I scrolled past an article on FB about the privilege of traveling a few weeks ago. Although I use “article” in the loosest sense of the word; it was about five hundred words of the author saying we should remember that traveling abroad is a privilege. And while I found that to be an eye rolling duh what caught my attention were the comments. Most of them were unflattering opinions of people who travel abroad. A common thread was that people who travel must have lots of extra money to afford to do such things. That traveling abroad is an elitist pastime available only to the 1%. The article itself touched on that idea; the author comes from a poor background and it took a lot of hard work on her behalf to travel.
There are a lot of blogs discussing the privilege of traveling, like these here, here also here annnnd this one. That’s just a quick sampling. Google anything about travel and privilege and you’ll find more. There are even links within those blogs to other blogs speaking about the same thing. It’s like blog-ception.
I mean, you read enough of those you’ll feel like an elitist bastard if you mention you’ve been to the state next door. But what’s more irritating than the feather-light brow beating these people feel is necessary is that none of them have proposed solutions.
The article I mentioned at the top was shared over five thousand times when I scrolled past it. And the only thing in that writing is a gentle wrist slap to people who actively encourage others to travel because not everyone has the means to travel and that makes us look snobbish. But there was nothing about how we can reduce that privilege gap and work to help everyone travel.
There’s not much we can do about visa restrictions, unless you’re a powerful figure in your respective country. First world travelers, such as myself, have a massive advantage. Canadians can pop in and out of 174 countries without the hassle of a visa. My fellow Americans, we can skip through 160. Have a UK passport? 175. Have a freaking German passport: 177.
If you’re from Ghana? 63.
And Pakistan and Afghanistan have even less. If you’ve been following my blog you know about my trip to Chicago to get my Chinese Visa and that, while irritating, was easy. I’m only a three hour drive from Chicago. But if I’d had to go to Washington D.C.? That would have required money for airfare and a hotel stay. I would’ve had to take time off work instead of going on a day off. Visas are a goddamn pain and each one you get costs money. If I’d had to go to D.C. the total cost of getting my visa would have been around $500. As it was—if we don’t count the car getting towed because fuck Chicago—the total was $200.
Again, there’s not much individuals can do about visas, but there are some things you can do. Head over to GoFundMe once a month or so. There are people around the world trying to raise money to travel. Sometimes they have noble causes, sometimes they just want to see the world. But if you can spare five dollars, that’s five dollars that can help someone get a visa or get a plane ticket. Trying to untangle the rat’s nest of politics involved with visas is a bit much for any one person, but as one person you can help another.
I don’t have solutions for every circumstance in every country, but—as I’ve mentioned—I’m from the US and those are the issues I’m tackling first. No one can save the world all at once; you have to start with the problems you see. And, as the world has been privy to us airing our dirty laundry, the US has quite a few issues right now.
The first time I went abroad it was during my time at university. I spent a semester in London and from there visited France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and Vatican City. My group was not full of Richie Rich kids either. Most of us lived off pasta and toast so we could afford to travel to additional countries. I missed a trip to Ireland because I had only three hundred dollars left in my account in a time when the dollar was significantly weaker than the Euro. We took the jump across the pond because a semester abroad was roughly the same as a domestic semester. I took out loans to make the trip and I’m still glad I did it even though I’m still staring those student loans in the face.
But not everyone is eligible for loans or the loans they take out don’t cover things like semesters abroad. But what if education was affordable? We can do that. We can make education affordable to everyone. We can fix the system that uses students as another source of income instead of working to help them. Going abroad will still be more expensive than a domestic semester, but we can fix that too. There are programs at universities that will help fund students’ travels abroad, but they’re not advertised. I didn’t know until six weeks before my graduation that my university had a program for writers. Had I written a short paper on whatever country I wanted to visit and how it would influence my work and how I planned to incorporate all I learned I could have had a chance to go anywhere in the world and the school would have paid for the flight and helped with living costs. At the time, one young woman was living in a small medieval village in Romania writing a modern thriller.
I spent about fifteen months saving up the money for the plane ticket to Asia and the program fee as well as money to live off of while I was getting my TEFL. And it was still a tight month before I got my first pay here in China. The reason I went with Language Corps was their China program got me lined up with my job before I even left the States. Had I not had a job before getting on the plane I probably wouldn’t be here. I didn’t have enough money to live for an extra three months and job hunt.
While in the States, I worked two jobs for a while before landing one that paid better than both and then I worked there every week as long as I could until the chef realized I was in OT and kicked me out. I remember very little about the year leading up to coming to China. I remember snippets of work and a few other things that FB reminds me of with their “memories” thing, but I worked pretty well from sun up to sun down. And there are people who are still doing that and working seventy hours or more a week just to afford an apartment and food.
Why don’t we have a living wage? I don’t care if you think people in the service industry don’t “deserve” fifteen dollars an hour. To afford an apartment, utilities, a car, food, and clothes; people will need that damn fifteen dollars an hour. Gods help them if they have kids. I figured at twelve dollars an hour I might be able to afford my own apartment as long as I carefully rationed my utilities and didn’t exceed more than seventy dollars a month in gas money and only spent fifty dollars a month on food. I still have my student loans to pay, and then I’d only be making the absolute minimum payment. So yeah, if you want to give yourself salt poisoning by eating ramen four days a week and toast the other three you can survive on about twelve dollars an hour.
And that’s bullshit.
Minimum wage is not a goddamn punishment. It is not “spending” money. This is a wage paid so that one person or a family can live. They should make enough money they can afford to eat real food and make sure their kids have clothes and if something breaks on their car be able to fix it. They should be making enough to put some money in savings. They should be making enough money when the holidays roll around they can buy their parents/friends/siblings/children a few gifts and not feel the axe of credit card debt hanging over them. They should be making enough money if they want to go out and have dinner and catch a movie they damn well can. Because that is what we do when we have enough money to live. Anyone, anyone, who thinks minimum wage shouldn’t be raised to a living wage is a picture of elitism. Why not? What makes these people who make your sandwiches and help you find your produce and stock your shelves and help you return clothes unworthy of being able to live a fulfilling life without worrying day and night about how they’re going to pay for their water or put food on the table? And that bullshit argument that people should just go to school and get a better job. You mean that school that puts its graduates in tens of thousands of dollars of debt? That school? If people can barely afford to pay rent, what makes you think they’ll suddenly be making enough to pay three hundred dollars in loans every month?
The writer of the article also mentioned she has chronic health problems which limits how much traveling she can do. So let’s talk about healthcare. Many of my friends as well as my sister have chronic health problems. They shouldn’t have to make sure they land an upper tier job to have health insurance. Everyone should have health insurance and it should be affordable. People shouldn’t have to choose between purchasing the medication that keeps them alive or buying food. There is abso-fucking-lutely no goddamn reason for it. Full stop.
Now let’s talk about the other types of privilege that can make traveling easier for some. In just shy of ten days I’m going to visit Singapore. In this particular country it is still illegal for persons of the same sex to kiss in public. It is a crime for which you can be fined or imprisoned. There are countries across the globe that will execute LGBT people. Trans-people can have an absolute hell of a time getting official documents that reflect their gender. As I said, homosexuality is still punishable by death in places.
And that needs to change. Right now. We can support groups who are actively fighting to change legislation in their countries. We can support the people who put their lives on the line by marching in Pride parades. We can acknowledge that these injustices exist instead of shrugging them off because they happen in distant places.
It’s still dangerous for women to travel alone in some countries because of oppressive patriarchal ideas of the role women play in life. We can fight that too. There are women around the world working to change society. Stand with them. Support them either with words of encouragement or financially. Get their message out there. Tell others, share it of social media. Let others know that there are women fighting to make their homes safe for themselves and their daughters.
So I have to say Ms. Ferguson—and all the others—I read your articles and I see what you’re saying. Traveling is a privilege that not everyone has access to. What I don’t understand is why you presented this as the way things will always be. We can change this. We can close the gap of privilege by making education and healthcare affordable, by paying people enough to live, not just enough scrape by and survive. We can make this world safer to travel for everyone, not just white men. Traveling will only be a privilege as long as we allow it to be.