I’d always saved up every penny I earned.

For several reasons:

  1. My parents are both hardcore savers who taught me to stash my paychecks for the bigger things in the future.
  2. I started building my career 3 years ago and haven’t made much.
  3. I live in one of the most expensive places in America — Silicon Valley.

Because of this, I became more frugal with money and would only buy what I needed, which was: groceries, gas, and utility bills. Everything else? Straight into my savings.

Of course there are times when my friends would ask me to eat lunch or dinner with them, and I’d get very tempted. But instead of spending $20+ on a meal (and possibly a drink afterwards?), I’d suggest coffee. I figured it was a good middle ground to satisfy both our interests. They’d have a companion to eat with. I’d have extra money in my pocket.

Now I knew saving money was a good habit, but what was I saving for.

A home? A car? My wedding?

Everyone aims for those achievements nowadays. And the thought of spending decades of my life working for things that are now considered “standard” by today’s expectations no longer inspires me to work (as) hard.

Not to mention, our value of these things drop every passing year. Just think, are you going to be raving about your new home or car in the next 5, 10 years?

Probably not.

The thing is, too many of us in our 20s-30s focus too much on working and saving up every dollar that we forget how precious our youth is. We exhaust our minds. We sacrifice our health. We succumb to what everyone wants, simply because we believe that’s what makes life fulfilling.

Only to realize, it’s not.

Luckily, I’d found one thing that has made my life more meaningful and keeps me hard at work. And the best part is, it’s realistic with my budget and gives me a much longer payoff than the most expensive thing you can find on the market.

Travelling.

Photo Credit: Jeshoots

At first, I was shocked to see $4,500 on my bank statement. I mean I wasn’t there to splurge for fun, but mainly to work for my startup.

But as soon as I thought about all the things I’d learned from my trip in the last 3 months, it made every dollar seem well spent.

My experiences in a nutshell

I learned how to protect my valuables from pickpocketers.
From what people told me, I had to be extra careful around the places I stayed: Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Bangkok (Thailand), and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam).

I learned that Southeast Asia has a ridiculous number of coffeeshops and cafes, almost one on every corner. AND they offer free wifi! Surprisingly, many restaurants offer free wifi too (super convenient if you want to eat and work in one place).

One of my favorite coffeeshops in Thailand: Luka.

I learned Uber is the cheaper ride option, but Grabtaxi has more reliable drivers.

I learned Cheapflights offer the cheapest flight deals.
My cheapest trip was $63 from Thailand to Vietnam.

I learned how to take the subway train and Skytrain without getting lost (after the 8th time).

The BTS “Skytrain” in Bangkok, Thailand.

I learned to trust my gut more than the mouths of locals.
Usually, they’d lead me towards the wrong direction when I asked where [restaurant/coffeeshop/train stop] was or show me the wrong item in the store. And that’s because we had a huge language barrier, so most things I’d say would be misinterpreted.

I learned over 50% of Malaysians are Muslim.
That explains why a lot of Malaysian restaurants displayed signs with “pork-free!”

Locals enjoying a midnight snack at a cafe in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I learned that Thai people are some of the nicest, most laid-back people you’d ever meet in the world. They don’t judge you based on your ethnicity or your beliefs. In fact, they thought I was one of them (even though I’m Chinese). 🙂

My Thai BFF and Airbnb host, one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.

I learned you can negotiate 20–30% less from the original price in Thailand. And that walking away isn’t an effective strategy to help you seal the deal.

I learned theft is more common in Vietnam. If I walked into a supermarket, an employee would fasten a cable tie on my backpack zippers and cut it when I got to the register. That was to prevent stealing.

How Vietnamese prevent shoplifters in supermarkets.

Traveling gives you more stories to tell, more friends to connect with, and experiences no one else could have.

Photo Credit: Isabelle Bruce

If I could go back, I’d have travelled earlier (in my early 20s). There’s just so much you learn as you walk down the streets, hop on the bus, eat at a cafe, and watch how people interact. Not many people in this world can afford this kind of luxury. So if you have the money and the opportunity, go for it!

After all, you only have one life to make the most out of yourself.

  1. Dan
    Jun 19, 2018

    Tiffany,

    I sincerely gotta say, the more I read your columns, the more inspired I am to emerge from the rut I’m in (a longer [but still short] version of my situation can be found as a reply to your “Am I Spoiled” column). All the points you make: the feeling of not living up to who you THOUGHT you were supposed to be solely based on what our culture dictates we are “supposed” to do; the feeling of incredible inadequacy as the years pass while you see your family members and/or peers lap you several times over in terms of their “success”, relationships and productivity; the many years you felt you’ve lost (or even wasted) by pursuing a passion that either failed you or, perhaps, you failed it in the end; your ideas on the insidious nature of money in society and how so many people are willing to sacrifice happiness for luxury; your love and yearning to travel; and so many other topics and stories of your experiences. It is SO comforting to read stories from someone that says – almost verbatim – so many of the things I say and think. Keep it up and I’ll keep reading because it’s rare I meet someone that can relate to my thoughts so closely. Just … Thank you.

    Reply
    • Tiffany Sun
      Jun 19, 2018

      Hey Dan!

      I’m really glad we both have the same mindset; it’s very rare for me as well to know that there’s someone out there who’s been through my struggles – especially when it’s living a life surrounded by a money-obsessed culture where everyone is racing to be successful. But I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s not all about the money. It’s about the experiences and being with the people who really understand you as someone real. I’ve yet still have more to learn, but so far everything I write is what I believe in and understand. Thank you for reading my stories, Dan, and dropping me a note. Hope to talk to you again soon. 🙂

      Reply