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Last year, I spent the entirety of August not at home. We drove across the country, from Washington to Michigan and back again, spending a couple of weeks with my mom and stepfather at our family cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan and a week with my dad at his house in Minneapolis, and the rest of the time going from cheap campground to cheap campground all the way along the northern part of the country. It was probably the single awesomest experience of my life, particularly the day when we saw Wall Drug, Devil’s Tower, and Mount Rushmore all in one day.

My wife has been reading a lot about happiness and what makes people happy, and she’s discovered that the people who tend to be the happiest are people who use their time and money to create experiences for themselves. The people who, for example, take out a mortgage on their homes in order to send their families to Europe for a few weeks (looking at you, mother-in-law.)

I don’t generally make enough money to spend on much besides my bills, but it’s unfortunate that much of what we do spend money on is stuff. We do our best to get ‘experiences’ by doing things like getting deliberately lost and driving around. We’ve found crazy stuff like massive sculpture gardens hiding in the middle of southwestern Washington’s back highways doing that — but we’d really like to do more.

I write this as a message directly to my mom. She called me today for the first time since The Incident, and we talked for a long time about misunderstandings and not being able to catch yourself in time to change and about post-traumatic growth. But one of the things she mentioned is that she has an opportunity to go to Europe for a while.

Her cat — the last of a long string of pets that have kept her company for years — has passed away, and left her and my stepdad quite sad. But her cat was also the last obstacle between her and an invitation they’ve had for years to spend a month or more with some cousins who live in France. I didn’t say it on the phone, and since I was going to write about the value of experiences anyway, I figure I’ll just tell her here where it’s public: GO TO EUROPE.

Yes, it’ll be expensive. But seriously, what do you want more, money in the bank, or six weeks of your life that you’ll treasure for the rest of it?

When we took that vacation across America last year, we got a chunk of money from my Mom that was supposed to pay for it — but by the time we left, we didn’t have much of it left at all. I spent the entire vacation working. Fortunately, since I’m an Internet geek, I can and do work from the road.

Some of my fondest memories from that vacation have nothing to do with seeing friends and family — they were of the hysteria we had when, at 11:30 PM after seventeen hours on the road, we pulled into GodOnlyKnows, North Dakota and spend twenty minutes ransacking a 5,000-person town for andsource of free wi-fi so that I could upload all of the articles I had written in the car as we drove.

On at least one occasion, we had to slip the car into the loading dock of a hospital so that we could get close enough to use their connection. We also stopped outside and inside of public libraries, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and several other random open networks we stumbled upon as we cruised around. Every day was an adventure, and it was often difficult, but that’s part of what made it awesome.

What I’m trying to say here is that being able to look back on and treasure that experience makes me stupid happy, even today, a year later. If you have the opportunity to do something — something big and crazy and awesome — don’t back off just because it might be expensive, or because you might get trapped in Wyoming because you don’t have enough money to get into Yellowstone and the only other option is to take too many extra days and spend too much extra gas getting all the way around the outside of the park.

Yeah, that happened, too — and how we got out of there was another story entirely that I promise I’ll post someday. But I’m rambling again, because I love those stories. I love them, and I never would have had them if we hadn’t just bit the bullet and done it despite the risks and the cost.

Go to Europe. Go to Mexico, or South Carolina, or wherever your life gives you the chance. Experiences like that are treasures that are infinitely more valuable to your self-worth and your happiness than money is.

Where do you want to go?

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