I came across an article recently that talked about how travelling was “classist”. It left me with the impression that the author thinks that people either shouldn’t travel, or at least shouldn’t tell others that they travel, or if they do, they should feel bad about it. As someone who travels constantly (and works in a field where travel is necessary), I must say that it left a bad taste in my mouth. I was going to reply to it on Facebook but decided I wouldn’t for 2 reasons. For one, I hate getting into Facebook debates that are just going to leave both sides upset without further advancing the argument, and two, I had more than a few words to say. Therefore, I decided to write this blog post in response.
Note: All photos in this post come from a stockphoto website, except the photo above which is a screenshot of the original article.
If you ask me, classist is a term that means someone who judges others based on their socio-economic class (similar to how racism is someone who judges others based on their race). It implies that simply because you travel that you must be judging and looking down on people who don’t travel – which I think is untrue. Calling a huge, diverse group of people (travellers) classist is judging an entire group of people based on one characteristic – which just seems like another form of judgement to me (which I think should be avoided). So, here I’ve broken down all the major points that are made in the article and responded to each one separately. I’m not saying whether you should or shouldn’t travel (that’s totally up to you) but I am saying you shouldn’t say that people are bad because they travel.
- Point #1: Travel can be educational and enriching – True
Travel is a good way to learn a lot of things. You can learn many things in your hometown, like how to read, how to get along with people that come from a similar backgroung, anything that you can learn on the internet, etc. But certain things are best learned in context. So, if you want to learn how to speak a new language it’s best to be immersed, and if you want to learn a certain style of cooking, it’s best to learn from people who know that style of cooking really well. Travelling can also teach you about yourself, to take less things for granted, that not every place is the same, and how to get along with people who are very different from yourself.
- Point #2: Travel is a consumable good under capitalism – Mostly True
While travel isn’t exactly a physical good (you can’t hold it in your hand, or make 5,000 of them in a factory), it’s probably more of a service (like having someone clean your house, or renting something to use for a specific period of time from a person who makes money of of it). However, the amount of people who travel is probably a lot higher in capitalist countries, and a lot of people do travel to fancy places to “keep up with the Jones’s”, similar to buying a bigger house or a fancier car to compete with their neighbours and/or peers. However, I still think it’s fine to travel if that’s what you want to do. Just like buying a car if it’ll help you get to work, or buying a bigger house if you have more children makes sense. Over-consumption is definitely a big issue (economic and environmental) in today’s society, but I don’t think that stopping ALL consumption is the key to solving that problem.
- Point #3: Travel shows your privilege – True
I agree completely – I am privileged. In fact, I show my privilege every second of every day, no matter where I am. People can be privileged in a society just based on their gender, skin colour, physical attractiveness, nationality, or wealth. Some of these things can be easily discerned by just glancing at a person for a few seconds. Should we not do things just because we’re privileged to be able to do them? Should we not wear nice clothes, go to university, or get a job just because other people can’t? I think not… However, if you’re a good person you should definitely try to be aware of your privilege and try to fight for the rights of others who are denied certain things for any reason that is unfair. Not travelling isn’t going to help fight for the rights of marginalized people…
- Point #4: Low income people can’t afford to leave their city – Mostly False
Many people in North America feel like they can’t travel AT ALL unless they get rich, but that’s simply not true. Unless you’re working every single day of the week, you can take short trips to nearby places even if you work a minimum wage job. In many countries, even people living in extreme poverty travel often within their own country. Of course, they don’t say “I’m going on vacation”, they say “for the next few weeks, I’m going home to see my family in the village”. They may travel by cheap means on transport like local buses, and they may stay with family once they arrive, but that doesn’t mean that they’re stuck in one city for the rest of their life with the inability to leave. Yes, it’s more difficult without lots of money. Yes, it’s more difficult when you have kids. Yes, it’s more difficult if you have multiple jobs. But it’s usually not impossible.
- Point #5: Many people are too poor to travel – Mostly False
I think this is completely untrue. Yes, there are people who live below the poverty-line who probably don’t travel much. But can most Canadians who I have on Facebook afford to travel? Almost certainly. With millions of different websites and newsletters that can find you travel deals, you can now go all the way to Ireland, Japan, or Lima for under $500 roundtrip from cities like Toronto or New York. In most cities, you can use CouchSurfing, AirBnb, or Hostels to find cheap accommodations around the world. Most people who I talk to that say “I wish I had enough money to travel”, actually make more money than me, they just choose different priorities. They want a big house with nice furniture. They want a new car and all the expenses that go along with it. Making money to travel is about prioritizing. If materialistic things are important to you – that’s fine. But you can’t really complain about not travelling because you made a choice. I chose, instead, to live in a small apartment, use public transport, and take short-term jobs in different countries. In fact, I often travel to countries where it’s cheaper to live than Canada. I can easily live in Bolivia on less than I pay in rent in Canada. I’ve lived in 3 of the 10 cheapest countries to live in the world, and travelled to 5 more of them as well. They may not have all the luxuries that you’re used to, but I really enjoy living in new places and learning about their cultures. Travel is my priority. I think a lot of people don’t realize that. When people say “you’re so lucky to travel” they imply that they can’t travel themselves, which is usually not the case.
“If you want to live where we live, you can but you choose not to. That’s not because you’re unlucky; it’s a choice you have made, just like my new country is a choice I’ve made.” – Things not to say to an expat
- Point #6: Some people with disabilities can’t travel – True
I completely agree that many countries and cities (especially outside of “the west”) are not accessible to people with disabilities. Although it is possible to take a plane or a train when you’re in a wheelchair (for example), it may be impossible to even navigate the streets full of potholes and without sidewalks once you arrive. However, I don’t think this should be a reason for able-bodied people not to travel. If blind people can’t see pictures, does that mean that you shouldn’t love photography? That makes no sense. If this is an issue you care about, then you should fight to make travel more accessible to people of all abilities. Often making a place more accessible doesn’t just help people with disabilities, but actually helps everyone by making it a nicer place.
- Point #7: Some people who aren’t white or are LGBT can’t travel easily (risk of harassment and violence) – True
I agree that some countries have horrible human rights violations, racism, and discrimination against various different groups of people for various different reasons (political, religious, cultural, etc.). Similar to the point about about disability, I think that if you care about rights for marginalized groups of people, then you should try to support people in those groups in those countries and try to fight for rights where you can. People who may face discrimination should be more careful when they travel to certain places (for their own safety) but it definitely doesn’t mean they can never travel.
- Point #8: You shouldn’t hold travel up on a pedestal – True
In my opinion, you should never hold anything up on a pedestal. You shouldn’t believe that your girlfriend is perfect in every way, that one university is the best in the world for everyone, or that a famous activist never did anything wrong. Thinking something to be perfect and “the best” is always bad, and can only lead to disappointment when the actual thing has flaws or isn’t perfect. Yes, travelling is fun and exciting, but it’s also draining and challenging sometimes. Nothing is perfect, and everyone should realize that. Just because I live in different countries when I’m working doesn’t mean that my life has no stress or problems – they’re just different problems.
Point #9: If you travel, it’s rude to tell others about it – Mostly False
The part of the article that I found the most strange was the part where they talked about how telling other people about your travels was rude. The part I agree with is that bragging about travelling is rude. In fact, bragging about anything or putting other people down for not doing/having that thing is always rude. But the whole point of social media is to tell other people about your life. So, if you’re travelling but never post anything, that’s fine, but if you want to tell people what you’re up to I think that’s okay. Social media is about sharing your life with people who you know (for the most part), and they probably do want to hear at least a bit about your vacation.
I know that I’m biased because of who I am, but everyone is biased in one way or another. I just don’t think that people should judge other people for how they choose to live their lives – as long as they’re trying their best and attempting to figure out what will make them happy (without hurting others) I really don’t see the problem. I just wanted to open up a conversation, because people who travel are not necessarily bad people who judge others. I think we should all just try to be happy and understand others, and if you do that by travelling – then all the power to you! 🙂