't travel much. But I do have the travel bug myself, so sometimes I put pressure on myself or start getting antsy. Within my travel group of friends, I have seen some competition for the best vacations, best photos and etc… but thankfully I'm the only one interested in traveling for the most part. ReplyCancel

  • Newlyweds ona Budget - i would defnitely travel way more if i could. and i do get so jealous at others' facebook photos. at this point, i plan to do a LOT of traveling in the next three years. i feel like once i have kids a lot of my traveling days are over :( ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Travel with your kids! One of my college professor had kids and they filled up his passport by the time he was 2. ReplyCancel

  • moneyaftergrad - I've never thought about it before, but I think you're right. Travel IS a way to keep up with the Joneses. I think the pressure to go on exotic vacations is very real, and you don't want to "miss out" on things other people get to do. Whenever I see people have amazing experiences like living abroad or swimming with dolphins I want to do those things too — and sometimes just to fit in and have a story to tell =\

    I feel better about it now that I have travelled somewhat (and always have more trips planned). It's definitely easier to participate in conversations. But before I had ever been to Europe or elsewhere? I felt totally left out! ReplyCancel

  • Jessica - I definitely think it's become a status thing, since it's become easier to be "showy" when it comes to travel (Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc). I love traveling and wish I could do more of it, and sometimes I get envious of my friends who get to go to exotic places. ReplyCancel

  • Emily @ evolvingPF - I think that you're feeling this because 1) you're comparing yourself to others, 2) travel is important to YOU, and 3) social media sites allow us to see these experiences that in past decades you would probably not know about. Without one or the other of the first two you probably wouldn't think that travel is the new keeping up with the Jones area.

    I definitely agree that travel is another area in which people can compare themselves because of social media but I think for people who compare themselves to others (not everyone does this) they will always do it in the areas that they care about at that time – might be weddings, houses, cars, or other more traditional status symbols. So I agree it's a new area we're aware of but I doubt it's going to replace the others. It probably has more to do with your demographic that you are observing this one status symbol so intensively. ReplyCancel

  • Aleksie - Absolutely. I've taken small trips with people and they're too busy capturing everything on their phones to post on Facebook in real time that they don't really look at what's around them or enjoy it beyond a small LCD. It seems kind of silly and more status-oriented. ReplyCancel

  • Jason @ WSL - Really interesting and thought-provoking. I'm not sure what I think about the deal. I guess I believe some people do it for show and keeping up with the Joneses, however I believe that some just enjoy going to these places to see the world.

    I want to travel in a bad way but I know my time will come. It also helps that I don't have a lot of friends that can afford luxurious vacations. On the other hand, a lot of my facebook friends do. So, if I had it constantly thrown in my face then it might be a little more tough, but I'm content with doing what we're doing and being patient. We'll get to Europe eventually…we're we ready financially. ReplyCancel

  • shopping2saving - I haven't been traveling yet but I definitely want to. I think it totally has become the new way to keep up with the Jonses! All of my friends are always traveling to new and exciting places…exotic, far away places and then posting lots of beautiful pictures. I can't lie and say that I'm not jealous, because I am. Who doesn't want to go on vacation? Especially me, who hasn't been on a vacation since 2008, and even then – I was with my family so I haven't experienced planning or going on a vacation that is fully planned for and paid for by myself. I really can't wait for it to happen. ReplyCancel

  • lkrant - I love to travel and try to take an overseas trip every other year. I never thought much about what other people do or if it is a status symbol to travel. I am sure there is someone who has more than me and that is okay with me. ReplyCancel

  • eemusings - Travel has always been an integral part of the Kiwi psyche, so yes.

    More and more of my friends are heading off overseas for stints of a few months to a few years, and one of my high school buds is always traipsing around South America/Eastern Europe (don't know how she does it, but I guess choosing inexpensive destinations helps. I want to see the US and Europe, which isn't exactly conducive to a budget. I want to see the world for sure, but the way I want to see it won't be cheap). ReplyCancel

  • SavvyFinancialLatina - I haven't traveled a lot. I have been to Colorado and South Carolina. It was beautiful, I enjoyed it. But I also got tired and missed being home. People never show that on pictures on Facebook. ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - Travel has definitely always been a way to keep up with the Jones. I mean, look back at your Titanic post. That was in 1912 and the character from the rendition I saw this year that really stuck out to me was a woman in second class who really, really wanted to go up to first class and just be amongst the people there.

    I don't really like seeing everyone else's travel photos because everyone has different travel priorities. Right now, I'm not really interested in going to South America. Maybe I will some day, but that's not me in my 20s. I've already spent a good amount of time traveling through Europe, so I want to spend the next few years traveling within North America. Everyone else thinks I'm crazy. Although I would love to go to Japan next year since a friend is doing the JET program and it would be super cool to go visit her! ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - I haven't traveled much through Europe, although I've spent some time in Eastern Europe & Greece. I'd love to visit London and Paris in the next couple of years. You should DEFINITELY go to Japan while your friend is there. I didn't – had a friend teaching near Mount Fuji – and I kind of regret it. ReplyCancel

      • Leigh - I absolutely LOVED Paris! I hope you can get there some time. So much shopping, bad for my wallet though haha. ReplyCancel

  • Stephanie - Logging into facebook, I see one friend or another has posted new pictures from a latest trip. In fact, I have one friend who always seems to be on one trip for another. I'm pretty sure she's great at finding travel deals, and she definitely makes travel a priority.

    My bf and I haven't gone on a real vacation since 2007. We go on the occasional weekend trip, and have gone to a few out of town weddings, but we haven't been to an exciting new place for more than a long weekend! I think we haven't gone on these trips because I hate planning/making decisions, and of course, hate spending money. But if someone else planned a trip, I'd totally go! ReplyCancel

  • seedebtrun - Honestly, participating in the blogasphere has really caused this issue to jump up in my life. It seems like everyone, even the frugalistas in the PF blogging world, is out there taking great vacations. Since we are pinching pennies and trying hard to get rid of debt, it really gets my jealous juices flowing to see all of the great pictures and good times that are out there. ReplyCancel

    • Well Heeled Blog - Travel is a weird best in the personal finance world. I understand what you mean – I keep reading about these awesome trips people are going on and I feel the need to fill up my calendar with exotic destinations! ReplyCancel

  • Margo - I do think it’s a status thing. I got the travel bug when my family moved to the DC area. Lots of military & diplomats’ kids who were just too cool because they had been to Prague, Budapest, Johannesburg etc. That was 15 years ago so it was less widespread to do Eastern Europe and Africa than it is now.

    During b-school, the “keeping up” urge got worse because I had more friends going more places and traveling at a higher price point (renting furnished condos with a staff!!) But now, honestly, I have exhausted my wanderlust. I studied abroad, and few things do more to kill your travel bug than realizing that women are considered and treated like property in much of the rest of the world.

    The silver lining? I am perfectly content to make weekend trips on Amtrak to places like Milwaukee or our National Parks, do the Iowa State Fair or see a Big 12 football game in KS or OK. Flights are just too expensive these days. ReplyCancel

  • Little House - I don't feel that much pressure from friends or family since I'm older and most of them can't travel due to family obligations. Mr. LH also hates traveling, so no pressure from him either. However, I've always wanted to travel and "see the world." Maybe someday that will happen, but it's definitely not in the near future. Our extent of traveling is either camping in a national park or this summer going to my sister's wedding on the east coast. I was lucky to even get Mr. LH on board with going; the 7 hour flight is already haunting him and the wedding's still 3 weeks away! ReplyCancel

  • Jordann - I think you're right, travel and experiences are definitely the status symbol of our generation, not possessions. I long to travel, but my debt is keeping me home. I can't wait until my debt is paid off, I'm planning on having a bunch of years between debt freedom and home ownership/parenthood that will be a perfect time to travel. As long as I know that I have that opportunity in the future, I'm not too fussed about how little I travel now. That said, I travel about four times a year for business, so maybe that satisfies my bug? ReplyCancel

  • bthappyhomeowner - I think that unfortunately some people are taking it to this extreme which makes people like me sad. I've been an avid traveler since I was 17 but more because I covet the experiences and really could care less about bragging. Instead of buying shoes/purses/rental properties, I buy vacations. And I really don't see this ever changing although certain life circumstances could definitely slow it down. I hope that those traveling just to travel are truly taking the time to completely enjoy the experience and fully value the beneficial aspects travel has on their lives. Otherwise, they might as well buy a fancy car to tool around town in because if you're not taking something away from the experience, what's the point in going?! ReplyCancel

  • vanessasmoney - I think you're right but I'd like to bury my head in the sand and ignore it because I love travelling :) ReplyCancel

  • Jess @JessCantCook - I definitely feel like I should be doing more traveling and part of that is because everyone else is. It's not just vacations, I just moved to California from Virginia and I feel like I should be exploring the entire west coast because people want to here what we're doing out here but that's just not in our budget right now. I really think everything on Facebook is the new 'keeping up with the Joneses' – vacations, weddings, babies, you name it :) ReplyCancel

  • Emma - While I would like to travel more and see new places,and I go through friends photos of their experiences in Europe (castles! Stonehenge! Big Ben! Catacombs! Eiffel tower! Cathedrals! Crumbling cities! Pompeii!…), I found that after doing a weekend away and planning out our honeymoon, I just don't value those trips as much.

    I LIKE taking a trip to a sunny destination each year and being able to use one of my "bonus" pay cheques for it. I take home just over $500 per week, so the 25th paycheque doesn't allow for an extravagant vacation – it allows for a week at an all-inclusive to Cuba during hurricane season.

    While I could save up that extra pay for 4 years to go to Europe for a few weeks (I certainly can't wait on a vacation that long and not squeeze as much in as possible!), I do enjoy our annual beach vacation. It's not luxurious, it's not full of historical sites, but it fits our budget and we can happily play in the warm ocean water all day. I do stare wistfully when I see people posting pics of a beach vacation and I know I need to wait several months before I get to go to the beach though. Having swam in the ocean, our cold, dirty lakes just don't do it for me.

    I must admit, I am not too envious of the people going in the winter. Yes, it's cold here, but so is the ocean water! I went to a destination wedding in March last year, and that water was chilly! ReplyCancel

  • addvodka - YES. Definitely! I think it's a status symbol. But, I think it's also a step in the right direction. ReplyCancel

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  • belowhermeans - Definitely. M. and I alternate between being jealous of two different couples of married friends. The Joneses (as I refer to them in my blog) have a super nice apartment, designer stuff, a stocked kitchen, on and on and on. The other couple is a bit younger and they travel like crazy. That said, I'm fairly certain both sets of them are somewhat financially supported by their parents. And they're married! M. and I aren't married and we support ourselves already. But I'd still love to travel. ReplyCancel

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  • Lance@MoneyLife&More - I totally agree with you. I see so many blogs posting about all the travel they are doing and I do think people want to try to keep up. I think this could very well be the next Joneses issue. ReplyCancel

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  • evolverevolve - I think you are so right! I have been lucky to travel some, and since I've had my personal finance revolution, I'm actually saving for trips before I go on them. But I feel among a couple of people I know, they can't believe I haven't been wine tasting in Chile or are not accompanying my boyfriend on various business trips, and until I read this post I kinda felt bad. But, as of now, I'm not letting anyone take away the joy I get from camping in the mountains close to home or a trip to Europe! ReplyCancel

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  • Carnival of Personal Finance- Miami Edition - […] we were younger, and it created a need in us. Well Heeled Blog has a different approach asking Is Travel the New Way to Keep Up With the Joneses?, and says, “Can travel become another form of consumption? Another way to “keep up with the […]ReplyCancel

  • Tie the Money Knot - Oh, I think you've made a great observation here. GREAT topic!

    I know a few people that are exactly like this, traveling everywhere and talking proudly of it as if it's an accomplishment. Then, asking where you have gone lately, and how come you're not traveling. Or, there is the passive aggressive person who lobs the topic out there to make him/her self look worldly.

    The thing is, I too have done quite a bit of traveling – international and domestic (47/50 states). What I've realized is that it can be very educational and rewarding, and for me anyway, a better use of funds than buying expensive cars, home, etc. HOWEVER, traveling is not so much of a need as a want. Particularly traveling to far flung places to which you have no connection to.

    The people that travel because they can truly afford it, and find it rewarding….okay, I get that. I've been there (except the afford part, but I did it anyway). But the people that travel in order to say they went somewhere, to brag, to tell stories later…..that's lame. It's no different than buying those overpriced cars and McMansions I alluded to above.

    I just handle such people by listening with a smile, not saying much, then changing the subject. I would rather stay under the radar and not talk about my own travels to such people, as I don't want to have it go down some competitive path.

  • Anne @ Unique Gifter - Heck yes I feel pressure to travel, both from others and from myself *sigh* … I want more more more! This silly work all year thing is a big hang up. ReplyCancel

  • oilandgarlic - This is definitely a "new" way of keeping up with the Jonses. I remember the pre-Facebook days and while you could get jealous hearing about trips, you were not bombarded by Facebook Friends with exotic photos; you only saw pictures from close friends and family. I love travel and am just glad I did most of it before it became competitive. It was funny when my husband mentioned recently that we hadn't travel enough when we have travelled a lot more than most ; just not in comparison to some friends in Europe and probably his new facebook friends. ReplyCancel

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  • queenlbee - I definitely think there is more of a sense that you need to “keep up” with people in regards to being well-traveled. I look at friends vacation pictures and wonder how they can afford to go such places when I know that they make around the same amount as me and probably have loan debt!

  • mike - Good post. I've been thinking about this lately, but you brought it to the forefront.

    I have friends who mention where they go, like the Tiki Islands where they stay in straw huts above the water and stuff like that. I'm always glad for their experience, but I think that's something I wouldn't want to do.

    No envy at all. And I read on blogs how people would rather have experiences than things. Hell, I live in LA. Ski and swim the same day. Visit Little Saigon, Chinatown, downtown LA, Beverly Hills just to name a few. Just like any third world, English is the second language.

    One of my favorite travel blogs is "Hobo Traveller". He writes at the third grade level, but I like to see the world through his eyes. And he endlessly reminds his readers he's been to 90 countries. ReplyCancel

  • DROD - I do not agree. I think scientists and psychologists for years have been saying studies prove that buying experiences, not things, makes people happier. I believe people are trying to live happier lives. Cheers to a happier life! ReplyCancel

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