Recently, I read a great post from ALOR about the new Facebook travel challenge. This post lists a number of different places around the world alphabetically, and a little bit randomly to know that travelers haven’t concentrated on one area of the globe and have been perceived as “well-traveled.” What I loved about ALOR’s post was the fact they brought up a topic I’ve long wanted to address on this blog—privilege and travel. It’s a tricky subject, and I’ve kind of touched on it in my post on why voluntourism sometimes bothers me, but I feel it’s something we can always be reminded of when we decide to leave our homes.
Let’s just start with this: I am a very privileged individual. I am young, white (embarrassingly so thanks to my Irish ancestry), can afford this nomadic lifestyle that I live, and carry a passport from the United States of America. Just this combination gives me the opportunity to travel around the world and to experience much, much more than so many people can. We often talk about the 1% relating to the economy, but we digital nomads and frequent fliers are even less of a percentage than that.
What I found honest about what ALOR had to say and which many of us might not think about when posting the Facebook travel challenge is that traveling itself is not an accomplishment. I have been guilty of thinking of it as such when I was younger and from a small town in Montana—when I chose to leave the country and try something very different from the rest of my peers. Now, I know better. I have been outstandingly fortunate in my life and have freedom to travel when very, very few do. Yes, there is an initial amount of bravery in choosing an alternative lifestyle, but many people cannot even make that first leap even if they wanted to.
The travel challenge bothers me because it does make it seem like players are throwing their lifestyle in others’ faces. It’s promoting the idea of privilege in the guise of a harmless status. I’m sure many wouldn’t see it that way, but for me, it reminds me that many “friends” are reading that list and thinking that they might have only seen one or two posted—and that somehow makes them inferior. I’m sure this is not the intention of those who play.
I’ve struggled with my own privilege as a travel writer and blogger. I’ve often thought twice about posting my travel pictures on Facebook, rebranding my Instagram so it only shows pictures of the places I’ve been, and talking about my next trip with others. This is all exploiting my privilege, and I know that. But part of the reason I started this blog was to help others become more aware of it, to help them know that this isn’t reality, and to remind travelers who share that privilege that we are fortunate.
Travel is not an accomplishment. It’s rewarding, challenging, enjoyable, frustrating, and maybe above all, educating. Like all education, it is the privileged to who tend to have access to it. I encourage readers to think twice about posting the travel challenge and to come up with a private bucket list, or to think about ways to make travel possible for others. We’ve been very lucky, and we should learn how to share that luck with others.