Travel can be rewarding, but I don’t believe it is necessary to lead a fulfilling life.
I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor when I was a kid. If you do it right, it has its advantages and can be surprisingly comfortable. You could sleep quite well on a makeshift bed of carefully layered sheets and comforters, and in humid subtropical Central Florida where I grew up, I didn’t have to worry about warmth. In the morning, you could make the bed in a flash since there wasn’t a bed to be made.
For most of my childhood, we didn’t have beds, and other regular pieces of furniture because we couldn’t afford them. The money simply wasn’t there, and my mom did the best she could to make sure that we, her six children, at least had a roof over our heads and that we didn’t die of starvation. There wasn’t any disposable income, which meant no eating out at restaurants, no new toys, no new school clothes at the beginning of the fall semester, no summer days at Orlando theme parks an hour’s drive away, no new shoes from Payless if they cost more than $15. When the dryer broke, we hung up a clothesline in the backyard for months. When I needed to call my mom to pick me up from high school, I would be one of the only kids to use the pay phone. If we only had a few basic food items in the house, such as flour and butter, we would get creative and find a way to make something of it.
Travel was out of the question. If my family and I were all living in Orlando today, and my parents wanted to take us all on a trip to DC, plane tickets alone would cost at least $1400, or more than the mortgage that my mom used to pay. Add in lodging costs, food, etc, and such a vacation would be financially impossible on our budget, even with a cheaper method of transportation. Consequently, I had never been on a plane until I was 22, never out of the Eastern Time Zone until I was 23, and never out of the country until I was 24.
Astronomical travel costs make it nearly impossible for poor families in the US to see the world, or even their own country. So it infuriates me when I read blogs and articles by mostly white, middle class travel writers who insist that anyone can travel, no matter their financial circumstances, and that those who have financial obstacles simply aren’t trying hard enough.
If you’ve ever looked for advice on how to fund long term travel, you may have found many articles with common sense advice. Stop buying lattes, use coupons, cook more meals at home, stop going to the movies, pick up extra hours, sell things you own, etc. This is great advice for someone who is not already doing these things just to survive, as my family did. Cutting out unnecessary expenses is a great way to save money, but for many people there is simply nothing else to cut out. In one piece, entitled “How to Save $20,000 and Quit Your Job”, the writer states that she not only sold her car, but she moved in with her mom to cut on expenses. Another traveler reportedly saved $15,000 for his round the world trip while making just $9 an hour, also with the help of selling his car and other items.
Again, this is helpful, but only if you have a car to sell in the first place and the ability to move back in with your parents.
What irks me the most is the pompous, condescending tone that travel writers take to shame people who can’t afford to travel. It seems that in the eyes of seasoned budget travelers, people who are poor, need to keep a job, have loved ones to take care of, student loans, or other financial considerations, are simply making excuses for not following their dream because they choose not to prioritize it, or because they just don’t believe enough. One popular budget travel blogger wrote a post directed towards these people, entitled “How to Change the ‘I’m Too Poor to Travel Mindset’ and Say Yes to Travel. ” He says, “When it comes to travel, people think what’s holding them back is money…Nothing about their circumstance prevents them from traveling except their own mindset.”
Forget poverty, bills, children, and your minimum wage job. The only reason why you can’t travel is because you aren’t sending enough positive vibes out into the universe. Not that I don’t believe that someone who doesn’t have much money can find a way to travel, because I really do. But this idea that anyone can travel sounds a lot like the idea that anyone can come from poverty and become rich. It’s not impossible, but due to circumstances out of one’s control, it is unlikely.
Travel can be rewarding, but I don’t believe it is necessary to lead a fulfilling life. Many of the benefits of travel, such as getting out of your comfort zone, learning about other cultures, and meeting new people, are things that can be achieved right at home through less expensive hobbies.
Even though I didn’t come from much, last year I decided that I was sick of my jobs and my life, and that I needed to start over and move to Madrid, where I live now. Like some of the bloggers mentioned above, I worked many hours (sometimes I didn’t have any days off for weeks at a time), and was able to apply for credit. But I would never look down upon someone who couldn’t do what I did. I had two jobs and was able to save money from them. I don’t have children or loved ones to take care of. I don’t have any health issues that would reduce my disposable income. I was able to get a job in Spain, and I was able to apply for credit. Did I have to plan and work to make this happen? Of course.
But also, in some ways I was just lucky. Lucky that I had the ability to save. Lucky to have consistent, near perfect physical health. Lucky to have the ability to go to college, which was helped my get my current job, and the previous jobs that helped me save. Lucky to not have ever run into any life circumstances that would have damaged my credit, excluding me from getting credit cards. Lucky to not have ever been arrested, which could have prevented me from getting a visa. (Following the law has little to do with luck, but we know that certain groups of marginalized people are treated worse by the criminal justice system.)
Budget travel writers may have worked hard to get where they are, but just like me, they’re also lucky. Ignoring this, and the financial circumstances that prevent people from seeing the world, is simply classist.