Travel More & Buy Less. | Luis Vargas | TEDxPortland


Translator: Queenie Lee
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Good morning. Thank you. (Applause) (Cheers) So, the idea that I want to share with you
this morning is a very simple one, and it’s to travel more and to buy less. (Applause) (Cheers) Thank you. And I want to challenge each of us to invest in experiences
instead of more stuff. I was born in Mexico City
in the hot summer of 1975. And when I was around five years old, my family had had enough of the noise,
the traffic, and the haste and decided to emigrate
to the United States. So we hopped in my mom’s Renault 5
and made the journey north. Now, in many ways, San Diego
was a beautiful place to grow up, and I really had a happy childhood, where I was loved,
and I was supported, and I had opportunities
to grow, learn, and have fun. But growing up, I felt stuck in between two worlds. I didn’t really feel Mexican
and I didn’t really feel American. A lot of the influence and the ideas that I was getting from my peers
and from the media was that Mexicans
are criminals and dangerous, or lazy, or this idea of a wetback
and a beaner coming to steal jobs, or even a narco trafficante
indiscriminately spreading violence. But the polarization
kind of went both ways; I’d go spend the summers in Mexico, and my cousins would call me a gringo. (Laughter) This idea of being uncultured
or arrogant or biased or even racist. Ultimately, I felt like
a citizen of nowhere, like I didn’t have a place
where I truly belonged. Now, I felt the pull of travel
from a really, really young age, and I have vivid memories
of being in my room and reading the biographies of these incredible
explorers and adventurers, people like Jacques Cousteau, Amelia Earhart, Shackleton,
Hillary, and Tenzing. And I knew from a young age that exploration, discovery, and adventure are essential elements
of the human experience, and rarely are we more alive than when we’re out
exploring and discovering. So I decided to see the world,
and adventure answered. I got a job with a British
overland company who for some reason on the second day
of a three-week training trip thought I was ready for the road. So I got my assignment: a six-week trip starting in New York going to Los Angeles
and back to New York. I got on a flight from LAX to JFK, and I arrived at the Hostelling International
on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at 1:30 in the morning. At 7:30 that morning,
I met my group of 13 people from six countries,
ranging from ages 18 to 64. All right, you bought the ticket;
now let’s take the ride. (Laughter) That first day, city tour of New York, take the Staten Island Ferry, pass the Lady Liberty, air high-five, get on the New Jersey Turnpike, get to Philadelphia, lunch at the Liberty Bell, all in time to get to DC for dinner
and a night tour of the mall. I had only been to New York City once. (Laughter) I was so green
that I thought the only time that you had to put the tarp
on top of the van was when it was raining. So I’m driving down the Turnpike, and sleeping bags and backpacks
are falling off of the back. (Laughter) Somehow those guests and I survived, and very, very soon I knew
that I had found my calling. And over the course of just over a year, I had the opportunity
to see all 50 states, and I had a new job with a new company
to lead in Mexico and Latin America. But more on that in a minute. Let’s talk about how much
do we actually travel. Only 35% of Americans have passports. Here in Oregon, it’s about 40%;
in Mississippi, it’s about 18%. And of all of the travel,
only 30% of international travel will go outside of the U.S. and Mexico. So that’s to say that less than 10%
of the U.S. population will leave the continent in a given year. Why? Well, I think it has to do
with three main reasons: work, money, and fear. I know it sounds like
a dope hip-hop album, but it’s not, it’s not. (Laughter) Let’s unpack these a little bit. The first one, we are a nation of workaholics, right? If I was to ask many of us
how we’re doing, including me, what would your answer be? I’m busy. The glorification of “busy” is real,
and it’s a problem. We don’t take vacations. 15 days is the average
amount of vacation we take, and that’s down from 21 days
in the year 2000. 169 million days of unused vacation a year valued at over $52 billion. This idea that we go
from high school to college, to career, perhaps have a family, at the end, we accumulate some wealth,
and that is how we get respect. This idea that making money
and having things is much more valued and celebrated
than having enriching experiences. Who here knows what a gap year is? Who’s been on a gap year?
Keep your hand raised. I’ve seen some hands. Well, very simply, a gap year is taking
six months or a year off, after high school or maybe after college,
before starting your career, and making a deposit
of epic awesomeness to your mind, your body, and your soul. (Applause) (Cheers) In fact, in a study of hundreds of people
that had gone on a gap year, these were the top three outcomes. I have a better understanding of who I am; I have a better understanding
and empathy towards others; and I have some more context
to help me choose my path and to build skills to carry forward. Let’s talk about the second reason
people don’t travel, and that’s fear. I was watching the Super Bowl – I was watching the Super Bowl last year when I heard the advertisement
for this television show, and it said: Criminal Minds –
Beyond Borders. Americans travel, study, and work abroad, but sometimes they never come home. (Laughter) And this is what millions of us
are watching before we go to bed at night. (Laughter) Now, it is nearly impossible
to consume media across any channel and not hear about terrorism or ISIS. Now, that is not to say that these horrifying things
aren’t happening, but of the 1.1 billion people that will
travel internationally this year, very, very few will encounter any of this. And of course, there’s always
a health scare somewhere in the world. I spent two weeks in Brazil last year, and I didn’t meet anyone who had the first-hand
experience with Zika. And again, it’s not
that this is not happening, but perhaps they’re not reasons not to go. The third reason we don’t travel: no money. We don’t have any money
because we spend it all on stuff. (Laughter) In 1930, the average American
had nine outfits. Now we have over 30. In the UK right now, the average woman
has 22 unworn items in her closet. We have so much stuff
it doesn’t fit in our homes. We’re spending over $24 billion
a year on storage, over 2.3 billion square feet of it
in the United States, making it the fastest-growing segment
of commercial real estate over the last 40 years. And it is often less expensive
to travel outside the United States, and my wife and I
took a six-month honeymoon in Nepal, India, and Thailand, and we spent just over $4,000. All to say in this quote
by one of my favorite writers, Pico Iyer, that “One is reminded,
at a level deeper than all words, how making a living and making a life sometimes point
in the opposite direction.” (Applause) Now travel is the ultimate truth teller,
mythbuster, and stereotype killer, because after I had the opportunity
to spend extended time in Mexico and collect my own first-hand data, I realized that Mexicans aren’t lazy. In fact, they’re some
of the most entrepreneurial, ingenious, and hardworking people
that I had ever met. (Applause) And in all of my time in Mexico,
I never felt in harm’s way. In fact, looking at the data, Mexico City is safer
than many American cities. In fact, the Yucatan Peninsula is safer,
according to the FBI, than many US states, including Oregon. And of course, I also got the context
to appreciate and be grateful for the opportunity to having
grown up in the United States and becoming a US citizen. And that idea of a gringo, completely shattered by the experience
of driving around the 50 states with a van full of international tourists, and the most common reaction
that we would get is a big smile and the question:
Where you all from? Often followed by an invitation
to a backyard barbecue, and an appreciation for the natural beauty
and open space of the backyard, and that ultimately, regardless of
where we sit in the political spectrum, that we live in a country
where we can raise our children with our values, our ideals,
and our beliefs. (Applause) Now, travel has truly transformed me. I met my wife almost 20 years ago, in a campground in southern Mexico,
in Palenque, Chiapas, and I stand before you
on this stage right now, a proud Mexican-American. (Cheers) (Applause) But also with the knowledge
and the greatest gift when we go out and see the world is that it doesn’t matter
if we’re Mexican or American or Canadian or Syrian or Australian, but ultimately, that we are all human. And that what we want
and dream and desire is so much more similar
than it is different. (Applause) So what about – what about you? I invite you to make thoughtful choices, so perhaps instead of going to Cancun, travel a little further north; and visit Isla Holbox
and swim with whale sharks. Or instead of going to Las Vegas, extend your stay; and visit Zion National Park and walk this beautiful red rock
to the top of Angel’s Landing. Or instead of going to Hawaii
or to Honolulu, perhaps consider
the Big Island of Hawaii, and see a lava flow, literally:
the earth forming at your feet. Right now, with an American passport
you can visit 174 countries without a visa or get a visa
at the point of entry. Even with the challenging things
that are happening in the world, it is an extraordinary time
to be a traveler. So what does this mean? If you’re young, it means to go. You’re living a moment in your life where you have
more freedom and flexibility than you may ever have before. Right now, the lights are shimmering
over Kuala Lumpur, and a group of young people
are enjoying a cocktail and a laugh. Why are you not there? (Laughter) But if you’re older, it also means go; it’s likely that it will
take more planning, but you have more resources
than you had before. Right now, in a remote Rolandic fjord, the chef is ringing the bell and calling you to a three-course
locally sourced dinner; why are you not there? (Laughter) Now, if you have young kids … you’re fucked! (Laughter) (Applause) That’s not true. I stand here. (Laughter) It’s not a vacation, but it is a trip and as a – (Laughter) and as a father of three,
five and under, it takes a lot of work, but family travel
can be extraordinarily rewarding. So whether you’re in your 20s
and taking a gap year, in your 30s working to take a month off,
a sabbatical in your 40s, looking towards a retirement
and perhaps living abroad, there is never a bad time. And it’s no judgment and no competition
on the level of epic or the length of time because what’s adventure to me
and to you and to you are all different things. Ultimately the idea here
is to travel more and to buy less. Say no, gentlemen,
to that man cave of your dreams. Say no! (Applause) (Cheers) And ladies, the she shed –
the she shed, it’s not that sexy. Say no! And say yes to a transformative
travel experience. This is not about
checking things off a list; it’s about having
meaningful experiences. So now I want all of us
to make a promise and in your mind’s eye picture a place that you have always wanted to visit, picture it clearly. What do you see? Who are you with?
What do you hear? What do you smell? What’s the temperature of the breeze
that’s hitting your cheek? Can you picture this place
that you’ve always dreamed of going? Now make a promise that this year or next year,
as soon as you can, you will stand in this moment,
and you will be there. Now raise your hand, who’s in? Who’s in? (Cheers) Thank you. (Cheers) (Applause)

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