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The first million (stars) are the hardest…

investing and camping analogy represented by camp side next to ute
Image source: Scott Phillips

The weekend before last, I took my young bloke camping.

He was playing with some new friends. Chilled out and reflective, I took out my phone and started typing away. Here’s what I wrote:

I am typing this, sitting in front of a campfire, as the last bit of sunlight fades.

My young bloke is playing with some mates he’s just made at the next campsite. The campfire is low, but the coals are glowing, and yes, the beer is cold and welcome…

There’s something really wonderful about camping.

Actually, there are many wonderful things.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the million-star evenings, spending time in nature and the simple pleasure of being out of mobile range are but a few of the joys of getting off the beaten track a little.

This weekend, I went camping with my 8yo son. We packed up the ute, threw our swags on the roof and went.

(My wife seemed very pleased with the idea of the peace and quiet, being home by herself. Hopefully not too pleased!)

We cooked over an open fire. We slept under the stars.

We swam in the river and he rode his bike, making friends with others at the campsite.

I know you’re waiting for the ‘but’.

I don’t have one.

It was just a truly lovely couple of days.

So, I want to share one of the aforementioned joys, in particular.

It is the joy of slowing down.

No, not in some abstract way.

In the very real way that life slows down when you’re camping off the grid.

The morning cuppa doesn’t come from a kettle or coffee machine.

I woke up, grabbed the matches and some kindling, and started a fire. I grabbed the billy (I filled it the night before) and waited for the water to boil.

It took a while, so I enjoyed the morning light, the trees, the waking birds and the sights and sounds of the new day.

Eventually, the water was ready. I made my tea and slowly drank it, enjoying the breaking morn.

Then it was breakfast time. A bowl, some eggs, a fork, a little bacon and a couple of slices of toast all on the cast iron frypan – after waiting for it to heat up, of course.

Then clearing everything away, boiling some more water for the washing up, then cleaning, drying and putting everything away.

And so it goes.

Everything happens much more slowly than at home. And much more deliberately.

The day unfolds as a sequence of slow, deliberate tasks, one after the other.

Actually, it doesn’t really ‘unfold’ that way. It just ‘is’ that way.

Now, I’m not going to say I don’t enjoy the coffee machine, dishwasher and instant hot water at home. 

I do. A lot.

But I really value a few days camping because the days can’t be quick and mindless.

It must be slow. Deliberate. Thoughtful.

(And very enjoyable!)

I’m not one for meditation. I’ve never done a retreat and I don’t practice yoga.

But I imagine there are some similarities with camping.

I am convinced that it’s probably good for the body, but it’s definitely good for the mind and the soul.

What does all of this have to do with investing?

Well, firstly, I’m pretty sure being refreshed and reinvigorated helps me make better decisions.

But while I was away, I remembered Warren Buffett’s decision to move out of New York and back to his native Omaha because the Big Apple was full of action, activity and people, all of which reminded Buffett of the exhortation to ‘don’t just sit there, do something!’.

To Buffett’s mind, that was the opposite of what a long-term investor should do. So he packed up and headed west.

That was decades ago, by the way.

Can you imagine the extra pressures, incentives and expectations to act, these days, by comparison.

Twitter, SMS trade alerts, live blogs… All giving us the sense – implicitly or explicitly – that we’re not really investing unless we’re digesting and responding to the flood of information at our fingertips.

Which brings me back to the camping parallel.

The march of technology lets us do so much more than our forebears, in much less time.

So we have more leisure time, right? That’s what the futurists promised us…

You know the answer to that question.

But, after all of the extra things we can do and stuff we can have… Are we any happier?

You can answer that for yourself.

But, like Buffett, as investors we are best to slow down and focus on the few things that actually matter.

I’m not sure ‘invest like you’re camping’ will catch on as a tagline.

But we could do worse.

Fool on!

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Scott Phillips has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia's parent company Motley Fool Holdings Inc. owns shares of and recommends Twitter. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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