Cherrypicking from the modern world

Istrian TowerMany people seem to operate on the assumption that the modern world comes as a bundled package…so we either have to buy everything that everyone else does…or nothing.

Not true. The Escape Artist suggests you just take the good bits and leave the rest. This is key to getting your saving rate up above 50%.

Much of what we learn, we absorb unconsciously from the people around us. Humans got to the top of the food chain by living in tribes and ganging up on the woolly mammoths, neanderthals etc. On the whole, co-operation has worked out pretty well for us.

But we are not perfect and there are a few glitches in our operating system.  One is that we outsource much of our thinking…replacing independent thought (which is conscious but takes effort) with mental short cuts (which are easy but often unconscious).

One short cut that we follow is “do the same thing as the other apes around us”.   This would have been an optimal response when one of the monkeys found a new banana tree with low-hanging fruit, a new watering hole or other resources. This explains financial herd behaviour from the South Sea bubble to the Klondike gold rush to the 2000 dotcom boom.

One problem with this herding is that we often absorb ideas as truths without really knowing why. One such idea is that we have to accept everything that comes with the modern world.  But this is not true.

This idea is fresh in my mind because I’m currently staying in a village in rural Croatia.  It is a beautiful place. The sun shines (mostly), the village is surrounded by olive groves and vineyards which cover the slopes down to the beaches.  Its quiet and relatively unspoilt.

BoratBack in history, this area used to be part of Italy (we are not that far from Venice). More recently, Croatia was part of communist Yugoslavia.  It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago this place was the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

Almost 50 years of communism meant that, whilst it is built like a Tuscan village with beautiful stone farmhouses, it is still somewhat reminiscent of the village in the film Borat.

tractor storyOne of the big local attractions is the Tractor Museum. Seriously.

On the downside, communism meant farming on the potato collective for the locals. On the upside though, there are no shopping malls, no bowling alleys, no fruit machines, no SUV dealerships, no Money Shops, no bookmakers and no strip clubs.

Things are on the up in Croatia these days.  It may look a bit like Greece, Spain or Italy but the locals don’t seem to have the manana vibe. As a result of its natural beauty, hard working people and EU membership (without being in the Euro) Croatia is getting rich.  It is also great value compared to the Eurozone…like Greece used to be before it committed economic hari-kiri and joined the Euro.  Readers interested in geographic arbitrage should check Croatia out.

We are not slumming it. Our modern apartment has a fridge, dishwasher, showers, DVD player, electricity, internet access, indoor toilets and running water (always a bonus). My motorised throne is parked outside, near the tennis court and swimming pool. All products of the modern industrial world and all of which are fucking awesome. These are the things that our ancestors worked hard for so that we could fret about how many likes we get on our Facebook posts. Let’s be honest, almost everyone born in the West after WW2 has had it ridiculously easy.

Someone recently told my wife that we must live a life of deprivation for me not to have a “proper job”.  Well, sat here by the pool in Croatia, it doesn’t feel like deprivation. Actually, the idea that we live a life of deprivation is a bit like the idea that Genghis Khan lived a life of quiet contemplation enlivened only by knitting, tupperware parties and a glass of milk as a treat on Saturday nights.

When I was in the Prison Camp, my idea of a great holiday was to stay in a villa somewhere sunny and remote from the modern world.  Ideally somewhere that reminded me of the Sicilian scenes from The Godfather or a Stella Artois advertisement.  Preferably with no TV, no fast food and no shopping malls. Holidays used to be the only time when I lived a more natural life, spending time with family, spending most of the day outdoors, sleeping well, eating natural food and so on.

Holidays were also precious because they were one of the few times that I reclaimed some Head Space.  I think of our minds as being like laptops: they only have a finite amount of processing capacity and can be easily fucked up by viruses caught from other computers or nonsense from the internet.  Just as computers need to be de-fragged and re-booted every now and again, holidays provided the space to empty out the mental clutter that I picked up whilst working in the Prison Camp.

One of the pleasures of holidays was tuning out from TV in general (and the news in particular) for a couple of weeks.  I would then ruin it back in the UK by catching up on what I had “missed out” on.  I’ve come to realise this was looking at things the wrong way. Missing out on the news is, for the most part, like missing out on cold sores.

Its odd that, whilst I used to enjoy being away from British TV, it took me years to realise that I could choose to make this an all-year round thing.  I guess I always consciously knew that watching TV was not mandatory…but for some reason I acted as if it was. After all, that’s what “everyone” does right?

But to get results in life that are different to other people’s, you must do things that are different to what most other people do.

It’s amazing how much money you can save if you do things a bit differently.  For example, on this holiday I reckon we saved about £2,500 just by driving rather than flying. The village in Croatia is about 1,050 miles from our house in the UK.  This makes it too far to cycle (the kids would complain). But petrol is cheap and the plucky Skoda gets 55+ miles to the gallon even with 5 people and the kitchen sink in the car and the aircon on. You then get a free hire car thrown in when you get to your destination.

We’ve driven to Europe each year for many years now and so have saved tens of thousands of pounds which are now compounding.  Yet when I tell people we drive, people sometimes look like you’ve suggested walking there carrying the luggage or scaling Mount Everest.  It’s actually really easy….let’s be honest, the engine is doing most of the work. All I do is put the address in the satnav and hold the accelerator pedal down with my toes.

You also get the sense of being on a road trip with proper mountains, castles, coastlines and tunnels. This is one of the few times that driving lives up to the images on car adverts. On the way here we drove through 7 different countries (France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia) which is not bad going when you think that for 99% of human history the average inhabitant of, say, Basingstoke would never have been outside a 50 mile radius of the town. Think about that.

Best of all, if you eschew flying you are in charge of your own journey. You are not processed through Gatwick Airport like sheep through a sheep-dip, bossed around by Ryanair staff and other clipboard Nazis. Its almost like you’ve left school and are now an adult.

Using Owners Direct, we rented our apartment direct from the owner, downloading it from the cloud and negotiating a very reasonable price. The end result is a holiday which costs a fraction of what many middle class Brits think is the minimum cost of a family summer holiday. If you read The Sunday Times travel section (which I don’t recommend) you’ll come to think it normal to pay the price of a new car for a summer holiday.

You can choose how much to pay for most things. And if I’d been able to persuade Mrs Escape Artist to allow me to rent our house out via Airbnb or similar whilst we were away, we could have been paid to take our holiday.

There are plenty of grumpy people who will tell you how the modern world is dangerous / expensive / scary and things were better in the good old days when there was food rationing, no crime and you could give children a proper beating, never did them any harm etc etc.  This is all bullshit.

The modern world is pretty awesome on the whole but can be made even better by ignoring some of the crap that it produces.  So I suggest choosing  what we want from the modern world and ignoring the rest.

I’ll start with my personal suggestions. Please feel free to add your own in the comments below.

15 things from the modern western world that we do not have to use / buy / consume even if “everyone” around us is doing so:

  1. Most TV
  2. The news media
  3. Advertising
  4. Fizzy sugar drinks
  5. Processed carbohydrates
  6. Facetweeter
  7. Shopping malls
  8. Theme parks
  9. Airports
  10. MacDoughnuts / Blubber King / KFR etc
  11. Active fund managers, wealth managers and financial advisers
  12. Insurance
  13. Anti-ageing cream
  14. Velour leisurewear with stretchy waistbands
  15. SUVs

15 things from the modern western world that are fucking awesome and that, let’s be honest, we should probably all show a bit more gratitude for:

  1. Antibiotics
  2. Anaesthetic
  3. Social justice
  4. Vanguard index funds
  5. The electric Interweb
  6. Low crime
  7. Natural food that’s cheaper than chips
  8. The triumph of capitalism
  9. ATMs
  10. Mobile phones (in moderation)
  11. Universal suffrage
  12. No conscription, infrequent major European land wars
  13. Drinking water from a tap
  14. Contact lenses and laser eye surgery
  15. Bikes

You can follow The Escape Artist on Twitter here (but its not compulsory).

29 comments

  1. Dylantherabbit · · Reply

    I’m with u on the driving. I remember fondly driving to the South of France and also to southern Spain, the trips were part of the holiday. This is unlike air travel and in particular Airports. I don’t mind flying as I do plenty with work but u see a lot when driving.

    Great blog by the way!

    1. less4success · · Reply

      I also find the gradual transition of driving across a continent to be more relaxing much less jarring than entering a small composite tube, whizzing through the air, and then stepping out into completely foreign and unrecognizable surroundings.

      Though I still find it ironic that I love road trips but absolutely hate commuting by car to work.

  2. No to bottled water and mani/pedis.

    Yes to teeth-cleaning at the dentist.

    Your holiday sounds wonderful. Too bad I can’t drive to Croatia from Texas. I’d love to visit my roots (on my mother’s side).

  3. +1 for driving, indeed travelling slower in general and staging the journey. To do that, however, you need to own your own time and not be beholden to the Prison Camp 😉

  4. Ian Collins · · Reply

    No to take-away latte/ cappuccino/ mocha-frappuccino… costly nonsense. One a day is equivalent to £1000 gross salary per annum. That’s a nice holiday.

  5. Driving is awesome, especially with young children. We have been on over 40 flights each in our lives but only four flights with children. Far better to avoid the nuisance of airports with children and just make your own schedule by driving. Plus you can take whatever crap you need for the kids without having to worry about luggage limits.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you about news media – I gave up reading newspapers and watching commercial TV about a year ago and I don’t miss it at all. It’s amazing how much “news” is just meaningless and irrelevant excrement that only makes you dumber for having absorbed it (even though it is supposed to work the other way around!).

  6. In week four of our drive through France and Spain and now back in France. Fuel (Diesel) is pleasantly cheap. I did cheat a bit by flying my teenage kids out and back on cheapish Ryanair tickets for the two weeks in an ‘ownersdirect’ villa, this has given my wife and I quality ‘road trip time’ shall we just keep on going Thelma – and not return to the servitude of our own prison camp.

  7. David Lightman · · Reply

    I have always wanted to go on a road trip from the UK into europe (but we end up flying every year), what scares me is the insurance and accident/breakdown/recovery options. How much of a headache is all of that to sort out, and how much will ‘extra’ will that cost? How did you go about doing this on your trip to croatia?

    1. Thanks for the comment, David. You are my target audience for this article…and its really not that scary.

      Our regular motor insurance covers the odd trip to Europe so the additional cost for that = £0. We have no European breakdown cover because our car is reliable (its basically a VW remember) and recently serviced.

      We are effectively self insuring. If we need to pay a local garage to fix our car for us, so be it. After all, its things like that that the stash is there to deal with.

      Hope you feel confident enough to give it a go yourself next year 🙂

    2. red kite · · Reply

      David- we just drove to France and with ‘belt and braces’ cover for breakdown and additional cover for Europe for three weeks we paid an extra £30 or so. But I agree with EA that we would have been fine without the breakdown cover (I don’t have it for the UK regularly).

  8. (1050 miles x 2) / 50 = 42 hours driving (50mph av. prob generous)

    42 / 7 = 6 days

    so the equivalent of 6 working days spent driving

    how long are you on holiday for?

    I imagine it could lead to an increased logistical burden to find the necessary accomodation en route?

    I am not sure you have found something ‘obviously better’ that the herd may have missed here, although i imagine it could be a good laugh if you exploited the ‘road-trip’ aspect. I imagine if you tried to smash through it quickly it would be pretty gruelling

    1. Uh-oh! Mr Money Mustache warned us about the Internet Retirement Police but he didn’t tell me they’d formed a Road Traffic Enforcement Unit in the EU.

      Your assumptions are wrong Ben. There are more than 7 hours in a day. The route is all motorway. And a Skoda Octavia can go even faster than 50mph. I know! The largest part of the route is in Germany where there are no speed limits on the autobahn.

      And “gruelling” is a word we might use to describe the SAS selection procedure. Not sitting in a comfy seat in an air conditioned car.

      1. red kite · ·

        We just drove to France. I agree that the time it takes is a downside to the argument – we spent 6 days travelling for 12 days on holiday (total distance 2000 miles – 750 of those in UK). That’s quite a big chunk out of prison camp holiday rations (and you were using this as an example of ways to increase savings rate). Could we have done it in fewer days? Maybe one less, if we’d booked earlier and got an overnight ferry on the way down. We are of course slightly hampered by our starting point!
        The actual driving was straightforward, apart from the two days traversing England North to South which was slow and tedious. But, I think some people simply like driving more than others. Personally I tolerate it rather than finding it pleasurable. So I’m sympathetic to those who say its not for them – we are talking about a holiday here, which is supposed to be time to enjoy!
        I’m not so sure about the cost equation. I guess we could potentially have found cheaper Channel crossings, but my estimate is that overall total costs of the driving, ferry, accommodation vs flights for four were not hugely lower. Of course not needing a hire care is potentially a saving – but that’s not obligatory even if you fly (we used our car exactly twice at our holiday destinations).
        Overall though it was a good experience – especially being able to take our own bikes. We’ll definitely consider it again (Croatia 2016 perhaps!)

      2. red kite · ·

        No, it didn’t take us 2 days to get to the South Coast – one day down and one day back 😉

      3. the SAS have actually asked if they can include driving around with my wife and kids for a day and a night after they’ve finished drinking their own piss in the Brecon Beacons. I said I thought it might be a bit too much..

  9. The Weasel · · Reply

    Poundland and all the crap inside it!!. 95% of what’s there is rubbish before it’s even sold. It comes from factories of shit, basically. Why do people buy shite beats me.

    I like the way you holiday ; ). How do your kids cope with these long road trips, though? I can’t imagine even my wife coping with anything longer than 3 hours. :D.

  10. Genuinely keen to hear a breakdown of the journey – what the route is & how you do each “leg”, where you sleep (planned stops or just find somewhere when the time is right). It sounds amazing but i kind of feel you need at least a 2 week holiday to make that kind of driving worthwhile.

    Assume you are taking the car on the train not the ferry?

    1. Day 1: 9am start in Surrey. Enter destination into satnav. 11am Eurotunnel crossing. Listen to Mrs EA’s Carly Simon CD. Follow satnav directions (suppressing issues with authority as necessary). Drive south east from Calais to a value motel near Frankfurt. Refill Skoda with diesel.

      Day 2: Wake up. Enter revised destination into satnav. Eat food periodically. Keep front of car pointing south whilst talking / thinking / listening to self-improvement podcasts. Arrive in Croatia early evening.

      1. Thanks for sharing. Guessing destination is northern Croatia what with it being an exceptionally long & thin country :-). I like the idea of doing this in the future, though with Mrs LCIL & 2 young girls in the car I don’t think it we be able to do it quite so fast.

        The challenge i have is getting Mrs LCIL to share the driving…. currently she’s never driven on the other side of the road & would be very nervous to do so that i know.

      2. Yes, we are in the Istrian peninsula in the north of Croatia. Just follow the signs for the Traktor Museum.

        I did this with 3 kids and 1 wife so no reason you couldn’t do it in the same timeframe. And I know that Mrs LCIL is a clever lady and more than capable of driving on the other side of the road. 🙂

  11. Underscored · · Reply

    Maybe I am being dense, (it is pretty common…), but please could you share where you negotiated with the apartment owner? Was this via AirBNB?

    1. We got the apartment via Owners Direct which works well. I’ll include a link in the body of the article. Thanks for the prompt, Underscored.

      1. I’d be interested in hearing your strategies for how to best negotiate good deals. It might make a good article sometime.

  12. Underscored · · Reply

    Thank you. I have not had much luck with airbnb

  13. Couldn’t agree more with the gist of this. 🙂 You’ve articulated the spending side of my recent “bohemian investor” article.

    We are in-part in charge of how we use the tools and products that modernity has put at our disposal. Not always, all the time, but much more than most people allow.

    1. I just read your Bohemian Article investor and really enjoyed it….other readers should click here to read it. I also admired your patience dealing with some of the comments 😉

  14. […] third link is to a post by The Escape Artist, and writes about how we mostly follow the herd, and uses an example of how most people fly to […]

  15. I went on roadtrip with a friend in 2008. Did France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Switzerland, Italy and Monaco. I was surprised at how little I’d spent after ten days, though we did sleep in the car half the time! Probably not suitable for those with children…

    Mrs DW wouldn’t have done this as she likes to have places pre-booked otherwise she’ll freak out. She would however be happy doing this in a camper van so I’m vaguely keeping an eye out for one as it would make holidays everywhere much easier.

    Also, thumbs up for Croatia. We went there for our honeymoon and loved it. It would be the first place either of us choose to go back to and it’s not our style to do repeat visits!

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