None of us know how long we’re going to live. We might look at life-expectancy tables. We might estimate our end-dates based on lifestyle and age. Statistically, people who smoke or live an unhealthy lifestyle don’t live as long. Those who eat well and exercise are supposed to live longer.
But even young, fit people can kick the bucket anytime. We’ve all read stories about college and professional athletes dying in their prime of cardiac arrest. Cancer (and any number of nasty diseases) can end the party anytime.
Having said that, there is a way to live longer. No, I’m not trying to sell an antioxidant or a multi-level marketed chemical panacea. Instead, I might have found a way to stretch time. Here’s an example. Think back to a vacation when you explored something new. I’m not referring to a holiday spent laying on a beach and drinking margaritas. Sand is sand. Water is water. Margaritas mostly look the same. Instead, I’m referring to when you last explored.
Perhaps, after a week of such exploring, you recalled the day you first arrived. You might have asked, “Was it just a week ago that we landed in this place?” That’s how I feel when I visit somewhere different. Time expands when I face something new.
If we’re learning (whether we’re exploring a new landscape or learning a foreign language) time does its stretchy thing. That’s according to Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College. He says, “Attention and memory play a part in our perception of time. To accurately gauge the passage of time required to accomplish a given task, you have to be able to focus and remember a sequence of information.”
Think back to when we were children. Time crawled. As adults, time appears to race. True, one year is a greater percentage of a ten year old’s life, compared to that of a fifty year old’s. But adults also experience fewer novel things. Scientific America’s Jordan Gaines references psychologist William James. He said time appears to accelerate as we age because we experience fewer new things to remember as adults.
But we can change that. Money might help. After all, we usually need money to take a new college course or take time off work to blaze an out-of-country trail.
By living below our means and investing well, we might retire early. Or, we might embark on a mini-retirement before we reach retirement age.
I’ve read plenty of studies about the perception of time, money and happiness. Money doesn’t make us happy. Acquiring the latest iPhone or television doesn’t enhance our lives. But experiences do. If we can buy time, and a way to bring us something novel, that’s worth the money.
At least, that’s what I’m hoping. Yesterday, my wife and I bought a Winnebago Travato. It’s a 20-foot camperized van. Starting next week, we’re going to begin driving it through British Columbia, Canada. We’ll traverse our way across the United States, visiting friends and family along the way. We want to see most of America’s national parks. We also want to drive through Mexico, and then continue south–as far as we dare. The tip of Argentina sounds really cool.
In one sense, this will be like going back to school. We’ll meet plenty of new people and explore new cultures. We don’t even know (yet) how the camperized part of the the van really works. Nor do we know the logistics of cross-border travel. It’s going to be a steep learning curve. But we’ll experience something new in every place we see.
From time to time, I’ll report on our progress. I’ll detail the costs and the pitfalls to avoid–after we’ve messed up. Some of you might even want to follow in our footsteps.
There’s just one thing I know. Life is unpredictable. None of us know when we’ll see our final day. That’s why, no matter what we do, it’s best to keep learning, keep loving people and keep embracing new things. It enhances life’s ride and expands our time on this planet.
Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.