Copyright 2013 John T. Reed
At the dawn of the credit card era, there was a very intriguing TV commercial.
First, I must take you back to that era. Most people had no credit cards. It was considered a new innovation for executives, all male, who traveled a lot on business.
I graduated from college in 1968. That spring, my classmates and I got a solicitation for a Gulf Oil credit card. You could buy gas for your car with it. Plus, and we thought this was really cool, you could also use it at Holiday Inns including in their restaurants. My college roommate and I often chose Holiday Inn restaurants for awhile so we could feel like big shots using our cards.
Diners Club and American Express were the two companies pushing the cards at the time, and they were trying to persuade Americans and American merchants that the card could be used for more than just hotels, jet fares, and fancy expense account restaurant meals.
So there was this TV commercial, probably American Express and I would guess around 1969 or 1970. I may garble it a little but this is my best recollection.
A handsome, middle-aged man wearing a pair of khaki shorts and nothing else walks out of the ocean onto a beach. He has not shaved or combed his hair in days. There is a ritzy beach-front hotel. He walks up to the registration desk in his bare feet and pulls out his American Express card. No photo ID required then. Plus we did not have one if it had been.
They give him a welcoming smile and a key to his room. He is then seen buying toiletries in the hotel gift shop and clothes in a ritzy clothing store. Then we see him showering and shaving in his hotel room, and the day finally ends with him having dinner in a five-star restaurant with a well-dressed, glamorous, beautiful woman. He is clean-shaven, hair combed, and wearing a tux. He pays for the meal with his American Express card.
I do not recall their explaining how he came to be walking out of the ocean with several days growth of beard.
What was so intriguing was that here was a sort of near naked, unshaven, homeless guy walking out of the ocean from God knows what or where, but because he had an American Express card, and only an American Express card, he was instantly greeted and treated as a welcome, respected, affluent, friend and businessman.
Viewers today would not regard the sequence as noteworthy, except that he did not have to show photo ID. But at the time, it was thought he would have to look respectable, have a wallet and cash or travelers cheques, and emerge from a taxi to be treated like that.
When people my age think about it, it has been quite a transformation. Back then, people would dress nice to be treated nice. If you were not nicely dressed, you were assumed to be a bum. At my high school (1960-1964), which was public, a student wearing shorts or jeans or a girl wearing pants would have been sent home upon arrival at school. Now, everyone is assumed to be important unless they are 100% homeless with shabby clothes, etc.
I recently read in the International Man daily email that people in hyperinflated Argentina dress nice now because it is still necessary there to signal what kind of person you are.
I would not be surprised if that TV commercial were on the Internet somewhere. If anyone can find it, please send me the link.
And here it is courtesy of Ari Mendelson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EW1ab82biDI Enjoy seeing how I garbled it.
Now, onto the 2013 implications of that TV commercial.
Marshall McLuhan said,
Read it carefully. It is stated in the reverse of the normal sequence, like the question,
Do you own your possessions or do they own you?
When I think about or discuss protecting your life savings from hyperinflation and deflation, I wonder what will I do about all my stuff: house, car, pets, books, furniture, inventory, office equipment? So do others I discuss this with.
Young readers often say, “I don’t have any assets to worry about. Do I need to do anything?”
Yes. And maybe older readers should consider being more like younger readers in that regard.
Suppose you had little or no stuff. The risk of hyperinflation and deflation are so extreme and unknown in recent memory, we’d all better have a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and so on. Just having a Plan B probably is not going to cut it this time around.
Having so many redundant plans is a way to achieve flexibility, to be able to change course on a dime.
Suppose you had no stuff. The 2013 equivalent of the guy in shorts might be a guy boarding an international flight with a shoulder bag containing his iPad, earphones, passport, and wallet full of credit, debit, and ID cards. The list I seem to be gravitating toward is:
• drivers license
• international drivers permit
• GOES/NEXUS card
• Capital One credit card (no fee for foreign currency transactions)
• Charles Schwab debit card (no fee for withdrawing non-US currency from a foreign country ATM)
• ATM cards for your bank accounts in the destination country
Of course, this stuff could be stolen or lost, in which case you are the guy coming out of the ocean only without his American Express card, so you would have to have a high-speed Plan B to replace it. Have duplicates back home with a relative or friend. Gather the details on how to report your stolen cards and order replacements ready to go if it happens to you. Carry a photocopy of your passport and other documents and/or have them Online at a secure location so they can be accessed from all over the world. Do a “fire drill” of all but the final steps of replacing everything before you depart from home.
Would you have anything else like additional clothes, toiletries, prescription medicine, iPad charger, and so on?
Yes, but if you were really trying to maintain utmost flexibility, you would just buy that stuff at your destination like the guy who walked out of the ocean. Rick Steves is big on traveling light and buying stuff like umbrellas and toiletries in the destination country. (I generally like Steves’ books and TV show, but like the Vagabonding author, I think he gets a bit too much into the business of telling you how to live your life. My first favorite travel author, Arthur Frommer of Europe on $5 a Day fame, did not do that to my recollection. A travel writer’s role is to tell you the mechanics of it, recommend places to stay, eat, and see, and otherwise leave the details up to the reader, including how to react to, and feel about, various experiences.)
Where can such a person go—assuming he has prepositioned money in selected banks and currencies around the world?
He’s sort of like the 700-pound gorilla: anywhere he wants.
I have pre-positioned money in AUD, CAD, CHF, and NZD in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand (my CHF are in Canada) and I have ATM cards for five non-US banks.
I can go to any country where my U.S. passport is welcome which is almost all of them and certainly all the countries you would want to visit. My U.S. passport typically allows me to stay in any of the countries where it is welcomed for 180 days per year—longer in many countries. If I could afford it, I could just do one 90-day stay after another endlessly. I am not limited to Australia, Canada, or New Zealand. I can go to any country that has ATMs and stick my U.S., Australian, Canadian, or New Zealand ATMs cards in and get local currency charged against the account in one of those four countries.
Suppose for the sake of argument, that you sold all your stuff—ALL of it—thereby converting it to US dollars, then converted those USD to my four recommended foreign currencies—or a greater number of foreign currencies in bank accounts in Asia, Canada, Latin America. The amount in those accounts in the aggregate would equal your current after-transaction-costs and after-tax net worth.
If your are young and have few assets, your task would be to go where you could earn a living. Tricky business to me but there are probably ways and people who can tell you what they are. The young person’s equivalent of the 1970 American Express card might be knowledge of how to write the currently hot computer code.
Like the documentarians who made the surfing movie Endless Summer in 1966, my 700-pound gorillas—whether young and skilled or old and affluent—would continuously go to the best two places in the world to be. With about 200 countries to choose from, the two best ones at any given time are probably really nice places to be no matter what the conditions in the U.S. How do you define nice? However you want: cost of living, weather, opportunity to make a living, skiing, you name it. You have the world at your feet. Not having 700 pounds of stuff makes you the 700-pound gorilla who goes anywhere he wants.
I also like to quote the full-time RVers who say,
I summer here. I summer there. I never winter anywhere.
As with the guy coming out of the ocean, the full-time RVers have a rare freedom and flexibility that stems, almost entirely, from their freedom from more than a minimal number of possessions.
I read a book a year or so ago called Vagabonding. It was essentially about backpacking around the world and occasionally working to pay for it—but not much because it did not cost much. I did not find the Vagabonding book persuasive that his approach was so wonderful. He seemed more adept at convincing himself that some crappy third-world arm pit of the world where he was getting robbed at knife point or getting over some “emerging market” parasite infestation was a great exotic experience. He seemed to feel he had to get his ticket punched in all of the 200 countries. But I think if you “vagabonded” just in more civilized places it would be fun before it inevitably got old.
But seriously folks.
You can move your computer stuff to a server you access remotely. You could move it to “the cloud” but I am leery of that. The point is you can digitize a lot of your life and thereby travel more lightly. You may have file cabinets, but you don’t need them.
You can outsource stuff like use a Kinkos to print stuff, a Starbucks for wifi, laundromats for cleaning, a cell phone or skype or Vonnage for communications, Internet/iPad for TV, various travelers clubs (I am a member of the Marines Memorial Club in San Francisco which has reciprocal clubs around the world) for places to stay and work out, your photo albums and address book and so forth can be Online accessible from everywhere. I am not into it, but I am told you can buy a lot of books in downloadable form to read on your iPad and such.
You can do everything in small quantities. Buy one Good News Razor at a time. Buy food by the meal. Use disposable tooth brushes.
Packing clothing to travel light is a whole book in and of itself. I am no expert but I am finding as I travel more that I like loose-fitting stuff like sweat pants and a sweat shirt on a plane, tropical worsted trousers look nice and seem to resist wrinkling. I understand there are some sport coats fabrics that resist wrinkles. Cotton athletic socks take forever to dry but thinner fabrics like cotton underwear and dress socks dry overnight in your hotel room or RV.
Anyway, there is a great body of knowledge Online and elsewhere on what to take when you travel a lot and want to travel light. Plus, even if you just do it, you will eventually figure out what you really need and like and, more importantly what you do not really need, as you go along.
When traveling, less is truly more.
A sarcastic old saying has it that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
Well, I figure hyperinflation in the U.S. will last for 6 to 24 months. You can stay in the U.S. battling it for that time period or you can recognize that with 200 countries to choose from—only a handful of which have thought it would be a good idea to “print” far more currency that ever before in their history as a percentage of GDP—there truly will be plenty of, and quite enough, places where the monetary-stability situation, and therefore quality of life, is really greener.
The flexibility to pick up and go anywhere on a moment’s notice might be the best way to deal with the coming financial crisis that the U.S. government is daring to happen. If I am right about the duration, you only need to be on this adventure for 6 to 24 months. It requires some preparation. If you choose to convert stuff to foreign currency to optimize your ability to go wherever the best country is, you want to liquidate those assets in an orderly fashion to maximize the net proceeds. Start now.
Having said all that, I must tell you that a college classmate of mine is a lifelong bachelor. He got into real estate investment because of my example, made millions, retired, became a Canadian citizen, relinquished his U.S. passport and citizenship, and has been traveling the world for decades. He called me from Brazil about a month ago for three hours on the phone. With Google maps and satellite view, he could show me, on my computer screen, his apartment building and take me for a Google satellite flight out over a farm he is buying.
“Why are you getting such possessions after all these years?” I asked. He said he was tired on not having a place—house and land—to call home.
Someone said, “Home is where your hat is.” Nah. That’s just a hook. Home is more than that. But there is a time and a place for eveything, incuding leaving home if and when home becomes intolerable.
Have I ever done this? Yeah, somewhat when I was in West Point and on summer leave. I suspect most have when they were young. Am I going back to it now? I doubt it, but I think I and most established people need to to move closer to it. We have too much stuff and it has caused us to lose flexibility, agility, and perspective.
Maybe I can become, say, a 300-pound gorilla
John T. Reed