Regularly when people learn I'm a traveller they'll tell me about the 'Once in a Life Time' trip they're planning. Many haven't progressed much beyond a:
“one day I'd like to travel through [locale]”
Whereas others wax lyrical in detail about their life dream.
Almost to a one my response is “Don't plan a 'once in a life time trip'“
No I'm not against travel. Far from it. Just against planning a 'once in a life time' anything.
You have just one infinitessimal life, and live it on just one awesome planet suspended in infinity. 197 countries, thousands of peoples, foods, and experiences.
When you meet your maker, She is not going to ask you whether you stuck to the speed limit (you didn't), or avoided lying (again…).
He's going to exclaim: “I gave you so much! So much you didn't bother to enjoy! Why did you neglect nearly everything I gave you?”
Surely then if I should encourage your desire to travel why am I so against the 'once in a lifetime trip?.'
1. Planet Misalignment
I used to instruct scuba at Aliwal Shoal in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Now Aliwal is a great reef! When conditions are good, they're spectacular! My best dive ever (yet) was here. Unfortunately spectacular is less than 10% of the time. Mostly conditions are ok, and very occasionally they're abysmal.
As you'd expect there are regular local divers, annual visitors, and 'once in a lifetime' tourists that visit the shoal. When even the 'annual' divers' trips coincided with 'ok' conditions they were disappointed. And if there for just 3 short days, with the wind pumping and swell running, they were devastated. In short to experience the 60m viz, dolphins, turtles, rays, morays, shark, butterflies, angels, clams & corals in a single dive, you have to dive regularly, or be very, very lucky.
The chances of your trip coinciding with bad weather, poor health, or socio-economic challenges is, well pretty darn high. It's rare for the planets to align, and you simply cannot pick it.
You become the person who's invested their life savings to catch a total eclipse at the Pyramids, on a cloudy day.
2. Changing Maturity
You aren't the person you used to be. At any age in your life, 10 years perviously you were a totally different person. Your tastes, relationships, income, health, strength, intelligence all change. What you dream for the 'bucket list' today is simply different to what you'll enjoy in a decade.
That's if you can even prosecute your plans. Chances are you're not going to make it to Everest Base Camp in your 60's or 70's.
3. Done Myth
You hear it all the time. “I've done the Caribbean,” as if the cruise ship docking in Antigua for a day is 'doing' a country. Let me say it here and now, you cannot 'do' a country, or a city.
For one thing, space is immutably tied to time. You may have been there, visited, lived for a while even. But even your boring suburban street will be different this winter, let alone next year. Seasons change; buildings are built, repurposed and destroyed; businesses come and go; entire people groups change.
To really experience a place, you need to live it. Through time. Not once as a spectator.
4. Pretty Common
What's sold as 'once in a lifetime' is usually nothing of the sort really. A bus tour through Europe is a commodity. Trip to Disneyland? Locals get an annual pass. There are very few experiences that you can't repeat.
In my experience, those that are, are mostly tied to relationships, such as taking off from a strawberry field in a Cessna 140 with my late father; or experiences you can't buy, like presenting on the stage of the Ministry of Science at in Warsaw at a worldwide competition. You can almost never plan them.
5. Practical Priorities
Mostly I'm against planning the 'once in a lifetime' trip because it's cowardice. It let's you off the hook from the tough choices.
The deferred action allows you to prioritise everything else first, because your travel will be 'once in a lifetime.' Your job, house move, children's education, next car, promotion, everything becomes another “priority” that stops you from getting out of your 'safe' harbour.
We Have Just The One
Soon the nations of Kiribati and the Maldives will sink into the sea. China will look more like the US than the US. The rain forests of the Amazon, and glaciers of the Antarctic will have lost their majestic vastness.
One day you'll wake up too old, too infirm, or simply too disinterested to actually live that dream. Even if you did save the money to fund the trip.
Your children won't have experienced the wonder of our planet except through a screen.
You'll miss all of those opportunities to eat exotic foods, love new friends, and expand your spirit.
Which will be a shame.