5 Reasons Not To Plan Your “Once In a Lifetime” Trip

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.

Just One

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?”

Why Not?

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.


“By Any Means” Sydney to Vancouver

Project 2012: Day 253

Finally all the packing that can be done is done, and the journeys starts. Today is very much like Charlie Boorman's “By Any Means” series. Tonight's destination is Port Angeles. Some fair way from Sydney.

Leg One: West Pennant Hills > Sydney International – 1998 Honda Civic

My daughter Em gave me a lift to the airport in her little Civic. Besides the “hey, slow down in the tunnels for the 24 hour cameras” we made awesome time. On a spectacular spring morning. Blue skies and sunshine on the Opera House over the Harbour Bridge.

Although my time saving tip to get a well placed park kind've fell apart. Here's how it's meant to work:

Instead of following the signs to Arrivals, then driving round to the undercovered car park, then heading up two floors; you head around to Departures.

Just opposite the Qantas entrance is a bridge to the covered car park, marked “Valet parking.” Turn right over the bridge, past the actual Valet parking spot, and through the boom get next to the motorcycle parking (which is how I discovered this) Now you're on the right floor, next to the walkway to the terminal, and generally pick up a park very quickly as there's always people leaving.

The problem this morning was every man, woman, and child, and their dog, was in a taxi trying to get into the terminal at departures. Still we made it in, and managed to park without having the altercation with the bogan. He was waiting for one park then changed his mind at the last second, when another opened up first, except we were at the other one already.

Leg Two: Sydney > Vancouver – 2007 Air Canada Boeing 777

Seriously, is everyone in Canada really this friendly? I mean usually the crew direct you to your seats, because of course no intelligent adult could possibly get to their labelled seat in a hollow aluminium tube? Your seat is either on the left, in the middle, or on the right. But there's always someone looking at your boarding pass who just can't help themselves. “Oh your seat sir is number 22C and it's down that way, on your right.” No shit, Sherlock.

Still, redundant directions aside, the staff were gushing, and nothing was too much trouble. “Can I hang that 7kg leather motorbike jacket up for you sir, even though I don't have the strength to hold it? Of course I can.”

Usually people are friendly, and generally patient. We all know that the quickest way to get the aircraft into the air, is to let others do their thing without trying to push past. But often this “patience” exhibits with a sense of duress. “I'll just wait while you get yourself sorted out, but I'm clearly waiting for you with my 17 bags hanging around my person.” Not this flight. Here people happily put down their bags, and helped others. Then were helped in return. Seriously passengers who didn't know each other headed up and down the plane, carrying bags, packing the overhead bins. It's like another world.

Finally, an airline with thinking, adult crew. No rush. No militant “Switch off your phone, disconnect from the world, and watch me while I bore you with the ridiculous notion of a light and a whistle.” Don't get me wrong, the safety checks were done, the briefing given, but the crew had an air of calm efficiency, and friendliness. Phones were off well before take-off, but I guess they figured the pilots could get us to the runway without their GPS being affected by my phone as the door closed.

The down side of friendliness is over communication. You settle in. Decide between “MIB 3” or a 3rd viewing of “The Avengers” and start the movie. First announcement, no problem. Second, ok I get some people like to know what height and speed we're travelling at. Third, seriously you couldn't give us the briefing about customs before we land? Fourth, this is ridiculous; even if we don't know, we'll figure out we have to clear customs in Vancouver when we're there. Fifth, far out(!!) we really don't need to hear the two choices of meal again. Sixth, CAN I JUST WATCH MY BLOODY MOVIE IN PEACE PLEASE!!! (I knew I should've watched something on the iPad)

Oh, and every announcement is repeated in French. That's right folks, 12 interruptions in about 25 minutes, and that before the meal service. I could've sworn the skipper introduced his co-pilot at Ernest Hemingway in the French. Better ease into this Canadian laizze fare with some Scotch & Canadian Dry.

Nice staff, great plane. 10″ wide screens with on-demand everything. USB charging in every seat + 110V International plug sockets. Just 3 buttons on the armrests – Call, Stop Call, and Light. Everything else is on the touch screen. Brilliant.

Another breakthrough. The 1st airline I've flown with a simple stereo audio socket. A single one. No need for the airline airport tax of $12 for the “twin mono to stereo adapter” that you always forget at home. They also recognise most people have their own headphones, so they don't give you a set unless you ask. Brilliant.

I could swear the seats have more legroom than I'm used to. Maybe I'm dreamin'.

Apart from that. Uneventful flight.