Why I Won’t Get Mad If You Call Me Lucky

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It happened a couple months ago, as I was entering back into the U.S. through immigration at Newark airport. I was standing in line waiting for my turn to get stamped in when I caught a snippet of the conversation happening two immigration lines away from me.

An older African woman was going through immigration after her daughter. She handed over her passport and other documentation to the young immigration officer sitting in his cubicle, and answered his question about how long she was staying in the U.S.

“Six weeks,” she said.

“Six months?” the officer (incorrectly) repeated, incredulous. “I don't think so.”

“No, six WEEKS,” the woman corrected him.

The immigration officer then turned to his buddy in the next cubicle and said, “Six months. Maybe a slip of the tongue there?”

He kept going on about it, and then asked his officer friend if he should ask the woman to take off her winter coat.

“Are you pregnant?” he abruptly addressed the woman. And then, to his buddy in the same tone of voice: “God knows we don't need any more of THAT in this country.”

Standing two lines away watching this exchange, I was livid. Not only was this officer putting words into this poor woman's mouth, but he was acting as though she was too stupid to understand anything he was saying.

In that moment, I was embarrassed to be holding an American passport in my hand.


Now, I understand that immigration officials have a job to do. And I'm sure they come across plenty of people who ARE trying to get into the country with less-than-wholesome intentions. But that does not give them the right to treat certain people passing through immigration as less than human.

I'm not saying I've never had an issue crossing a border before (I'm looking at YOU, Canada), but never have I been profiled or degraded because of where my passport is from or the color of my skin.

After getting my own passport stamped that day, I found myself reflecting again and again on that exchange at immigration. I can't begin to fully understand what that woman was feeling at that moment, but I guarantee the feelings weren't positive. It made me seriously examine my own privilege as a traveler.

Amanda in Iceland
Reflecting in Iceland

Every once in a while, someone will say something to you – about your job or your success – that will come across as giving something outside of your control all the credit. Example: When someone says to a photographer “OMG your photos are so amazing – what kind of camera do you use?” As though the equipment is 100% responsible for those incredible images, and the photographer's talent and skill has nothing to do with it.

In the blogging (and especially travel blogging) community, comments that elicit this sort of response include “And you actually make money doing that?” (which is assumes that blogging isn't a valid career) and “You are SO lucky; I wish I could do that.”

Recently, as I was answering questions for an interview about my blog, this “lucky” comment came up. The interview question was: “It’s easy for someone to think ‘she’s so lucky' because you get to travel the world. Like something was handed to you. How would you respond to that?”

The knee-jerk response to the “lucky” comments is to respond back that you've worked your ass off as a travel blogger to get to where you are – and that most people CAN do what you're doing if they're willing to make sacrifices and put the work in.

But you know what? That's not true.

NOT everyone can travel the world like I do. Certain things HAVE been handed to me. And I AM lucky.

Amanda on Dune 45 in Namibia
Atop a dune in Namibia

As a travel blogger, it's my job to inspire people to want to see the world. I love using my site to share my stories and photos, but, at the end of the day I want my readers to book a trip or start planning a vacation to somewhere that they've read about on my blog. Destinations and travel companies I work with want this, too – it's the reason why many travel bloggers are able to get sponsored (and sometimes even paid) to travel.

But the reality is that not everyone is able to go to all the places I visit. In fact, many people aren't able to go anywhere at all.

Travel is not a right. It's a privilege – and one that I am very lucky to have.

Amanda at Horseshoe Bend in Arizona
At Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

Yes, it's true that I've worked hard over the past six years to turn what was once just a hobby into my career. A lot of my success as a blogger DOES come down to me putting in the blood, sweat, and tears.

But some of it comes down to luck, too.

I was lucky enough to be born in the United States – a place where freedom abounds and where a passport is easy to acquire. I was lucky enough to be born into a solidly middle-class family with two working parents who loved and supported me (both emotionally and financially) growing up. I was lucky enough to go to college (and then graduate school) and get a fantastic education. I was lucky enough to be born into a generation where entrepreneurship and alternative careers/lifestyles have actually been encouraged. And, yes, I was lucky to be born with white skin.

None of these things were in my control; I had no say over where I was born or to whom. All of that comes down to luck.

And it's mostly because of all that luck that I am now able to travel as much as I do.

Amanda at Lake Louise
At Lake Louise in Canada

Sometimes, when I'm looking at my blog as a business and travel as work, it's easy to forget this. It's easy to take for granted the fact that I do for a living what some people only daydream of. People who take zero vacation days a year because they don't have any, or people who work minimum wage jobs and struggle to provide their families with the basic essentials, nevermind vacations. People who live in impoverished countries, or under governments that make travel impossible.

I have struggled and worried about money over the years, but I've always been able to afford shoes on my feet, food in my belly, and a roof over my head. Many people around the world can't say the same.

All those blog posts out there telling you how easy it is to save up money to travel the world? They definitely apply to an audience of similarly lucky and privileged people like me.

If I had been born in a different country, a different socio-economic class, a different decade… my story would likely be very different.

And I don't ever want to forget that.

Rocky Mountain Track
Atop a mountain in New Zealand

I still want to continue to write inspiring, entertaining, and informative stories. I still want to show people how they can explore the world, and I still want to encourage them to do so.

But I also want to take a moment today to acknowledge how lucky I am, and to ask you to take a moment to be thankful for and aware of your own privilege, too.

Because travel IS a privilege. And I won't get mad if you call me lucky.

If you're interested in reading more about the subject of privilege and travel, here are some other posts you should read:

Have YOU ever had a travel experience that reminded you just how lucky you are?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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102 Comments on “Why I Won’t Get Mad If You Call Me Lucky

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  1. This is such a well written, and thought provoking, article. It makes you think seriously about our “white privilege” that is so often denied in our own country by certain factions.

      Thank you, Arnie! “White privilege” is often seen as kind of a dirty phrase, but the fact is that it applies to a lot of us! And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to acknowledge.

    Hi Amanda

    Awesome post. Your observation, thoughts and reflections on the situation are inspiring. I sometimes stupidly like to stick up for people like the older African woman in the above situation. I haven’t got myself in any trouble so far, but I wonder if I would get in trouble if I was there and said something to the customers officers. Their behaviours were disgustingly condescending and racist. I don’t believe that is the way border control should work. These people should be re-trained and re-educated. It’s sad these kind of people are put to work at the front line.
    I am of Asian origin and have been living in Australia for more than 20 years. I sometimes experience people like this first hand in Australia too. But racism is a tough task to crack. Maybe that’s where travel comes in. Travelling helps to open our eyes and minds to truely respect people and cultures.

    I also agree with your about being lucky to have a passport that is accepted in most countries. I used to get annoyed when people said I was so lucky that I was able to travel or buy houses..etc, I always told them I worked so hard to get to where I am! But, now I think maybe there is also luck involved because I am in a country there is no war, there are abundant job opportunities if you are willing to work hard, children get good education etc..so I am lucky I am in an environment that I can strive to be the best I can be.

    Thanks for your post. I enjoy reading all the posts in your blog!


      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Kerry! And yes, racism is such a tough subject. It made me really ashamed that people coming into my country were met with immigration officers like those two, though – they were so awful!

    I flat out hate that word. Luck has nothing to do with it. We all work very long and hard. Most importantly we didn’t “wish upon a star” to have this life. Ahh, feel better for getting that out. Very nice piece. Keep traveling.

      You may work long and hard, but some things you can’t control, like the circumstances you’re born into. I definitely have had to work a lot less to travel the world than people born in other countries who probably would love to travel, too, but simply can’t for a variety of reasons.

    I do still get annoyed by the “you’re so lucky” comment, but I agree that I am lucky for being born in the right country, one that provides me an amazing freedom of movement!

      Yup! There’s no arguing that that comes down to sheer luck!

    Awesome post! I was travelling around Europe last year and did a day trip to Gibraltar. I have an Australian passport and I sailed through the check point. However two of the guys in my group had passports from a Middle Eastern Country and after being given a very embarrassing grilling they were told, sorry you can’t enter. They had to wait until we had finished and returned. It was pretty eye opening and I also thought to myself wow, I am really lucky.

      Ugh, how terrible! I can’t even fathom something like that happening – I am definitely so lucky to have a passport that’s accepted almost anywhere.

    Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I was talking to someone about travel the other day and he asked how I “get to” travel so much. At first I was annoyed, like I don’t “get to” I decided to and I’m doing it, like anyone who does anything. But it’s true, my circumstances are similar to yours so that privilege, combined with determination is how I get to travel so much. I do try not to take it granted.

      It’s tough sometimes to balance acknowledging privilege and taking credit for making opportunities for yourself (and then taking them). Both definitely are important factors in my own lifestyle!

    There is the hand we are dealt and then there is how we play it….

    Stay inspiring, Craig

    Ps – Canada has been a tough place to get in / out for me too… That made me smile.

      That’s so true! But some people’s hands are definitely better than others…

      And yeah, Canada really doesn’t like me!!

        I’m curious about what happened to you at the Canadian border.

        I’ve been lightly hassled once, and of course I also carry a Canadian passport, but I’ve never really heard of anyone being hassled coming into the country as a tourist.

          It’s because once I came in on a press trip, and ever since then they’ve grilled me about what I’m doing in Canada (no doubt suspicious that I’m working there somehow). Once I even had to go through the line for extra immigration screening.

          And on my last trip there (where I arrived by train), the immigration officer was cocky and rude and basically wanted to know how a single woman like myself could possibly be able to afford to have so many stamps in my passport. (He wouldn’t let me leave until I told him that I lived with my boyfriend and his profession.)

    I agree, traveling is something you should do if you’re able to do it! You may not able to go someplace every year, however, you can still feel inspired to explore.

    I had a Croatian border control officer comment “You are an explorer” when he saw my US passport. That made my day! 🙂

      Yes if you’re able to do it, I agree! But unfortunately not everyone is able to do it, and sometimes it’s important to remember that.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Amanda. As much as we want to encourage people to travel, it’s difficult to remember that there are so many people out there who have no resources to do so. It’s not always as easy as giving up your daily Starbucks latte to save for travel.

      Exactly! Many people would love to travel the world, but circumstances don’t always allow it no matter how many inspirational posts we bloggers write.

    This is great Amanda! I also agree with Brenna when she says that it’s important that people in the industry start acknowledging some of their inherent privilege and how it positively impacts their ability to travel! Very thoughtful post and thanks so much for linking to mine! Hope to catch up with you soon and enjoy Africa!

      I mean, I understand that people want to be able to take credit for all the hard work they’ve put into something (be it a blog, a business, whatever), but there is definitely privilege inherent in many cases, and I definitely think it’s important that we acknowledge that! It doesn’t have to be a bad thing – but it’s definitely there.

    I think it’s really important to talk about how much of a privilege travelling really is, so I’m glad that more travel bloggers are doing it! Thanks a lot for linking to my post as well. 🙂

      I think it’s really important, too! I’ve been working on this one for a really long time (since that incident at immigration) and am happy to have finally published it!

    Awesome post! I applaud you for being able to admit that at least part of it is luck. I feel the same way – I work hard and budget as much as possible to be able to travel, but I am also lucky. My blood boiled when I read that exchange between the customs official and the woman. Interestingly, the worst border crossing trouble I ever had happened while driving through to the US once (I live in Canada). It was so frustrating because I was born in the US, but had lived up in Canada with my mom since my parents’ divorce when I was 8. On this particular instance, I was driving by myself through the Buffalo border and the guy asked me “Okay, how do I know you’ll come back?” So I began to list off the reasons – I’m a university student, most of my family is up here, I don’t want to live in the US, etc., and his reply to that was, “Yeah, but how do I KNOW you’ll come back?” This went on for awhile longer until he finally noticed my place of birth on my passport. His mannerisms and mood switched like a light and suddenly he was beyond cheerful and overly friendly, inviting me to “stay as long as I liked”. It’s sobering to experience something like that, and even though it’s been years, it still leaves me feeling bitter when I think about it, and the fact that most people wouldn’t have ended up with as easy a solution as I had. It’s infuriating to know how frequently people from other areas of the world have to deal with it (and obviously to a much higher degree than mine).

      Yes, I know I definitely have it good when it comes to being able to easily enter most countries! I really am lucky to have a US passport.

    Your work is very impressive Amanda.I love hiking and I am thinking about doing something with all the many pictures I have taken for so long.Is a book with pictures sounds like a good idea?What sayest thou your excellency?Thank you and keep the great work.

      I say you can do whatever you want! There are so many great sites out there now that let you make really nice books with your photos.

    Thank you for your honest, touching post. Love the blog and we’re so lucky that you are so lucky! 🙂

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