Best of the Blog, Personal Ramblings

The Privilege of Travel

In middle school I was good friends with a girl who knew what she wanted, let’s call her K. K was smart, gregarious, and confident for a pre-teen trying to figure out the complex social structure of the cesspool that is an American middle school. She was always dreaming of far away places and adventures, scheming her way into getting there some day. And, as luck would have it, she did get there in the end. There were a couple of years during college when I could tell you, with a proud smile on my face, that I didn’t know what country K was in or even what continent she might be traversing. She had done it, she had thrown off the shackles of expectation and she had found her adventure.

About a month ago K messaged me, asking, “I love reading about your travels, but how do you do it? I feel like I’ve done something wrong.” The thing is K had done nothing wrong, she had traveled as much as she could, then returned home to find work to support herself. I responded honestly, if not a little ashamed, “I travel on a very tight budget to make my money go as far as possible, but I would not be out here if it weren’t for my parents.” My parent’s gifted me the money I have used to travel for the past two years when I turned 21. It was a fund they started when I was born so that I could have choices in my life. They gave me the option of international travel, of taking this time to see the world, and I would not be here, sitting on a remote beach in Western Australia, if it weren’t for them.

Not everyone has a fund set up for them from birth that will allow them two years of international travel, even if it is on a shoestring budget. Not everyone has parents who can and will support them if they return home well-traveled, but penniless. Not everyone has the privilege of travel.

It is hard to write this, to admit to the world that I have so much more than I have earned. I have worked very hard in my life, but I am where I am because of two things, my work ethic and my privilege. I know so many people who have worked ten times harder than me, but have half as much simply due to circumstances of birth. I was lucky enough to be born into a white, upper middle class family in America. I have an immense amount of privilege in this world that values country of origin and money over work ethic.

The reason I bring up privilege, and own up to my own, is that so many travel bloggers out there say things like “anyone can travel”, “you just have to want it more”, “the only thing stopping you is you”. The reality is there are people in this world, many people I might add, who cannot travel for a myriad of reasons. Maybe they don’t have a support system that will pick them up when they fall so they cannot afford the risk of spending all their money traveling. Maybe they have a family dependent on them so they have to work a 40+ hour job with no vacation time. Maybe they live in a country that cannot easily bypass strict visa requirements.

The privilege of travel cannot be understated, but that does not mean I will stop traveling. It does mean that I will do so with the knowledge that I am engaging in an activity that is out of reach for many, many people and that I will not act like I have earned every passport stamp. I’m sure there are self-funded travel bloggers out there, but when you look at who is writing the picture comes back rather white and upper class. We need to hear from more diverse voices in the travel blogging world and to have that happen travel needs to become more accessible for people from all socioeconomic strata.

The wonderful thing is that I have seen a world where this is not just a pipe dream. Australia’s social welfare state mandates at least four weeks of paid vacation for every worker, no matter what their pay grade is. Universal healthcare and subsidized education allow people the comfort of knowing they will be taken care of is something goes wrong. A minimum wage that doubles as a living wage means that people can save money for pursuits outside of basic subsistence. All these things add up to create a country that travels more than almost any other country in the world, a country who’s citizens can and do see the world.

I want to see a world more like Australia, because with more travel comes more understanding of those who are different than you. Travel breaks down walls, builds friendships, and makes people see their world, and the people in it, in a far more generous light. Travel teaches you that most people are good intentioned, that not everyone is out to get you, and that the world is not to be feared. Maybe if we can build a world in which people can travel more, we will see a world in which there is less hate, less fear, and less anger.

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