On Recognizing Traveling is a Privilege

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There’s things about traveling that I both love and find troubling. Lately, the “NO EXCUSES!” trend has been troubling me more than inspiring me. You know what I’m talking about. The posts that tell people that there are absolutely no excuses at all to not travel. Anyone in any circumstance can find a way to travel if they simply get off their butts and work!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love these posts for inspiring me, and countless other people, to dare to dream about a life we had thought impossible. Whenever my family tells me that I can’t travel indefinitely without being a trust-fund child I direct them to these posts and spread the “you can do it!” attitude.

I also think, however, that there is an underlying problem with this type of “No Excuses” mentality, which is that it focuses on a specific population for whom traveling is actually a possibility. Yes, there are lots of people who come up with excuses and who don’t allow themselves to break the boundaries of the possibilities, but there are also people who just cannot give themselves the luxury of traveling. If you are a single mother working two jobs and barely making ends meet, what are the probabilities that you will have time and money to take a trip to anywhere? Yes, there are people who travel without money, I’ve been able to travel even though I have no money by working, earning scholarships, finding jobs abroad, etc, but the fact that I can save money to travel and that I have an education and a skill set that has helped me get scholarships and jobs is a privilege in itself.

Another thing I find troubling about this trend is that it’s a bit ethnocentric. Everyone claims how traveling around South America and South East Asia is SO cheap! Which is true…if you live in a country with a stronger currency. What about people in South America and SE Asia? Is traveling around their own continents just as cheap? Not to mention the fact that as citizens of the US and Europe we don’t have to worry about visas as much. The grand total I have ever paid for visas is $76 for a student visa to France. I never understood what a priviledge this is until I was helping my best friend plan her family trip to Europe. The visa fees were exhorbitant! They spent around $700 getting both the UK and the Schengen visas for the family…and keep in mind $700 is a LOT of money in Colombia. Then consider having to spend in Euros and Pounds, which are almost four times the value of the Colombian Peso, and you can see how, in some countries, traveling can be limited to the very privileged. I mean, this is a family that lives a few blocks away from President Santos (not the presidential house, his actual house), and they struggled to afford it! What chances does a fruit vendor or a window washer in Colombia have of making their travel dreams come true?

It’s not that it’s impossible. I know people in Colombia who have packed their bags and traveled the continent with just $500.000 COP (~$250 USD) to start out. But these are people who have just graduated from university and have time and no financial or family responsibilities, which means they can live on a budget and take it as it goes.

I’m not saying we should stop pushing people to follow their dreams, or recognize that people break their backs to make these dreams come true. I myself feel very proud for having worked my butt off to be able to travel, and I know many other people who have done it as well. I am saying that we also need to recognize that there are certain circumstances in life that have allowed us to travel, and that people who can’t do that aren’t necessarily making “excuses.” Sometimes life gets in the way. We need a balance between being proud of our hard work and being thankful that we’re privileged enough to see the fruit of that hard work go into our dreams. I think Amile handled this balance perfectly when she said “While I feel incredibly privileged to be able to make this choice (sometimes more than others), I think I’ve earned my stripes as well.”

So let’s keep encouraging people, let’s keep making success stories that feed dreams, let’s keep kicking ass and working hard, but let’s also keep in mind we’re extremely lucky to be able to travel.

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27 thoughts on “On Recognizing Traveling is a Privilege

  1. I totally get what you’re saying here, and whoa, those visa fees are crazy! The thing with me is I get a chip on my shoulder, not from the single mom scenario, but from people I know well who are in the same economic demographic as me. I get a lot of “Well it must be nice to be able to afford to travel” slightly insulting comments, but they don’t acknowledge that I’ve made really specific choices, like not owning a car, bringing my lunch to work every day, wearing thrift store clothes, etc etc. These choices allow me to travel within my income bracket. They own cars, go out for drinks after work almost every day, always come in with a Starbucks, smoke, etc etc, these are perfectly valid choices too, but it’s sort of annoying when what I do with my discretionary income is considered privilege what theirs isn’t…

    1. Oh no, for sure! I once worked with a guy who complained about not being able to travel because he had no money…he worked full time, lived with his parents, and spent all of his money on videogames. I get those comments all the time too, people think my parents have paid for my travels and are surprised when I tell them I’ve done it on my own.That’s why I think it’s important to recognize that most people who travel work really hard to be able to do it! But I also think we should recognize that there are different social and geographical situations and that not everyone who doesn’t travel is just making excuses or not sacrificing enough.

      Forget the haters though! They’re just angry you know how to spend your money better!

  2. Great post, I feel the same way about a lot of those posts as well. It must be frustrating for certain people in restricted life situations to read these articles as if its as easy as packing up everything and beginning a worldly adventure.

  3. Those of us who travel are extremely lucky to have the choice to do so. I’ve been traveling for about 10 years and I have worked and saved and sacrificed to make it happen. Travel is a true passion, so I’ve made it a priority. But I also realize that most people don’t have the ability to even choose whether or not to travel. I remember when I traveled to Jamaica. It was one of my first trips abroad. I backpacked around the whole island and met so many Jamaicans who had never traveled outside of their hometown. It was crazy to me that in a few short weeks I was able to see more of their native country than they had! It made me realize how incredibly privileged I am. And it also made me realize that, as a tourist, it’s so important to try and give back to the countries we travel in.

    1. Well, you just explained my point perfectly! That happens a lot to me too, I meet people who have never even left their home town and then I realize that, yes I’ve worked hard to travel, but I’ve also had the opportunity to do so, which many people don’t. I agree so much with giving back to communities we visit, though sometimes I’m torn about how to do it since I don’t want to end up hurting the communities inadvertently

  4. Totally agree with your sentiments, in fact, I had planned this topic for a post in the future…For me, it is a good motivation to have but feel that it is a skewed perspective because people should also think of it relative to their own situation first.

    For example, it would not be possible for me to travel full time because I have obligations to my parents that I prefer to keep. I choose to do so because I believe that it is important for me to keep building memories with my parents, especially since they are getting older. Both of their health is not too good so I travel as and when I can instead. I still get to travel but I just choose to compromise so that I can still enjoy my family rather than pack up everything to travel.

    I actually have a lot more to say but I may just come across as a mad, ranting woman if I put down all my thoughts…haha!

    But good post! Now, if only others can think the same…:)

    1. woah I just saw this! Yes, exactly! I feel the same way. I have an obligation to my parents and I still get to travel but there are sacrifices that need to be done. You should write about it, I’d love to hear everything you have to say and anyone who thinks you’re just angry is not even worth thinking about!

  5. Yeah I’m a single recent grad and getting the funds to go to Spain has been crazy. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and worked very hard to have the funds I do. It takes a lot to travel. This was a great post it’s good to put some people in perspective

  6. I can travel different parts of the world because of my job. It is a privilege. I dream of traveling to India, China, Africa, Australia, etc. But I know I can’t afford. When it comes to travelling overseas, I don’t have much to say… I’m not part of those who encourage people to need be afraid to travel far. That’s VACATION.
    Just travel within your means. Travel locally! I rarely get out of the state of California. What I side with those who encourage others to travel is that … well, it really all depends on how passionate a person is when it comes to travelling … I guess I agree that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. I bring my own food. I travel mostly to places that are free. I don’t buy any souvenirs. Pictures are enough for me. As much as I can, I don’t want to spend money other than gas. I slept in rest stops and parking lots, just to avoid paying for a hotel. If I have to, I pick the cheapest hotel possible. Who cares about the view? I don’t. If my budget is short, then I don’t go. Or I go hiking. I go to the beach. I bike.
    I do understand the financial aspects of traveling. If you really got it in you, the DESIRE to travel …. It’s just that a lot of people get so overwhelmed thinking about the money issue. I think it was last year when I wasn’t sure if my wallet is gonna make it, I still went. Priority and preference is a big factor here. I save to travel. Believe me, there are so many places I still want to go to, but work and life gets in the way. It’s hard to say this after your post … but uhm … to be honest, I say … sometimes, people really just need to just go.

    1. No I definitely agree with you. I’ve also done trips without much money in my bank account. I survived a week in Italy eating nutella and pasta but it was worth it…my point is not that money is always an issue but that there are life circumstances that legitimately keep people from being able to travel, and that’s not always money, sometimes it’s a family situation, sometimes it’s physical impediments, sometimes it’s a political situation, it could be a million things but my problem is with the idea that everyone who doesn’t travel is just making up excuses or not passionate enough or lazy

  7. I found this post really interesting. I studied the concept of priviledge my last quarter in college (which I was fortunate to be able to attend) and as I prepared for this new trip I am taking abroad I have been thinking about it a lot. I understand how priviledged I am to be able to travel and but I also have to work really hard to be able to afford to do it. I save pennies and work multiple jobs, but I also don’t have some of the expenses that others do i.e. house, car, etc. which makes it easier. I made a concious choice that travel was going to be my “thing” as opposed to a new flat screen or nice car. Like you mentioned I also have a problem with stories that are always shouting the you have to travel in your 20s because the fact of the matter is it doesn’t work that way for everyone. I liked that you brought up a concept that is so difficult to talk about without being aggressive. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, that means a lot! It’s a difficult concept because it’s important to recognize both our privilege and the fact that we’ve worked our butts off to make it happen!

  8. I just wrote a post on a similar topic and found your post while searching for others that share the same point of view 🙂 You’ve summed it up very nicely and I think more people need to realize that travelling is a privilege that not everyone is lucky enough to possess. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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