Why I Don’t Believe In Encouraging People To Travel

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Why I Don't Believe In Encouraging People To Travel

“I want to inspire people to travel.” A typical tagline on many of the thousands of travel blogs out on the internet. The more I see this tag line or its variations, the more it bothers me. So today, we’re going to discuss the seemingly innocuous idea of encouraging people to travel.

Encouraging people to travel shouldn’t be inherently bad. However, if it is the foundation of a conversation about travel, of a blog about travel, of a mentality about travel (“everyone can travel, if you just wish hard enough!”) without a consideration of the privilege behind this idea, then it can be a big problem. And if encouraging people to travel just sends uninformed people out into the world, into unstable and vulnerable communities that they don’t understand, then tourism has the potential to be really destructive.

This may be a sensitive subject for some people. However, being critical of this subject doesn’t mean that I’m necessarily discouraging travel. Instead, it’s a call to action to travelers to consider the impacts of tourism, and to travel writers to consider how encouraging people to travel may be alienating to some readers and an example of privilege in action.

So let’s chat, for a moment, about travel.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of travel

It would be hypocritical for me to knock travel as a whole. I love to travel. It is a great passion of mine and I know that I share this passion with many, many individuals. I believe that travel can be incredibly enriching. It allows us to open our minds to how other people live their lives (which is especially important when the western media has the tendency to demonize and dehumanize people from other countries). It allows us to share our languages and cultures. It allows us to be empathetic to the lives of others. These are all important.

However, the traditional travel narrative that we receive is oftentimes one of solely personal growth. We think of travel as a way of building ourselves up and learning about ourselves, which is also not inherently bad. Personal growth is important. But we cannot only think about personal growth when real people and real environments are at stake. It’s selfish. Tourism has the potential to be incredibly destructive, in terms of environmental impacts and human rights impacts. As travelers, I believe that this consideration needs to be at the forefront, to leave as little trace as possible.

Environmentally, tourism can deplete resources that are already scarce, such as food and water. Tourists often arrive at their destinations expecting the same access to resources that they have at home, although in some places this demand is unsustainable. According to the GDRC:

Negative impacts from tourism occur when the level of visitor use is greater than the environment’s ability to cope with this use within the acceptable limits of change. Uncontrolled conventional tourism poses potential threats to many natural areas around the world. It can put enormous pressure on an area and lead to impacts such as soil erosion, increased pollution, discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. It often puts a strain on water resources, and it can force local populations to compete for the use of critical resources.

And that’s just talking about physical impacts of travel. What about social impacts?

There is a dirty side to tourism that we don’t like to discuss, because travel is supposed to be an escape. Thinking about human rights issues doesn’t exactly scream relaxing when you just want to sit on a tropical beach drinking mojitos. However, tourism, when uncontrolled, can easily be exploitative to local people. Some issues include: unfair wages for workers in the tourism industry (especially in resorts or on cruise ships), sex tourism and human trafficking, and erasure of local and/or Indigenous cultures.

These issues just scratch the surface of the human rights impacts of tourism. While tourism can be positive, the negative impacts need to be considered as well, especially when coupled with the concept of encouraging people to travel.

The privilege behind encouraging people to travel

Yes, privilege. Let’s discuss privilege for a moment.

Privilege has many forms. One’s skin color, gender identity, ability, sexual orientation, social class, and country of origin greatly affect that person’s daily movement, while traveling and not traveling. Oftentimes when we talk about privilege, we feel defensive when that privilege is pointed out. Because it’s uncomfortable! Most folks don’t like to hear that they have white privilege, or male privilege, or xyz privilege. However, discussing and acknowledging privilege is not a way of invalidating the hardships that a person has experienced in their lifetime. Rather, acknowledging privilege is a way of understanding that the person may be likely to underestimate a problem, due to a lack of lived experiences. Privilege is also intersectional: one may be privileged in some ways and marginalized in other ways.

I’m going to make a bold statement here, and say that travel writers as a group are privileged. I mean, come on. We’re talking about a group of people whose hobby (or even their livelihood!) is based around travel, which at the very least requires money and flexibility. Also, while travel writers come from many different races, sexes, classes, sexualities, creeds, etc., it is undeniable that white, western travel bloggers are the bloggers who are showcased in the travel mainstream. Have you googled “top travel blogs” recently and seen who comes up first on google? Most, if not all, white people. And travel bloggers encourage the whitewashed travel industry by promoting other white bloggers. I’ve seen way too many “My Favorite Travel Blogs Of 2017” lists that contain white blogger after white blogger. And no, it’s not because there are no travel bloggers of color out there, but rather that the travel industry (and, ahem, all other industries) is dominated by white people in a white supremacist world.

Passport Privilege
Passport privilege is real and very much affects how we move around the world

Travel blogs, while overwhelmingly white, are also often written by people from western nations with passport privilege (think the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, etc.). Passport privilege is an important part of being able to move throughout the world – with my U.S. passport, for example, I can travel to 174 countries! Holy crap, that’s a lot. But for someone from the Dominican Republic, for example, that number has suddenly decreased to 54 countries.

Also, we cannot talk about race or passport privilege without talking about class on a local and global scale. Many travel writers talk about money and budgeting and saving for travel, while conveniently ignoring a discussion of class privilege. These bloggers may come from money, may be able to move in with their parents to save for travel, may be university educated with high-paying jobs shortly out of college, blah blah blah. If a travel blogger writes an article saying that they saved for travel by cutting back on their daily Starbucks latte, their privilege is showing. There are some people who want to travel but have nothing to cut back on. There are some people who want to travel but do not have the safety net of help from parents. There are some people who want to travel but are living paycheck to paycheck.

I’m not knocking travel writers who work hard, save their money, and are living their dreams. I think that’s great. I’m also in no way accusing travel bloggers of all having trust funds/living off of their parents, etc. I believe in your hard work. What bothers me is when this narrative is presented as attainable for everyone. Because it’s not. Not everyone can travel. Not everyone has the money to travel, the flexibility, the ability. No matter how many lattes you tell them to stop drinking, no matter how much you want to wish travel money into their wallets.

And quick sidebar: what is wrong with treating yourself to a latte? Why is this the baseline for “saving for travel”? Every individual is entitled to their day-to-day happiness as well. It’s not always about living for some far-off future, but also about enjoying our present moments. For some people, that present happiness is in the form of a latte. Stop shaming and let people live their lives.

Finally, another side to the passport/class coin is the travel destination. Many westerners encourage travel to what they deem to be “cheap countries”, most of which include countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. But the notion of certain countries as “cheap” is a crappy framework. The reality? Western nations are comparatively rich. And these nations were able to become comparatively rich due to their violent conquering and colonization of other so-called “cheap” countries.

Who is really being encouraged to travel?

Well, other privileged people.

White people, westerners, people with passport privilege, people with class privilege. People who, for the most part, look similar and act like the top travel bloggers in the industry.

The converse is that, for those people who want to travel and want to find resources on how to travel, but who do not fit the traveler paradigm, they are implicitly told that they are not welcome in the mainstream travel sphere. What about poor people who want to travel? A traveler in a wheel chair? A trans traveler?

I’m tired of seeing every other travel blog with the tagline of “encouraging people to travel”, without some acknowledgement of the fact that not everyone can travel. I think that every travel blogger should ask themselves about the intent of their blog. If the blog’s intention really is about encouraging people to travel, how is this space inclusive of all types of travelers?

Also, as travel writers we really need to stop telling people to travel without doing the work of educating our readers about ethical tourism. And no, I don’t mean voluntourism. I mean traveling in a way that you leave no trace. Tourism can be so destructive to local communities, especially when these communities are vulnerable. We need to stop pretending not only that everyone can travel, but that everyone should travel. If you’re going to go into a community and cause problems, I would prefer that you stay at home.

Especially when, for some people, staying at home is the rich and comfortable life that they want. It’s not always about travel – it’s about happiness. Happiness can be found at home or abroad, and travel writers who tout the “quit your job, sell your crap, and travel – because that’s the only true way to live” mentality are equally ignorant. Some people are happy in their 9-to-5 jobs, tending to their relationships, homes, and house plants, and that happiness is precious and should never be shamed.

Houseplants need love too!

So now what?

I believe that life is a fine balance between doing what makes you happy and doing good for the world, and unfortunately those two options do not always coexist. However, for my fellow globetrotters, my fellow folks with insatiable wanderlust and a deep desire to get out and see the world, I get it. I understand. As a traveler who recognizes the potential impacts of tourism, I try to do my best to live and to travel with intention (and subsequently, to write about travel with intention.)

I research a lot while still at home, and try to educate myself on the culture of my destination before traveling there. I read a lot. I make a point to read bloggers of color, both travel bloggers and not. I do my best to hold myself accountable for any internalized prejudices that I may hold. I welcome critique regarding how my words and actions may contribute to the oppressive systems that I am trying to break down. I recognize that I am still learning, and that’s okay. And I recognize that education is the pathway to social change, for myself and for the rest of the world.

So for the sake of educating, I will leave you with some resources, for travelers and travel bloggers, about travel and travel blogging and more.

Why I Don't Believe In Encouraging People To Travel

What are your thoughts on the topic of encouraging people to travel? Do you feel that you have access to travel and the travel resources that are discussed in travel blogs? What topics would you like to see more of within the travel mainstream? Less of? Let me know in the comments below!

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42 Responses

  1. Eileen

    Hi Alissa, I loved this article. Absolutely loved it. Thought out so well. Thank you!
    While I have no problem with other people traveling, I for one don’t encourage people to travel, only because for almost 24 years I traveled for work to various places around the U.S. that were part of the U. S. Department of Energy complex. Places like Richland, WA; Los Alamos and Albuquerque, NM; Livermore, CA; Brookhaven, NY, and places in Illinois. For the most part, the best part of these trips was when I could visit with friends and family. Anymore, I just want to stay at HOME for a change, and as a result there is so much less stress in my life.
    The only thing I might add is that Airline Pilots and crew are now considered RADIATION WORKERS because of the radiation they are exposed to. See a recent post re http://www.SpaceWeather.com (have tried but can’t link to specific articles there). Don’t know where I learned this but taking Astaxanthin ( it is a component of krill and what makes wild salmon pink) for a minimum of at least 30 days before a flight acts like an internal radiation and sunburn screen. A former co-worker of mine who served in Gulf War I also said that they took that while there! Drinking a lot of Green Tea or taking a supplement will also protect.
    If were in another country and you came to my town, I would be happy to see you. In my mind, you are one of a kind Alissa. Thank you, Love, Eileen

    • Alissa

      Eileen, thank you for your kind and supportive comment! I didn’t know that about the airline workers. What does that mean for folks who travel often, I wonder?

      I’m glad to hear that after many years of travel you are able to be at home, relaxing! It’s great that you’re getting to do what makes you happy 🙂 Enjoy it! Sending all my love <3

  2. Alyssa

    Yes to ALL of this! You articulated the things I was feeling when I decided to pull the plug on blogging. I still want to write but I’m so tired of writing the same old meaningless fluff when travel can be so violent to communities and travel writing glosses over a lot of it. Thanks for sharing my article so I could find your work – I’m looking forward to reading and engaging more with writers like you and Bani!

    • Alissa

      Wow, I’m so honored by your comment, thank you Alyssa!! I agree that travel blogging can be full of fluff – it’s like travel itself, in a way. We don’t want to think about the dark side of travel, or travel blogging, because it’s supposed to be escapist. But I think actually writing about this stuff is so important, both for breaking down oppressive systems in and beyond travel, and also just to make the writing process more unique and interesting. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get a lot of joy in writing travel listicles… but I love writing personal, narrative posts or essays on topics that interest me. Are you stopping blogging entirely or are you just changing the focus of your writing? You have some great, valuable material on your site so I hope you keep writing!

      • Alyssa

        Definitely! I wrote a few critical pieces but they never really gained much traction so I kind of felt like I was writing into a void. So, to answer your question – both! I won’t be publishing on my blog (much) anymore but I’m aiming to do more journalism/reporting with my freelance writing. Can’t say I’ll never write a listicle again though – it’s what publications want 🙁

        • Alissa

          At least those listicles help pay the rent! And I totally hear you, it can be soooo disheartening to put so much time and effort into a blog post that very few folks actually read. I hope that your journalism and freelance writing fulfills you in a way that blogging hasn’t! Wishing you the best of luck, Alyssa 🙂

  3. Cherene Saradar

    This is a great perspective and very well thought out and well written. I agree with all your points. I have tried to start highlighting ethical and sustainability issues in my posts but now I’m thinking I don’t go far enough. What do you think the answer is for those of us who travel to places and want to share our experiences about a place others may not have thought to go to. I don’t want to discourage people to see a place I fell in love with. I’m struggling to find this balance. Any tips?

    • Alissa

      Hi Cherene! Great question!! I think, if you fall in love with a place, then say it! It’s absolutely fine to tell the folks at home your honest opinion, whether good or bad. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that your travel circumstances are YOUR travel circumstances. Not everyone is going to be able to make it to Bali, or Paris, or Mexico City. But you can still transport your readers to these places, by sharing your stories and anecdotes and cultural insights, in a way that teaches them a little bit about these cultures without making them feel bad that they might not have the same opportunities for travel that you and I do.

      In this post I wrote about not encouraging people to travel as a blanket statement. And in some instances, yes, I do discourage travel, especially considering all of the potential negative impacts of tourism. But I still think that it’s fair and valid, as travel writers, to write about our travel experiences in respectful and honest ways.

      Of course, the other critical issue here is that the way that we talk about foreign places and cultures needs to be done with care. It’s so easy for travel writing to be really racist! (Oftentimes this racism in travel writing is not intentional, but its consequences are real.) So not only do we have to be careful, as travel writers, about being mindful of our privilege when talking about the concept of travel, but also in our writing about the places that we do travel to. That’s the other side to the coin that I didn’t really get into in this post, but still very important. Will write more on this issue in the future, so stay tuned!

      Also, to respond to the first part of your comment, one thing that’s been helpful for me in writing about more complex issues such as ethics and social justice in travel has been to work with editors. Do you have a friend or colleague who is really well-versed in these issues who can read your work and give you feedback? For my social justice posts, for which I have to be very careful about what I say and how I say it, it’s helpful to have someone read through and give me feedback – what needs more clarity, what isn’t working, where I need to expand on an idea, etc. So I would recommend reaching out to your people. Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you would like to further discuss any of this! I know it’s a lot, but it’s great that there are more bloggers who are interested in changing the travel/travel blogging culture!

      I hope this answered your question. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  4. Martina

    Ummm, you got down on this article honey!!! Yaaaasss, feeling this article. Thanks so much for writing it.

    • Alissa

      Haha thanks Martina!! Thanks for reading – I’m glad you liked it!

  5. Rhiannon

    I absolutely LOVE this article and everything you’ve written; I couldn’t agree with each and every one of your points more!
    Privilege is an absolutely ginormous factor when it comes to travel, and travel blogging too, of course.

    To the Western world, it’s easy to forget (or just be completely ignorant to) the fact that for a lot of people in the world, it’s not as easy as just booking a ticket and flying off somewhere exotic. They have to apply for a visa in advance, pay for the visa, prove that they have the money to fly, prove they have an itinerary. It’s not easy. My boyfriend, for instance, is Indian. He lives in India and I live in the UK. If he were to want to visit me here, to start he would need to pay more than £100 for a visa weeks in advance, have a letter of invitation from myself, proof that he has sufficient funds in his account (we’re talking at least a thousand pounds per month!) and a detailed account of what his plans are while he’s here, including hotel reservations, travel tickets and the likes. He would need proof he’s leaving the country, and would likely be subject to a lot of questions on arrival.

    For me to visit him in India? All I need is to pay £30 for a 1-month visa a few days before I leave the UK, evidence of onward travel and we’re good to go. It’s crazy! People forget that we’re not all the same and with Western passports come Western privilege.

    It’s the same with white skin, unfortunately. I have never, ever had issues with gaining access to a country based on my looks alone. British friends with Asian backgrounds, on the other hand, have had visas and entries refused to certain countries just because they look like they’re from somewhere else, despite having the very same passport as me. It’s a sad reality but it’s fact.

    On a slightly different note, I don’t like the constant message being pushed by travel bloggers that “anyone can travel” because it’s just not that simple. We’re not just talking about nationality or place of origin here, either, but social and medical situations. My mother had Multiple Sclerosis so actually nah, she couldn’t travel. It’s easy enough for pretty, skinny, able-bodied white bloggers to earn 5-figures a month sitting on a beach sipping a daiquiri by saying “You too could do this!” but it’s sending a false message to a lot of people and, quite frankly, is insulting to some.

    As a “white, skinny, able-bodied” travel blogger myself, I realise a lot of what I’ve written in my comment may come across as slightly hypocritical, but I don’t think I’ve nodded along and thought “You go girl” to an article as much as I have this one in a long, long time! Thank you for sharing a much-needed dose of reality.
    Rhiannon recently posted…Why I Choose to Travel Alone (And Yes, I Do Have Friends)My Profile

    • Alissa

      Hi Rhiannon! Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comment. And thanks for providing those examples. I didn’t realize that there were such strict visa procedures for someone from India to get to the UK – ironic considering the colonization of India by the UK for like 200 years…

      There are so many things to take into account regarding the intersecting privileges behind travel. I don’t think that it’s hypocritical to recognize your own white and able-bodied privilege while being critical of the ways that many white, able-bodied bloggers talk about travel. I try to be very transparent on my blog about my various privileges, and I think that one way of using privilege for good is to acknowledge that those privileges exist and then attempt to change the culture that favors them. One way to do that is by engaging with other bloggers. These are conversations that need to keep happening, in and beyond the travel sphere.

  6. Paroma Chakravarty

    Thank you for acknowledging the class privilege in travel. As a Indian woman (I am a permanent resident in USA), traveling to most countries is still a hassle since I have to get a visa when the mere thought of traveling there pops up in my head. No wonder there are not a whole lot of Asian (or at least Indian) travel bloggers who can travel internationally. I also wanted to point out that uncontrolled tourism promotes unethical practices like animal cruelty (Sea world, Tiger temple in thailiand etc) and I absolutely abhor that. It is disgusting what people in this day and age will do to get a selfie with a drugged tiger!

    • Alissa

      Thank you for your comment, Paroma. You raise some really important points. I didn’t get into anything about animal cruelty here, but you’re absolutely right that it’s yet another potential negative impact of tourism. And the tourists who partake in these activities half the time have no idea about the industry that they are supporting! Or they know, but they partake anyway… Travel writing really needs to do better in bringing these issues to light and making ethical tourism the forefront of the conversation. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  7. Nicole Bean

    First. Loved the article and while I can agree to disagree on some points, I fully stand behind your motion to continue learning and growing because isn’t that what life is all about?! Second. I’d love to pick your brain about the passport issue though. I’m undereducated about it!

    • Alissa

      Absolutely! Learning and growing is what it’s all about 🙂 Also, I would love to hear what points you disagree on, if you’re comfortable sharing!

      And yeah, passport privilege is a suuuuper important part of this conversation. It essentially means that, depending on where you are born, you will have the privilege of relative ease of movement through the world, or not. For example, I’m from the United States, which has one of the strongest passports in the world. I can go to 170+ countries with relative ease, and can usually get a visa upon arrival or purchase one slightly in advance. For folks from many other countries who want to travel to the US, this is simply not the case. It’s a time-consuming and expensive process, usually involving long wait times for an interview with the US embassy, lots of $$$ for visas, and the very real possibility that after all this time trying to make it happen the visa will get denied. Essentially, passport privilege is a reflection on whether or not one is deemed valuable to another country or not. It’s also rooted in racism – it’s not a coincidence that white countries tend to have passport privilege, and brown countries don’t.

      Anyway, that’s passport privilege in a nutshell. Feel free to follow up with any questions. These are complex subjects not easily distilled into blog posts or comments. Thank you for reading, commenting, and dialoguing about this with me!

  8. Tayo - the 5 to 9 Traveller

    Great article and well balanced and alot of true points. How do you feel about encouraging people to travel within their own country/city? I too got fed up of the ‘quit your job and travel the world’ and ‘anyone can travel’ spiel because its so not true or necessarily sustainable but I do believe in explore your own beautiful surroundings like your city or village. I’m still aware I have some privilege here as my city London is explorable but its very different in other parts of the world but I suppose ultimately I want people to love their world around them as there are so many things to observe in it! Perhaps I am whimsical in my thinking?

    • Alissa

      Not too whimsical at all! Why shouldn’t we all find awe and inspiration in getting to know the city or town where we live? When I lived in Baltimore I found so much joy in just walking around the city (which is also how I feel when I travel and get to know a new place!). It’s a wonderful feeling, especially when you can tap into that joy in the place you call home.

      To answer your question about people traveling in their own country – there’s not really a black or white answer to the “is this still problematic or not?” question. When we talk about travel within our own countries, we’re not dealing with passport issues and all of the passport privilege that comes along with it. However, I think we still need to be careful about how we talk about travel, because other intersecting identities come into play that could make travel really easy or really not. Class privilege (or lack thereof) will still affect one’s ability to travel, same with gender identity, ability, race… I think your question (and my answer) are pretty similar to the discussion in an above comment with Cherene. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that each person’s travel circumstances are unique. What is possible for me might not be possible for you, or vise versa. And that’s okay! But as travel writers, I think we have a responsibility to be transparent about our unique circumstances in our writing, and acknowledge that those circumstances are not the case for everyone. That’s a better starting point than “here’s how to do it, because I did it!”, which just assumes that all the readers will have the means to do just as the author did.

      Does this answer your question? I would love to get your thoughts on the matter. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Tayo! 🙂

  9. Victoria

    Great post Alissa, I couldn’t agree more. I never had the opportunity to start travelling until a few years ago because I didn’t have a British passport then, so could never just ‘pop to Europe’ etc. despite living in the UK for nearly all my life. Whenever I told people that they were shocked, which just goes to show how much some people can take their accessibility to the world for granted, let alone the rest of the issues you mentioned.

    • Alissa

      Well said, Victoria. It’s unfortunate but true, but passport privilege is easy to take for granted (and, well, all privileges). Thank you for reading and commenting!!

  10. Caroline

    Love this blog and completely agree.

    I’m currently writing a blog (well, it’s been in my drafts for about 3 months!) on how we afford to go on holiday so regularly – it’s mainly tips and tricks with timing/cashback sites/how we prioritise it and save on other things like food and public transport costs.

    But it has a big fat disclaimer at the top that says the main reasons are privilege, we’re European and have jobs that pay well and have 33 days of annual leave.

    The fact is, most people in the world sadly don’t have enough money to LIVE, never mind to do luxury things like go on holiday. Add to that all the other factors you’ve already mentioned and it’s really arrogant of anyone to assume ‘anyone’ can afford to travel – let alone if they really should, either.

    Thanks for a refreshing post!
    Caroline recently posted…Day trip to Mdina, Malta: the silent cityMy Profile

    • Alissa

      Hi Caroline! Thanks for reading and commenting. Yeah, I definitely think it’s important when writing those budgeting posts to be transparent about your background and circumstances. I’m wondering if there’s a way for you to expand your post to also speak to some folks in different circumstances? Like if you mentioned “clauses” in your post for folks who maybe only have a week of leave, or who can only travel within their own country, or who have minimal disposable income for travel… it’s food for thought! Best of luck with your post 🙂

  11. Alaine

    Controversial title. But well written post! I agree with you that encouraging people to travel responsibly and ethically is paramount to what we as travel writers and bloggers can do to encourage people to travel with responsibility. I know the privileges I have for having the ability to pay for travel expenses and the connections I have with friends and family living all over the world. I am also an Southeast Asian travel blogger with no passport privilege and have to constantly be “prove my worthiness” to embassies, consulates, immigration officers to obtain visas to travel, work, study, live. I think people shouldn’t be ashamed about ones privilege, instead understand it, embrace it, and do something that uses your privilege for good. I really believe that if one can travel and live abroad will help with all the racial tensions, cultural misunderstandings, and ease up on the xenophobic sentiments that is rising in the world today. It sickens to hear ‘us vs. them’ mentality or xenophobic comments or racial slurs because the fear of the unknown.

    • Alissa

      Hi Alaine! I absolutely agree. Travel can teach us so much, and perhaps even teach us about our own prejudices and how to cast those off. And yes, there’s nothing to be ashamed of when talking about privilege. I think that’s one of the challenging aspects of dialoguing about privilege, though. People get so defensive! As if having privilege pointed out is some sort of character flaw. It’s not; it’s simply a reality that the person lives with, and is benefiting from. But like you said, it’s the responsibility of privileged people to use that privilege for good. That means dialoguing about privilege with other privileged folks, and recognizing situations in which we benefit from privilege and rejecting that privilege in favor of equity. Social justice is not passive!

      Anyway, I really appreciate your comment! Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!!

  12. Erin

    I love this post. It’s very well-written and brings up a lot of important points. I usually camp when I travel, because campsites are relatively inexpensive, if not free, and I can cook for myself. However, I’m fully aware of how lucky I am that my mom bought me some camping/outdoor gear when I was a kid and that I was able to purchase more camping/outdoor gear while I was working (before grad school). On top of that, I own a vehicle, which allows me to get to the campgrounds. So, even what seems to be one of the least expensive ways to travel isn’t possible for many people. Something that bothers me is how some people look down on Americans as a group for not traveling internationally enough. I totally understand how important it is to open people’s minds to who and what is out there (many people could definitely benefit from the experience), but those comments leave out the fact that many Americans cannot afford to travel at all, let alone internationally (especially beyond the neighboring North American countries). Even just trying to travel around the US is time-consuming and expensive. On top of that, I’m talking about people from one of the richest countries in the world, let alone people from countries with much more serious financial issues. Anyway, yeah, I feel kind of awkward showing my travels when I know so many people can’t travel themselves. Thanks for your honest and insightful post!
    Erin recently posted…AMNICON FALLS STATE PARKMy Profile

    • Nuraini

      I think people’s impression is that because USA is a developed country, the people living there must mainly be well off. Like Australia or Western Europe. Certainly that’s the image in Asia. It’s not until I learned more about the country, and met Americans from very different backgrounds to the expats that come over, that I understood all this.
      Nuraini recently posted…KL Day Trip: The Soaring Kites over Morib BeachMy Profile

      • Erin

        Thanks for your input! Yeah, I think the fact that most expats are wealthy and the type of media that comes out of the US makes it seem like most Americans are doing well financially. Plus your point that it’d probably make sense to assume that people’s financial situations in the US would be similar to other western countries. Thinking of everyone I know from the US that is living/has lived in Asia, they are all very well off, except for one that lived in Beijing for a while working as a journalist. However, everyone assumed he was rich because he was American. He finally decided to take a photo of his “apartment” (more like a closet with a sleeping bag and George Foreman grill on the floor) to carry around with him and show to people telling him how rich he must be. Then, they’d be like, “Oh never mind, you’re one of us!” I’ve mostly encountered judgmental remarks from some Europeans who will say something like I’m one of the few “good ones” that has bothered to travel outside the US. It’s difficult to not get frustrated when I explain that, ummm no, I’m one of the extremely lucky ones that has been able to travel outside my country. There are definitely Americans with enough money to travel who couldn’t care less about the rest of the world, but most just plain can’t afford it (or don’t get enough or any time off work to be able to travel). Besides the bad economic and social disparities we have in the US though, we are still so lucky to have passports that allow us to travel internationally with relative ease.
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        • Alissa

          Erin and Nuraini – absolutely. I think a lot of folks from other countries forget that the US is more than its east and west coast hubs, as well. There are 3,000 miles of country in between the two coasts! Most of which is rural. And even on the coasts, life can be really difficult. Anyone who walks through New York or DC or Los Angeles or any US city will see the shockingly high percentage of homeless people – this is a country-wide problem, and poverty is a big issue in the US. But the narratives that are presented in the media and popular culture normally showcase middle/upper-middle/upper class folks – aka those who could probably travel abroad.

          Of course, this doesn’t negative the relative wealth of the United States, globally. But just because travel is feasible for some USians doesn’t make it feasible for all. The discussion about USians who don’t travel is nuanced, which you two are both well-aware of, but not everyone who makes those sorts of comments is.

          Thank you both for your insights 🙂

    • Alissa

      Thank you Erin! It’s a good point about camping, which definitely could be a low-cost way to travel… once you have all the gear! I guess some folks really rough it, or you can get by with some basic, cheap gear, but when I think about the expenses of just a sleeping bag, tent, and backpack, already that could be a lot of money! Everything has a price tag. It’s nice that your mom was able to inspire this type of travel for you and help you out with your gear, and also good to recognize that it’s not feasible for everyone.

      As for the second part of your comment about people looking down on USians for not traveling abroad, yeah, I totally get it. It’s annoying. I’ve only ever confronted comments like these while talking to other travelers from western countries (and especially while traveling in Europe). So it’s also important to look at the folks who make those sorts of comments and their own intersecting privileges. Maybe the next time someone makes that sort of comment to you, you should use it as an opportunity to talk with them about passport, class, and able-bodied privileges (among others)! But yeah, obviously the discussion is more complex than “USians don’t want to travel abroad because we’re all lazy and xenophobic” – there are plenty of people who would love to travel internationally, but it’s just not always feasible, for all of the reasons that you expressed above.

      • Erin

        Yeah, we do have lazy and xenophobic people in our country (every country does), but there are just as many (if not probably way more) people who can’t travel, especially overseas. I definitely didn’t mean it to bash on Europeans. It’s just where I’ve encountered those sentiments from some people (who I know don’t represent their entire society). It’s usually not quite the most polite or most aware person that wants to tell me how awful the people from my country are ha ha. People are less likely to consider why others don’t travel as much if they haven’t experienced or witnessed the hardships that others experience. That includes Americans looking down on other Americans. Also, the US is a huge and diverse (in every sense of the word) country. So, someone might not realize how vastly different one American and their situation can be compared to another. There have been many times I’ve come across comments or situations (not just about this stuff) where I want to have a direct and honest conversation with the person. I’m a pretty shy and awkward person though. So, it’s difficult for me to form something coherent and tactful to say on the spot. I’m way better at writing. Maybe I could tell them to just wait 20 minutes while I think about it in a corner and write it down ha ha.
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        • Erin

          Also, I just realized you use USians! I know that even though much of the world calls people living in the US Americans, that the term shouldn’t be used unless referring to people living in all of the Americas. However, I feel weird writing US citizens, because it’s awkward and sounds like I’m trying to make a distinction between citizens and permanent residents or something. I wish we, as a country, could come up with a good term for ourselves, but USians works for now!
          Erin recently posted…AMNICON FALLS STATE PARKMy Profile

        • Alissa

          Haha don’t worry, you weren’t bashing Europeans. (But I was! Lol. Just kidding. But am I? :P). But in all seriousness, it is totally valid and relevant to look at the intersecting privileges of the folks who makes those sorts of comments. I /never/ hear comments on folks from the US not traveling abroad when I’m in Latin America, for example. But in majority white countries, I do hear those sorts of comments. It’s not a coincidence! And this can and should be called out.

          Regarding the second part of your comment about addressing these (and other) comments, I get it! It takes time. But I think that it’s important to challenge yourself to speak out when you hear comments that are ignorant or unjust, on any topic. An important part of making social change is when privileged folks use their voices to educate others, which you absolutely have the power to do, right now. We are all still learning and the conversations will not always be comfortable or as coherent as you might like. But I do encourage you to speak up when you can. With every conversation that you have, it will get a little easier. And with every conversation that you have, you will know better which gaps in your knowledge you need to fill in and what you need to study up on for the next one. And in the meantime, write about it as well. I became way better versed in speaking about street harassment after researching and writing about street harassment, passport privilege after writing about passport privilege, etc. The act of writing will help solidify certain concepts for you to make the one-the-spot education come more naturally.

          And to respond to your USian comment here – yes! It’s so weird but it’s okay for now. Sometimes I say UnitedStatesian, which is also clunky but is also okay for now. I’m trying to drop the term American (for folks from the US) as a whole. This is easier done through writing than through conversation. But as you mentioned above, it’s an appropriation of the American identity that exists throughout the Americas. The US definitely doesn’t get to claim the whole identity, so I try to stick with USian. Or “from the United States”, etc. Spanish has estadounidense, so I don’t know what went wrong with English… I wouldn’t use “US citizens”, though. Folks might not be citizens, could be residents or green card holders or undocumented, but still identify as being from the United States 🙂

          Keep in touch, Erin! I love connecting with other folks who are passionate about these issues. Thanks for dialoguing with me and for your great comments!

  13. Clare

    I understand that I am very lucky that I am able to travel. I always get asked how I afford it and for me that was by working hard and saving and being careful with my money while I am away. I understand that so many people do not have the choices I have and do not have the money or the passport to be able to go and travel. There are a lot of people where I live who don’t understand why I do what I do and why I would want to travel outside of Europe. I wish that everyone who wanted to travel could, but unfortunately that’s not the case and I do class myself as lucky to be able to see and experience the places I see.

    • Alissa

      Hi Clare! Thanks for your comment. Working hard, saving, and being careful with money are all factors that can make it easier for a person to travel… but a person can also work hard and be careful with money but still not be able to afford to travel. There are usually a lot of hidden variables when it comes to class privilege, as well. For example, someone who graduates college with a bunch of student loans, versus someone who doesn’t. The person with the student loans may be spending a couple hundred dollars per month paying off their loans, versus the one who doesn’t, who can maybe just pocket that money in a travel fund. It’s good that you recognize your unique circumstances that have led you to travel, and that you are appreciative of your travel opportunities! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  14. Noemi of Pinay Flying High

    I love this! As a Filipino with a very restricted Philippine passport, it’s not as easy for me as everyone else to just pack a bag and go. We need to apply for a visa in almost every country in the world and you are only given a visa if you have sufficient funds to prove that you’re not going to overstay or look for jobs. So yes, travel is absolutely for the privileged few in our side of the world.
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    • Alissa

      Noemi, thank you for your comment! The visa process that you have to go through sounds very frustrating, and insulting. I think it’s easy for us in the States, or in other countries with similarly privileged passports, to forget (or simply have no understanding) of that fact that not everyone can pack a bag and go, like you said. I’m curious about your own writing! Does your writing address Filipinx-specific travel, such as the difficulties of traveling with a restricted passport, etc.? Or do you write for a broader audience? Or both?

  15. Nuraini

    Thank you. I also travel a fair bit and write about it. But, that is only possible because within my (Malaysian) culture and demographic and just life situation, I am incredibly privileged. And that I’ve not been lucky enough in other life milestones that I think are of incredible value like children and a committed family life – even though in the fashionable millennial set it’s dismissed as unneeded or even somehow as an evil. But we ought not grudge each other’s happiness according to whatever is dealt to us in life.

    Everything you wrote represents the bulk of my friends and family across the region, and represents the dilemmas of mass tourism to my southeast Asian region. And it’s why my own blog’s writings isn’t aimed to inspire travel – but to inspire thoughtful travel *if* you’re travelling already.
    Nuraini recently posted…KL Day Trip: The Soaring Kites over Morib BeachMy Profile

    • Alissa

      Nuraini, thank you so much for your comment. And I think you raised a super important point about privilege in certain milestones – I feel like these are the “hidden privileges” that are easy to forget about, because they’re not necessarily physical like race, gender presentation, or ability. But yes, upbringing, background, and the like are so important in factoring into how we turn out as adults.

      It’s good that you have a clear sense of the purpose of your blog and your writing, especially understanding the effects of mass tourism at home and abroad. I will definitely check out your writing! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  16. Ella

    Wow, this was such an incredibly well-written post and I can’t help but agree with all of the points you’ve mentioned – even the ones that I hadn’t thought about until you brought them up! It must be really insulting for those who aren’t as priveledged and may be living paycheck to paycheck to hear that they should just try harder to save the money that they don’t even have to begin with. I can’t help but think that only someone who hasn’t experienced a particular hardship (one where there is no actual, tangible solution) would tell another person how to handle said hardship. Because if they had experienced it, they would have known that there isn’t actually a solution\way to overcome it and that’s exactly why it’s a hardship! Privilege is such an interesting & important topic that we really need to talk about more as a society.
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    • Alissa

      Hi Ella! Absolutely, you’ve basically written out the definition of privilege! Privilege causes us to minimize other people’s hardships, because we’ve simply never experienced them ourselves. Also, as a privileged person it can sometimes be hard to see the systemic nature of an issue, which is why you hear privileged folks say stuff like, “just work hard and you’ll achieve xyz thing, just like I did!” Except it’s not that simple. When an issue is systemic, the marginalized person might have to work twice as hard just to get to the same starting point as the privileged person. Etc, etc…

      I’m glad to hear that this post made you think about some new stuff and that it resonated with you! Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂

  17. Rachel Heller

    I agree with you in so many ways.

    Encouraging people to travel: every time I read that phrase on travel blogs I want to scream “But WHY?” And when I read these stories about “I only had $100 and still went to Thailand or wherever,” you just know they’ve traded on their young, white, pretty privilege.

    Privilege: As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of the privilege I have enjoyed every single day of my life, and still enjoy. I’m well aware that the readers of my blog are likely privileged like me, and can afford the time and money to visit the historical and cultural sites I write about.

    So what to do, when I don’t want to stop traveling as long as I still can? I just describe each place and how I felt about it, and give a recommendation about whether it’s worth visiting. That’s all. No “must-see” places, or “bucket list.” When there is a political aspect to the place, such as in some of my posts about Israel, I don’t avoid discussing it. I try to, as you call it, “travel with intention.” My increased awareness of privilege, though, doesn’t really help anyone, does it?
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    • Alissa

      Hi Rachel! Thank you for your comment! It’s good that you are aware of your various privileges and are able to acknowledge that they exist. That’s a good first step! But, similarly to what you expressed in your last sentence (“My increased awareness of privilege, though, doesn’t really help anyone, does it?”), I think it’s important to remember that acknowledging privilege is just that: a first step. Because you’re right, knowing that it exists, while powerful, doesn’t really change anything. So I encourage you to go further in your conversations about privilege, both with yourself and with others around you. Understanding that you have privilege, what are you doing to change the culture that favors those with privilege while disenfranchising those who don’t? Are you talking with other privileged folks and educating them on their privileges? Are you actively rejecting your privilege in your everyday life? I think that these are the next steps to explore, because we can’t just stop at “I have privilege and that’s the reality.” And especially as a privileged writer, with a public platform in which folks listen to you and genuinely care about what you have to say, you have a lot of power to influence and educate. I recommend leveraging that power to create systemic change.

      I know that your question was perhaps rhetorical, but actually doing something with the privilege that we have is a fundamental part of making social change. Feel free to reach out of you would like to discuss this further, or would like any resources to help you moving forward. Best of luck! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

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