Profound Life Experiences… on a Budget?

Kellen wrote in with a very thoughtful question that I wanted to address in detail:

I’m currently in that stage of life where I have plenty of time but very little money. I am just starting my sophomore year at a private university where scholarships and the generosity of my grandmother are paying for my tuition, room, and board.

I plan on spending the summer between my junior and senior year at an internship, but this summer I am hoping to do some “figuring out” of myself. I want to have those kinds of profound life experiences that are always associated with college and I have thus far not had.

Many of my friends here are from very wealthy families. Some of them are doing things like traveling Europe for the summer or going to Rio for the Olympics and that’s just not realistic for us.

It seems to me that the big profound experiences of life require a great deal of expense. Traveling the world at any pace is incredibly expensive and to do it at any sort of leisurely pace is almost prohibitively so.

I want to have a summer of life experiences without bankrupting my future.

Kellen’s email was so thoughtful and well-written that I felt it deserved a thoughtful response.

First of all, what exactly does Kellen mean by a “profound experience”? I’m not entirely sure, as different people may have somewhat different thoughts on this, but I define a “profound experience” as being a life experience that changes your perspective on the world and your place in it.

My first thought is that profound life experiences do not have to involve traveling to different countries. There is a common perception that in order to have a profound life experience, you need to travel to the other side of the world and see a different culture. That’s simply not true.

Profound experiences can be found almost anywhere provided you have opened your mind and heart to them. You can find them in your own community, your own state, and all over the country.

The truth is that what makes an experience profound is largely within yourself. All that your environment does is put you in a position to have that profound experience.

My point is this: Almost every profound experience I’ve had in my own life has come within a handful of hours of where I live, and my international travels have provided very few profound experiences, even when I went “off the beaten path” there. Profound experiences can be found in many, many places, and they don’t have to cost you a lot of money.

Finding Profound Experiences Locally

So, how do you find these profound experiences without extensive, expensive travel and without large blocks of time? I’m going to list some of the ways that I’ve had profound experiences in my own life that didn’t involve a lot of expense. Some of these do require some time, while others do not.

Volunteer extensively for a charity that helps the poor, disabled, and disadvantaged. Almost every community of any size has a food pantry. Larger communities often have a large food bank, a clothing pantry, a soup kitchen, and often in multiples. Larger cities also have organizations like Habitat for Humanity as well.

Spend some significant time working for organizations like these, not just an hour here or an hour there. Dig in. Learn about how disadvantaged people actually live and the quiet struggles that fill their everyday life. It can really trigger some profound insights into the modern human condition.

Spend some extensive time in a natural environment, such as a national park or nature preserve, without electronics. Spend two or three weeks camping in a national park in a minimal tent that you can stuff in a backpack. Minimize your electronic use while there – if you can, avoid it entirely. Instead, just explore.

You’ll have a chance to see an incredible variety of plant life and the natural shape of the land. You’ll have a good chance of seeing wildlife as well, especially if you explore the longer trails or, better yet, explore areas off the beaten path.

This is a prime opportunity to understand the natural world, mankind’s impact on it, and decide for yourself what meaning that holds.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.