I haven’t been traveling for very long. It’s only been about a year and a half since my first international trip (when I moved to Madrid.) Since then I suppose I’ve caught the travel bug, and now I’m constantly looking for new trip ideas and spending hours playing around with dates and locations on Google Flights. I’ve joined at least a dozen travel related groups on Facebook and I’ve become interested in everything related to travel and travel hacking.
But the more I learn from the online travel community, the more I am disgusted with the high and mighty tone that I often see in blogs or online conversations. Unfortunately, many travelers have a way of belittling people who don’t have the opportunity to see the world. And I’m sure many travelers believe that they are inherently better than those who don’t share their passion for seeing new places.
As a traveler, to all the non-travelers out there, I’d like to apologize for all the pretentious blog posts and condescending memes from the travel community. The truth is we’re not necessarily wiser, more cultured, more fulfilled, or in any way better than those who don’t travel. Let me tell you why.
Travelers are arrogant.
I really do think that many travelers believe they are superior to those who don’t travel.Some of us think that non-travelers’ priorities are out of place. We think they should be buying plane tickets instead of new shoes or a nice dinner at a restaurant, or that they should be catching flights instead of feelings. That if you’ve never left your country, there’s something wrong with you. Travelers criticize others for counting how many bags or watches they have, while boasting about how many countries they’ve been to.
I find it interesting that travelers judge others simply for choosing to spend their time and money in a different way. We travelers are bent on instant gratification just like everyone else. The thrill someone gets from a new tech gadget is the same one we get from buying a plane ticket. A thousand dollars is a thousand dollars, whether you spend it on a designer bag or tickets to Seoul.
Travelers are privileged (and don’t want to admit it).
I don’t care how many blogs you’ve written or read about budget travel. No matter how much you “hack” it, you simply need money to do it, whether that’s $1 or $1 million. I do agree that travel is generally cheaper than most people think, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can afford it. Yes, some people who don’t own yachts or live in mansions work their asses off and are able to afford trips. Kudos to them. But try telling the family of four who just had their electricity cut, or the recent graduate with no safety net and tens of thousands in student loans, that they could travel if they really wanted to.
Many travel bloggers and nomads are living more modestly than you might think. But you do need some sort of privilege or luck to be able to travel. In my case, I was lucky enough to have credit cards to find my move to Madrid, and to pay for my CELTA course that got me my current job in Saudi Arabia. With this job, I am lucky enough to be able to travel while paying off the debts that got me to this point, including student loans. Three years ago, if someone had told me that three years in the future I’d have a decent job that allowed me to travel and pay off my student loans within a couple years, I would have thought it was impossible. But here I am.
So yes, I had to work for it, and since my family doesn’t have much money, I had to do it alone. But I’m also privileged, as many travelers are. And when you’re privileged, it’s difficult to see how others don’t have the privilege that you do. (The same way it’s difficult for white people to admit that racism exists, or for men to admit that sexism exists.) That explains the “You, Too, Can Travel If You Would Just Stop Being So Lazy” theme we often see in blogs and memes.
“Don’t worry about the money, just make it work,” is not something you would ever say if you’ve ever been poor. How can someone just not worry about money? I’ll tell you how: only if you have enough of it in the first place.
Even if you travel modestly, you need money for the plane ticket. You still need money for the cheapest hostel in the world. Passports aren’t free. Luggage isn’t free. Taxis to and from the airport aren’t free.
Experiences are invaluable, and according to science, better than buying things. But memories from backpacking through Southeast Asia or dune bashing in Abu Dhabi aren’t going to pay the rent and bills. Last time I checked, Sallie Mae only takes automatic debit, check, or money order, not JPEGs.
Travelers are superficial.
I recently decided to use Instagram more for my blog.
I’m wondering if it’s a good idea. I don’t want to become so obsessed that I start living my life solely for the purpose of getting a good shot. These thoughts go through my head when I’m looking at pictures.
Did this person travel all the way to this beach just to they could take this picture? How long did it take them to get the perfect shot? Who did they hire/drag with them to be their photographer? Are they even enjoying themselves? Why did they post that random quote on their picture…it has nothing to do with the destination!
If I use Instagram more, am I going to end up like that?
Everyone is superficial to some extent, including me. (I take way more selfies than I’d like to admit). There’s nothing wrong with taking cool pictures of yourself or your experiences. But the amount of work that some people put into creating an online image of who they are is unbelievable. In this modern world where likes, hashtags, and reposts are the currencies that buy self worth, people will go out of their way to present themselves as something they are not. Most travel bloggers talk about how great their lives and trips are, while leaving out the failures. There are probably hundreds, if not thousands of “Quit Your Job, Travel The World” pieces, but few mention what happens when they money runs out and you have to move back in with mom and dad. Sometimes it seems like travelers, bloggers or not, care more about their image as a traveler, and what they can post on Instagram or brag about upon returning home, than the experience they’re having. If the main reason you’re going on a trip is to show people that you’ve been there, or if your main reason for entering a country is to collect passport stamps, that’s just sad. Get your life together.
Bottom line: Traveling is just a hobby and it doesn’t make anyone special.
People who ride horses are no better than people who don’t. People who collect stamps don’t go around shaming people who choose to collect coins instead. Knitters aren’t constantly writing blog posts about how you must drop everything you’re doing and start knitting immediately, otherwise your life has no purpose.
Traveling is a hobby, just like knitting, stamp collecting, reading, or improv. But what gives the traveler the sense of superiority that fanatics of other hobbies don’t have? I think it’s these three things:
1)It costs money, therefore having the money to do it, or working hard to save up for it, means you have some form of economic privilege.
2)It involves cultural learning. Supposedly when people travel, they should be exposed to and engage with other cultures, therefore making them a more well rounded, worldly, and educated person. (You may have guessed that I disagree with this. Travelers can be just as ignorant as anyone else.)
3)It presents the opportunity for unique experiences and accomplishments. You can only climb Kilimanjaro, eat real Thai food from a street vendor, and bathe in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon if you travel. The vast majority of people don’t or can’t travel internationally. So it means that the people who can and do, are doing something extraordinary.
The combination of these things means that the traveler, who sees themselves as economically privileged, well cultured, and doing things that most people don’t do, feels good about themselves because they travel. It’s easy for them to look down on people who don’t travel, because they’re just poor, ignorant about world cultures, and living a mundane life. The traveller feels that they are fundamentally different from everyone else. They post their adventures on social media as if to say “Hey, look at me! I’m riding an elephant. You can’t ride an elephant because you’re at work and you don’t have as much disposable income as I do. Not to mention you’re boring. Not only will you not have this experience, but you also can’t afford it.” (By the way, riding elephants is not cool.)
The traveler, who feels superior and exceptional, has unwritten permission to look down upon the non-traveller. A rich person who mocks the working class laborer who can’t afford a sports car is kind of an asshole. It’s not nice to go around saying “I have more money than you.” But it’s somehow acceptable for travelers to be condescending to those who don’t, because it’s not just “I have more cash than you.” It’s “I’m more cultured than you. I have better experiences than you do.” Never mind that those experiences aren’t free, and shaming someone for not being able to afford an experience is very classist. Never mind the fact that learning about other cultures and having great experiences doesn’t need to happen abroad. Never mind that you know our society is fucked up when you have to be economically privileged enough to afford enlightening, potentially life-changing experiences. And never mind that going abroad doesn’t necessarily make you wiser or a better world citizen (see: poverty porn and voluntourism.)
This explains the pretentious travel blogs and memes I see every day:
The hundreds of blog posts and memes saying “You CAN afford to travel. You’re just not wishing hard enough that money will magically appear in your bank account.”
The “I have a better hobby or interest than you” posts, such as this meme.
The “You must travel, otherwise your life is worthless” memes, like this one.
The “How dare you ask me how I can afford to travel, peasant” blog posts.
The articles that begin like this: “Here’s how saved 20 grand to travel. First, I had 10k in the bank, then I sold my car, then I moved in with my parents.”
All of these have a common theme: “I, traveller, am better than you, non-traveller.”
How about we just respect people who have different hobbies than we do. How about we recognize that travel is something you have to be privileged to do. How about we admit that travel probably isn’t as life-changing, educational, romantic, and fulfilling as people make it out to be, and therefore it’s not necessary live an exciting or full life. How about we accept that some people are perfectly happy never leaving their hometowns, and that’s ok.
Travel is great. But so are taking long showers, riding a bike in a local park, eating ice cream, and sleeping in on Saturdays. If travel is your thing, then great. But someone else’s thing may be different than yours.
You do you. And let everyone else do them.