If there is one question all travel bloggers seem to despise, it the question, “How do you do it?” or “How do you afford it?” followed by the simple statement of envy, “I wish I was you!”
I find these questions and statements so intrusive and because no normal person would go around asking people about their private finances and how they afford that big fancy house, that sports car or their expensive education. Asking anyone about these sorts of things are an invasion of privacy and social etiquette teaches us that it’s rude, and therefore taboo.
Yet, for some reason, asking these very questions to travel bloggers seems to be the exception as it is not the standard life plan that people follow. The life plan says that we should get an education, get married, buy a big house and raise children. That’s the “American Dream” we were taught to pursue. But when someone breaks away from tradition and and they choose instead to travel the world, people are envious because they find that after pursing the American Dream, they can’t always afford to live the best of both worlds. After all, all that fancy stuff comes with a price tag.
So, when people stumble upon a travel blogger, openly sharing their travels and experiences with others encouraging others that “anyone can travel”, readers are inclined to ask that pesky question, “But how do you do it!?”
If you look a little deeper, many of these hard core travelers don’t own a big house with expensive things to fill it or a fancy car to sport around town in. And people who plan to travel the world certainly make huge sacrifices in order to afford such an experience. But don’t expect them to share all of their personal finances so transparently.
Too many people enviously exclaim “Ooh, you’re so lucky to travel while you’re young”. While I certainly agree that there is some amount of luck that goes into traveling, a good portion of it is from hard work, dedication, sacrifices and having a determination to WANT to travel. But if you want to travel, you will make those same sacrifices in order to do it, but too many people keep wishing and not doing. Others just simply might not have the opportunity or the means to travel.
Was I really “lucky” or did I just work hard to get where I am? I am not a professional travel blogger by any means but I can tell you right now my “luck” came from pursuing the dream that I wanted, making sacrifices every day like leaving behind friends and family, saving that 20€ to put towards my next vacation. Or did I have “luck” because I am, was and have been privileged?
Before we ask that pesky little question, there are things that one should keep in mind. Let’s face it, not everyone can travel. No matter if it’s financial problems, family obligations, or work, there is something that always keeps people from traveling. So those of us who do and can travel are very privileged.
Did you know there are different kinds of privileges?
The American Privilege
Certainly, being an American helps a lot in having the ability to travel the world, as compared to people from other countries, say North Korea or Iraq. That little blue passport opens the door to many countries around the world, making it easy to travel to as many countries as we possibly can.
Many don’t realize that the travel industry was created as a way to cater to First World Travelers. People from developing nations don’t have quite so many privileges as someone from a developed nation such as the United States or Europe.
Being an American, from a fully developed country where the work opportunities are endless certainly help to finance any travels I might embark upon. I grew up in a middle class, white family who had the means to travel quite frequently. That was a luxury not all of my friends or family could enjoy.
But not all Americans are able to travel quite as easily due to the huge financial inequality that plagues our country.
This leads me to…
White Privilege & Financial Privilege
Yes, I said it. There is still a huge difference in financial equality between whites and people of color.
As a traveler, I hardly ever see African-American travelers and when I do, I am always reminded about just how white travel can be. Then I am reminded about the financial inequality between people of color and whites. Whites still enjoy better financial opportunities, live in better neighborhoods and have better education than many, especially in the south.
Besides financial inequality, there is the difference in skin tone alone that separates people from being a tourist or an immigrant.
A friend of mine from Brazil has dark skin and lives in Germany. Too many times I have heard her say that people stare at her as she walks down the street because they know that she is not German. Whereas, when I walk down the street and get stared at, is more about my clothes than the color of my skin.
Needless to say, the color of my skin has never attracted unwanted stares or kept me from finding a well paid job which gave me endless opportunities or given me any difficulties when traveling.
Being an English-speaking traveler certainly makes traveling much, much easier and we are certainly privileged in the fact that we can go practically anywhere in the world and find English-speaking tourism and accommodation. English is, has been and will continue to be the universal language whether people like it or not.
This is not the case for others who speak another language, and even they are sometimes forced to speak English in order to travel.
I have stood in line waiting to go through customs to travel into Germany and watched as the customs officer became increasingly frustrated with tourists wanting to enter the country but spoke neither English or German. That alone can make the thought of travel undesirable. I have other friends who generally refuse to travel somewhere unless the country speaks English so that he can understand everyone. While I think that is more of an excuse NOT to travel, there are those out there who are afraid to step out of their comfort zone even though the rest of the world stepped out of theirs to learn our language in order to cater to First World English speaking travelers.
Being a native English speaker opens a lot of doors for me. I was easily able to find a teaching job in Germany within two weeks of moving to Germany because English teachers are in such high demand thus allowing me to work and save money in order to extend my travels. However, you’re less likely to find the need or want of a Japanese or Portuguese speaking teacher.
Physically Fit Privilege
I certainly may not be at the top of the physically fit list, but my body is healthy and I am able to travel in any way possible. My health has never kept me from being able to travel. I don’t have any physical or mental illnesses that make traveling difficult and I can enjoy many things be it sightseeing and walking all day to hiking, swimming and more.
However, I realize how privileged travelers are because many are quite able while there are many out there who can not partake in rigorous travel that include long distance travel and physical activities because of their ill health.
People out there certainly can and do travel even with disabilities or illnesses, but there is no question that it makes it harder to travel longer and farther.
For example, I have “another mother” who physically can not travel from the United States to be here in Germany for my wedding in October because she suffers from severe Lupus, a disease which attacks her muscles and much more. I once knew her as a vibrant traveler even with a wheelchair, but now a 10 hour flight could make the trip almost unbearable for her.
Staying physically fit enough to travel is perhaps something I take for granted more than I should, but it is a constant reminder to continue to travel while I still can.
Maybe there are more privileges I have forgotten to mention, but overall, the point is there are certain allowances we are given as human beings that make travel a possibility or a far off dream. Perhaps there is a bit of Male Privilege out there as well, for example, when I think about female travelers who have been gang-raped in India. There are still many countries out there where women don’t have the same equal rights as men, therefore, posing a risk to female travelers.
So, needless to say, those of us who do travel ARE privileged. Whether we travel the world saving every single penny or living off of $10 a day, sacrificing having a car, hitchhiking, couch-surfing, travel-hacking or working abroad, we manage to do something many can only dream about. It’s important for us to remember that we have been given a great opportunity and we shouldn’t take it for granted. It’s all about setting priorities and deciding what is it you want out of life and making those sacrifices to reach that goal.
And those who ask, “how do you do it”, just remember that everyone has a story to tell where they have had to work really, really hard for years on their travel blog, photography, journaling or something else and sacrificed a lot in order to live a life of travel.
If you have the means and you can travel, you should DO IT! And don’t feel guilty about enjoying one of the greatest privileges of our time. But don’t forget that there are others less fortunate then you and if you can, try to help out while traveling.
Just remember to be grateful for the privileges you do enjoy. Otherwise it makes you look like a total snob.
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