As houses get smaller, people move more often, and cynicism about advertising grows, companies try and find new ways to sell things.
It’s all about quality, not quantity. It’s about expressing your true self. It’s about leaving a legacy (those awful Patek Phillipe adverts about how you never really own their watch, merely look after it for the next generation). It’s all about an experience now – so to show someone you love them, pay an extraordinary amount of money for something you have been told is a meaningful experience.
These meaningful experiences are always the same. Paintballing, a hot air balloon ride, skydiving (particularly pernicious when presented as a charitable activity); or if you’re overseas, an elephant ride, an ostrich ride. You can map changes in the latest experience trends by swiping through Tinder profile pictures. Everyone’s ridden the same elephant, stroked the same tiger, and visited the same temple.
But if everyone has bought the same experiences, and had the same spiritual revelations in the same time, and the same place, do they really have meaning any more? We are used to seeing the phrase “the world is a book, and the person who does not travel reads only one page” plastered across inspirational pinterests and instagrams, but if in every place you just look for other Brits to get drunk with in slightly more exotic bars, follow guidebook recommendations of which places to “hit” and use the same instagram filters as everyone else did, what have you done that’s unique?
Now that travel is more affordable and exotic experiences are the price of entry to the aspirational middle class, I think we focus too much on the need for our experience to be wild, and far-flung, and expensive. There are beautiful lakes and mountains in Wales, but if you want your holiday to be envy inducing, to prove your cultural credibility, you need to visit mountains and lakes in Canada or New Zealand. There’s nothing wrong with Canada or New Zealand – I for one am very excited to visit Canada next year to see my émigré brother – but neither are Wales and the Lake District less valid places to visit because you don’t get a stamp on your passport.
In the same way that Americans view Paris as a destination of chic, European luxury and romance, and we view it as a place for school trips, day trips, and dirty weekends early in our relationships, it’s important to remember that places close to home are someone’s far flung dream.
It’s also important to remember that an experience doesn’t have to be expensive to be meaningful – and that it can’t be meaningful if it was. There’s a hierarchy around experiences which sees people either rate them as better because they were more expensive, or snub anything that costs money in a reverse snobbery. “oh, the Empire State Building is so overrated,” they will say, “This other place no one’s ever heard of is so much better.” And maybe they’re right, and if you go back to New York a second time, you should check out the other place. But growing up everyone sees New York in a thousand films, and going to the Empire State Building is one of the things that makes you feel like you’re there. Finally, after all this time.
When I visited New York, I thought it was amazing. It was an incredible experience. And the Empire State Building was breathtaking. The fact that all the buildings really did have fire escapes just like in Friends delighted me. And as holidays go, it was pretty much the best.
But when I think back over the most meaningful experiences of the year, I will remember the unwavering love as my parents drove 15 miles from their house to mine (in London traffic) to drive me to hospital, stayed with me all night without complaining, then drove me home and afterwards drove back to their house to go to work in an hour’s time. I think of the hottest day of the year, and plunging into the freezing cold lido with my boyfriend and my best friend. I think of the first time I sat on the couch and the cat kneaded my stomach (after almost a year of not even being able to stroke her). I think of leaving a warehouse party with a group of friends and being transfixed by the sight of Venus hanging low in the sky over the towpath. I think of sitting at the bar in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Berlin and overpaying for incredible cocktails while pretending to be characters from a novel. I think of being perched on a barrel at an Irish pub in Cannes skipping out on all the glamorous parties to watch middle aged men singing “gold” and falling off-stage.
The big moments in life are beautiful. The long-awaited experiences are spectacular. Sometimes saving all your money for that one big thing is really, truly worth it. But if yours has been a year of small and wonderful moments, of weekends in Leeds to visit friends rather than fortnights in Sri Lanka, of painting your house at weekends rather than painting the town red, then savour those moments. Far more of life is built from small miracles than from life changing revelations.