The Complicated Relationship Travel Has with Privilege

Every time I head to Cairo International Airport, there’s always this feeling of guilt buried under my excitement for my trip. Why do I get to go on this trip? Sure, sometimes it’s because I worked hard to get a conference opportunity, or I worked hard and saved up money. But, at the root of it, my qualifications to get this opportunity, and my ability to freelance and dedicate time to work all comes from the root source of privilege.

Why do I get this privilege when the airport worker in front of me doesn’t? That’s a more complicated question that I’m not sure I can answer. It comes down to sheer luck. If the answer that came into your mind is that they just didn’t find that English teaching opportunity in Paris, then this article is for you. These are all the things that make travel pretty much impossible for most people who aren’t upper middle class and above, around the world.


Visas

They are

  • difficult – you never know if and why your visa will get accepted
  • laborsome – they require a ton of documents that are often difficult to obtain
  • demeaning – I’ve waited 4 hours just for my appointment at an embassy once, and it was a completely normal procedure.
  • costly – even if you’re only applying for a short week-long trip. Long-term visas are even more difficult, for example; a 2 year UK Tourist visa costs $464.
  • complicated – some countries won’t even allow you to visit because of your country’s relationship with their’s (I can name at least 5 off the top of my head for my country but I don’t want to get in TROUBLE!)

Work Authorization

While some may recommend you to just apply for a job abroad so that you can travel with your costs-covered. Well, for someone with a non-US, non-Canada, non-UK and non-EU passport, that is very challenging. You have to be an EU citizen to qualify for an EU job, a US citizen even for an unpaid internship. If not, you’ll need to go through a strenuous and costly visa application, not cute.

You have to be an EU citizen to qualify for an EU job, a US citizen even for an unpaid internship. Not cute.

Safety

Depending on your race, religion or general identity, it might be extremely unsafe for you to go to certain cities or countries. While we generally encourage travel to all places, because life truly is short – we have to also be sensible. And, the truth of the matter is, if you’re of a specific race, religion or identity that is physically apparent on you, that might limit the places you’d be able to go with a general feeling of safety.

Cost

Maybe you just can’t afford it! And you can’t afford the application fee for that amazing internship abroad, or you don’t qualify because you don’t have that fancy degree. You may not have enough experience because you don’t come from a rich legacy family, etcetera. 


Military/Policies

This varies depending on your country, but some countries have specific military training requirements for men that don’t allow you to travel (and it’s very strict). I can’t imagine what that feeling of being trapped must feel like – but my male friends don’t have to imagine it.

Responsibilities

Maybe you have kids! Even if you don’t, maybe you have a sick parent, a sibling who needs assistance or someone who depends on you. We live in a collaborative society, we depend on one another, some cultures value this physical family closeness more than anything. While it might seem nice to be an independent individual who can drop everything at the drop of a hat and head to Cuba, it’s not very realistic.

Don’t beat yourself over it (I definitely have.)

Mental/Physical Health

While it might sound like the ultimate dream for you to go on a solo adventure across Europe, that doesn’t apply to everyone. For someone who has anxiety, a solo adventure may be a nightmare, with all the unknown variables at hand. For some who aren’t fully able-bodied, it might be a very hard feat to accomplish. There is a myriad of reasons why someone literally cannot physically or emotionally accomplish a certain trip, and we need to keep that in mind when telling a friend “you MUST travel solo.”

Vacations

It might be as simple as – you don’t have enough vacation days to dedicate to a trip. Or all your vacation days are going into your startup company, or just a couple of days at home to give your mind a break. Maybe you’re a student hustling and all your travel opportunities just happen to be mid-semester, maybe your attendance record can’t afford you missing class for a trip.


The point of this article isn’t to give you excuses not to Shut Up And Go. If you’re on the site, you know better than that and we know you’re using every opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and Shut Up and do something! But, as my fellow writer Julia says in another piece about privilege,

“What’s scaring me is that by writing these pieces, I might have become a travel evangelist myself.”

You know those people that are shocked when they hear you’ve never left the country, or you’ve only been to a couple of other cities? Those people. Don’t allow anyone to belittle you because of your “travel experience”, after all it comes to privilege and that is an extremely ignorant stance to take. Of course, we all want to travel, no one is sitting at home with a wad of unused cash deciding not to book every darn flight on Skyscanner (at least no one who reads Shut Up And Go, I hope.) 

The point of this article isn’t to give you excuses not to Shut Up And Go. If you’re on the site, you know better than that and we know you’re using every opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and Shut Up and do something!

Whether you’re going on your next trip abroad, or you’re talking about how much you love travel to a friend, please don’t be that person pushing travel like the end-all-be-all that everyone must do regardless of their situation. Be mindful, be thoughtful and don’t be the travel evangelist!

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