Re-thinking the Role of Luck in My Travels

Luck and Travel

During my twenties I was the first to climb onto a soapbox to proclaim that it wasn’t luck that allowed me to travel, it was a matter of choice. I chose to work abroad on short-term visas rather than look for a full-time position at home, whereas many of my peers chose to do the opposite. I maintained this position for years, annoyed by the frequent comments from people I knew about how lucky I was to travel.

It drove me crazy because these comments came from people I knew who had a background similar to that of my own: (usually) white, American, middle-class, university-educated. I didn’t have the depth or breadth at that time to see beyond my limited definition of luck, which suggested that my choices and efforts were inconsequential. I was confident that most of the people who told me I was lucky could have done what I was doing.

In 2012 I came across a blog post called Why I Am Not One Lucky Bastard and it echoed everything I was feeling. The Lucky Travel Fairy wasn’t the reason I’d been traveling so much; I was. By then I was encouraging other people to travel, writing enthusiastically about how you could do it too, you really could. I left this comment on the post:

YESSS!!!! This post is spot on. ‘You’re so lucky’ is usually followed by, ‘I’d love to do that but I can’t because [fill in the blank].” No. You can’t because you chose not to. End of story.

When I read it back now, I cringe. Not because I don’t still believe that choice has been a key element in fulfilling my wanderlust, but because it was a comment written with blinders on. I was operating in a bubble where I assumed everyone was like me and the ones who weren’t wouldn’t be reading that particular article.

Laptop in Carbisdale Castle, Scotland

Keyboard Warrior on the rampage.

What I didn’t notice was that travel media was (is) overwhelmingly written by people like me. People for whom luck played a seemingly invisible role in creating a basic foundation that allows us to travel. It wasn’t just skin color, class, and an American passport that made things easier, but having good health and a supportive middle-class family to back me up. Even if I failed, hard, I would have somewhere to go while I got my shit back together. Knowing that safety net was there seemed inconsequential but it was critical.

It wasn’t until recent years that I started reading media that pushed back against the notion that everyone could travel the world. At first, I was reluctant to acknowledge the impact that luck had on my travels. By now, I have realized that it was huge. The more I read on the subject, the more I shake my head at my younger self on her soapbox. I had a point, but I was missing the point, too.

I read a post last month over on The Everywhereist about how quitting your job to travel isn’t brave, but lucky. I thought about it for a long time afterwards, because something didn’t sit right with me. On the whole, I agree with her: when we equate quitting a job with bravery, we create a slippery slope by suggesting that the inverse is cowardice. Not everyone can (or wants to!) quit their job to travel, and those who do are lucky.

These things are true, but it was the either/or aspect that bugged me. Does quitting your job to travel have to be lucky or brave? Can it be both, or neither? It relates back to the way individuals define luck and bravery; someone who tells me that I’m brave isn’t usually talking about my actions. They’re telling me more about themselves. They’re saying that it would take them a great amount of courage to scrap their existing comfortable life for the unknown.

Galapagos Island

Not comfortable or courageous, but incredibly happy in the Galapagos.

In the weeks since I read that post, I’ve noticed more and more of those clickbaity articles the Everywhereist was talking about – the ones that link bravery to travel while ignoring privilege. Often it’s the headline that is the main problem – but it’s those headlines and soundbites that get inside our brains and manifest into lasting and problematic ideologies:

  • “How I Quit My Job to Travel the World”
  • “Here’s How I Left My Cubicle Life – and How You Can Too”
  • “I Gave Up a Six Figure Salary to Travel”
  • “What Nobody Tells You About Traveling the World”

Etc, etc. You’ve seen them all over the internet, reinforcing the concept that 9-5 jobs are for suckers. They are sensationalized and unwittingly tailored to a select group of readers who can realistically entertain the possibility of leaving steady work to travel.

I fall into that category, having just quit my 9-5, but that doesn’t give me license to write sweeping generalizations assuming that everyone else should do the same. And it’s worth noting that I’m still going to have to work. But presenting our travel plan as either lucky or brave discounts the grey area in between. There is more at play than luck and bravery that allows a person to walk away from a steady job.

What Jared and I have done, it isn’t brave, not for us. It’s a calculated risk based on years of travel experience – a risk we were able to take because we’ve been working in a first-world country and have parents with an open-door policy. A risk we could take because the world consistently looks at our blue passports and says “sure, come on in.” It is now obvious to me that I’m extremely lucky to have the life that I do.

Nobbys Newcastle NSW

Exhibit A: I live here.

So what is the takeaway of all this? Yes, I’m lucky – what do I do with that?

For one, I have to be more conscious of the way I write. I’ve been guilty of claiming that ‘you, too, can travel and here’s how!’ because it was easier to write to myself, to people who do have access to travel for pleasure. As Jared and I head off on our road trip, I’ll be writing more – this time I’ll be aware of my casual assumptions and the way I inherently define words like ‘everyone’ and ‘you.’

Increased awareness doesn’t mean not encouraging people to travel, nor does it mean I should attempt to address all potential audiences in each post I write. It does mean seeking out diversity of voices and diversity of experience in what I read and watch. It’s easy to consume media that applies directly to me as an individual reader, but that’s how I fool myself into thinking that my experience is the norm.

Increased awareness is understanding that there’s a whole spectrum of meaning behind the word ‘lucky,’ and I shouldn’t be so quick to say that doesn’t apply to me when it very clearly does.

For further reading on this topic, here are some blog posts that got me thinking:

This Battered Suitcase

Oneika the Traveller

The Wandering Blonde

everywhere all the time

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4 Responses to “Re-thinking the Role of Luck in My Travels”

  1. I’m glad you were able to put into words what I couldn’t. We are extremely lucky to have the family and background that we do! Also, so many of those type of articles miss the point that not everyone wants to travel – there is nothing wrong with working a 9-5 job! Nothing is more irritating than someone shoving their opinions down everyone else’s throats.

    • In the early days I didn’t get that not everyone wants to travel so when I look back on what I must have said to people…oops.Thankfully there was no social media then.

  2. Megan Fitzpatrick Reply June 3, 2016 at 9:44 am

    PS that rainbow picture doesn’t even look real. Mongolia?

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