Why Travelers Need to Quit the ‘Once in a Lifetime’ Mentality

on February 1, 2018

I have had a lot of ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experiences – and for that I am grateful. But more and more, the phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ and the ‘once in a lifetime’ mentality have been bothering me. Especially in how it relates to travelers. So I’ve decided that I’m swearing off the phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ – and I think you should too.

I think that us traveling-types are quick to the buzz-phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ to describe any kind of unique or exotic travel experience. I am definitely guilty of it, myself. When I found out that this month’s travel linkup topic was ‘once in a lifetime’ – well my own ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences started spinning through my head. Which would I choose to write about? I’ve been blessed with so many…

Swimming with wild manatees in Florida…

my lifelong dream came true and all I could think was what a once in a lifetime experience it was.

Read: How to Sustainably Swim with Manatees in Florida


Riding camels into the Sahara desert and sleeping beneath the milky way…

Staring at the stars I could tell that was a once in a lifetime experience.

Read: 9 Secrets of Marrakech // A Night in the Sahara Desert


Hiking the fjords in Norway and marveling at the blue expanse…

I held my breath and took it all in, thinking what a once in a lifetime experience it was…

Read: Hiking Pulpit Rock, Norway


Ziplining across the Julian Alps in Slovenia,

dangling from a thin zip wire hundreds of meters above the forest… hoping that I would survive so I could even call this a once in a lifetime experience!

Read: I Got Pushed Off a Mountain in Slovenia


Experiencing Vienna through the lens of a vintage Polaroid camera…

The most unique tour of my life definitely felt like a once in a lifetime experience.

Read: Our Vienna Polaroid Tour


Why We Should Stop Using Once in a Lifetime to Describe Travel

But are all these unique, amazing experiences truly ‘once in a lifetime’? Of course, that remains to be seen (helloooo rest of my life). But here’s why I’m swearing off ‘once in a lifetime,’ and think you should too.

It perpetuates the travel-is-impossible myth.

Although the travel industry has really boomed in recent years, especially with younger generations, there is definitely still a pervasive myth that travel is impossible. That it’s impossible for the “average person” to travel. Calling certain travel experiences ‘once in a lifetime’ just perpetuates this myth, like, maybe you got here once but good luck doing it again.

Now, I have to say that there is definitely still a lot of privilege associated with travel – some of it that is so unfair and predestined, like the passport you are born into. But there are LOTS of people out there challenging this privilege and proving through hard work and dedication that travel is for everybody. Those ‘once in a lifetime experiences’? They’re for everybody, and if you love them that much, they’re for everybody to have twice. 

Take the amazing blogs of travelers with full time jobs. Or travel bloggers with eating restrictions, disabilities, and chronic conditions. People saving their pennies to travel. And the amazing women of color showing that travel isn’t restricted just to white girls on instagram with floppy hats.

my amazing friend Vaish has an Indian passport, which meant that when we traveled to Spain together she had to have the plans sorted months in advance and pay for a visa, whereas I didn’t have to do any of that, JUST because I was born in the USA. But Vaish has lived in 3 countries and seen the world and is truly a world traveler and inspiration to me <3

It’s plain unhealthy.

There is a whoooooole mentality behind ‘once in a lifetime.’ It goes like this: Being in Italy is a once in a lifetime opportunity – I can’t waste it!! I’ve gotta eat ALL the pasta and drink ALL the wine!!

Now imagine you are a long term traveler. Eating ALL the cultural parallels of wine and pasta in every country you visit. Partying til all hours – because you’re only there once in a lifetime right? Whatever your personal vice is, you probably go with it when you’re traveling, because it’s a once in a lifetime experience…

This is definitely an issue I ran into during my longterm traveling – maybe it’s lack of self control, but I got so carried away with eating the delicacies of every new country, seeing every sight I could, that it began to seriously affect my health. (One reason I am adding a new niche of wellness to this blog… details here).

I don’t even want to know how much wine I drank in Slovenia.

It’s defeatist.

Saying an experience is ‘once in a lifetime’ is kinda… sad. For example, swimming with manatees was one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. I truly dreamed of this since I was a child writing letters to the governor of Florida demanding he put manatees back on the endangered species list (yup, I was a cool kid). For me, this was the epitome of a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience – but who says I can’t do it again? 

I truly hope that swimming with manatees wasn’t a once in a lifetime experience. I hope I can show the magic to Dan, or maybe years from now share it with my children.

We won’t get opportunities to do every travel experience we love all over again (and this is a good thing!) – but the ones we truly love? Who says you can’t do it again?

these lil babies are calling me back

It encourages superficial travel.

If you plan your travel around the ‘once in a lifetime experiences’ you see on Instagram or online… you will find yourself chasing a superficial goal. Some of my most meaningful travel experiences haven’t been the wonders-of-the-world sites or massive nights out. They’ve been cooking breakfast in an Airbnb in Vienna with Dan. Wandering the streets of Sienna with my parents. Watching Dear John in the Catalan mountains with my international student friends.

Ultimately… every moment is a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. Sometimes the best and sweetest of these moments are the ones we don’t plan. They’re not the ones you look back on and describe in your travel blog as a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience, but they are the ones that stick with you for a lifetime.

it’s often the simplest moments, like this sunday stroll with Dan down the river Exe, that are the sweetest.

Now… I don’t want to be too much of a grouch, as I am playing devil’s advocate here. But I will say that quitting the ‘once in a lifetime’ travel mentality is encouraging me to appreciate that every moment is once in a lifetime. I’m enjoying the little things more, and I’m hoping that when I travel in the future it will help keep me healthy.

But it’s up for debate! What’s your opinion on the ‘once in a lifetime’ travel mentality?

I’d love to know in the comments below… or share your own post with this month’s travel linkup. You can join through the linkup widget on the blogs of Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi, Angie from SilverSpoon London, Polly from Follow Your Sunshine or guest host Tanja at The Red Phone Box Travels.

Sarah xx

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Do you travel to have once in a lifetime experiences? SO many people do - but here's why travelers need to quit the once in a lifetime mentality. Read on for the top four reasons a once in a lifetime mentality is hurting your travel experience!

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