Although nothing is impossible, there are a great number of people around the world who can’t travel because the odds are immeasurably stacked against them. They may be under political restraints, embargoes, inseparable from their family’s livelihood, or be one of the 1.4 billion people who live below the poverty line. It’s easy to get into thinking that everyone should travel but potent to realize that everyone can’t.
Travel Is A Luxury
While there is no doubt that overcoming the obstacles and traveling the world is generally not a simple or painless undertaking, typically most do so with some sort of safety net. A farmer working the fields in the demanding terrains of Central Asia could probably save enough money over a lifetime for a jaunt to Argentina – but what would become of their land or the family that depends on them for survival?
That may be a very specific example but there are many more like them numerous travelers can attest to. Luxury doesn’t imply that traveling is negative but rather something special to be appreciated by those who can.
The Antithesis Of Travel Isn’t The Grind
There is a common theme within travel media that people who don’t travel regularly or travel long-term are stuck in the 9-5 “grind”. They can’t escape their jobs and while that’s true for some, it’s a broad generalization that doesn’t take into account the wide spectrum of individual situations.
- It’s logical to target the “9-5” group because they generally have the means, if not the will, to travel. Often completely ignored are the people who can’t travel no matter how great their desire to do so.
It reminds me of what Gary Arndt calls travel porn in the futile quest for the authentic travel experience.
Porn is people watching people do things you’ll never do with people you will never do,” Arndt says, and “travel readers are also people watching people do things you’ll never do at places you will never go.”
In this case, a conception that traveling is the next evolutionary step for those working in the developed world to see what life is “really” like. You may travel to learn from other people but what does it mean if the people you’re searching to learn from have never traveled themselves?
Flipping Your Perspective
Witnessing a single case of a person who can’t travel by any practical means can help put just one of your trips into perspective. Traveling is tough but being bound to the circumstances of a hard life with little chance of financial or familial mobility is grueling. Those who are writing, taking pictures, and filming video about travel can encourage and teach people to travel more but no matter how perfect our creative creations are we can’t change a person’s access to resources.
- At best travel writers can help others manipulate their minds and existing situations but the truth is most people won’t ever pick up and go and even more will never have the means to do so.
I still believe that there is a way in any situation to accomplish your goals, whether it be travel or otherwise, no matter how enormous the obstacles in your path. One good reason to travel to a place you want to see (if you can) is to appreciate the privilege that traveling is for humanity. That realization alone can take you places no airplane ever could and add value to even the meekest of travel budgets.
It’s an interesting argument but I wonder if you’re not projecting your own wanderlust. Have you had conversations with many of the locals in places you’ve traveled to that indicate a frustration with their inability to travel? Just wondering. I agree with many of the points you’ve made here but I believe one of the underlying premises of your argument is that all people want to travel but can’t. Second, how are you defining “travel”? Going abroad for weeks at a time? Is that the only way to travel?
Sorry. It’s 6 am and I’m feeling a bit philosophical.
In a sense I suppose many of the people I’ve met over the years who can’t travel fall into two camps – those that might want to visit a certain place or specific city and others who don’t see the personal practicality of traveling. It’s of course impossible to generalize.
My main argument is not that I personally believe everyone wants to travel but can’t but there’s a conception that it’s the case. I think there will always be those who want to travel and those who don’t to varying degrees; the unfortunate thing is that there are those who can’t – no matter where on that bell curve they fall.
As far as travel; it could mean a single 1 week trip to another country or a simple road trip to another city domestically. For many, even those options don’t realistically exist.
I’ve had some very painful conversations with locals in places I have visited who would LOVE to leave their country and travel, to see America, Europe, even other places within their own country, and are economically constrained from doing so. Which leaves me feeling guilty for being so lucky as to be born into the developed West, and to be able to travel longterm.
I have, also, met people (among them hunter-gathering nomads), who have absolutely no desire to travel. They just, well, don’t.
And, for that matter, one of my dearest friends in the UK did not leave the country until he was 21. It just was not a big deal for him. And still really isn’t.
I think we tend to assume that many people would love to dump their daily lives and travel the world. Living out of a backpack is not for all, to put it very mildly, and there are very many real and valid interests outside travel.
And for most of human existence very, very few people would ever travel.
I agree – living out of a backpack for an extended time is certainly not the norm and a lifestyle most will not (or want) to live. As far as travel, I’m not sure how many people would welcome the opportunity, but perhaps those that come with it.
Excellent points Anil, but is the quote from Gary correct?
Thanks Guido, yes that quote is from his Blogworld Expo talk linked above (although I can see the confusion from the order). Here’s the direct link:
I am someone who has been known to blurt out ‘this is awesome! why isn’t everyone doing it’ of course I know it is not possible for some people and whilst in Vietnam a man told us about how he would love to do what we are doing but it would take him a life time to get enough money and with disabled children at home it wasn’t possible – really makes it hit home how luck we are.
I feel that way too but am often faced with people who can’t for whatever reason. I think having the opportunity is as big a gift as actually traveling.
I believe that not everyone wants to travel and that not everyone that wants to can. I was lucky to have the desire, drive, and good fortune to make it happen but am acutely aware that it is not for, or available, to everyone. I do think, though, that there are many people here at home who cry out that they can’t do what I have but don’t realize the work and sacrifice involved…many more people could but don’t really want to do the work.
I agree with you Gillian, even with ample opportunity it takes planing, sacrifice, and work to make it happen 🙂
Interesting post. I think this runs true for those who have traveled to impoverished countries and had discussions with people who long for far off lands but cant and then when you are back home you talk to people who want to travel to far off lands but for some reason don’t.
Traveling and the idea of travel are two different things, this is why I like to read. I get to travel all over and experience things as they were, or supposedly are and, for a moment and become an explorer in a far off land without ever taking a step. Which I hope is something that I can someday do/share. Just because someone can’t travel doesn’t mean we can’t help share the dream.
Well said, and why the pen (or keyboard), can be so powerful.
Traveling I’ve met locals who feel both ways. Some who are content to stay where they are (just like some of my friends from home) and, mostly young people, who would kill to travel. Interestingly a lot of them want to go to the US which is not surprising given how much US media they consume.
New York seems to be the destination that everyone wants to go to… 😛
Thoughtful post on a topic I think about often when we’re traveling through both developed & less developed countries. The reality for the majority of the people in this world is that they cannot travel. Many times this is just a real economic issue, but there are also cultural issues when a son/daughter is expected to provide for the parents and sometimes rest of the family. Then there are health issues – so many people just aren’t physically fit or have disabling diseases, which in the developing world can be crippling.
On a similar topic, I think of immigrants or expats in the same way. Dan and I chose to move to Prague and work there; we weren’t forced there by economic reasons. So many people I’ve met in the United States would actually prefer to be back home if they could support their family working at home. It’s a kind of economic refugee.
I worked hard (and still do) to be able to travel, so I don’t like it when people say that I am “so lucky.” But, I realize how fortunate I am to have my health, family and that I was provided an education and circumstances to do what I do today.
Opportunity and a bit of luck can only get you so far, I truly believe hard work is what it necessary to take advantage of them. The nomadic lifestyle is demanding – much more than most assume – and hope one day more, if not all people are awarded the same opportunities to do with as they choose.
A really interesting article to read highlighting a concern which bothers me on almost a daily basis. I wrote a guest post for Nomadic Chick on a similar topic here.
Perhaps, while you speak about travelling, this idea is really far more general. Living and working in developed countries affords us the luxuries of education and standardised wages which some of us use as a starting point for our adventures. Others use it to follow their dreams to become a doctor or lawyer or to build a successful business. The other people around the world, some in our own countries, who do not have access to these resources have no option of changing their circumstances and their lives. I think it is natural to feel guilty for what we have that others do not. But, us not travelling out of guilt wouldn’t change their lives for the better either. SO we must use our travels to spread what positivity we can.
Your article brings up some really difficult questions to answer, some of which I’ve thought about posting myself. While I don’t think anyone shouldn’t travel because there are those who can’t, the perspective is important to carry with us if we can.
Thanks for the link – more food for thought on a similar subject 🙂
My first trip to SE Asia has been especially eye-opening for a number of reasons, but it’s been very humbling to see how so many people in this world live with so little – yet are often still so happy. To these people big trips to other parts of the world quite simply will never be a possibility.
Makes you wonder where contentment comes from or what the commonalities of it are among human beings.
Sounds like you’re having fun from you’re site and Twitter. What’s next in SE Asia for you?
This is a really good point Anil. I have oftentimes said I don’t understand people who don’t want to travel, not even thinking about those who really really can’t. I can’t imagine being born into a life like that, where even if you want to travel there is no way you can ever ever do it. It reminds me off this sign for charity that was posted in Stockholm for a while. It had a picture of a starving African boy and beneath it simply said “The life lottery”. I thought it was such a poignant message. We are just incredibly lucky to have been born into lifestyles that allow us this luxury.
It is a bit like the lottery isn’t it?
One of the reasons I travel is to open up my mind to other cultures. I’ve learned a lot while traveling the world – and I’ve certainly learned that not everyone can travel; so many people on this globe don’t have the means. However – if you do have the means, time, etc – then I think it’s a valuable thing. It broadens your perspectives – even if it’s traveling around your own country. So – if you can do – then get out and experience the world.
Wonderfully said Sherry, thank you for the poignant comment.
This opens Pandora’s box of philosophical questions/discussions/etc.
I do agree that not everyone can travel. My parents are first generation Americans. To my mom who was born in the US and spent a substantial amount of time in Mexico wouldn’t even dream of travel. She knows what she wants and it is in the form of the US. They spent a good majority of their lives creating my life – feeding, comforting, birthing, etc.
Now I get the opportunity to travel. Why? Because I have the opportunity to do so. Their parents struggled to keep food on the table. My parents went to college. I went to college and here I am. I am so grateful that I have been given this chance (even is my mom is a little jealous that I’m living her dream).
Does your mom travel now from time to time?
She does not. She shut herself out of many things. Told me growing up that traveling is only for rich people.
A few days ago somebody from Pakistan told me through my blog’s Facebook page that he loved my lifestyle and wished he could travel too. When I asked him why wouldn’t he, even if it was somewhere close, he said that he couldn’t becasue all he could do was “work work and work” for his family. That was a reality check for me.
Yet at the same time one of the great things about travel blogs – inspiration and a way for people to see and read about the world.