The Cost Of Travel, Part I: That Ain’t Luck

This post might offend a few people, but this has been grinding my gears for a while.

Whenever I talk to people back in the US about the stuff I’ve done here, the places I’ve gone, the things I’ve seen, and the train rides to nearby cities and countries, a lot of them say, “you’re so lucky!”

I immediately want to stab them in the ear with a ball point pen.  It’s not luck.

It’s not luck that got me to agree to sign two contracts, one in German and one in English, to stay here for three years. Luck had nothing whatsoever to do with my decision to pause my entire life back home for a then-uncertain time-frame while I came over here and did my company’s bidding. Luck didn’t get me to store my stuff, sell my car, and completely uproot my entire universe for a span of years.

Luck has nothing to do with missing three years of the lives of my family and friends.  My newest niece will be four years old a month after I return.  That’s 75% of her life so far.   My parents are both in their 70s, with various competing health issues.  My father has multiple myeloma in remission- he’s healthy right now, but there’s really no cure.  I wonder often how much time I really have left with him, and I worry that I’m squandering it by living over here.

My friends back in the States have found significant others, moved in with one another, changed jobs, changed homes, moved between cities-  time kicks along without me in it, and by the time I get back, the world I left will be irrevocably changed.

That ain’t luck, and it pisses me off immensely when people think it is.

I was talking recently with a local friend about all the travel that I do, and it became clear that she doesn’t travel. Not to the things that are just a few hours away, like Neuschwanstein or the Zugspitze. Not to slightly further places like London or Paris.

I asked if she wants to see those places, and she said “of course.” I asked why she hadn’t, and she was immediately full of rationalization- she always has boyfriends who don’t like to travel, for example.

My perspective is this: If you want to travel, you will travel. 

If you want it badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen.

For years, I waited for the right combination of money, free time, and a good travel buddy. As I worked my way up in the company, my vacation time increased and time stopped being a problem. Then my salary got better, and suddenly I could afford to go places if I wanted to.  I just had the lingering problem of needing a travel partner. I got my passport in 2006, thinking that I would be able to go to London soon. I just needed someone to travel with.

I wanted to see the city of London with someone I loved.

2006 became 2008, and my girlfriend at the time wanted to go with me.  The timing was bad though.  She had just started a new job, and she couldn’t take that sort of time off.  She and I managed to take a few trips within the US, but we never left the country together.

If you look for a reason not to go, you will always find one.

Eventually, I figured out that if I wait around for a travel partner, I won’t ever go anywhere. I’m glad I realized that before I moved to Germany, because I’ve been to fourteen countries now, and I traveled to most of them entirely on my own.

If you really want to travel, you’ll travel.

Luck has nothing to do with it.

Do you want to travel?

16 thoughts on “The Cost Of Travel, Part I: That Ain’t Luck

  1. TOTALLY agree. TOTALLY. Was just talking to my husband last night about a trip a few hours away…..that we can´t afford right now. It would make no sense in a logical way. Experiencing a new city < Guilt of debt we would incur. So, instead, we are using to figure out where to go in January (he gets the benefit of a 13th month salary payment in December). Then we can go guilt free, and go to another country. Likely Italy or Spain. On a budget. In the off season. And decided to forgo having birthday parties for both of us (he in Oct, me in Nov) in exchange for a one or two night in a city we have both never been to (to be determined this week).
    If you want to make it happen, you will.


    1. The financial part of it is an even bigger dig. I wrote a part two post for this Thursday that gets more into the financial side of things. My travel this year really hurt, moneywise. Totally worth it, though.


  2. I know where you’re coming from. Married to a German wife, our vacation time has always been used to visit her relatives (when we lived in the States) or to visit mine (since living in Germany). Now with our son in school we’re chained to the school vacation calendar. And now we own a business so we don’t even have vacation time anymore.

    It’s all in the choices you make. We sneak in little trips. We preceded our trip to my folks with 4 days in Rapid City. We spent a long weekend in Oslo for our anniversary. We always have a fall 3-day business conference somewhere in Europe (last year Antalya, this year Monaco). And I’m heading for WEBMU in Prague next weekend. That’s our complete travel schedule for this year.


  3. I know what you mean. I wonder if whether that response is one of 3 things:

    1. Ignorance. They really have no concept of the effort, planning, or sacrifices required.

    2. Lying to themselves. They feel guilty about denying their own dreams or maybe even HAVING those dreams and passing it off as random circumstances aligning to your benefit alleviates that.

    3. Personal pride. I suspect probably most of your peeps chalking it up are trying to express the sentiment “I am envious of you,” which is neither ignorant nor unrecognizant of your achievements and (opportunity) costs. Their own pride is preventing them from saying that outright.

    It sure aint luck!


    1. Honestly, I attribute it to small talk most of the time- it’s people who just want to make conversation so they say the first thing that comes to mind. The other thing that I hear a lot- far too much – is “what a great opportunity this is for you!” I can’t begin to tell you how many people said that one.

      Almost as many as the people who said they were going to visit me here.


  4. bunny42

    I consider it good fortune that the opportunity arose for you to go. That’s the so-called luck part. Some of us never had that kind of option in the first place, so we didn’t get to make the decision. You seem unwilling to see it as good fortune. You were in a good place in your life, able to take advantage of the opportunity when it came, and many of us might have been tied down with family obligations, etc. and would have had to turn it down even if it had been offered. In that respect, you were, indeed, lucky, whether you choose to acknowledge the fact or not. There’s no doubt that you wouldn’t have visited 14 countries by now, had this chance not presented itself. I don’t think it belittles the experience one bit to think you fortunate to have been given such a choice. Seeing your pictures and sharing vicariously your experience makes me envious of something I’ll never have the means to do myself (barring a fortuitous Quick Pick at Publix). So I consider you fortunate that your life took this turn.


  5. People always tell me I’m “lucky” to live in Germany, which I find odd. I live in Germany because I studied the language, spent a year abroad here and chose to come back. To get back, I had to apply for a job (actually, a British Council assistantship). I suppose you could say I was lucky to be given the job, but without applying I never would have got it.

    The travelling thing I’m not so sure about. I do consider myself lucky that I have a job that gives me enough holiday days to have time to travel and pays me well enough that I can afford it (although if I earned less I could always save up). In that sense, I am lucky that I’m in a position to be ABLE to travel. But the fact that I actually DO travel is down to me making the effort to go places, not luck. However, most of the people that say I’m “lucky” to have been to so many places could quite easily travel themselves if they would just sit down and plan it.


  6. I agree, and this applies to everything. As you know, I’m not a traveler, but people always say that I was lucky to find Dave, that he’s lucky to have made it as an artist full time, that I was lucky to find a footing in freelancing. Luck, huh. No one thinks of the sacrifices– and there are sacrifices to any choice. “If you really wanted to, you would.” is a mantra of mine, really. People always tell me that “when they win the lottery”, they’ll do this or that– and the truth is, they won’t. Because if they really wanted to, they’d find a way, just like everyone else– because that type of luck is an illusion. 🙂 In other words… great post, I agree! And I have a great deal of respect for the enjoyment you’ve found in your life despite the sacrifices.


  7. I’m definitely glad I figured out at the age of 24 that if I want to go somewhere, just to make it happen and not wait for the perfect travel buddies. If you have them, great, but my solo trips have been some of my favorites! Great post!


  8. The other one I hate is: “I wish I had the money, like you.” I can’t wait to see your post on that. I was 25, divorced, and broke by the time I realized, the perfect travel partner, money and time didn’t exist. So I just went on my own. You just have to really want it. Cut out the lattes people and pack your bags!


  9. Pingback: Thoughts on Travel | Ami in Franken

  10. Great post Steven. I often get these weird comments from people back home. I don’t post about them, even though I have full posts written. I think it is one of those things that travelers and expats understand, but our families and friends, who chose to stay in one place, just don’t get.

    When I talk about a weekend in Florence I sound arrogant. When I say I would never put my kid in American public school…arrogant. When I tell people I never wait to see a doctor…communist.

    Thanks for not playing it safe on this one.


  11. All great points. I hate when people tell me I’m lucky. I’m like I work at a pub and live paycheck to paycheck and every penny I stash goes to trips, which are sometimes painful financially, but always totally worth it. If you want to do it, you totally will.


  12. I have mixed feelings on this because I think there are several aspects involved in making travel happen, and luck is one of them. We are currently living in Cologne on our 2nd international secondment (the first was to Brussels). Luck did definitely have a part to play in these things coming to pass — mostly because we are a two-working-parent family and it is not always easy for two working adults pursuing a career trajectory to both find good positions with appropriate levels of responsibility. Of course you have to do a cost-benefit analysis and determine whether the secondment possibility means more to you than staying put in your safe position, but good fortune also plays a part in timing, business case for your transfer, etc.

    Another factor is the finite-ness of one’s secondment. There is a difference between being seconded somewhere for a 2-4 year term and living indefinitely somewhere. When you know your time is limited, if you like travel you definitely make the most of it. If you live somewhere permanently, you build more of a life around other things as well, which tends to lessen travel — how many Americans, after all, have seen most of their own country?


  13. Mikie

    Great post! Sometimes luck is the ability to take advantage of opportunity…even if it means the sacrifice of something else. Also, about priorities. Also loved the comment about people who said they would visit! We often get that one, but very few follow through!


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