This summer, I spent my holiday in Liguria in Italy. I was just around the corner from the rich and famous sitting on their boats in the tiny harbor of Portofino. This used to be the secret hideaway for people like Madonna, George Clooney and Robert de Niro. Even just window-shopping in Portofino makes your wallet feel lighter.
This place is so posh, there was a red carpet rolled out through the entire town. Actually, not just through town, but connecting three small Liguria towns, ending in Portofino. Probably some kind of red carpet world record. It must have been five kilometers long.
I started walking the red carpet from Portofino, heading to the next town over. Around the first bend of the steep cliffs, I came to a tiny beautiful bay, hidden away from the tourists pouring in to Portofino from the packed buses and ferries. In the bay, was a yacht so big and luxurious, it didn’t even fit in the bay, but was rather floating around just outside of it.
I stopped to look – well, to stare – at it in amazement. I couldn’t believe the size of it, the extravagance, the luxury. Of course, I took pictures of it, I started dreaming about owning it (as one instinctively does) and I immediately felt the need to google it to see what it was worth. Can’t remember the name of it now, but let’s just call it Princess. Turned out, Princess was worth about 50 million US dollars (I know it’s a bargain, but it is used, after all).
And naturally, my next thought was, who the * bleep * has that kind of money to spend on a boat!?
I started imagining this guy’s life. Yes, sorry all fellow females, but in this cliché and stereotype scenario it has to be a man. His young daughters were jumping off deck for a quick dip in the clear water. His celebrity wife was probably working on her tan. Staff cooking lunch. The owner was probably not even there. He was at home, in his office in LA, Monaco or London, doing his 80-hour work weeks. He flies in on the weekend, just long enough to take the family out for dinner in a fancy restaurant up on the cliff, where no tourists can reach them and where the waiters are trying so hard to be professional, they only seem stiff and impersonal. Their limo driver waits outside, takes them to the dock, where a smaller boat takes them back to the yacht. The owner flies out again.
The daughters don’t mix with others, don’t see the town, don’t buy cheap souvenirs. The wife invites a movie star over for a cocktail on the yacht. That’s the extent of their socializing. It’s of course a safety concern too. They can’t just walk around freely. Not when they are that rich, and certainly not if they are famous.
Is that really a dream life? To be trapped on a yacht? To send your staff out to buy you a new designer gown or a diamond necklace, just because you are bored? And all to impress the stiff waiters and other rich and bored people like you?
I kept staring at the yacht, wondering why we have this strange instinct to yearn for something we don’t have and to be jealous of something we can’t afford – without even stopping to think if we really want it.
Sure, maybe I am painting a very exaggerated picture of the owner’s life and his family’s holiday. It may not be true at all. But bear with me here. It does become a stereotype for a reason. I’ve talked to staff working on yachts like these and their stories are always the same; the owner is only there maybe a week or two per year.
To make money like that, you need to put in long hours somewhere. You have a business to run. You can’t just be hanging around on a boat all day.
I started thinking about my own most memorable holiday moments. All the highlights come from times when I was the most in sync with nature and the elements around me. Those glimpses of total bliss came over me when I was traveling wearing nothing but a dirty t-shirt, shorts and sandals and with the rest of my belongings in a small backpack. When I had no make-up or jewelry. When my hair was blonde from the sun, my skin was warm and my face was freckled.
They come from when I had a local beer on a beach somewhere, when I watched a sunset, when I hiked up a mountain, when I was starving and the mother at a local family restaurant in a shack on a beach cooked me some newly-caught fish with rice, with fresh lime as the only seasoning. They come from watching surfers catch a perfect wave. They come from seeing a dolphin playing far out at sea. And from snorkeling with colorful fish that I had never seen before.
It certainly doesn’t take a 50-million-dollar bank account to do any of that!
I take at least six to seven weeks of holiday every year, often more. I travel for work, but in addition, I take three or four personal trips abroad every year. The five weeks in Italy this summer was my second trip there this year and I traveled there a third time in September.
Yeah, yeah, so what’s the deal? Do I just want to brag or make you jealous? No, quite the opposite. I want to tell you and to tell myself, that we can stop being jealous, we can stop working so hard for something we don’t really want and instead, start living our lives now. It’s all about setting our sights on the lifestyle we want now and not on the roundabout way of getting there if we one day get rich.
We all have different circumstances of course. Not everyone can pick up and leave like I do and not everyone wants to. But we can all work to get closer to the life we want, rather than to blindly follow society’s ideas of what success is and how we can make money to get a great life later. Whenever that is.
We can stop wishing we were among the rich and famous who get invited to red-carpet events. We can stop looking at luxury yachts, dreaming of owning them. Instead we can plan, make strategies and enjoy small highlights where we can. We can learn the skills, start side hustles and apply for the jobs that take us closer to the way we want to live in a more direct way.
I can say with absolute certainty, just based on the price of the Princess and doing the math if nothing else, that I make less money per year than the owner of that yacht makes per minute.
In fact, when I google income levels in the USA, I barely make middle class. I think most of you who are reading this probably make more than I do. My point is… that this is not the point.
Instead of trying to get rich or to get a promotion, I’ve worked to build up trust at work so that I am allowed to work remotely. I’ve also added up enough extra hours in the office, so that I can take that time as additional weeks off. I’ve studied, I’ve slaved away in various offices over the years. I’ve saved some money during times when I didn’t need to spend it all.
I’ve felt bad (and sometimes still do) about not having more of a career, about not making as much as my friends and others around me. But during all that time, I’ve slowly worked to where I am now. Now, I have the skills and the experience. Now I have a flexible job that allows me to travel.
And I would have gotten here much faster if I hadn’t wasted so much time staring at luxury yachts…
In Italy this summer, I rented a tiny Airbnb apartment, I made salad or simple pasta dishes for lunch, I often bought pizza slices and sat on the pier and ate that as my dinner. I hiked in the sandals I’ve worn every summer the past three years.
On most of my travels, I’ve worn old cheap clothes, taken trains, walked instead of taking taxis, stayed in basic rooms and flown low cost airlines.
Did any of that make my holidays worth less? Absolutely not. This summer, I hiked the wonderful trails of Liguria with breathtaking views, I walked through all the cute towns, I had the wine, I watched the sunsets, I ate the Italian to-die-for ice cream.
I had an amazing summer.
As I write this now, the day before Christmas Eve, I am in my bikini on a sunbed on a beautiful beach in Mexico. I just had some fresh shrimp and a Corona beer. It cost me less than ten dollars. As I type this, I look up briefly to admire the surfers having the time of their lives on the waves just in front of me. That view is totally free.
I’ve managed to avoid the cold winter back home so far. I’ve had about seven weeks off this year, in addition I’ve worked from abroad or been on work trips about twelve weeks in total. Next week you’ll find me in a twenty-bucks-per-night bungalow in a beach town in Nicaragua.
I’m willing to bet all the Princess’ owner’s money (not mine, because I barely have any) that my holiday was better than his. In fact, I think my life is better than his!
And as for the celebrity lifestyle; I walked the red carpet too.
All five kilometers of it.