The intersection of travelling and privilege

“Those who do not move, do not notice their chains”
Rosa Luxemburg

A while ago, I read this article on a travel blog by “nomadic matt”. There, he addressed the critiques or comments that friends, colleagues and families often make to people who, like him, lead a globe-trotting, backpacking, world-travelling lifestyle. From what I read, it seemed like this guy had moved around lot, without ever being denied entry to a country, without ever noticing any chains. It was no surprise then, that he provided a very naive, almost delusional perspective on why people should travel, and engage in a more mobile, nomadic lifestyle. 

The author focused on three main points. He first focused on dissipating the “negative stereotypes” attributed to globe trotters. For example, the idea that people who move around are running away from their troubles and responsibilities, that they’re unstable, afraid of commitment, troubled, dirty, to name a few. The second point was a glorification of the nomadic lifestyle, an enumeration of all the learning and personal growth opportunities that come from travelling, from going to “exotic” places and experiencing “other” cultures, and meeting other “global” citizens. The third point involved suggesting that everyone who wants to become a nomad should just DO IT – in a quit-your-job-sell-your-belongings-and-hop-on-a-plane kind of way.

I quote:

“People assume that we are simply running away from our problems; running away from “the real world.”

And to all those people who say that, I say to you – you’re right. Completely right. I am running away. I am trying to avoid life — I’m avoiding your life. I’m running away from your idea of the “real” world. Because, really, I am running toward everything – toward the world, exotic places, new people, different cultures, and my own idea of freedom.

Well isn’t that a nice thought? Too bad not everyone has the freedom to do that! The guy who wrote the article apparently has no clue that being able to travel all over the world is an immense privilege that not a lot of people have. One type of privilege is access to money – although you don’t have to be a millionaire to travel here and there, some money is needed to travel from place to place. But there are other privileges that facilitate mobility, which he fails to point out… gender, race, nationality, legal status, to name a few.

He’s a white american guy. Not many borders are closed for him. He can visit “exotic” places and he will not be denied entry or be required to apply for a visa. He can hitchhike anywhere without fear of being assaulted or raped. Because of his whiteness, he won’t be discriminated in most parts of the world, au contraire he will be welcomed with open arms — people will say “aah a westerner with money, how great”.

One of my cousins would love to quit her job and travel the world but she can’t, she has no papers so she can’t get out. A lot of my family members are in the same situation. My other cousin wanted to come visit in Canada but her visa was denied. My great aunt wants to come for my graduation but she’s sick so she can’t hop on a plane. I wanted to hitchhike from Esquel to El Bolson but I was too afraid I would get assaulted. I was almost denied my student visa in Argentina because they thought my canadian passport was fake, they didn’t think I was canadian, they thought I was Ecuadorian. That would have never happened to a white canadian person. Also, a lot of other canadian friends are doing the same as me – living in new york for the summer – but they’re not getting a work visa or any sort of papers. They’re not afraid of being deported. I am. Because In new york, I’m not going to be seen as “a canadian” but as a “mexican”, “latina”… and they don’t want us there.

Still, I have *some* money, a university degree, and I am a canadian citizen. Without these privileges, it wouldn’t have been such a breeze to go to new york. Becoming a nomad or travelling are not a choices or necessities for personal growth, it’s a goddamn privilege. And I say this while being pretty mobile myself. I’ve travelled a lot and I’m going to keep doing it as long as I can but the important thing is to keep in mind that I am not entitled to leading a nomadic lifestyle. I’m just very lucky. I think this is something that globe trotters, including nomadic matt, should also keep in mind before judging people who lead “normal” lives. 

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