Buy new experiences, not things

August 7, 2012 |  Category:   happy purchases life travels

We’re gearing up for a few weeks of travel and the girls are excitedly counting down the days. I love how both of them have already been on airplanes more times than I have all throughout my childhood and early college years. But I really believe in the philosophy, “Buy new experiences, not things”. Think about it, it’s true. What will the girls remember years from now when they’re adults? That new American Girl Doll? Or a family vacation? So I did something quite uncharacteristic for us a few weeks ago. I booked a vacation that I’ve been wanting to do for years that was quite impulsive, but a deal and an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. It also means pulling the kids out of school for 3 days which might not sound like a big deal, but the girls are getting to the age where attendance really counts. Mia didn’t miss a day of school this past year so it’s not something I take likely, but 3rd grade is the last year that we can do something like this. Her attendance and test scores in 4th is a big factor in middle school applications so we are not going ANYWHERE next school year and I might even consider giving the kids flu shots for the very first time (ha! I kid, but actually…I’m not kidding). So this is kind of a big deal for us.


But late last night I thought of a million reasons why this trip was a bad idea and I started to get anxious (typical, but what if the girls get teachers this year who really frown on pulling the kids out of school? Can we really afford this right now?), but this morning I woke up feeling ok again. I think some things in life don’t need rational reasons. Remember when I said this in a post earlier this year? – “I was thinking today while resting in bed that we really do need to live a little more. Being so responsible and so careful with our money really is so boring all the time. Instead of automatically thinking, no we can’t afford that, I’d like to think instead, how can we make that work?” Ok, so I have now resorted to quoting myself, but hey look! I’m actually trying to take my own advice!
So can we talk about luggage for a minute? Mark and I bought our set many many years ago, way before the kids were even a thought, and we spent a good deal on them too (for us at the time) thinking that we’d have it forever. But nobody could predict, of course, that someday you’d actually have to pay to have your luggage on board and that weight would be everything. Our luggage is heavy. It’s just not really practical anymore now that we have double the family members so I’m thinking we may need to buy something new. Does anyone have any opinions on hard suitcases like this one? What’s the advantage of a hard case? Seems like it’s not as expandable as a regular suitcase because you can’t “stuff” it beyond it’s capacity, but maybe that’s the point? Oh, and did you know that some suitcases have built in scales now?? And look at these crazy cases. Not really my aesthetic, but you can’t say they’re boring and they’d be easy to spot at baggage claim!

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  • Alexis August 7, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    I mostly lurk on your blog, but thought I’d add my 2 cents worth on luggage and travel.
    I love the hardshell cases – my husband and girls have them and I am jealous! We got the girls (5 and 7 yrs old) carry on sized hard cases with wheels a couple of years ago and we are all thrilled that they can now transport their own luggage – we’ve taken them to the Caribean, Chicago and the west coast of Canada with them. Some of the hardshell cases are expandable (my husband has one) so there is the potential stuff more into them.
    I think travel is great for kids – as an only child, I got to travel more than most, and it was a great experience. My kids have many memories from the trips we’ve taken and I wish we had the time and money for my travel. Our next trip is to NYC at the end of August and the kids are very excited!
    I say – go for it!

  • Kim August 7, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    My husband and I bought a new pair of hard suitcases with spinner wheels from Costco a couple days before our vacation last month and they were such an upgrade from our old suitcases. We always noticed the spinner wheeled cases at the airport, but felt that it would be a waste to upgrade because our old cases were just fine. I can’t tell you the difference the new suitcases have made. They’re lighter, super easy to maneuver, and they have separate compartments on each side of the case so things pack better. They have an expander zipper (as I’m sure they all do) that really does add a lot of extra space if you need it. We normally bring home fragile souvenirs and I felt that the hard case protected them better. The spinner wheels made all the difference; I no longer felt like I was lugging my luggage, but instead it just glided on the floor. All in all, I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

  • gia August 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Funny post! Did you take the leap for Hawaii? And btw I get all kinds of anxiety about things at night, and then I’m fine in the morning, what is up with that??

  • ltg August 7, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    yay for vacations!
    i don’t use hard case luggage anymore. we have a large size duffel bag with rollers. we used to have hard case ones in our childless years, but now with a 5 yr old and 1.5 yr old, we need more space and need the extra weight the duffel bag provides. i recently returned from an international trip (to see family, who live abroad) and of course i carried back lots of stuff -including breakable items- in the duffel bag. the only bad thing about it is that, it doesn’t stand upright. otherwise, it’s light, easy to fill, easy to carry. using travel packs help compartmentalize everything, if you are a bit too organized (i am). i’m going to buy one from llbean, once this one wears out. i have a travel bag from them for carry on, it’s very durable. apart from that, my husband and the older kid have their backpacks. we may be light travellers, i don’t know. i guess once the kids are older, we may travel with two duffel bags.

  • Sara August 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Check out tjmaxx & marshals for suitcases! Great deals!

  • Jinah August 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I was in your shoes last year. From what I’ve read, hard shell cases can be ultra lightweight, but can have cracking issues if not high quality. Budget was a factor for me as well, and hard shell cases tended to be pricier than soft-sided. I ended up buying Travelpro soft-sided rolling suitcases. They are lightweight, affordable (tends to go on sale and/or have coupon codes), and I actually like having a small zipper pocket on the outside to stuff my sweater/magazine/errant crap in at the last minute. Hard shelled are definitely more stylish though.

  • Shannon8footsix August 7, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    We are taking the boys to Copenhagen in a few weeks…they are a bit younger. so I don’t have to worry about school…but I think you are 100percent doing the right thing!!! They will learn and grow through the experience and you will make sure they get caught up on their school work!

    We are in the two strollers, two backpack stage of travel still. We are only taking one change of clothes! For real! Who needs a full wardrobe on vacation? Besides, we will have washer dryer at the apt we are renting (but if not, we would use a laundromat)

    yup one change (a bit extra for the baby, cause his stuff is little and he is messy) for 9 days…not unheard of! I thought I used to pack light, but we are going LITE this time!!

  • Jenna August 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    @gia, not hawaii, no. But somewhere sort of similar. Don’t want to jinx yet until we finalize!

  • Jenna August 7, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    This is some really interesting and good advice on luggage. Thanks everyone!

  • Atsuko August 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I totally agree with your philosophy – buy new experiences, not things. I live by it, too. Especially after encountering lines by Mark Twain. He said something like this; at the end of the day I would like to have more stories in my life than things. I truly believe that first hand experiences make a person richer. Those last forever in his or her mind. I am excited to see your vacation photos and to hear stories. Have a wonderful vacation:)

  • Marie Hansen August 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Dear Jenna:
    I love the luggage! Do it!! I have bright pink luggage and it is really easy to spot on the baggage belt. And, everyone remembers what it looks like as well.
    Looking forward to seeing all of you. I will be at the cabin with Nancy this time. aloha, marie :-)
    Am amazed at Claudine’s art :-)

  • beckyk August 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    hi jenna, I want to echo the duffel bag suggestion. we travel with our 4 year old internationally, in Europe and in the states to visit family and our large rolling duffel bags have become the stars of the show. They are so flexible and give us the extra weight we need sometimes as well as being a bit more compact when we reach the weight limit before the bag is full :-) We also love all having rolling hard sided cases to carry on – get the largest you can for most airlines. Together we have found all the combos we need to get the most out of the differing luggage policies. Bon voyage!

  • nichole August 7, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I am with you 100% with travel and things over experience. Every single time we’ve taken the boys to Paris, it was because we went light on holiday gifts or birthday gifts. Travel is really a priority for us, and the memories are so worth it.

  • Janine Vincent of CHiKYTHING August 7, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I totally agree. Time,trips,play,crafts much much better than shopping.

  • Jessica H. August 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    I too also believe in, “Buy new experiences, not things.” I don’t own much, just enough to fit into two suitcases and a backpack. But I’ve lived in 4 different cities and traveled to 9 different countries on 3 different continents, and I’m only in my mid-20’s. I also tend to buy my close friends and family plane tickets as presents. It just seems so amazing to be able to give them not just a present, but an experience. Your girls will be so thankful that they traveled so much in their youth.

  • Kyra August 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    I dunno if you like the simple, sleek look and are looking for a bag that you’ll have forever but I’d highly recommend Briggs and Riley. They have a line of high quality bags that are both regular and expandable. The best part is lifetime warranty for any breaks, even mistreatment/wearing out. I’ve beat the crap out of mine (or rather, the baggagge handlers) for 5+ years now as an airline pilot and have had to stop by their headquarters in Long Island to get it fixed, but it was fast and they replaced all worn parts of the bag besides the part that needed fixing without me asking – great customer service!

  • Jenna August 7, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    @kyra thanks for the tip! I’ll look it up. Btw, I didn’t know that you were a pilot!

  • Tina August 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    I get anxious when we spend money on vacations but my husband is total opposite. He says, we’re going to die anyway, might as well live it up. When he puts it like that, I relax a bit. But now I’m curious as to where you’ve booked your vacation. First I thought, Paris, but then you said it was similar to Hawaii. Hmmm, I’ll guess I will have to keep reading to find out!

  • Roseann August 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    So glad you’re taking a trip, it will totally be worth it. And I am really intrigued as to where you’re headed, because I don’t think there are many places like Hawaii. Maybe the Caribbean? Wherever you go, safe travels, and I believe carry-on only is the least stressful way to travel. Who needs all that stuff anyways?

  • leslie August 7, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    couldnt agree more! 2 years ago i realized my girls were getting to the perfect traveling age (8 and 12 now, 6 and 10 then) so i started saving for a big italy trip. i have put off getting a new car for years and years and even cashed in a small 401k that wasnt making any money anyways. i worked extra jobs and just kept socking it away. well, we just got back (gone just under a month) and it was hands down the best family time we have ever had together. we’ve traveled before but this was such a massive trip. we learned so much and the girls will never forget it i know. totally broke now but very very happy!!

  • Shilo August 8, 2012 at 12:11 am

    I’m sure everyone has probably said it already, but hardshell, spinner luggage is the jam. I bought ours from the TJMaxx on 6th Ave for like, $40 each and they are the best things ever, and have big enough wheels to even navigate european cobblestones.

    If faced with a choice, I would take spinner over hardshell however.
    Excited to hear about your trip!

  • lissy August 8, 2012 at 3:05 am

    great reminder of a good philosophy: “Buy new experiences, not things”

    I’ve never commented on your site, but visit regularly and enjoy!. Not sure why luggage has prompted me to post for the first time. I’m an Australian living in Switzerland with my husband and two children under 3. We travel a lot, and long distances (to visit family). Often with a stroller and SLR+lenses and laptops as we often coincide trips with work at a universtity. So we have to limit ourselves to two bags (or less for short trips) for four people.
    1) we use samsonite with two sturdy wheels (eg Samsonite F’Lite GT 30″ Hardside Upright). These wheels don’t stick out and are far more sturdy than other luggage
    2) we chose two over four wheels as all four wheel cases are prone to having a wheel snapped off and they don’t work well on cobble stones in Europe. And the killer for me, 4 wheels slide everywhere on public transport (unwanted extra stress travelling in europe with two small children)
    3) to fit into two bags we pack light and use travel vacuum seal bags (hoping for an iron where we stay!).

    Enjoy your trip! I look forward to hearing where. Your post has prompted me to think about our next (non-work) experience too: where and how to afford 😉

  • Sunny August 8, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Maybe my situation is a bit different, but I have a Rimowa carry on which is one of those James Bond aluminum jobs which is pretty light and has high quality wheels. I bought it in Berlin (where it’s much much cheaper) and was all jazzed about it until I realized that the only people who had one were middle aged German businessmen.

    I still think the Rimowa is the sexiest thing around, but I find that it is way more work to pack to maximize space and frankly, fits less than my softsided carry on I was replacing. I agree that the ones with the expanding zippered sides probably take care of some of the problem (I sit on mine to close it), and the hardcases are extremely solid. But all my friends love their Hideo Wakamatsu bags and other cute stuff.

  • Sophia August 8, 2012 at 11:19 am

    My husband works for an airline so we travel quite a bit with his flight benefits. I come from the camp of “less is more” In regards to what I need to bring, but of course what we pack depends on the type of trip we are taking. Added we have a 6 yr. old growing boy in our family, we always find ourselves having to tweak and refine our packing skills. sounds anal doesn’t it?
    The luggage that has lasted me for the past 15 yrs.(and is still going strong) is my Eagle Creek (soft) rolling piece with a small zip off day pack. The whole piece also converts into a “backpack” if your travels find you in a place where you need to use it this way. This part definitely adds a little more weight ( I think there are models that don’t do this) but I definitely used it a lot in the past when traveling abroad. It’s been really useful in the past, but now as we are getting “older”, both my husband and i are less hesitant to want to carry our luggage on our back. We recently replaced my husband’s “old” piece (with a model closest to mine) because he has traveled for years with one that didn’t have any wheels, and aside from having some recent back problems, who wants to be carrying their luggage all around every step of the way if you don’t need to?
    As for experiences vs. things…I agree. “automatically thinking no we can’t afford that” along with always “being responsible and so careful with our money”…it can definitely take its toll on you without you even realizing it until you step back, then take another step back, and look at the big picture.

  • Karen August 8, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Jenna, that is great that you are taking the leap and doing something like this for yourself and your family! I have nothing to add re: luggage but am reading everyone else’s tips for traveling light like mad. This reminds me of a three-week trip that my husband and I took through Europe a few years ago when we had very little money but a good amount of time. I had wanted to save up the money before traveling, while my husband was fine putting it all on credit card. In the end, we managed through a combination of both, but I was so, so nervous about taking on the trip and all of its expenses the night before we left. In the end, we had a great time, and although it took some months to pay back the amount we charged on credit, I have some very happy memories from that trip. Time is such a finite commodity, so I agree with your philosophy to buy new experiences rather than things.

    Have a wonderful time with your family!

  • Paola August 8, 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Jenna, Hideo Wakamatsu luggage is on sale on gilt home. They are hard and colorful…..thought you’d be interested in checking it out.

  • Jenna August 8, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    @Paola ooh, thanks for the tip. I’ll check it out!

  • Monica August 8, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Hi Jenna,
    My only comment is for each of your girls to carry their own wheeled suit cases. When we travel as a family of four, I will have each son pull their own wheeled duffle bag with ALL of their clothes, toys and games. It works like a dream and will keep your hands (and back) free. On another note, I understand your concern on pulling the kids out of school, but they are still young and the experience of travel/education that you offer the girl’s will surpass anything they learn in class for a few days. Enjoy!
    Los Angeles

  • Linnea August 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    My parents took my brother and me on many traveling adventures at a young age, and we loved it! My family isn’t super well off, but my parents prioritized travel over material things. We went to Costa Rica, Sweden, and England before I was 10. It was amazing!

    BIG TIP! Buy two journals, one for each of your girls, to be used to record their travel adventures. (My mom would go to the local copy shop and get heavyish weight paper and colorful covers comb-bound. Fairly cheap AND sturdy.)

    Here’s why:

    1) Journal time! It will keep the girls busy on the plane, in the hotel room, or in the evening before dinner. My parents asked us to write something in our journal each day – it was an expectation and part of our “responsibility” as travelers.

    2) It’s good for school! We missed a week of school one year for a trip, and my parents struck a deal with my teachers: my brother and I would record our travels and what we were learning, then we’d turn in the journal for the teacher to review and return with a grade. We ended up getting “school credit” for our journals.

    3) I love having the memories from those trips! We collected all sorts of things: bus passes, ticket stubs, foreign coins and small bills, postcards – and they were taped right into the journal. We wrote down what we did each day, included new vocabulary words (in English and the foreign language) and drew pictures. We also created place-holders for photographs and pasted those in when we’d gotten back and printed copies.

    When I was too tired to write, my mom would let me dictate. (I’m so grateful she was patient enough to do that.)

    Since I was young, those journals have helped preserve those travel memories for me. I treasure them!

    Good luck with your pending travels!

    P.S. Love your blog! I’m not a frequent commenter, but thanks for your great writing.

  • l o v e l y t h i n g s August 8, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    Did I miss something…or are you not saying where you are going? Kinda hard to live vicariously if I don’t know where…annnyway…my experience with hard cases and possible rental cars…you cannot smush them into spaces in a trunk or cargo area. That has just been my experience…

  • Jenna August 8, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    @lovelythings No, you didn’t miss anything. I’m not saying just yet…things aren’t final and I don’t want to jinx anything….

  • carol August 9, 2012 at 12:38 am

    take less rather than more. if you are going to some place warm, things dry in a flash and everyone ends up wearing their favorite whatevers while the “might need” stuff languishes in the suitcase to be hauled around. enjoy. enjoy.

  • Kat August 9, 2012 at 9:15 am

    Muiji has foldable bags that are great to travel with because I end up stuffing any extras or souvenirs we get along the way:

  • SY August 9, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Good for you! We’re of the same philosophy…we’d rather spend the money on trips with our kids than on “things.” We might not have the biggest or fanciest house out there, but hopefully our kids will remember the trips and time we spent together. This summer we just spurged on 3 weeks in Europe (2 weeks staying with family) and we thought it would hit our budget pretty hard, but it hasn’t. I’ve cut back on eating out and other “luxuries” because in two years we’re thinking of taking the boys to Asia. When the boys ask for some new toy and I tell them we can’t buy it because we’re saving for another big trip, they completely understand and start researching the countries we might want to visit.

    As for luggage, we’ve invested in North Face duffles (you can find them on sale at Ebags) for the boys and we useTravel Pro rolling bags for ourselves. The Travelpros have lasted over 15 years and I used to travel to Europe quite often pre-kids. If I were rolling in money, I’d buy the Tumi bags, they are lovely to look at and I hear very durable. Anyways, we have two sets of luggage, carry ons for everyone and then bigger sets of Travel Pros for the longer trips (where everyone is allowed a free bag).

  • Vivienne August 9, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Can I put in a vote for this bag:

    We have dragged this baby on many trips thoughout Europe and the US, each family member pulling their own (except the youngest who pulled a 17 in). It fits in the overhead bin and has a lot of organizing tools (watch the vid). A big plus was that the handle stops at a long length (for us adults) and a short length (for the kids) This bag has survived the kids haphazardly dragging it up escalators, cobblestones, trains, airplanes…you name it. The company has excellent customer service and we got orange so it can’t be missed.

  • Louise C August 9, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    I don’t think your kids will miss that much to be very honest! They can catch up very easily. I don’t see why a teacher would get upset, but you just never know. The experience and the fun that comes out of travel, not to mention how much you are expanding their minds, will benefit them tenfold over the rest of their school years. Enjoy and have fun!!

  • Sallie August 10, 2012 at 11:22 am

    Hi Jenna, I love your blog! We have a saying in our family, if it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin it doesn’t go. My girls have each had their own small suitcase since they were young. We used the Target “disposable” wheeled soft side that cost $10 back in the day. My oldest just recieved a nice spinner for her 18th birthday and finally gave up her old one. They have Heys luggage at Target now with some cute patterns. Always buy the smallest size 18′ so they can use them for international travel. Just plan to do laundry at some point.Or buy some new clothes. Have a fun adventure

  • Jocy August 11, 2012 at 4:35 am

    GO! And enjoy. There will always be financial obligations and life, as we get older, tends to tether us more. So it is rare and wonderful to be able to be impulsive and share this new experience as a family.

  • Jocy August 11, 2012 at 4:40 am

    Well, maybe “rare” isn’t the right word, but what a good opportunity. On the luggage front, I prefer duffel bags, but maybe the girls could have small carry-on backpacks for some things.

  • Amy August 16, 2012 at 12:04 am

    Checked to see if anyone mentioned LL Bean, and not one! I have the hard case and love it. I find I get more in than I did my soft rolling or even my larger hard one from tj maxx that broke after a couple of trips. Ll bean is for life!! Really, really good colors, too. I got the blue, which is a deep royal, but really wish I got the traffic cone orange!

  • Heather August 25, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    I highly, highly recomend these cases from Gregory. You can fit a lot and they are SUPER durable and light weight! Flown close to 100,000 mi in a year and shows very little wear! they have two sizes as well! (carry on size) a bit larger