This past week I purchased a one way ticket to Thailand. Yes, to some this may seem stupid and impulsive, but I don’t have any regrets. I’ve worked hard this past year to make this happen, without a doubt. But I would also like to take the time to address how I received this opportunity and how my privilege has played a part in following my dreams to travel (quite literally) to the other side of the world. There is definitely an attitude I have received from multiple people about my choice to travel that can easily be summarized in this TIME Magazine article. It’s short so I’ll wait while you read it.
Done? Good. If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know that I traveled to Ireland, England, Amsterdam and Barcelona last fall. If you know me in real life you know that I also traveled around Italy this past spring. It would be easy for me to say that all of this traveling, plus everyday expenses I can afford like car payments and insurance, was achieved entirely by my hard work. Yes, I work very hard. I take pride in the work that I do, even if it’s not my career. But I also recognize the vast amount of privilege I have been given.
I have two extraordinary privileges that I cannot do anything about. I was born into a family that has a privileged socioeconomic status as well as the privilege of being white. I have the additional privileges of being straight and college educated. I also have the privilege of a family who values education, something I am grateful for beyond words. Have I said the word “privilege” enough yet?
Being a recent postgrad, or even just being in your 20’s in general is hard. Every single person you encounter feels entitled to tell you exactly what to do with your life or judge you based on what you’re doing because you obviously don’t know anything. And it’s exhausting. Especially when the majority of the people giving you their sage advice are not your parents or close friends (aka they don’t know your goals and aspirations). People judge you immediately based on where you are instead of where you want to go and who you want to be.
I decided to travel longterm because that’s what I think about every night before I fall asleep. I think about seeing things I have only dreamt about, and meeting people 100% different from myself. And why would I not capitalize on every single opportunity given to me just because not everyone else in the world is able to do so? Should I stop driving my car because not everyone can afford one? Sure, dropping everything and traveling the world is terrible advice for some people. Just like “go to med school” would be horrible advice for me. But for someone who wants to be a doctor, it’s probably a pretty solid idea.
If the author of this article thinks that people who travel look down on those who don’t, they are obviously friends with a lot of assholes. Almost every single person I know who has traveled for an extended period of time talks about the people they met, not the souvenirs they bought.
Traveling is not for everyone. You have to be okay with being alone. You have to be okay with–and probably expect–something to go wrong. You have to set aside patriotism. And you have to plan meticulously. Oh yeah, that article about “not worrying about money,” should try planning a trip without taking into account the cost of every single meal, flight, travel excursion, accommodation, souvenir and transportation dollar that will be spent. The most math I’ve ever done was budgeting my trip to Ireland (and I currently work in accounting).
Sure, there are people who travel simply because they can afford it. These are the people who stay in 5-star hotels right next to the Eiffel Tower and only speak English to waiters and taxi drivers and complain about the weather the whole trip. But there are also people who sit on their ass and collect their welfare check every week. Both of these are the exception, not the rule.
The ability to travel, yes, is a result of the privilege I was born into. But it is also a result of what I have prioritized. And being in your 20’s is all about deciding your priorities, and realizing that your priorities now do not have to be the same in five or ten years. So to someone saying that I’m not financially prioritizing or “dropping everything,” no I don’t have an unlimited budget to traipse around Southeast Asia. I have been working for 12 weeks to get my TEFL certification to teach English so I will be paid to be there. I prioritized my love for travel and found a way to get paid for it.
It is important to check your privilege, without a doubt. It is important to travel humbly and without judgement. But I believe that instead of wallowing around in white guilt, I need to make the most out of everything I was given. I am not content to sit on my privilege like a throne and say “I made it,” because this is what life handed me. I believe that I was given all of this opportunity to seize it, and do big things. I have huge dreams. I have goals to make real change and leave this world far different than it was when I came into it.
But what do I know? I’m just a stupid, spoiled millennial with no life experience whatsoever.