One suggested topic for a blog post is “thoughts about travel”. In the description, we are supposed to talk about our experiences traveling, what traveling as an American is like, and differences we notice between cultures. Maybe this is the social work major in me but I want to spin this a little bit and talk about something that is often ignored by travel blogs: the privileges of travel.
Something I see a lot are lists of how to live your “best, most fulfilled life”. These lists always include travel and describe it as something that “simply must be done” or “life changing”. These lists then go into detail about the things they have done, the places they have been and the things that everyone “should” do while traveling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome to talk about travel and cool experiences- It’s 100% okay to travel the world, share your opinions, and discuss how your experiences have impacted you. What shouldn’t be ignored in that discussion is the privilege of being able to travel, the privilege of feeling comfortable in new destinations, and the “should” narrative that is dominated by so many travel blogs.
At the very core, the ability to travel is a privilege. Personally, there are so many aspects of my life that make travel easy that it would not be fair to acknowledge those privileges. My ability to afford plane tickets and my study abroad program, being able-bodied and having easy access to transportation, and simply having a passport are all examples of my privilege that went into me being able to study abroad. I understand that others might not have the same opportunity or ability to study abroad, which is why being grateful for the experience so important to me.
Traveling with the American dollar also makes a lot of destinations very inexpensive, allowing many Americans to have greater spending power than the locals of that country. Because of this, it is easy for Americans to comfortably travel to places whose locals are unable to live in the same manner. Additionally, the white privilege in travel is massive. As a white woman, I feel 100% comfortable in the Czech Republic- a country where the majority of people look like myself (I would insert a statistic about race in the Czech Republic but I could not find any census data on race). I never get stared at, it’s easy to “fake it til I make it”, and I have not experienced any subtle or overt racism. These are just two factors that have made my experience here very comfortable and it is important to acknowledge the aspects of my identity that allow me to feel comfortable while traveling.
The last point I want to talk about is the “should” narrative that comes from people sharing their experiences. So many blogs frame travel as something that needs to happen in order to feel true happiness and fulfillment and do not acknowledge the privileges associated with travel that makes finding this “fulfillment” obtainable. For so many people, travel is not an option. Whether it be for financial, family, work, or other reasons, so many people are unable to travel and do not have the ability to pick up their lives and go somewhere different. This is where the issue lies: by painting the image of travel being the end all be all of self discovery, it’s insinuating that those unable to travel will never be able to find the same fulfillment as those who can. Everyone has their own truth and by painting this narrative, it invalidates the truths of other people. Projecting your truth on other people is not only damaging for everyone else, it is also damaging for the individual projecting. By doing this, they put harsh limits on self-discovery and if they are unable to have these same experiences, it will make future fulfillment that much more difficult.
I know this blog post was long (it definitely could have been separated into two posts. Whoops) but I think it is important for me to discuss my privilege and make other travelers aware of their privileges. It is important to talk about the way travelers frame their experiences to others and how that can impact those around them. It is also important to acknowledge that my privileges listed in this article are not my only ones, but a select few that seemed most applicable to traveling abroad. I fully acknowledge these privileges and will be aware of how I share my experiences in the future. lastly, I will use my privileges to know that, while they make up my truth, they do not make up everyone’s truth and I will respect the truths of others.