Never Take Another “Once In A Lifetime” Trip

Filed Under: Travel

My friend Mike has written about his travel experiences on the blog, including:

Mike is back to share why he hates the term “once in a lifetime” when describing trips, after a conversation we had the other day. I agree with him 100%.

As part of an email exchange with Ben the other day, he mentioned “once in a lifetime” tourists while explaining his perspective on whether there is a market for £16 tours of the Concorde. I suspect he is correct, but don’t think I’d ever pay that much to walk through a plane.

I was amused by his choice of words because I have a pet peeve about people describing a trip I’m planning as “once in a lifetime.” I think it is such a depressing idea and it’s one of the reasons I spend so much time collecting, managing and maximizing my miles and points.

I know this has the potential to sound elitist and that’s definitely not my intention. Instead, I hope this is more of a lesson in how having healthy miles and points balances can allow you to enjoy your travel even more.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling travel is transformational. It’s why my wife and I go through the considerable effort of packing up our kids and taking them to new places.

We want them to see how some people are better off. Others are not. Some people do things differently. But, most of the time, people have more in common than you realize once you stop and get to know them.

And it’s not just our kids. Those are the things I want to focus on and experience while traveling. But, the thought of never going back to a place and meeting the people or seeing the sights again would be a huge distraction. I’d feel pressure to fit everything in or document it all and I’d miss being in the moment.

I absolutely loved my first trip to New Zealand many years ago with a few of my friends. When I returned home and told my wife how amazing it was she kicked me in the shins for leaving her at home she knew my enthusiasm meant we’d be going back together.

View from the helicopter. Landing on a barge was unreal.

new zealand3

The simple knowledge that repeat trips are affordable on miles and points also makes it possible to take it easy and prioritize what is really important on your trip.

On our recent trip to South Africa, I tried everything I could to squeeze in a side trip to cage dive with great white sharks. But when it was clear it didn’t fit into our itinerary, I knew we could come back in the future for a trip where that was a priority. The trip worked out better than I could have imagined because I didn’t feel the pressure to jam too much in.




This is even more important with kids in tow. We could have planned more day trips for our recent trip to Ireland. But, one more castle could have been the difference between sweet, happy kids and miserable, exhausted hellions. Leaving something on the to-do list means we can go back and miles and points are the way we can afford it.


irish castle

For longtime readers of this blog, I’m sure none of this is revolutionary. But, for those of you just starting with miles and points, keep in mind you can always go back if you find somewhere you really like. Hopefully that means you can enjoy your trips even more. It has for me.

  1. It’s the reason I love stopovers and even 23 hour layovers. I like a day or two in a new city to get a feel for it and understand how it might best into a future more in-depth trip.

  2. So true – while it’s certainly important to do your research and be informed as to some of the key local attractions and sights in a destination, it’s just as essential to leave some slack in the itinerary and just enjoy what is around you. And you can always go back!

  3. I’ll take a slightly different perspective… even with the resources to travel (money, time, points, whatever), I consider many trips as ‘once in a lifetime.’

    Why? Because there are so many worthwhile places on the planet to visit, I’d usually rather spend my time trying something new than returning to a place I’ve been (no matter how good it was).

  4. Sure, miles and points might make it financially possible, but another, probably more important constraint is time. How many trips can you reasonably take in a year? For the large number of Americans reading this blog, the work culture in the US is pretty awful with respect to taking vacations. If I get 2 week-long vacations a year, I consider that a big win, and that’s even with 20 vacation days. Having vacation days is one thing, but the ability to actually use them is an entirely different thing.

  5. You don’t sound elitist, just incredibly naïve!

    While someone who is effectively paid to travel the world can easily just pop down to the Galapagos again or take a second cruise to Antarctica, most people cannot without making big sacrifices.

    Even though I’m known as the crazy guy always travelling within my friendship group, I can’t envisage sacrificing future trips elsewhere to return to the Galapagos for example (though I was pretty underwhelmed anyway so don’t hugely want to return!). My trip there was therefore “once in a lifetime” and there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with that.

    Once in a lifetime doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your days stuck at home reminiscing. You could easily be out doing other, possibly even more exciting, things.

  6. @Callum – There is nothing wrong with going somewhere once. That certainly wasn’t the message I was trying to convey. Trust me, there are plenty of places where I’ve been completely underwhelmed and I don’t have any plans to return. Also, I can assure you I’m not paid to travel. I have the very real limitation @Bob mentions of wishing I had more vacation days at work. In fact, the necessity of planning in the future (I typically book trips when airline schedules open) almost always means I start the calendar year with nearly all of my vacation days accounted for and very little flexibility when an awesome mistake fare or something else pops up.

    @Alan – I wholeheartedly agree with you about the long list of worthwhile places to visit. Trust me, one of the biggest struggles I have is picking somewhere on my list when I know the trade off is many other places are left untraveled. And I think you hit on something important because for me miles/points make that list infinitely longer. There are plenty of places I could not afford without them. But, if I find a really special place that’s worth going back to and leaving more places untraveled, I can manage it with miles and points as well.

  7. All good comments – the premise is just not realistic for the vast majority of people who work day jobs and get maybe 2-6 weeks vacation per year (depending on residence). While most of us would like to return to our favorite places, there simply is not enough free time to do so. I went to Japan last year, that means Scandinavia, Argentina and South Africa get postponed. I am one of the fortunate few who has taken business trips to 6 continents, and I do my best to maximize any free time because I know that I simply will not have to time to return on vacation anytime soon to most of these places.

    Once in a Lifetime, is, unfortunately, a fact of life.

  8. A fun post, Mike and Ben, and thank you. Different tastes simple happen and there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing!
    When it comes to travel, my partner (nearly 40 years) and I simply have different tastes. When it is travel time, I head for Europe and expand my experiences East and South, while he heads for some part of Asia. We have joined each others’ trips at times, but it is rarely satisfactory for either of us. Neither of us will risk even a tiny fraction of a long. happy relationship over a vacation or travel destination; I cross the pond east, then drive or train to some old and new destinations. He flies west of the Big Pond, makes connections upon connections and I worry endlessly about air carrier safety ‘Over There.’ It works for us.

    Now… If we could transplant the top 50% of excellent Asian food into Eastern and Western Europe, while maintaining all of their own culinary traditions, I’d call it a nearly perfect (touring) world. Otherwise, I just don’t see it. Guest posts are fun and thank you. -CG

  9. My mistake, the “by Lucky” made me think it was him writing this for a second there.

    And I wasn’t only referring to places that underwhelmed you. I’ve been to plenty of stunning places I’ve no desire to return to, and many more that I’d rather not return to as it means I can’t try somewhere new.

    Not that I’m convinced there are many people who (correctly) use the term once in a lifetime and so therefore refuse to return to a place they want to see again despite having the means and opportunity of visiting on that basis!

  10. I would echo the points well made by Alan and Bob, and add another. It often seems to me that a pretty high percentage of the readers of this blog are fairly young (under 40). For those of us with not only fewer years ahead than behind, but also the physical limitations that all too frequently accompany that condition, we have to accept that most trips just ARE once in a lifetime. I hope to return to Bali, but does that mean I put off Australia and all of Africa, and Austria, . . . yet another year? I’ve had too many friends die young or what now feels “young” to me, to assume I have countless anythings ahead. And, at the risk of sounding like a preachy old crone, I’ll remind you of something you’ve heard 1000 times: You have no idea what lies ahead, so don’t assume you can do it next year. There are so many things I can never do now (due to physical limitations) that I now wish I’d done when I was younger. But no one expects to wake up at 50 and find out that your way of life is over. It just happens, sometimes.

  11. Meh, the silly pontifications of youth with little life experience. Lots of much more realistic perspectives posted above by non-bloggers.

    To me, the “once in a lifetime trip” thing is a lot less depressing than seeing bloggers waste their lives (and bragging about it) by constantly flying places but rarely staying more than a day or two and never actually having an authentic experience beyond the airport lounge, the international mega-resort chain hotel, and perhaps cruising a bar or two. To me that’s a completely wasted life. Pitiful.

  12. While I mostly agree with this post, I also think that to some extent, each trip really is once in a lifetime especially when traveling with kids.

    Sure, we may have been to Kauai 5 times but each time has been different as our kids grow.

    Even if we venture back to favorite locations for a second or third time, the actual adventure is different each time.

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