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. I totally agree with you! It is easy to forget the privileges we inherently have, that we may not even be aware of… great post.

    Excellent food for thought, thank you.

    I think it’s still ok to be annoyed with the “lucky” comments because they most often (at least in my case) come from people with the same privilege. For example, a very dear friend of mine decided to become a single mother and struggled financially for years. She tells me how lucky I am to travel so much. I believe our life choices dictate our differences more than luck. Same goes for other friends who value weekly manicures or fancy dinners.

    Absolutely, compared to someone from a 3rd world or non-democratic country, or someone with darker skin, less educational opportunities, we are all lucky. But if you look like me and grew up like me, don’t call me lucky for the choices I’ve made!

      I can certainly appreciate that point of view, too, Leigh. When it comes to people from a similar level of privilege, then it often DOES come down to the choices we make and what we choose to prioritize in our lives.

    I’ve seen this nonsense more times than I can count. From the Finnish grandmother who spoke no English at JFK where I finally stepped in offered to translate (fortunately she spoke Swedish) to the time at the Estonian border where the guy gave my Canadian passport a wave and a smile without even looking but gave my Russian travel companion 20 minutes of hassle before I finally walked back and said “she’s with me”. And there’s the time the border person at LAX seemed to think that because I *lived* in Sweden I needed a visa to travel to the USA on my Canadian passport. And the time the stupid border guard in Ottawa decided to ask 20 questions about why I (living in the USA) was coming to Canada and finally shut up when I turned my passport over in front of her, spelled “Canada” for her and asked why she had a problem with me visiting my own country.

    Border guards power trip. Nominally they are trying to keep out the riff-raff but really it’s just a game in the middle of a boring job.

    As for privilege – I’m long over caring about it. I didn’t choose to be born a white male from Canada and I’m not going to get too traumatized that that has and does open doors perhaps closed to other people. That goes along with being slightly more at risk when traveling because I also carry an American passport. I hear terrorists are not fond of Americans.

    Life is what it is. We can’t change much about the world around us, but we can go with the flow and wallow in what *is* available to us.

      We can’t change much about what we’re handed, no. But we certainly can pause for a few seconds every now and then to acknowledge and be thankful for it!

    Thanks for this honest post! It’s very important from time to time to realize this truth that besides all the hard work and determination, we are also lucky to be able to travel. For us growing up in a post communist country the most obvious example to realize this is to think back to our grandparents’ life: they were not allowed to travel outside of the Soviet Union, period. This big beautiful world is so foreign and scary for them which is hard to understand for us, and we can be so grateful that our generation has tons of opportunity to travel/study/work abroad!

      Definitely!! Our generation certainly has a lot more opportunities than those just a couple before us!

    Thank you for sharing this Amanda. Being from Australia I’m so very aware that travelling to places like Europe or the US makes me very lucky indeed. It’s such a long way away so even being able to afford flights makes me very fortunate. I’ve heard arguments all the time about how I’m not “lucky” because I work hard for that money to pay for those flights. But what people need to remember is that employment isn’t guaranteed. I’m SO lucky I have a well paying job, in my industry of choice at my age. I’m lucky I have the health to be able to travel (I don’t always, so when I do I realise how I take it for granted). Being white, Australian and english speaking puts me in a very lucky group indeed. Thanks for the reminder.

      YES! Everything you said is true – yes you work hard for your money, but it’s luck that put you in the circumstances that let you earn all that money!

    Thank you for this. Well worded and honest, and thank you also for the links to other similar posts. It’s something I’ve struggled with, especially now as I’m in university and saved money while I was working to take trips each month; but the new people I have met in university always wonder at my being able to do so, and I always feel forced to explain that I travel cheaply and that I earmarked money for my trips.

    I can’t even imagine what that woman must’ve felt. I’ve only gone through US customs once, but I too have white skin and I’m from Sweden and I don’t think the thought of me trying to stay illegally was even a concern.

      I get the “how do you afford to travel so much?” question all. the. time. Sometimes even from immigration officials, which is annoying. But yeah, my bad border experiences are nothing compared to what some people from other countries face!

    Absolutely! I agree with everything you say. I’m living in Mexico. Since I’ve been here, I know how many hours they are working and how much money the usual person makes. You can barely save anything. Cities are full of pawnshops and almost everything can be bought in installments. I’m not talking about cars and similar things here but of normal stuff like cameras (not the expensive ones), even flight tickets within the country are bought in installments. And we are talking about Mexico here, not an African country.
    This made me realize how lucky we really are. We don’t choose where we are born and everyone who is able to travel should be happy to have that privilege.

      Living away from home really can make you realize how lucky you are!

    I had similar feelings after traveling to India last year. To be honest, I felt a bit guilty for being able to travel so freely and easily while so many other people could only ever dream of this privilege. Thanks for the reminder that, at the end of the day, we really have it good.

      Traveler’s guilt is real! I’ve definitely felt it, too, and been very humbled by it.

    Such a well-written post, so happy when I saw this come up on my newsfeed! I love that this topic is coming up more and more, and that travel bloggers and people in the travel industry are beginning to change the way that they talk about themselves and how they travel. Also, thanks for the shout-out 🙂

      I’m glad that the topic is coming up more, too! In the end, it just makes us all more well-rounded – and more aware of the world around us!

    Great post, Amanda. I know of other travel bloggers who get so offended by the “lucky” remark, but they’re missing the bigger picture that you’ve outlined here.

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – but yes, sometimes people fail to look at that bigger picture.

    Beautifully written! I thought about it recently when I was watching a war movie, actually. How privileged we are to have been born were we have been born. It makes me sad to think the place you’ve been born in dictates the life you’ll have (apart from a lucky few). I wish people would start realizing this and start treating people better!

      I so agree! In most cases, people don’t get to choose the circumstances that they’re born into. We really need to remember that when we jump to conclusions about others!

    I’m Canadian and even I have had difficulties getting back into Canada from Buffalo. I would have been so bothered as well if I had overheard the conversation you mentioned at the beginning of the post.
    It is so sad how people can treat others.

      Yes, sometimes people definitely make me sad. 🙁 It does make me feel slightly better than others have trouble at the Canadian border too, though!

    Often times we Americans do not realize how great we have things. I have gotten in and out of countries easily and watched as other people with different nationalities and passports struggled at the gate. We must remember – no matter where we travel or how long we are gone – that we are very blessed. This post is a great reminder of this!

      Thanks, Kati! I definitely agree!

    I’m with you Amanda, traveling is not as easy for everyone. And sometimes certain blogs come across as it just being super easy. I’ve been blessed to go on some amazing trips in the past to Australia, China, across Canada on the train and the UK. However those trips took a lot of advance planning and saving. I did have a bit of help from my Grandma for my UK trip and my church payed for half my China trip (I was volunteer at a orphanage there that my church supports). When I took my Australia trip at 19 years old I had spent a whole year working at subway to save up $10000. Travel blogger can make the travel look easy and breezy but the photos and stories are only a snippet of the whole journey.

      Yes, and that’s one of the reasons why I think it’s important to stop every once in a while and acknowledge that it’s NOT always as easy as most bloggers make it out to be!

    Absolutely spot on! People don’t understand how much effort goes into making travel writing a success (including several other jobs on the side to buy things like food), but it’s so true that just coming from a country in which it’s even an option makes me feel so lucky everyday to be working hard and seeing the world.

      Absolutely! I have no doubt that my desire to travel would be strong even had I been born somewhere else, but I have a feeling my life would have taken a very different path if I wasn’t in the US.

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