By Dr. Jim Dahle, WCI Founder

My wife and I recently left the kids behind and went on a week-long trip to Belize, a destination we’ve wanted to visit for years. It was a lot of fun. She thought I was going to Yosemite to go climbing with friends (during her birthday week) but the morning we left I surprised her at breakfast with a fully planned trip to Belize. Perhaps the best part of the gift was that I also arranged for all of her responsibilities at home to be taken care of without her knowing. Not sure what your partner is doing when you’re at the hospital? Try making arrangements to have it all done without him or her knowing. I spent a lot of time and lost sleep trying to figure out all the details, but it all turned out great in the end. Like with most experiences in life, there were lots of lessons to be learned if you’re observant. I’d like to share a few with you.

# 1 Experiences Are Worth More Than Stuff

The first lesson is simply a reinforcement of one we learned long ago. The happiness literature is very clear that you are more likely to buy more happiness by buying experiences shared with those you care about than buying things. It turns out that not only does the happiness boost from buying stuff fade very quickly (often before you get out of the store) but then you have to store and maintain that item for the rest of your life. On this trip we had some pretty awesome experiences- snorkeling, SCUBA diving on the second longest barrier reef in the world, visiting some Caribbean Cays, cave-tubing, ziplining, seeing the jungle with its howler monkeys, toucans, wild turkeys, snakes, and cotimundis, visiting the ATM cave (easily in my top 10 coolest places I’ve ever been), and touring the ruins of Tikal, Guatemala. We can’t do any of that stuff at home. Did we buy anything? Not much. The kids will each get a very inexpensive gift.

24 hours after being given "two tickets to paradise"

24 hours after being given “two tickets to paradise”

# 2 Time Is Money Is Time

Like many of you, the most expensive part of a trip for us was the opportunity cost of not being at work. We spent less than I would have earned staying home and working three or four shifts, even after taxes. With that perspective, we were very careful to avoid trading time for money on the trip itself. That typically resulted in a higher expense. For example, during the planning phase at home I could spent more time looking for a deal, or I could just buy the most convenient thing and move on. Instead of trying to figure out what the best value would be, I just asked “What’s the best?” and bought that. The best hotel in town. The best tour guide in town. The best diving company in town. The best restaurant in town. Etc. Now, that doesn’t mean we traveled the most expensive way possible (for instance we flew coach, used a water taxi instead of a small plane to reach the Cays, and usually stayed in the cheapest room in the nicest hotel) but it did reduce the amount of time required to plan the trip.

In fact, if we really wanted to, I think we could probably do this trip for perhaps 75% of what we paid if we had been willing to pour a lot of time over the preceding months into it. We could have flown to Cancun, taken a bus to the Belizean border, and taken a water taxi to Ambergris Cay for half the price of the way we did it, for instance. But 25% of $5K is only $1,250, and it doesn’t take that long to earn that. Certainly less time than a 5 hour bus ride through Mexico. Likewise, our rental car probably cost 33% more than if we had just purchased transportation a la carte. But I only had to arrange transportation once, and we also enjoyed the convenience of being able to come and go as we pleased, saving more time. Time is money is time. Try not to lose track of the relationship and understand the rate at which you can personally trade the two.

# 3 Infrastructure Matters

Belize is easily the nicest, most socioeconomically advanced country in Central America. As the former British Honduras, it enjoys the benefits of having been a former British Colony (much better than a former Spanish colony it turns out) with its rule of law. Plus everyone speaks English. That said, even in Belize the infrastructure has a dramatic effect on your life. Consider that the largest, most busy highway in the country is a two lane road without a center dividing line (much less a shoulder) and with big speed bumps every couple of miles. The economy is primarily tourism, agriculture, and fishing. With an unemployment rate of 20%, being a tour guide is a major profession. Only elementary school is mandatory, and schools are 1-2 room outdoor affairs. While we worry about how to get a home with granite countertops in the nicest school district, have burnout due to administrator’s demands and think a used car is 2 years old, the Belizean people seem just as happy driving the car you refuse to drive anymore, living in a cinder block house, and giving the same tour four times a week for 20 years. Take a trip every now and then. See how the rest of the world lives. If you don’t return home feeling like a king I’ll be surprised.

# 4 We Have an Entire Other Lifestyle Available To Us

As we sat by the pool one afternoon I pointed out that we could stay here indefinitely. I could do all my WCI stuff (aside from the speaking gigs) anywhere in the world with an internet connection a la Tim Ferris. We could simply move hotel to hotel throughout the world, home schooling our kids and supporting the family on the internet. It is absolutely within our reach. But, by the end of the conversation we realized we didn’t want that. We like living where we live. We like being involved in the activities we’re involved in. I like practicing emergency medicine in the USA. But it feels a lot better CHOOSING what we’re currently doing over every other possible option. If you keep having some dream about living on a sailboat in the Caribbean, traveling the world, practicing in New Zealand, or retiring early, I’d encourage you to go explore it temporarily. Just don’t be surprised if it turns out that you would prefer to be living like you are now. You’ll be happier for having tasted the dream and realizing it isn’t really what you want.

# 5 The World Is Your Oyster If You Have Money

Going to a developing country will teach you a simple fact about the world- money can buy you all kinds of things. Want someone to show you something cool, take you someplace, serve you a meal, make you something etc? If you throw enough money at the issue, you can probably solve it. That applies in the US too, it’s just the price is higher. I think this experience is most easily experienced by staying in a nice hotel. Everyone is so nice and accommodating. But you know why? Because you are paying for it. If you stop, your experience won’t be nearly so nice. Seems a good reason to boost your income, save your money, and manage it well to me.

Shark Ray Alley, Belize-Jumping into a shark feeding frenzy can be a little unnerving

Shark Ray Alley, Belize-Jumping into a shark feeding frenzy can be a little unnerving

# 6 Insurance Questionnaires Are Stupid

I went SCUBA diving for the first time on this trip. It was one of those Explore SCUBA deals, where you get about an hour of instruction including a “pool dive” next to the dock, and then they take you out to the reef, hand you a tank, and take you on a real dive. An hour after I first heard of “Explore SCUBA” I was 75 feet below the surface of the water. Regulators are pretty much magical, it turns out. But what surprised me about all of it was just how easy, safe, and easily managed it was. If you’ve bought life or disability insurance before, you know they ask about rock climbing, flying private planes, skydiving and SCUBA diving. Having spent a lot of time rock climbing and landing on non-runways in Alaska, it’s bizarre to me what is asked about and what isn’t. There are no questions about backcountry skiing. There are no questions about canyoneering. There are no questions about big wave surfing, transatlantic sailing, snowmobiling, Middle Eastern travel, road cycling, cliff diving, sea kayaking, or any other particularly high risk activities. But we’re going to put SCUBA diving on the list. As a climber, I find it frustrating, almost discriminatory.

What do you think? What have you learned from vacations that is worth sharing with your fellow white coat investors? Comment below!