One of my favourite blogs to read is Gary Arndt’s Everything Everywhere. I’ve been reading about Gary’s movements almost every day for the past four years, but this post, more than most, made me think.
If you can’t be bothered clicking on the link, basically what Gary is saying is that he hasn’t been lucky to be able to travel around the world for a living. He says yes, he is fortunate, but luck has had nothing to do with it.
Gary is American, I should probably point out. The post does smack a bit of the old American Dream, the whole work hard and the rewards will come to you adage. Me? I don’t really subscribe to that.
Growing up in Australia, we’d be told time and time again that we were living in the ‘lucky country’. To this day, I totally believe that. Sure, hard work often leads to success. But you’ve got no power over being born in a lucky country – one without local, recent memories of war, one with a decent welfare system and one in which hunger only occurs around 4pm when you’re in what seems to be a desperate need for a snack after school.
Sometimes though, you can be a citizen of a lucky country but find yourself seemingly not too lucky at all. One of the most vivid memories I have of tour guiding last year was meeting a fantastic young couple from Canada. Unlike some passengers, they were constantly in awe of everything around them. When I asked them to join me for dinner at a local crepe place for dinner, they asked me how much it would cost.
“About four or five euro, I think,” I said pretty absent-mindedly.
The two of them exchanged a look and nodded in silent agreement. “Sure, we’ll join you,” they agreed.
Of course, they loved the crepes and like the good tour guide I am, I diligently took photos of them with their respective feasts. They ordered in flawless French, and soon we were swapping stories of our homes. I’d always thought Canada was similar to Australia in terms of wages and social welfare, but the stories the pair told me made me dumbfounded.
One was a manager of a Little Caesar’s chain, earning less than $12 an hour. The other fared even worse, raking in $9 an hour for a full-time job at a specialised music store. Travel had always been out of the question for them, until the woman’s grandmother passed away, leaving her a substantial sum of money that had the condition to be used for only one thing: to go to Europe. Not having access to annual leave, they’d both chucked their jobs in for the trip of a lifetime, a three-week jaunt from Rome to Amsterdam.
The couple’s enthusiasm was infectious. Stepping back from the situation, now, these people were lucky. They were seeing the world, and loving every moment of it. Meanwhile, I was looking on them with a sense of pity. It took Gary’s blog for me to look at the situation in a different way.
All of a sudden, I felt extremely uncomfortable about how warped my sense of normality had become. How had I gotten to the point that it felt incredibly normal to jet off to Venice for a long weekend (planned for a couple of days’ time)? Why was I feeling sorry for two people travelling the world?
Subscribing to Gary’s theory, I must have worked hard. Say what you want about tour guiding – the long hours, the little sleep – but really, it is not hard. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. The hardest I ever worked was as a fifteen-year old at KFC, earning five dollars an hour. Make of that what you wish.
However, perhaps it’s an Australian thing. The rate of Aussies travelling overseas each year has more than tripled in the past two decades. (Yes, the nerd in me did look up this fact on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ website.) Apparently Australians, believe it or not, now work the longest hours in the western world, even more than the Japanese. Is the travel a reward for this hard work? You be the judge.
Am I fortunate to have been able to travel as much as I have the last few years? Absolutely. Have I worked hard for it? No more than usual. Am I lucky? Of course. But being lucky can blind you to reality. Maybe, two decades after I was first told that at school, I’m only just starting to understand this.