So, yesterday I wrote a post about how traveling is awesome and you get to be less basic because of it. It still holds true, but here’s some other sides to that point.
Traveling is a privilege. You have to have money and some kind of stability in your life to handle the instability that is traveling. Either you need a stable income, or you need a financially stable support system behind you (a family, or something else akin to it). Not everyone has that. I recently read on Matador Network, a network for travel writers, a post by Matt Hershberger titled “5 things we need more of in today’s travel writing” and it’s really good. Hershberger, himself coming from a privileged position, said there needs to be more diverse voices within the community. You should read the article in its entirety because he has good points, but here I quote:
Travel writing can have a certain element of privilege to it. How many times have you read a piece about a rich white kid “finding” themselves on a trip abroad? I’ve been that rich white kid, and I’m not saying there’s no place for that type of travel writing. But the fact is, it isn’t only rich white kids who travel — virtually everyone does, and for a host of reasons. Those voices need to be heard more as well.
I wholeheartedly agree. This next point I’m going make is especially relevant if you choose to share your travel experiences publicly, as I am doing with this blog, or Hershberger is doing with his work. As I mentioned in my post linked above, traveling makes you question what you previously know about the world, but if your prior point of view is identifiable mostly to the privileged majority (i.e., white, economically stable, able-bodied, straight, cis, male), your experience is going to be especially relevant to that demographic only. And of course I’m not saying that that perspective is wrong, invaluable, invalid, or lacking an audience. What I’m saying is that other voices needs to be heard as well, because they’re also relevant, valid, and has an audience.
We’re all complex human beings, and we have different facets of identity that intersects one another. The privileged perspective, when put in the traveler’s shoes, will rethink their lives in a way that’s parallel to other privileged perspectives (note: not the same perspective, but perspectives that have parallels to one another. Yep, semantics).
Case in point: a white, cis, able-bodied guy who has been living in Oregon all his life goes to a refugee camp in Lebanon, and another guy of similar positionality comes from Idaho and goes to eastern Uganda to learn to speak Lugisu. Both of them got their minds blown because they’ve never left home before, and they both come back presumably more socially aware than before. Now, another white guy who has a physical disability goes to the same place in Uganda, or a New York-born Nicaraguan trans* woman travels to Serbia. Think of what their experience might be. The way they process and experience things, and the way they get their minds blown is gonna be different from each other, and from the first two guys.
The thing is, our culture has ingrained in us the idea that the privileged perspective (white, cis, upper-middle class, able-bodied, straight, male) is the “default” perspective, so that means that their experience is going to be applicable to absolutely everyone. But not everyone is of that demographic, so not everyone is going to identify with the experiences of that demographic, and that’s ok, because even within that demographic they have different experiences. That fact is not one individual’s fault, but it’s a whole culture’s transgression (well if you use it to oppress others, then it’s your fault). And of course, this phenomenon is not exclusive to travel writing, but it applies to representations in the media, government, art, culture, and all that — but that’s a whole different essay lol. In my previous post, I said that the world is big enough for people to not agree with each other and be different. And guess what’s? The Internet, the TV screen, Hollywood, and the media is big enough and is a rich enough industry to accommodate different voices, so why not accommodate different voices? I still haven’t found a good answer to that question because hint: there is no good answer. We should accommodate diverse voices period.
Now, back to traveling — here’s my other point. Sometimes other people’s marginalization may make it more challenging for them to travel. For example, if someone has a physical disability, it may be difficult for them to travel to a place where accessible infrastructure is lacking. Or LGBTQIA+ -identifying folks may avoid countries that have historically harmed (or is still harming) folks that identify like them. Even though yes, traveling’s gonna enrich them, they have to accommodate their safety and well-being first, because certain places may still extremely marginalize them or even physically harm them. So that point of view has to be taken into account too.
In another case, let’s say A works as a street vendor to feed family of five children, and B has a wife and two kids, and works as an accountant in a corporate firm. They’re gonna have unique experiences even if they go to the same place, and their perspectives are gonna be changed in different ways. But A, as a street vendor, is more likely to find it challenging to just up and leave his job when he’s the primary provider for his family, whereas B can afford to get paid leave. So B, who has more privilege than A to begin with, gets to leave and travel and learn, which is another privilege.
But here’s another thing: Yeah, I said that traveling teaches you a lot about different people and the state of the world, but it isn’t the only way to do that. If you have the privilege of owning books, having access to libraries, the Internet, newspapers, a TV, online news sites, and all that, you can learn too. You don’t have to live in a vacuum, you can think critically about things, and you can learn about people. You should learn about people, and identity, and humanity. Because you know what? (get ready because it’s gonna be one of those cheesy “bam! Here’s your lesson for the day kids!” type moment) Humanity transcends politics, and money, and power, and greediness, and ego. I genuinely think that if people just recognize other people as human beings with rights that should be delivered to them on a silver platter (like most of us experienced), then they wouldn’t think to oppress others or treat others like sub-humans (a la racism, sexism, classism, and all other -isms). I think that traveling is a fast and rough way to help people realize that. It gives you a wake-up call and exposes you right away to differences and similarities between people. It forces you to recognize the humanity in everyone (like when you get lost, and you really need to get somewhere in a foreign country. You may not speak the same language, but people are genuinely eager to help you. That means a lot when you’re desperate).
So, I don’t know, maybe the key to achieving world peace and the utopian equality is to give everyone a paid vacation so that they can see the humanity in everyone? If only things are that easy.