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

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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  1. I agree with the sentiment here. I think it’s good to be mindful of how amazing it is to do the things you’ve dreamed of doing… but I think it’s also sad to either a) build up an experience so much that you feel let down – because it will be amazing either way or b) feel like nothing can ever compare or c) be continually chasing that high. Travel for what you enjoy, what you love, and what makes sense for you… the rest is just icing on the cake. I definitely have those moments where I’m like OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M HERE! And they are what I go back to on the days when I feel like I can’t escape anything else, lol.

  2. Definitely agree about it encouraging superficial travel and the “I must instagram myself in the Blue Lagoon” mentality. My favorite moments are usually spontaneous and/or accidental finds rather than the “must sees.” I think social media has created an almost competitive travel environment, which totally misses the point of travel in the first place. That being said, travel is often very expensive and there are definitely a few trips that I know are once in a lifetime for me due to time and cost unless Daddy Warbucks shows up and adopts me. I wish that wasn’t true!

    1. LOL I am so familiar with the “must instagram myself in the blue lagoon” mentality. I actually was kinda sad about going there by myself and I didn’t want to get my phone wet so I didn’t have any photos of me there… but then I realized I actually remembered and loved that experience that much more because I was truly “in it.”
      Yeah and I totally agree that travel can be a huge expense. There are definitely some experiences that it is not feasible to repeat every year!! But I think it comes down to priorities as well and what you do decide to spend your money on. I’m definitely down to a Daddy Warbucks adoption so lmk if that works out for you 😛

  3. What a great perspective, I love this post!

    “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.”

    I feel like I used to be so afraid of missing out on things that I wouldn’t want to cook breakfast in my airbnb – I would want to go out. This leads me to wanting to find the BEST place to get coffee and breakfast whereever I am traveling which is stressful and dumb. But on my last trip to the Big Island with Nick, we totally scaled down, cooking healthier meals at home so we didn’t gain weight and spend a lot of money, making coffee in our hotel rooms, and just taking our time and relaxing. It’s a whole different mentality.

    Also, the idea of a once in a lifetime opportunity, I think, perpetuates the ieda that you should keep visiting new places. Nick and I are planning to go back to New Zealand because we loved it so much, instead of going somewhere new!

    1. Ahhh that’s so exciting!! I’ve never been to New Zealand, but from all the photos and what everyone says, I’m not surprised you loved it that much to visit again. When are you going?

      Also I can so so so relate to that totally pointless and ridiculous stress you put on yourself to find the best restaurants and coffee when you travel. For me it’s finding the best gluten free restaurants. I think some of that stress is actually due to writing a blog (and I could talk for a long time about how blogging has changed the way I travel – both bad and good!). But in the end, it’s the small and usually unplanned things that are the most meaningful and truly the “best” 🙂

  4. Excellent, I couldn’t agree more, especially the bit about superficial, and the way travel seems to be a race to go one better these days. I love our favourite memories, they’ll last a lifetime – and none were expected or ‘planned’!

  5. You make a very good point – love your unique perspective on this month’s topic. 😀 I really hope you get to swim with multiple manatees many more times!

  6. Well said. My travels are not as exotic or adventurous as the average travel blogger, but I still feel entirely like each trip’s experiences could never be repeated.

  7. This is exactly how I felt about the topic of “once in a lifetime” – so glad its not just me (and wish I had put it as eloquently as you)! #thetravellinkup

  8. I really like your take on this! And I also don’t like the ‘Once is a lifetime’ mentality. I mean, it kinds sounds like you feel like you may walk under a bus tomorrow, and greater chances are… that we’ll live until we’re 85 yo and we’ll have loads of fun on the way!

  9. I really like your view on this. It is so true. I’ve often said a few experiences were once in a lifetime but then I made them happen more than once! It think you have to have a balance, make the most of every opportunity and make things happen for yourself while being realistic and grateful and appreciative of your ability to do them. And yes, need to appreciate/be grateful for every one of life’s moments. #wanderfulwednesday

  10. So true! I’d love to think that I’ll get to repeat some of my favourite travel experiences again, or atleast something similar! I also think our interests in certain places and activities change so much due to age, experience and what we read about, so what we dream will be a “Once in a lifetime” experience, will change over time.

  11. This was such an interesting post to read because I know we’re all guilty of it, but I’m a firm believer in revisiting a place multiple times in order to truly get a good understanding of a place! And I love so many places that I know I’ll go back! #WanderfulWednesday

  12. I agree with several things you say in here but I guess the term can be interpreted in different ways (or at least the concept). I do not use that terminology and I will not start using it soon. I approach travel from a gratitude standpoint. I am grateful for the opportunity I have to travel to different places (even though I have to work hard to earn my money and have limited time). When I am in a place, I try to experience the most of it since I have no idea of when I am going to return. I do not think this is negative thinking. I wish I can return and will put on some work if I really like the place but we do not know what tomorrow holds. So, I do not think we should perpetuate a travel cliche nor think we will always have life, health and resources to do what we want.

    1. I think that’s a great standpoint to work from – So many people don’t realize how lucky they are even to just be born into a country that gives you a passport with access to lots of countries. In Iraq, the passport only gives access to two countries without a visa! And there are STILL amazing travel bloggers from there showing it is possible. I agree that balance is the key to the “once in a lifetime” concept.

  13. Very interesting perspective! I have to say I agree and disagree. To me the ‘once in a lifetime’ and I’ve only had one of those trips before, mostly means that it was an amazing trip where I don’t think I’ll go back to, so I took that opportunity and made the best of it. Which is definitely a bit sad but also I dream of seeing so many countries I don’t want to restrict myself to going back somewhere. If it was an amazing unique experience then I hope I keep that memory forever like that 🙂 that sad, I definitely agree with the slightly unhealthy mentality that surrounds that idea!

    1. Thanks for reading Camila. I am just playing devil’s advocate here in this post, so I definitely see where you are coming from. I always like to dream I’ll try things again, but I know that in reality I won’t actually revisit every place I love again!

  14. I absolutely agree!! A lot of people visiting the Arctic consider it as a once in a lifetime thing and are only happy when they see the Northern Lights, go dog-sledding – you name it – even though there’s loads of other stuff to enjoy there! I feel like people are so hung up on these experiences that they totally forget about the beautiful landscapes that surround them!

    1. Yeah exactly! I heard recently that Australia’s tourism board is trying to change their reputation from “once in a lifetime” to a place you’d visit multiple times, kind of like the way people think of America. The Arctic is really similar – I’m sure it bothers people living there because tourists aren’t getting to see the truly great “small” things, but rather so focused on “achieving” certain experiences!

  15. I totally understand what you mean! I don’t think I use this term very often at all, although I think a lot of people do because of the mentality that you really never know when your life will be up. I’m a firm believer in counting experiences not countries, and that you should enjoy every single moment of your life not just those that are picture worthy, right? This really is a great discussion to have!

    1. Exactly – I try to count experiences too. Although I did recently count up my countries which was kinda fun but not something that’s going to drive my travel decisions in the future! I think it’s an interesting discussion and not everyone shares the same opinion!

  16. I really love this post – your writing is so on point Sarah! So important both to acknowledge how privileged we are to travel – but not to make it feel unattainable or like you have to be enjoying those types of experiences over others. I’m definitely guilty of the I MUST EAT/DRINK ALL THE THINGS mentality… but that’s because it’s what I love about travelling, not because I imagine I’ll only eat Italian pasta once! 😉

  17. God I love this post. Your words are always spot on for me and hit so close to home. Recently I caught myself getting caught up in all this superficial travel, and doing it for the “perfect photo” or going places just because others had said they were ‘once in a lifetime” But I so agree that travel is so much more than all those photos we find on Instagram or top 10 must sees- it’s about those little moments that we don’t show. The things we learn and the people we share them with. Beautiful post Sarah! Hopefully all those special moments won’t be once in a life time after all!

    1. Thanks so much Lauren – that means so so much to me! I think in blogging and instagram communities, we will always struggle with that balance of traveling “for” the photos versus letting them happen naturally. I know I’m still working on the balance myself!

  18. Such an interesting perspective Sarah! I think that maybe the phrase started out positively, ie being grateful for opportunities that arise whilst travelling, encouraging people to do something they might not have done at home, a kind of a carpe diem type situation. However I do think that, as with many things, social media has led to a kind of tick-list approach to travel that I despise. Must visit these places, get these photos, do these experiences. As you say, it suddenly turns superficial and unhealthy. I think we’ll see a move towards more slow travel, for those burnt out by Instagram travel. Just my opinion!

    1. I agree with you on this. It sometimes seems like people are just checking off a list of how many countries they’ve been to. And while I’m sure they’ve had some great experiences, it does make me wonder if they’re always having quality visits or if they’re just worried about being the instagrammer/blogger/cool-person-in-the-office with the most countries. But you could apply this to everyday life, too. Are we just worried about checking off life accomplishments or are we really present day to day? Anyway, it just makes me want to live more thoughtfully for myself and try to appreciate life in the moment. I do like the idea of slow travel! And slow living…

  19. There’s also Fat Girls Hiking and Fat Girls Traveling. I think that I really subconsciously thought that I couldn’t be ‘a hiker’ or ‘a blogger’ because I’m fat. I am working away from that mentality. I wish we had more representation of fat women in society in general, but these groups are a great help. I’ll hopefully be taking more pictures of myself in all my fat glory on the trail and little trips this year. https://fatgirlshiking.com/ & https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/fat-girls-traveling_us_59a02605e4b05710aa5bbcd6

  20. I’ve been thinking about this “once in a lifetime” or “bucket list” mentality a lot lately, too (especially because I just had a baby and traveling has taken a backseat, ha!). Life is just not defined by these spectacular moments–the little moments will often take up such a huge part of your memory, too. Also, now that I’m a mother and married, I want to take my family to do/see all the cool things I got to do!!
    That being said, I always want to be so grateful for the privilege I have that has allowed me to travel, so I also don’t want to take advantage of the travel I’m able to do, if that makes sense. One thing that has really helped me travel slowly, though, is advice I read in a guidebook once: “Travel as if you will be back, because you can never see everything, and you will ruin your trip trying.”

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