Some People Can’t Afford Travel (And That’s OK); Also, How I Funded My Move to Spain

March 27, 2015
Portuguese Ramparts, Essaouira Morroco

So I haven’t posted here since September. I’ll get to why that is later. (Spoiler alert: I’m just lazy as fuck.)

Anyway, I’ve been working on a piece about travel blogs and classism.

You always see these blogs by travel writers, talmabout how anyone can travel if they try, even if you’re poor. Bullshit.

In the piece, I talk a little about how I come from a relatively poor family. It’s true. I mean, we weren’t homeless poor, or “someone please call the social worker” poor. We just didn’t have a lot of disposable income. I remember one time, my brother needed to replace a $12 pair of shoes, and my mom didn’t have the money. That type of poor.

A Bird in Essaouira

A Bird in Essaouira

I couldn’t study abroad in college because it was hella expensive. I mean, a 4 week trip to South America was like $5000. Seriously? I had thought about studying abroad in college so many times, but the prices were just too much.

I never thought I would ever travel until I got to my 30s. I used to think that by my 30s, I’d have enough money to do something like go on a round the world trip. But last year, when I was working at non-profits in DC, I decided that I needed to leave. As New Year’s Eve 2013 turned into New Year’s Day, 2014, instead of going to the club, I was sitting on a bed in front of my Macbook doing research on teaching English in Spain. Living in DC and working in the non profit sector was not what I wanted to do. I was depressed. I need to start over, so I decided that in September I’d move to Spain and try something new. Why wait until my 30s? What if I don’t even make it until then? What if I do, and I realize that I should have broken free from my workaholic, office job dominated, unsatisfying, mediocre life back when I was younger?

So I decided to suck it up and just do it.

A cat in Essaouira

A cat in Essaouira

I got my passport less than two weeks later. And I started a savings plan.

Even though I lived in DC, my rent was relatively cheap, about $650/month. Between both my jobs, I made at least 36k a year. I took up all the extra hours I could at my 2nd job. Some months I didn’t have any days off at all. I was never really one for eating out or buying expensive things, so that was easy to save on. I believe I eventually was able to save about $2,500-$3,000 from January to September, which covered my flight, rent and security deposit, and just things I needed when moving in. But most importantly, I applied for two credit cards, and without them I wouldn’t have been able to survive here.

I wouldn’t have been able to afford to move here if I didn’t have a job lined up, credit cards, and jobs back home to help me save.It’s how I paid for my security deposit, my AirBnB while I was finding a place (that’s a referral link btw, get 25 euro free if you sign up with it), new clothes since I packed basically nothing, food, etc.

So if you have access to those things, or other things to fund your travel, then it’s possible. My issue is that many travel bloggers seem to insist that EVERYONE can travel no matter what their financial circumstances, and if you can’t you’re just making excuses.

There are real circumstances, both personal and economic, that keep people from having disposable incomes to travel. The same way that there are real circumstances that keep people from climbing out of poverty. Travel bloggers conveniently ignore this, and that’s why I say they’re classist.

(EDIT: Also poverty is very stressful on poor people. They need a vacation more than anyone else. But when you’re constantly thinking about bills, putting food on the table, etc, thinking about planning a vacation on top of all of that would just add more stress. )

Look, if you’re poor and you want to travel, look into it. I would suggest looking for ways to work or get free accommodation while traveling (like woofing). If you’re from certain countries you may be eligible for a working holiday visa in countries such as Australia. Teaching English is another option, though you have to have a Bachelors degree for that.  And of course if you got a job, you would have to get money for plane tickets, visas, and startup costs. Those things alone can be too much for people. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible to afford the $160 visa that I needed for Spain.

The medina in Essaouira

The medina in Essaouira

But if it seems that you simply can’t afford it, it’s ok. Really. You can have many wonderful eye opening experiences right at home. You don’t need to pay $1500 for a plane ticket to learn about another culture or to “find yourself.” Travel blogs make it seem like traveling is all that and a bag of Doritos, and that those who don’t/can’t travel are missing out, or aren’t as enlightened as they are, or aren’t cool enough or whatever. I think traveling is cool, but I also think it’s overrated (I’ll write a post on this another time). If you want to run away from home, you need to ask yourself why you’re running away. Is it a permanent fix, or just a bandage for your problems? Travel doesn’t change who you are, imo. You’re always who you are. It might add some things, expose you to new things, open your mind, but you will always be you. So if you want to travel to run away or to become a new person, think about why, and think about whether or not you need to travel to try to do that.


Leave a comment:

–If you also come from very little and ended up traveling.

–If you’re poor, and don’t think you’ll be able to travel.

–Or if you think that people travel for the wrong reasons.


The header image is a photo I took at the Portuguese Ramparts in Essaouira, Morocco. All photos are mine.

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  • Reply Sara March 31, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for this post. I also get irritated with the assumption that anyone can travel – and the attachment of privilege to many things I encountered during my brief stint as an expat in Spain. (For example: What’s the difference between an expat and an immigrant? Privilege.)

  • Reply Edna April 3, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Hi Keziyah — I read your piece on xojane and felt compelled to write a response as “someone who came from very little who also ended up traveling” (which I will on my own blog soon, but I’ll comment here for now). I also grew up with very little: my parents were immigrants who moved over to the US in the 1980s as grad students and therefore had very little money, very few possessions, and no one to rely on for help except themselves. (so no cars to sell, no couches to crash on, etc.)

    When I was young my parents worked a variety of minimum-wage odd jobs (my mom was a waitress at more than one Chinese restaurant before finally getting her nursing degree) — so I remember growing up in a tiny apartment, with no cable, no toys, the $10 Payless shoes, etc. I hear you on that.

    But my parents still valued travel — because it meant seeing our family, who ALL still lived in China — so they managed to scrape enough to send me back to Shanghai almost every. single. summer. I was the poor kid at school with FOB-y clothes, who wasn’t allowed the latest fads (no pokemon, no gel pens, no mudd jeans), and yet I was the one who got to fly to China every year.

    Thanks to them I’ve also ended up traveling, and without a lot of money or savings. I moved abroad at 18 and, for the past seven years, have been traveling and working around the world, from Singapore to Paris to Italy to Shanghai. (I moved to Singapore with only $700 to my name!)

    I’m still not rich, in a lot of jobs I’m still scraping by (writers be poor, man) but I do believe it is totally a mindset and it is all about priorities. If you really prioritize it you CAN make it happen, and my parents (and many other immigrant families) are proof of that.

    Secondly: Travel maybe doesn’t change everyone, but it IS capable of changing people. The person I am now is definitely thanks to the travel I’ve done in the past seven years. Had I stayed in small-town Pennsylvania, I _know_ I would be a totally different person; people from my high school/college days don’t recognize the person I am now. It’s a long story why, but I would respectfully disagree, travel _can_ change who you are.

    And finally, I have to also comment on the first poster above: the difference between an expat and an immigrant isn’t privilege. It’s length of stay. My parents were immigrants because they left China to make a new life in the US. If they were only planning to stay five years, they would’ve been expats. I’m an expat in Paris because I don’t plan on making a long-term home here. Were that to change, I’d gladly say I had immigrated to France.
    Edna recently posted…Beijing Lit Fest! And other fun spring updatesMy Profile

  • Reply nice May 17, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Hello. I agree. I have been dreaming of traveling since my past life lol! However, my situation simply won’t allow it. Not losing hope, though. Maybe in the future when my finances are better. I have no debts. Thank God! But even so, my income is just enough to survive and pay the bills. No spare money for traveling. Starting a business would be my first step. Good luck! Great blog you have :)

    • Reply Keziyah July 15, 2015 at 11:32 pm

      I hope you’re able to travel someday. But the struggle is real.

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