Like many of you, I love to travel. Experiencing new cultures and seeing new sights is a blast — it never gets old. Naturally, my obsession with business and understanding the way things work allows me to see through a more economic lens. Keeping my eyes open when traveling always helps me become smarter and more understanding.

I spent the last couple weeks visiting South Korea, and not only did I had fun but I also learned a lot from keeping my eyes open and looking around. Not everything has an immediate personal finance tie-in, but it all connects on deeper level. Here are five lessons that became even further engrained in my mind after visiting Korea:

1. The Difference Between What You Need and What You Want

How we each live our lives is strongly influenced by how others live around us. We’re all social creatures at heart and that comes with significant conformity to the cultures we’re immersed in. The styles we wear. The foods we eat. The habits we form. It’s too easy to think narrowly about our own experiences and get sucked into only thinking one particular way. The next time you hear (or think) “That’s weird” or “Everyone does it” think again — you’re probably biased and wrong.

For example, in Korea I ate a few meals without chairs; we sat on floor cushions. I stayed at a hotel with no beds; there were simply padded blankets and pillows. And you know what? It was great. I don’t intend to throw away my bed and chairs at home, but it did help me realize how unnecessary some “staples” really are. It also goes both ways. I saw Koreans care about things that we in the US don’t care about at all (people fill up gas for you, makeup trends are super conformist).

Bottom line: There’s a difference between what’s needed and what’s wanted. Sometimes it’s just hard to see because it’s hidden behind cultural social constructs — constructs that sometimes might as well be broken.

2. Be Grateful For What You Have

Sounds obvious, but visiting other countries — even other developed nations like South Korea — always reinforces this point for me. Even though things aren’t perfect in the US, we’re very lucky.

In Korea, there are a handful of massive companies that dominate. Samsung, for example, sells cars, apartments, appliances, and more on top of the electronics we all know of. Another company called Lotte (which I never heard of before) owns restaurants, shopping malls, amusement parks, theaters, industrial products, sports teams, and more. The corporate consolidation is very real, and that has an extreme impact on the way people live. These companies don’t need more and more workers, which leads to high young adult unemployment and employees forced out before stereotypical retirement age. The result of this? Thousands of small stores, restaurants, and market stalls that underemployed people run just to stay financially afloat. It’s a brutal perfectly competitive market that accelerates economic inequality.

While there are several great pockets of the South Korean economy, my experience further reinforced how lucky we are in the US. We’re surrounded by tons of multinational companies and bubbles like Silicon Valley that innovate the world forward. Our problems aren’t the same, and for that be grateful.

3. Learn from the Locals

I’ll keep this point brief. There’s a ton to learn from those around you, especially when in unfamiliar territory. Directions, best food spots, things to do… and how to save money. I swear, every single time I walked into a small shop the prices went up just for me (how generous). Learning how to navigate those waters and not get ripped off as a foreigner saved me decent money. Also, there are ways to save money on big activities you may not have heard of. For example, my group figured out how to save good money on a submarine ride after chatting with others.

When traveling remember that you’re the most naive person around. Stepping out of your comfort zone to interact with others can make your travels more enjoyable and more cost-effective.

4. Trends Abound Everywhere

My inner-investor can’t help but sleuth for new ideas and trends everywhere I go. I’m always fascinated by things that are popular elsewhere that aren’t yet popular in the US… or vice-versa.

For example, in Korea connectivity is tremendously better than in the US. Wi-Fi is everywhere — in all restaurants, the metro system, and even walking down some streets. Connectivity is superior in South Korea than in the US, but it’s a trend that will only catch on and become more widespread.

Of course, it works the other way too. I was blown away by how cash heavy Korea was, especially in many of the popular markets and smaller restaurants. For being highly connected and smartphone centric, such a heavy reliance on cash seemed a bit out of place. Yet, just like connectivity in the US, the growth of credit card usage and digital payments only has room to rise in Korea.

If you open your eyes, trends to inform investment decisions can be picked up everywhere.

5. Thinking Less is Thinking More

I’m the kind of person that does an awful job unplugging from work. Even when on vacation I feel incessant impulses to get work done and be productive. That said, during my trip to Korea I forced myself to get entirely off the work grid. That was such a great decision.

Not only did it allow me to relax, but by not thinking 24/7 about things to get done, clarity about how to do things hit me out of the blue. Avoiding forcing myself to think actually helped me think more clearly. Not working so hard, taking breaks — even being “lazy” — is counterintuitively productive. I know I read about this before, but this was my first time living it out. It works! If you’re a work-o-holic like me, force yourself to take breaks. If anything, make taking breaks part of your work. You won’t regret it.

That’s a Wrap!

I’m still processing my entire trip across South Korea, but these lessons taught me to think and live better, even if just a little. The next time you travel keep these tips in mind and share any of your big takeaways with us. We’d love to hear them.

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