An idea that I have seen pop up on many travel blogs and posts is that ‘everyone can travel!‘ Now, even I have been guilty of this and written something along these lines when I first started this blog. I was 19 and living at home when I wrote that, and let’s be honest – I was very, very naive. I thought that life would only get easier as I got older, and that if I could scrape together enough money to travel on my meagre uni student wage, I’d be able to do it easily later on.
How wrong I was! It took a bout of unemployment to make me realise just how much of a privilege travelling actually is. Frankly – yes, most young people who a) have the financial support of their parents (eg live at home, or at least have the safety net of knowing they can if it all goes to shit); and b) have a passport that affords them fairly unrestricted freedom of movement (more on that soon), can travel. But, please travel bloggers, stop assuming this catch cry is true for others.
I find, on the whole, travellers to be an overall pretty wise bunch (there are definitely exceptions, but on the whole). However this attitude of ‘everyone can travel’ does seem just a little surprising coming from people who should know better about the challenges faced by many in our world.
Stop pretending financial insecurity is not a real thing.
There are many reasons travel is not accessible. From the outset, I’m going to acknowledge I already have a lot of privilege in my life – parents who look after me, an Australian passport, good health, and more. But even I have fallen on hard times where it was impossible to travel. When you’re unemployed (like, really unemployed, not ‘finding yourself’), it doesn’t matter if you can travel the world on $100, $50 or $5 a day. It doesn’t matter if flights to China are $400 return. You can’t afford it. You can’t afford to be away from the job search, and you can’t afford to divert your resources away from “staying alive and housed”.
Being unemployed for an extended period after I graduated was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I have never felt so ‘trapped’ in terms of options before. It was not a good feeling, and it made me realise how incredibly disheartening it is how a lack of money (no matter how good a person you are) keeps you from so many opportunities, and how “used to” disposable income we get… until we don’t have it. SO, trust me, some people – in fact, many people – cannot afford to travel.
This is just one reason for not travelling that I personally have experienced and therefore think I can speak to. Another one is not being able to travel due to your work commitments. While dropping everything to travel the world sounds absolutely fabulous (trust me, I think about it all the time), it is not always possible. This means giving up a whole bunch of stability, which may be okay if you have a safety net in terms of savings or family who will help you. But many, many people do not have this and so they can’t afford to give up the stability it costs to travel.
There’s other reasons, too.
As I said, these are just reasons I personally identify with. There are many others. Some people have health issues which prevent them from travelling, whether that be physical ailments or mental health issues. Both are equally valid barriers to travel. Then, some people have passports that just simply don’t give the freedom of movement mine does. For me to go to Cambodia, I hope on a plane, give over my $25 USD at the airport, get my passport stamped and walk into a tuk-tuk. When my Cambodian friend recently visited Australia with his Australian partner, he had to fill out dozens of pages of applications, months in advance, and pay a $125 fee – nevermind the average annual wage in Cambodia is $1,093 per year. If you find yourself on ‘visa waiver’ lists, you are very, very lucky.
I know you don’t read this blog to be lectured at, and I’m the first to say I’ve said this before, and I don’t think we should feel guilty about travelling. Travel opens your mind and hearts, and bridges divides between people, cultures, religion. I believe it is one of the strongest forces for good in the world! However, as travellers we should have a special understanding of how lucky we are to have the option, and that no, not everyone can travel. We have been born into countries, circumstances and health that allows us opportunities others don’t have. The least we should do is be aware of that, and preferably, work to tear down those barriers that stop everyone from having those opportunities.