Money Lessons Learned While Traveling Around the World

I asked our tour guide, “What’s the difference between people in the South and people in the North?”

My wife and I were traveling through Vietnam on a small boat somewhere in the Meekong Delta. Our tour guide was a young local guy, raised in Northern Vietnam but moved to the South because he liked the people and lifestyle there better.

I’ll never forget his answer to my question…

“You see, unlike the North, the people in the South have good weather all year round, which means they can grow crops almost any time during the year. They don’t have to plan ahead or save any harvest for bad seasons, because each day is the same as the next. They rest well at night knowing that the land will provide for them again tomorrow.”

He continued…

“Locals don’t use banks much here. We only make the money we need to live for that day, then go home to rest. If I can sell all my fruit at the market before 10 a.m., there’s no reason to get more fruit and keep selling that day. When we’ve sold “enough,” we stop for the day, then do it again the next day. In the North, people don’t know what “enough” is, so they are never satisfied. I like living in the South because people here are happy with “enough,” every day.

As much as I disagree with the Vietnamese mentality of not using banks or saving money for the future, I must admit that I was kind of jealous about the lifestyle of “enough.” There’s something so beautiful and peaceful about realizing when you have enough, and feeling fulfilled at some point every single day.


I had a similar epiphany 10 years earlier, this time in Thailand. I was probably 20 years old at the time…

My family and I had traveled to a tiny island called Ko Tao in the middle of nowhere. It’s one of the most beautiful and remote places I’ve ever been. But as beautiful as the island was, the locals mostly lived in poverty (or what I thought was poverty, compared with my privileged upbringing). 

I saw a group of kids laughing and playing in the dirt, kicking around a deflated soccer ball. They wore dirty clothes, had no shoes on, and were somehow having the time of their lives!

I remember asking my Mum, “Why are those kids so happy? They have nothing in this world. Crap clothes, no money, probably sleep on the street. It’s crazy that they are smiling.”

(My parents really are the best parents in the world. I can’t thank them enough for exposing me to worldwide travel early in life. Travel cures bias, expands the mind, and cultivates appreciation.)

Mum explained… 

“Joel, you don’t need money and things to be happy in life. Happiness is free. These kids live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A place others have to pay thousands for just to visit for a few days. You want to learn about real happiness? Go play soccer with those kids!”


Dear whoever is reading this…

I truly hope you are working hard, saving money for the future, and building wealth for your family. This is a money blog — and I want to help you grow rich!

But, this is also a happiness blog. No matter where you are on your financial journey, I encourage you to keep these 2 important things in mind:

  1. You don’t have to reach FI or be a multimillionaire to enjoy the feeling of “enough” in life. Satisfaction can be realized daily, as you are continually working hard and achieving things.
  2. You can be happy no matter how much money you have. It’s about enjoying and playing with the things you DO have (even if it’s just a flat soccer ball), vs. thinking about all the things you don’t have.

Thank you for reading and letting me share my stories.

OK, now get back to work, you slackers! Your bank accounts aren’t gonna grow themselves!

Love, Joel

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  1. Lisa O September 13, 2021 at 10:47 AM

    Love this article on Monday, the first work day of five.

    Money isn’t everything but it is like oxygen…ya need it to exist!

    Enough…what a peaceful thought!

    1. Joel September 13, 2021 at 12:40 PM

      Have a great week, Lisa!

  2. Dana September 13, 2021 at 11:51 AM

    What a wonderful article! Thank you!

    1. Joel September 13, 2021 at 12:41 PM

      Glad you liked it :) Cheers Dana!

  3. Julius September 13, 2021 at 12:27 PM

    Great article Joel. I also traveled to Vietnam for work in 2012 and was amazed at how simple they viewed and lived life. I tried to change my ways when I got back to the US but again got sucked into the rat race. Very recently however, the light bulb went off again and I have decided to make things really simple. I will continue to work towards my FI goal but this time truly enjoy life while doing it.

    1. Joel September 13, 2021 at 12:45 PM

      Traveling really gives great perspective and I’m glad you’re trying to take some of the good lessons and implement them at home. FIRE can be quite destructive if you only focus on the money side… so enjoying the journey and being appreciative is the secret :). Have a great week Julius!

  4. Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy September 13, 2021 at 3:00 PM

    Joel, love the post. It reminds quite a bit of the words of the late Alan Watts and Ram Dass both advocating about the present and the power of enjoy the present.

    If you cannot do that, there is no reason to save for a future as you won’t be any happier then, even if the world is your oyster.


    1. Joel September 13, 2021 at 3:07 PM

      Yeah, I think happiness needs to be worked on regardless of one’s financial position. :)

  5. Shay September 13, 2021 at 3:11 PM

    What a great read today. I recently retired from healthcare at 62 ( which was earlier than I planned) . I am frugal and have been all my life, but I’m not crazy frugal. I just wanted to maintain my lifestyle. Now I volunteer, have more time for church activities, I’m reading the books that have been piling up beside my bed. I can get to the yard work now. I am starting a part time business on ebay. I’m planning on going to England next year if Covid allows. I AM CONTENT and HAPPY! I am grateful daily for this time in my life.

    1. Joel September 13, 2021 at 4:44 PM

      That’s awesome Shay!

  6. David @ Filled With Money September 13, 2021 at 9:54 PM

    You’re right, my bank account sure isn’t gonna grow by itself!! That is.. until compound interest will work my magic for me. However, I suspect that will take years before it starts to be meaningful.

    Until then, I will continue to work on my happiness!

    1. Joel September 14, 2021 at 11:02 AM

      Ooooh I just thought of a good blog post to write about…. “Compound Happiness!”

  7. J September 14, 2021 at 9:36 AM

    Timely for me. So many people I know are close to or at traditional retirement age and I keep hearing the same refrain “I can’t retire yet.” Almost all of these people are older than me, appear to have more financially than me, and yet, I feel like I could retire whenever I want – I’d just have to make a few changes here and there to make it work. I don’t think I am delusional (of course, I could be!), I just want less. Perfectly happy with my thrift store wardrobe, inexpensive hobbies, and low key vacations. I so appreciate this post for pointing out that happiness is in the eye of the beholder.

    1. Joel September 14, 2021 at 10:48 AM

      Happiness is in the eye of the *beer*holder. :)

      Love that you are content with less. It’s a wonderful skill to have!

  8. Joe Darago September 15, 2021 at 10:49 AM

    Thanks Joel! “Happiness is free” is ringing in my ears. I guess I should be thanking you mum. Keep up the good work and thanks for your work.

    1. Joel September 15, 2021 at 11:29 AM

      Thanks for YOUR work Joe. I loved learning more about The Hope Effect last week.

  9. Liz September 16, 2021 at 7:15 AM

    My coworker and I started this new job a week apart coming from 2 different sites of a larger company. The culture of overwork was pervasive. One day she suggested she’d take her laptop home and work on a document while she ate dinner. I suggested let’s not start bad habits. Let’s set the habit here that our 8 hours is enough. We shall see!
    I know expecting to only work 40 hours in a salary job is silly, these days. But why? I’m not on my feet for the time, like a service job, for sure. In my past role I could feel my decision making decline near the end of a long week. I told someone on a Thursday night they didn’t want me to answer then and we’d talk Friday morning after I’d had my coffee.
    I like that the conversation of a ‘4 day week’ had come up, but I think the corporate world need to reset from 50 & 60 hours to 40 before anyone could fathom the change. The study from Europe wasn’t fully 4 x 8 hour days, but often 5 days at 6 or 7 hours. When we are pressured to do 9, 10 hours +… even doing an 8 feels weird.
    Here’s to embracing ‘enough’ working hours, so we have enough / abundant leisure hours to enjoy time with friends, family, pets, books, nature etc.

    1. Joel September 16, 2021 at 11:44 AM

      I’ll cheers to that, Liz! There has to be a mutually beneficial relationship between employers and employees.

      My thoughts on work/life balance have changed over the years. I have no problem working 60 hours some weeks (as long as I enjoy what I’m doing!) To balance this though, I take a healthy amount of personal time some weeks too.

  10. veronica karas September 18, 2021 at 1:12 AM

    Thanks for sharing wonderful ideas..

  11. Christa November 9, 2021 at 7:32 PM

    Simply beautiful. Because it’s beautifully simple! I’ve at times felt my most happy when what we had was “just enough”. And I agree, travel can open your eyes and show you a clearer perspective that we all need at times. I just returned from 2 weeks in Italy….Taking time to enjoy a meal (hours!), talking, laughing, people watching. Seeing older men sit around together in the morning “solving the world’s problems”, ladies and men shopping together for the dinner that would be that night…fresh fruit and vegetables, saying Ciao to people (strangers), a nod, a smile. So beautiful. Sitting in the square and just enjoying a cappuccino, restaurant staff not rushing you away. Shops with closed signs on the door (taking their lunch breaks…nice and long!), and how the people are genuine and want to see you enjoying yourself, and are proud to show you their town/city! I told myself to hold onto this, these feelings of joy and contentment that seemed to be everywhere! To take a piece of it with me. And I think I’ll work just “enough” to save for my next trip! I am so much more fulfilled with experiences than things.

    Thank you for a well-done and timely post!

    1. Joel November 9, 2021 at 7:41 PM

      Thanks so much Christa! Just reading your comment put smiles on my face, imagining all the happy people around the world.

      Experience > things is my new motto :). Cheers and have a great week! – Joel