The Day I Won the Lottery


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I was recently interviewed by a Pakistani magazine about my travels (and quitting my job to travel), and while it was very exciting, it also makes me feel like such a pretentious and privileged asshole.

Sometimes I don’t really think about what I’ve been afforded in life thanks to my color and nationality. I was lucky enough to win the “white American” lottery when born and lucky to be raised in a family that was never exactly wealthy, but only struggled a fair bit in comparison to others in this country and around the world.

When I answer questions about what finally changed things for me (unhappiness in a relationship and job), I realize exactly what I have that so many people (women especially) don’t have—freedom. Specifically, the freedom to choose to leave a situation in which I am no longer happy. I didn’t have to stay in a relationship any longer with a man that I loved, but wasn’t in love with. I didn’t have to stay in a job that I dreaded going to every day because I wasn’t destitute and reliant on a paycheck every week. On one hand, I worked really, really hard to get where I was then and even harder to get where I am now and I feel like I should be proud of that. And on the other hand, I think about all of these other people in the world who have worked just as hard as, if not harder than, I have, and they don’t have half as much as me simply because they weren’t born the “right” race or “right” nationality.

In doing some job hunting in other areas of the world over the past few months, I was knee-deep in forums about how to land said jobs (especially when applying from abroad). One thing I saw repeatedly is that in the city where I was focusing my search, a city where South Asians are a dime a dozen and immigrate for better lives, if your skin is white and your passport is American, you have a better chance of landing a job.

I have friends in foreign countries who want desperately to travel around the world, only to have visas repeatedly denied because of the country they’re from, or because they aren’t wealthy enough to pay someone off to get the visa. When I think about it, I have never once had to get a visa to any country in which I’ve traveled (though, there are a few that I will have to in the future). I’ve never once had to pay somebody off to get in or out of a country. And I’ve never once been held by any sort of border patrol or security official.

I feel guilty a lot of the time. Guilty because of this “privilege” and not really knowing how to help (or even relate to) others who aren’t given the same rights as me. Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful every single day for the ability to freely make choices, do things I want to, and to travel almost everywhere I want with relative ease, but I am also upset that the rights I’ve been afforded aren’t the status quo for every other human being around the world.

20 thoughts on “The Day I Won the Lottery

    • I do feel blessed, but guilt comes along with that in the sense of, “why do I deserve more than someone else when we’re all supposed to be equals?” But I am happy that others want to come along for the ride! :)

  1. Yes! It seems like when I started reading travel blogs, most bloggers had an “I’m not lucky – if I can do this, anyone can!” philosophy about travel. Over the past few years, I’ve seen more travelers point out that that’s not entirely true. Either people are becoming more aware in general or it just took me a while to find blogs with a different point of view.

    …Though reading yesterday’s New York Times profile on Nicole Hanley and Matthew Mellon kinda puts things in perspective. (Or makes them more depressing.)
    Polly recently posted..My World Cup JourneyMy Profile

    • That’s one thing that’s often frustrated me about the travel blogging community, Polly. When I first started out, I felt like everyone was saying that–“If i can do this, anyone can.” And then I took a look at myself and my life and realized that I had all of these things sort of weighing me down making it seemingly impossible to do it. I don’t think it’s all luck, but I think there’s certainly an element of it.

      And I guess I better check out this article you mentioned!

  2. It’s always healthy to step outside yourself and see the bigger picture when ti comes to traveling. Sure you’ve made it a priority and sacrificed to get to where you are, but there’s definitely some bigtime luck in there too. I really try to the best of my ability to avoid feeling like I deserve it…sure I’ve worked at it, but I’m fortunately enough to not only be American, white but have an amazing support system in case is all goes kaput.
    Eileen recently posted..What’s Your Tropical Bucket List?My Profile

    • I agree, Eileen. There are lots of people in the world who work hard to achieve what they have, but sometimes, it just takes the luck of being in the right place at the right time, or knowing the right people, etc. It’s definitely some sort of balance of hard work and luck that makes things happen.

  3. You should not feel guilty. However, it is refreshing to finally, finally hear someone admitting, acknowledging, and owning their privileged background and the role that plays in their lifestyle and decisions. I have bit my tongue about this until now, but this is an opportunity to get it off my chest. All the bloggers who brag about quitting their job, and especially the ones who goad their readers with “You can/should do it too!” are starting to sicken me. But I must remember, many are young and immature and one day they will come to realize the truth, so I should not be too judgmental.
    Sunshine recently posted..Orkney: An Archaeological DreamscapeMy Profile

    • I think it’s fine to encourage people to get out there and travel (that’s sort of the point of this blog), but I don’t necessarily agree that you need to quit your job and change your entire lifestyle in order to do it. I have always acknowledged that there have been things out of my control that have enabled me to be able to travel as freely as I can. Yes, I have worked hard to earn the money necessary to do so, but everything else–that was just luck of the draw.

  4. I really appreciate this post and agree 100% percent. I’m a white American, but my boyfriend is a Jordanian citizen, so I have some insight into how hard it can be to do something as ‘simple’ as travel. One example: I’ve been wanting to visit Montreal, which is only a 5 hour drive from where I live with my bf, but if I want to go with my boyfriend, it becomes a hassle, he has to apply for a visitor’s visa, interview with the embassy and even get fingerprinted because of his nationality. Also, a lot of his family, including his brothers live in Germany (one is a German citizen now), if he wants to go visit them he has to get an invitation letter (not sure if that is required, but I know it’s recommended) and do an interview with the embassy. If I wanted to visit his family, I could just buy a ticket and hop on a plane the next day, as simple as that—all because of where I was born.

    Thanks for writing this post! I
    Jen recently posted..Petra and Wadi Rum AdventureMy Profile

    • Good point, Jen! Part of what sparked this post was talking with a Pakistani friend about all the trials and tribulations he’s gone through just to be able to travel to a few places. For me, it’s so easy and something I never really think about. But when you’re required to apply for visas, go through endless interviews, show proof of return tickets and hotel accommodations, and prove that you are financially stable enough to not only travel there but to sustain yourself after your return, it becomes a whole different ball game. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like–trapped in your own country (or host country, as is the case for your boyfriend).

  5. Megan, thanks for your post. I like the reflective point of view you express. I guess this is part of the reason we travel, to make us aware of the challenges faced by many others in the world. Hopefully this makes for a more tolerant and understanding world community.

    I am really enjoying your blog, and like the way you are not in raptures over every experience. Keep up the great work.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Rosa! I think it’s important to highlight both the good and bad points of travel and particular places.

      And yes, I think travel is a great way of opening one’s eyes and showing the differences in the world and cultures and how we can respect and accept them.

  6. Hello Megan :) really nice reading your blog! I found this one interesting because I never read other “american” blog that feels the way you felt :) Yes you are lucky and I think you shouldn’t be guilty about. Well, I came from one of the country that is so hard to get a visa, and that “freedom” that you have is limited. But if I get inspired by blogs like yours (and I think others are too). Maybe I wouldn’t do it the same way like you did, just quitting my cubicle job and get out of everything I hate to travel the world, but one way or another I will find a way :) So I think what matters is that how much you can inspires people, even if you are more lucky than others. Happy blogging :)

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. And I think you’re right–you’ll find a way to travel even when it’s difficult if it’s something that you’re truly passionate about.

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  8. You are smart enough and compassionate enough to recognize the disparity. You have energy to turn this realization into service. Get involved in education in these countries or contact a worldwide organization like Rotary Club who always have projects to help people in countries like you refer to. Keep up the good work; do good work.


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