I am writing this post on a flight to Antananarivo, Madagascar. I have done a fair amount of travel over the last ten years but this trip definitely feels the most adventurous and off-the-beaten track. To compliment my excitement at finally being a ‘real’ traveller, I marked the occasion by purchasing a large backpack. In hindsight, I could probably have just done with a bag on wheels; 14kg of luggage being carried on my small frame for longer than five consecutive minutes just isn’t going to happen. Either I learn to pack lighter or we hire porters if we ever decide to climb a mountain.
Yet, the backpack wasn’t the only thing I decided I ‘needed’ for this trip. Between Fox and I, we accumulated a second new travel bag, a set of plastic bottles into which I could decanter my can’t-do-without cosmetics, a first-aid kit that would make a paramedic proud, fancy luggage tags, a versatile hand-luggage bag, two Madagascar travel guides, a snazzy mosquito net and a few hot weather-appropriate items of clothing. While majority of the items are justifiable, I am all too aware that we are going on a volunteer trip to a ‘dollar a day’ country where 50% of the population live below the poverty line. If I calculate how much we spent on all these purchases of which, if I’m honest, many are nice-to-haves, I reckon it would take the average person in Madagascar a couple of years to save up for them. And I hardly even thought twice about it.
What I can’t escape is the consumerist society in which I live. The minute I turn on the TV, listen to the radio, walk down the street or enter a shopping centre I am bombarded by messages that tell me I ‘need’ this or that item. Most of the time I can stay strong against the power of an advertisement but eventually the subliminal effects take their toll and I end up believing that spending money on ‘stuff’ is just a way of life. What I have to keep reminding myself is that my spending habits maintain a mindset that allows others around the world to suffer for the sake of something new and shiny.
In reality I am unable to avoid all attempts at getting me to spend money. However, there is a simple counteractive measure I can take to avoid falling into a trap I have been caught in many a time: online marketing. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that I spend a significant portion of my day online. Come to think of it, I am rarely offline (except on this airplane…twelve hours without checking Facebook or emails!). On average I receive three or four marketing emails per day which I usually scan to see if there are any good deals on offer. Yet, if I genuinely needed those items I would go looking for the best deal anyway. The problem with such offers is that it makes me buy things unnecessarily or prematurely. No more! No longer will I be a marketers dream. From now on, I am going to unsubscribe from all mailing lists as the emails arrive. That means you, White Company and even you, Ethical Superstore. Farewell to half-price sales at Store. It’s time to spend less on the things I think I need and more time maintaining a realistic perspective on what the rest of the world is really like, outside of a consumerist bubble.