I’ve always found it fascinating how travel and seeing other cultures can shake up your view of “normal”. In our everyday lives we tend to associate with people who have similar patterns and thought processes to ourselves. Travel has a way of challenging your view of normal because you’re suddenly immersed in a totally different way of life. What am I talking about, and how does this have anything to do with wondering “What if credit didn’t exist?”?
When I was 17 I went to Africa for the first time. I’d dreamed of seeing a gorilla in the wild since I was a young kid. I obsessed about it! When I was 15 I asked my parents if I could go to Africa if I saved up and paid for it myself. I think they thought my request was adorable in the “Of course you can sweetie!” *gentle shoulder taps* kind of way you talk to a child with audacious dreams. They didn’t believe I’d actually pull it off, so they agreed. I capitalized on this and made them promise, so they did.
I was (am?) an incredibly stubborn person that goes after things HARD if I really want them. I took a summer job with a local forestry company and cut grass for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. It was not a nice ride on mower either; nope, it was with a weed eater. The position was previously always filled by guys, but luckily they took a chance on me. I biked to & from work (including up a steep logging road) and day dreamed of my upcoming trip that wasn’t yet planned. By the end of the first week my arms were so sore it hurt to brush my teeth, but I didn’t care. I was going to Africa!
I originally wanted to go to Rwanda, but I ran into issues. Seeing as I was 16 when I was applying to volunteer organizations, nobody wanted to take me. I wrote letter after letter, email after email, and kept getting turned down. I realized I would not be going to see gorillas but wanted to go anyways, so I began applying to organizations in other countries. Eventually an organization in Ghana accepted me to help with wildlife conservation, and I was elated. I told my parents (who now looked like they were going to vomit with stress because it sunk in that I wasn’t bluffing) and started working on paperwork, flights, and vaccines. I was going to Africa!
The night before my flight I lay awake wondering what the heck I had done. It was the first time I felt stressed or scared about the trip.
I arrived in Ghana a few days later (the cheapest flight had MANY connections) and was blown away. For a girl who grew up in a logging town so small that there were no stop lights, the sheer hustle and bustle of Ghana was terrifying.
It was also drastically eye opening.
I strongly believe in travel as a way to reset what you view as “normal”. Many people in countries like my own (Canada) don’t realize how amazing we have it, because we’ve always “had it”.
The roads were blown apart, the places I stayed had no running water (I forgot to buy bottled water one evening before the store closed, and lay awake thirsty the whole evening. I cannot fathom living that as a daily existence), and poverty was rampant.
I was supposed to work with wildlife for 3 weeks, but I ended up doing 2 weeks in Shai hills before going to meet an Irish volunteer I’d met when I was in Accra. He had raised money to build a school in a remote village hours outside of the city. It sounded interesting to me, so I caught a bus there to meet him.
Once I got there I found out that I wasn’t allowed to help build due to my gender, so plans changed yet again. It was decided that I would help the local women cook dinners at night instead, and was free to explore during the day. This mostly meant wandering around to take photographs and hanging out with the kids.
One particular group of kids got very excited about my camera, so I took a group photo of them. I’ll never forget them passing my camera around to look at the photo, and the look of puzzlement on one boys face. I saw him look at the photo, then look at the other kids a few times. When I asked him what was wrong, he shyly whispered “which one is me?” while pointing at the camera screen. I realized he was trying to use the process of elimination with the faces around him to determine which kid in the photo was himself. My brain exploded thinking “how do you not know what you look like?!?”. Then I quickly realized I hadn’t seen a mirror since I arrived to the village (there were no vehicles around). He legitimately had probably never had a clear look at his reflection.
That event made me realize how insanely different my upbringing was, and made me wildly curious about everything.
Later in the afternoon I was wandering around the village, and saw a man looking ecstatic adding two more bricks to his barely built house. I’d noticed that many houses in the area were only partially built, yet families were staying in them. I felt bold enough to ask why.
He was nice, and explained that it was different in his village than it was in the city. You don’t buy and finance a house; there’s no access to such things. Instead, you buy walls as you can afford them. Once you’ve earned enough, you have a complete house.
I walked back to where I was staying with my mind reeling about the day. I had no interest in finance yet at that point in my life, and hadn’t gone to university yet to rack up debt. However, I understood enough to know it was drastically different than my Canadian lifestyle. It’s fascinating how when something is ingrained as “normal” you never question an alternative.
How lovely is it here that you can go to a bank, sign some papers and promise to pay them, and they’ll let you live in a complete house for 25+ years while you pay it off?? (While charging you crazy amounts of interest for the privilege, of course).
Don’t worry; I’m not suggesting that we change methods and build as we can afford bricks. I live in Edmonton where the winters would likely kill me.
However, just think for a second: if all access to credit (credit cards, car loans, lines of credit, mortgages) went away, how would your spending change?
If you had to physically have the money before you could purchase something, what would or wouldn’t you buy anymore?
You would likely buy a more reasonable home. You would likely drive a less fancy car. Perhaps you’d cook more and eat at restaurants less.
You may not have the fanciest of things, but you would outright own everything you have. It would force you to live within your means. You would not have debt.
I’m not someone who considers debt all bad. I didn’t grow up in enough privilege to attend university without accessing student loans. I’m also glad mortgages exist for the people who want to own a home because I believe everyone should have a safe roof over their head (and access to safe water).
However, I also think you should sit back every once in awhile and challenge “normal”. The multitude of access points to credit can be extremely useful when used correctly, but can cause massive issues when we sign on the dotted line without really thinking it through.
Can you really afford that thing you’re about to swipe on? Or are you banking on future you paying for it?
What if credit didn’t exist?
Using debt to buy things that we can’t (yet?) afford is so common place that we often do it without conscious thought. However it was not always this way (ask your grandparents). It wasn’t a question of whether you could afford the monthly payment; it was a question of whether you could afford the ITEM!
Try to live on the money you have in your wallet or checking account for the next two weeks. Could you do it? How about for a year?
If your chest tightens at the thought of not having access to credit, you’re likely someone who needs to consider it the most.
To binge-read all post’s I’ve written, look here