If there’s one thing travel bloggers hate, it’s being asked how they afford their travels.
…Okay, that’s probably a blanket statement, but it’s mostly true. I’ve seen plenty of blog posts and articles with an underlying tone of “how I afford my travels is none of your business.” And I totally get that.
In everyday life, no one goes around asking random strangers on the internet how they afford their house, or their car, their education, or their personal belongings. Asking personal money questions is deemed to be rude, and the rules of society tend to steer us away from those types of intrusive questions.
However, there’s one fundamental difference between affording travel and affording all of that other stuff: Travelers are the exception, not the rule. Affording a house, car, clothes, etc.? Totally expected of everyone. Affording to visit 10+ countries over the course of a year? Not so much.
Very few people around the world will ever make the necessary sacrifices to travel extensively (in part, for some people, because they don’t realize that they can) and so when they see people that are traveling extensively–and blogging about how easy it is–it begs the question in their minds: HOW?!
The “American Dream” (and probably the “Australian Dream” and the “Mexican Dream” and the “Wherever Dream”) includes having a home, a method of transportation, an education, and plenty of nice stuff, so no one thinks twice when someone goes out and achieves those things.
But what about when someone turns away from that American Dream, and instead of pursuing a house and a car, they pursue travel and worldly experiences?
In some extreme cases, onlookers may even see a person with no house, no car, no stuff, possibly no job, and yet somehow, “magically”, the means to jet-set around the world.
I can honestly see how that lifestyle could look pretty strange. Of course, we on the other side know that plenty of sacrifices were made to afford that lifestyle.
If someone is planning a round-the-world trip, they are going to have to make MAJOR lifestyle changes to make that happen. But they also may not discuss those lifestyle changes with the world in a totally transparent way.
The world usually only gets to see that person taking off on a plane, and having amazing adventures in Asia and Europe and South America. And if that person happens to be a travel blogger, the world gets to see that person optimistically preaching “Travel is easy! Travel is affordable! Travel is the best and anyone can do it!”
And the world is left scratching their heads and wondering what they missed. So, I think it’s totally natural for readers of those blogs to ask the question: How do you afford to travel?
In some cases, they may even include that one little phrase that drives travelers and bloggers absolutely nuts: “You’re SO lucky!”
This seemingly innocent phrase can send even the nicest travel bloggers into an uncontrollable rage. After all, those bloggers didn’t get to where they are by sitting around, eating bonbons and waiting for someone to foot the bill for their travels. They worked.
How could ANYONE think that they got where they are through luck alone?!
If you want to read one particularly entertaining post on this subject, check out this one from Young Adventuress, aptly named “The Lucky Rant”. In this post, Liz tackles the subject by noting the years of hard work that she has put into her travel blog and her business, and it’s easy to see why she would be peeved by random strangers telling her how lucky she is when she knows about the hours, days, months, and years of work that happened behind the scenes to get her where she is today.
There’s also this post, “Stop Asking Me How I Afford to Travel“, which takes a direct (and humorous) approach to the issue.
Both articles make very valid points, and I adore both bloggers so this isn’t a dig at either of them (or anyone else for that matter).
But the truth is, I do still believe that there is a HUGE amount of luck involved in having the ability to travel, and that 99% of travelers and travel bloggers (if not ALL of them) should be counting their lucky stars, because if things had been different for them in life, they very well may not be where they are today.
If you’re a traveler or blogger and you feel yourself getting heated, hang tight. I’m going to use MY personal experience specifically to highlight just how lucky I’ve been in life (ie. exactly which privileges I’ve been “blessed” with), and how it’s affected my ability to travel:
Or, more accurately, “First World Privilege”. I have a HUGE advantage here, versus someone who was born in, say, Nigeria, Egypt, or North Korea.
Yes, of course, there are people from all over the world who can make travel happen, but I truly believe that it is MUCH easier as someone who comes from a first world, highly developed nation.
The travel industry was practically built to accommodate and appeal to first world travelers, even budget travelers.
As an American, there are very few places that I can’t go due to passport or visa restrictions, and my government has no interest in blocking me from leaving the country.
Being an American has also hugely impacted my financial situation. We do have issues with poverty and wealth inequality here in the States, but I do think that there’s an increased chance of escaping that poverty here, versus elsewhere in the world.
Yes, it’s still a thing, and it can make a big difference when it comes to world travel.
Adventurous Kate has a great post on this topic from her Viewpoints series, and it really introduced me to some ideas that I had never considered before. In this post, she interviews Maya Bhardwaj, an Indian-American traveler, who discusses her experience with feeling isolated from other (primarily white) travelers, feeling as if she looks (and even identifies with) the locals more than her fellow travelers, and being treated differently by locals who make assumptions about her (such as in France, where she was at times assumed to be a Northern African immigrant).
I’ve certainly never had an issue relating to the other backpackers in my hostels, and I’ve never had locals question whether or not I belonged or should be welcomed. That’s not to say I’ve never stood out when traveling…I have. But fortunately, those situations have mostly been limited to comments about my ultra blonde hair and blue-green eyes.
Not very threatening, to say the least!
To sum it up, my skin color has never hurt me in any way while traveling (aside from attracting some extra unwanted cat-calling in Latin American countries), and unfortunately, not all travelers of other skin colors can say the same.
Sadly, some countries are seriously lagging behind in the times when it comes to how they view certain ethnicities and races, and travelers to these countries are not exempt.
My physical health has never presented me with a challenge to travel, in literally any way. I don’t have any physical conditions or disabilities that make movement difficult for me. I can hike, bike, swim, trek, climb stairs, and spend hours walking through city streets.
I don’t have to lug an oxygen tank around with me everywhere I go, I have 20/20 vision, and my hearing is great. I never have to think twice about whether my hotel or a tourist attraction has an elevator or a wheelchair ramp. I don’t even have food allergies to worry about!
Although I would never suggest that a disability makes travel impossible, I’m sure no one would argue with the idea that it makes it harder. This is something that I personally take for granted all too often.
Like it or not, English is the universal language. In most places throughout the world, you can find someone who speaks at least a little bit of English.
That said, I never really considered this a privilege until last year, when this happened:
I had just arrived in Munich alone after an international flight, and was waiting in a seemingly endless customs line around midnight. I was tired, sweaty, cranky, and just wanted to get out of there. There was a girl from somewhere in Eastern Europe in line directly in front of me, and when she arrived at the customs counter, I watched as she struggled to communicate with the German officer.
“Do you speak English?” he asked.
She wavered for a minute, before shaking her head with a nervous laugh. I watched as he grew increasingly frustrated with her, as she was unable to answer his questions about where she was going, who she was meeting, when she was leaving, and why she was in Germany.
She was practically in tears by the time they were done, and I don’t blame her.
If I was alone in a new country and a foreign customs offer was speaking harshly with a raised voice to me, and I couldn’t understand a word that he was saying, I would be totally freaked out.
When my time came to step up to the counter, my ability to speak English made my experience so much less stressful and intimidating than hers, and I was so grateful for that. Again, this isn’t something that prevents travel, but I can see how it could cause some people to shy away from it, for fear of having a negative experience like the one above.
My ability to speak English opens the door for me in other ways, too. As a native English speaker, I can travel on the cheap by teaching English abroad.
That’s just not an option for someone who doesn’t speak fluent English, meaning that they don’t have the option to pursue one the most economical methods of long-term travel. This can apply to other work abroad situations too, including working in a backpacker hostel or a cruise ship, since English is usually required.
Upper Middle Class Privilege
You don’t have to be rich to travel…not at all. But, having parents who can afford all of your expenses growing up certainly makes it easier.
My parents paid for the huge majority of my educational expenses, and although I graduated with student loan debt, it was a MUCH smaller amount than it could have been. My parents paid for my rent throughout college, as well as some groceries, leaving me with only the small expenses such as utility bills and car insurance.
It was enough to instill in me a strong work ethic, and today I’m great at budgeting and saving money. However, I’m certain it would have been a completely different experience had I needed to pay for EVERYTHING during my college years.
Maybe you’re different than me–maybe you did have to pay for everything.
But did you have to pay for some of your parents’ expenses, too? Were they struggling to make ends meet? Were you ever threatened with homelessness? Did you drop out of school in order to make more money to support your family? Did you ever have to choose between spending your money on travel, versus spending it on food for your younger siblings? What about deciding between spending money on your dream vacation and helping your mom with her medical treatment bills, because she couldn’t afford them?
This is the reality for many people right here in the United States, and much more so in many other parts of the world.
There are definitely varying degrees of financial privilege, and while your parents may not have been multi-millionaires, it’s likely that you did experience some degree of privilege.
You may have had to sell your car to travel, which is a sacrifice, but some people can only dream of owning a car in the first place.
Honestly, I’m sure that there are others I’m forgetting here. Heterosexual privilege? “Skinny” privilege? The only privilege I can think of that I don’t have (other than being an heir to a trillion dollar fortune) is Male Privilege.
If I could visit certain destinations without the fear of being catcalled, harassed, raped, or sexually assaulted, then I’d truly have it all.
The point is, I really do feel privileged in many ways. If you never stop to think about it, it can be easy to say, “I’m not privileged, I got to where I am solely through hard work.”
It’s natural to feel that way. I worked my butt off in college to get my degree, and I hustled to find a job when I graduated. I pinch pennies, say no to concerts and music festivals with friends, and pretty much never buy an article of clothing that’s more than $25, all so I can afford to travel.
I do work hard. I do make sacrifices. But I am privileged, and I’m not scared to admit that.
I don’t believe that admitting privilege detracts from my hard work or authenticity as a traveler. If anything, I think it makes me more real, relatable, and believable.
This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone; I do believe that almost anyone can travel. This post from This American Girl shines the spotlight on some kick-ass travelers who have overcome the odds and made travel a priority, including travelers of different skin-colors, from various countries, and even with disabilities.
I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t take advantage of the privileges granted to us. Of course we should. Travel is an amazing thing, and more travelers means a more connected, educated, understanding, and compassionate world.
If you can travel, DO IT, and don’t feel guilty just because it’s easier for you than it is for someone else. Instead, simply be aware of it, and be sensitive to those who weren’t born into the same circumstances.
Additionally, we need to be careful about pushing our personal views, goals and dreams onto others. As travel bloggers, I believe our mission is to inspire, inform, and entertain; not to make anyone feel bad for choosing a different direction, or “failing” to live a lifestyle like ours.
So, am I “so lucky”? Yes, I guess I am. Does it offend me when people tell me that? Not really, unless it’s coming from another able-bodied, upper middle class, English-speaking, white American person. In that case, I want to shake them and scream “YOU CAN DO THIS TOO! If anyone can do it, it’s YOU.”
The thing about travel and privilege is this: there’s an absolute connection between the two, and I think it’s time that we own up to it and start getting real. By pretending that the relationship doesn’t exist, I believe that we are isolating a huge group of interested readers, as well as making it look like we have our heads in the clouds and are ignorant to real issues.
Oh, and it makes us look ungrateful, which is really just uncool.
Do you think that travel and privilege are interconnected? What privileges do you think you have? Are there any that you wish you had? Have you ever experienced the effects of privilege (or lack of privilege) while traveling?