Exposure to different lifestyles—different places and different routines—is one the greatest ways to learn about yourself. Setting yourself into new surroundings holds up a mirror to your own environment and preconceptions. It’s an opportunity for adventure—a linchpin to your financial freedom or Achilles heel to endless lifestyle inflation. It’s a core part of my money mindset.
In our last monthly expense reveal, I mentioned we were traveling through Wisconsin and Florida to see friends and their families. And you can’t visit Florida without spending time on the beach.
We trekked to Marco Island, a little enclave off the southwestern shores of Florida. We hid away in an AirBNB, hoping to avoid the worst of the ongoing pandemic—but still retain the chance at enjoying nature and each other.
One morning, we packed up the day’s supplies and set out for Tigertail Beach. The overview sign at the beach’s entrance gave us a clue for what was in store.
The ecosystem in front of us comprised a lagoon between the land we stood on and the barrier-island-style beach that awaited us on the other side. A small chance at adventure!
Of course, we could stay on the inner lagoon side—a thought that didn’t really cross my mind while standing at the sign and taking in my surroundings.
I looked at the sign and mentally plotted out a path across the lagoon and through the bush to the beach that awaited.
The small difficulty of wading through the lagoon would shield us from other beachgoers. I thought that’d also mean an even better, more wild beach experience on the other side.
You see, I’d rather avoid those other beachgoers.
We—people, humans—have a way of finding great, sharp places in the world. The adventure draws us, the pokey edges of something new and wild call us to them. And, over time, as crowds are drawn to this new renowned place, the edges are softened.
Vices are added. Capitalism sinks its teeth in.
Then, we erect bridges and taco stands.
Pretty soon, the adventure that once drew us is a caricature of itself. The wildness is beat back, and we’re left with sterility. But, society has invested in this place and so we market the adventure that once was.
The crowds come.
You may have left home with a mind for adventure, but instead you find yourself plopped down in some soppy chair toted out into the sun so that you might rest yourself comfortably under the shade of an umbrella.
And if you look around, you might find countless others, just like you, doing very much the same thing.
The sand was too coarse, so instead you rest on a chair.
The sun was too bright, so instead you’ve found shade.
And it was all too hard for you to manage, so you paid a guy or gal to dig the tiny hole in the ground to mount the umbrella and carry the chair out for you.
The sprawling view of fierce ocean you expected is instead chastened by the crowd around you, filling your vision with humanity.
When you finally rest your eyes and listen for the surf, the birds, and the nothingness—it’s anything but. Instead it’s motors, and yells. Music turned up all too loud and a vendor trying to hawk their wares.
The salty smell of the sea is broken by acrid smoke and whatever might be for lunch nearby.
And then, do you join them?
Are you lured by the roar of a jet ski and the sweet smell of a cigar?
Seneca, the ancient Roman philosopher wrote On Crowds:
I mean that I come home more greedy, more ambitious, more voluptuous, and even more cruel and inhuman, because I have been among human beings.
The crowds have come, you’re a part of it.
Adventure has left.
Crossing the lagoon
I surveyed our little convoy of kids and adults to make sure we wanted to take the more adventurous route across the lagoon. Without seeing too much hesitation, and with a little nod from Jenni, I began wading across.
Once the water was above my waist, I looked back to find the little hesitation growing. One of our friend’s daughters was freaking out a little bit, though I wasn’t sure why.
There was no serious current and the water wasn’t going to get too much deeper. And I was certain this little girl was used to the beach and the water.
I looked further up the lagoon and thought…well, I guess there could be alligators. What if? But no, this water was surely quite salty.
I could see the thin strip of the beach up the lagoon separating us, just barely, from the ocean.
But, there were no signs for which way to go.
There was no boardwalk to the beach. No combed sand, inviting you to pick a spot for your towel.
Hell, there wasn’t even a bridge across this murky, stagnant lagoon!
And perhaps most importantly, there were no crowds. The family we initially spotted as we approached was long out of eyesight. In fact, we were alone.
This was different.
At the beach
Of course, we made it to the beach without any issue. It was mostly empty, and quite sublime. Looking over my shoulder, I only saw the jungle-like bush we’d come through.
Straight ahead was the sharp horizon of the ocean and nothingness.
We all set out our bags of belongings—towels and toys—snacks and drinks.
With a sip of water, I set off from the group for a beach run. The barefoot feel of hard sand and salt spray along your side, casting that unique tang into your nose, is one of my favorite places to find a little exercise.
It’s an opportunity to have the rhythmic crush of waves be the only thing interrupting your thoughts.
I love it.
And so I made my way down the beach, south for a few miles towards humanity. High-rises began to fill spots in my vision. My game of skipping between compacted sand sections and avoiding shells was replaced with a new game.
I dodged groups of people on the beach. Kids running in and out of the waves, ladies that pulled their chairs down into the water.
By the end of my second mile, the lounge chairs and umbrellas had become so dense I had trouble pressing on. They went right up to the water.
There wasn’t too much beach left to run, and so I stopped to turn around. I spotted an attendant in a make-shift “tiki” hut renting out water sports and amenities. “What resort is this?”, I asked him.
I motioned towards the giant building casting a shadow toward their shares with a drip of sweat falling from my pointing finger.
“J.W. Marriott”, they replied.
I set back off toward Tigertail, keeping my eyes pealed for fishermen’s lines at the water’s edge as I started to fatigue.
The crowds cleared and I felt relaxed again. My pace stabilized and quickened. I poured sweat.
I reached my little group again, more folks had found our hideaway and set up their own mini campsites.
But, looking back out toward the water all I saw again was the horizon of the gulf and a few familiar faces. I raced out and threw myself in to reset.
We’re not the same
As it is Florida, we filled the next day with time at the beach, too. But, this time it would be a bit different.
The group elected to see the other stretch of beach on the southern section of the island. There’d be more to do; we could rent jet skis, paddleboards, or even parasail! Rather than suffering in the sun, we’d be able to get lounge chairs and umbrellas.
We’d have access to beachside bars with takeaway drinks and snacks. There was even an oceanside waterpark and pool!
And since there was direct beach access through the resorts (and, of course, limited parking), we could take an Uber to practically deliver us to the sand!
So we did just that. Our friend instructed the Uber driver to drop us off at the J.W. Marriott.
We rented chairs and umbrellas. We got a couple of tasty, freshly prepared drinks with names that always make you think of the beach.
And it was good.
I had time to read under the umbrella, and to relax. The kids got to enjoy the waterslides.
As it turns out, we’re not all the same.
My displeasure for crowds meant much of what other people like about the beach was lost at the wilder side of Tigertail.
The adventure I craved wasn’t what everyone else in our party was used to. They wanted the known, the tried-and-true.
They wanted the wisdom of the crowds, and the safety they beguile us with. And they were willing to pay for it.
Each way in the Uber ran about $15. Beach chair rentals and umbrellas were a little over $80. Snacks and drinks were probably another $40.
You could convince me to accept that we each have our own preferences—different ideas for what we find enjoyable, exciting, or relaxing.
But, I’d stand firm that your sense of adventure is part of what keeps you grounded and secure in your financial footing. Removing spontaneity (and serendipity) from your life to replace it with routine (and predictability) is to lose the flexibility that adventure requires.
It costs you nothing but an open mind to take in what’s in front of you and find excitement and value.
But bending the world to your will and sheltering yourself from the unknown is an endless chasm to fill your wealth with.
One of my favorite books on travel puts adventure as:
Having an adventure is sometimes just a matter of going out and allowing things to happen in a strange and amazing new environment—not so much a physical challenge as a psychic one.Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
Losing your sense of adventure might be one of the greatest forms of lifestyle inflation you can take into your life.
Build your sense of adventure, defend your ability to do hard things! There’s a real cost to playing it safe.
As for me, well, I’ll be a few miles away from the crowds. I won’t know whether it’s safe on these strange adventures, and I’ll be a little scared now and then.
But, there’ll be an empty horizon and my mind will be free to be me.
I’ve left a lot of room on the other side of this argument for the comments. I fully appreciate that there’s a lot of value to safety and routine, especially for families, when out in the world. I want to hear your thoughts on adventure, so share them in the comments below!