In the era of long-term travel and anti-consumerism, owning or wanting things is considered to be super lame. People romanticize the ability to put everything in one bag and travel the world for years. Because they know it’s hard. Also buying new gadgets can be realistically impossible for freelancers if you are living by bipolar style paychecks like me. I’ve been telling myself ‘You don’t need this’, whenever something broke down. The alternatives came in handy for time to time, but at the end, I came back to where I started.


I picked up a beautiful pair of sunglasses at the duty-free on my way to Cambodia back in 2010. Only after a year, I realized that the legs were scratching the lens. (I mean, come on Guess!) It gave me an illusion of seeing something fuzzy every time I wore the sunglasses. When I visited the Sierra Trading Post warehouse in Cheyenne, WY, my scratched shade was replaced by a $15 hip-looking one. I loved it. But the relationships between my shades and I are not so great; I tragically drowned the new sunglasses in the Saint Marcos River in Texas while floating down the river on the tube. I blame the small waterfall, but I knew I shouldn’t have brought it on the water (duh!) Up until recently I left it at a Malaysian hostel last month, my eyes were (barely) protected by $5 black shade I picked up in Brooklyn.

When my traveling sandal became unusable in Vietnam, I knew it would cost me a lot of money. As my mom always says, there’s a reason to buy good quality shoes. If your feet are tired, you are tired. However, it wasn’t easy to spend $100+ for shoes, especially when I was in Vietnam. To utilize where I was, I decided to buy a knock-off Chaco on the street of Hanoi. Less than $10, I was the proud owner of Chaco sandal. It broke out of blue, in Stuttgart, Germany a few months later.

My phone was 3.5-year-old iPhone 3GS. As my very first smartphone, it was attached to me 24/7 from the moment I picked it up from the store. Yes, I’m one of those people who always have a phone nearby (you know how much I tweet, and stuff). It’s my lifeline. But because I overused its abilities, and it wasn’t designed for several years of severe abuse, it started to break down slowly. Facebook was too heavy for its motherboard, an email went out like a snail in a dry day, typing often jammed inside, and so much more little and big problems, but I kept telling myself ‘You don’t need a new phone, and you can’t afford it’. It’s true, but also it was just a sort of mantra to calm me down.

For less than US$10, I bought a stylish carryon backpack that could replace my old one. It happened in Hanoi. It actually traveled well for a month through Vietnam. Two hours before I had to leave to the airport to Iceland, the very same backpack gave up its life by showing its gut from the bottom. The damage was unfixable. A flowery school backpack from nearby Good Will saved the day. I had to travel with the bag looked like belong to a fifteen-year-old girl for last decade, because I was too cheap to buy anything nice.




There are so many similar stories like these, for about many different things I own. In between the fine line of expensive name brand and the actual good quality products, we always somewhat convinced that everything is a sleazy scam, that tricks us to spend money. After the same trial and error for many years, I’m learning once more, there are reasons why things cost. I’ve been telling myself that I don’t need a new phone, or good shoes are not necessary, but you know what? That’s a lie. I was thinking one day, it’s such a shallow thing to say, but high-quality electronics make me really happy (no, not because I’m from Korea and everyone here is obsessed with electronics).


Uncertainties are taking over my life for quite a while now. There are many ordinary questions in small talk I cannot answer. I’m not too happy about it. Some wise man once said, the person who can be comfortable at uncertainties is the true mastermind. Clearly, I’m not there yet. Being tired of not controlling my own life, I decided to resolve unnecessary stress by replacing broken things to the ones actually work. In the era of anti-consumerism, it’s easy to judge ourselves when we have the urge to buy something new and shiny. But if the simple act can solve the problems and release the pressure, why not? What’s so wrong about that? (Of course, in the boundary of sane and necessary purchase.)


On my way back to Korea from India in August, I went in a sunglass shop in duty-free and picked up a pair of Ralph Lauren sunglasses (believe me, it was one of the cheapest one in the store). It’s sturdy, pretty (it’s purple!), and good-looking. For the first time in three years, I now have a good quality sunglasses that makes me feel good. When my traveling sandal (that was a knock-off Chaco) broke down, Keen (the real one) came to rescue. A pair of red sandal that traveled with me ever since punctured my wallet, but it is still going strong. The Good Will backpack was replaced with a slick Salomon bag I bought in Stuttgart, Germany, and my roughly aged iPhone 3GS can now rest in peace.


I spent a lot of money recently. But you know what? It feels great. Do you know the joy of using things that work great? Shoes that perfectly fit (like Cinderella!), fabrics actually proof water and wind, glasses can stay on my face without adjusting a thousand times a day, a smartphone that can send an email when I finish without freezing for a minute, stuff like that. I’m not saying you should solve your problem by buying new things. I’m saying, don’t make yourself unnecessarily miserable by drawing limits at where you can’t keep. Well, if your life goal is to be the person who owns the least amount at home, then you should think differently, but that’s certainly not my goal. Think of it this way; it’s like you eat a whole pizza sometimes. It’s not a daily diet, and we all know that’s probably not the healthiest meal on the planet, but it is okay to do it once in a while. It somewhat makes us feel better (at least that’s true for me).


When life is throwing a curve ball with uncertainties, try to look for the problems you can solve with a simple action. Sometimes, we just have to let ourselves go, and not be the perfect person we want to be. And it’s okay.


15 thoughts on “When Things Make Me Happy – I’m Not Perfect”

  1. Great article!I agree with what you’re saying. As long as we are spending wisely and buying things we actually need then it’s okay to spoil ourselves rather than dealing with broken things all the time

  2. I can totally relate to this. Why is it that we convince ourselves that buying 5 pairs of cheap shoes doesn’t add up to the same cost as buying the one expensive pair that will last? It’s because we don’t want to outlay that money all in one big chunk, but it saves in the long run. And we’re worried that by paying more, we won’t have money for other things we want to do. But I agree with you – sometimes we need creature comforts to make ourselves feel better (and more comfortable!)

  3. I feel you on this! Loosely translating a chinese phrase, one kind of quality, one kind of price. If it is a need, it is totally ok to splurge a little more to give you the extra mile. Just gonna strike a balance in between. 🙂

  4. good post! i agree; it feels so much better to the soul to buy things one really NEEDS that also happen to be attractive and long- lasting. there’s a difference between rampant materialism and buying quality items that enhance one’s life and, in your case, your actual livelihood! i’m always impressed by your tenacity in your travels and good heart 🙂

  5. 😀 😀 😀
    I’m glad you got some new specs! I was worried about your eyeballs! I’m going to be a little nerdy for a sec here… it is important to have sunglasses that will protect your eyes from UV exposure. Not all sunglasses do this, and the cheap ones definitely don’t. Just because a lens is dark doesn’t mean it protects your eyes from UV light. What it does is creates darkness for the eye so that the pupil will dilate, and this actually lets in MORE UV light! So sometimes it’s not just about the money, but about health.
    I’m with Andi too… I love this mentality, about accepting not being perfect and being okay with that. I am working on this every day. It is hard, but I am getting there.

  6. I feel the same way, Juno.
    I grew up not having many things, but having a few really nice things. When I was in High School and got my own pay check I went shopping all the time with friends; not to nice quality places, but cheap ‘wear once and it’s broken places’ that I actually secretly hated.
    Thankfully my Mum made me see the error in my ways and have since only ever bought quality goods.

    As travellers we’re kinda lucky. If we replace things in certain countries we can get tax back when leaving the country (USA, UK and Europe does this) so I try to stock up when I’m in the US on things like good brand shoes, underwear and electronics because I know they’re cheaper than in Australia and will last a while.

    Don’t worry – sometimes having things makes me happy as well! ^_^

  7. It is kind of strange that we are sort of “programmed” for always wanting to find the cheapest option and only to be happy if we actually go for it. We actually feel bad when we buy something expensive. Sometimes we even need to find apologies for ourselves or justifications for buying the fancy option just to calm down our minds and for feeling less guilty of “spending too much money”.
    Really awkward about this is that by having such a program me in our brains we also put our own value very low or “cheap”. Nobody would put small and cheap tires on a Ferrari. So why not show some appreciation for ourselves and spoil us with things we like from time to time?
    Of course as backpackers we have the notion to live minimalistic. The space in the backpack is limited and we also do not want to carry a heavy load with us. It is not just the weight, it is also the load on the mind. In case we are angry about an item because it does not work or feels crappy it gets more attention then it is needed. Then material items can have control over our minds or at least we allow to be controlled. Normally the things we carry with us should support us or make us happy.
    So whenever I buy things for my travels I ask myself:
    -Do I need it? –
    Do I need it for a long time?
    -Can I replace it easily?

    Although I still occasionally fall into the trap of buying too cheap from time to time, I enjoy thinking less and less about the things I carry with me.

  8. I really like this post. It really makes me feel good and it inspires me. Just make your travel and trips in your most joyful way.

  9. This is so true. I’ve learned to appreciate the pricier things in life since coming to Korea, and while I don’t appreciate the loads of cash that some people spend at the department store, I am happy about the few quality items I’ve gotten. When it comes to health, skin care and staying warm or dry in certain weather, it’s not always a good idea to be cheap. It can come back to haunt you!

  10. Hello, Juno .. sorry for my english 🙁 i’m a beginner ,
    You travelled all around the world but i think that you left Mongolia .. Please come to Mongolia and enjoy the eternal blue sky

  11. Great post. I understand and agree with you completely. I used to be really cheap when buying things I need.

    I always bought the cheapest item I could find (shoes, socks and other things) but it would never last for long and it was bad quality. I’ve learned it’s better to buy it one time and have it last for a longer time and enjoy it more.

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