Is travel a right or a privilege?

by Lesley on April 26, 2013 · 15 comments

in lessons learned,travel

 cinque terra

When it comes to travel, there are many different types of people. 

There are people who love to travel and save hard earned money to make it happen.

There are people who dream of seeing the world but could never justify spending their cash in such an “extravagant” way.

And there are people who really shouldn’t spend their money (or lack thereof) on travel but do so anyway.

At various times, Jonathan and I have fallen into all the above scenarios. Both of us love to see this great big world, and we’ve been fortunate to jet set since we were young. Our parents took us on fantastic driving trips as children, encouraged us to visit countries like Guatamela, Japan and China when we were in our teens, and cheered us on when we spent semesters abroad in college.

Both of us are grateful for our experiences in other places–not just because they’ve been fun but because our hearts and minds have grown every time we stepped outside our familiar bubbles. I hope I can offer the same experiences to my children.

And yet… gulp…when it comes to travel I was am very spoiled.

In my twenties I developed an attitude that travel was not a luxury, but something owed to me. Even when I was barely scraping by I’d often say to myself, “You’re only young once. You work hard. You’ll never have an opportunity like this again. You’ll never regret the memories made.” 

Then something happened that shifted my thinking.

My friend Lori told me a story about her parents. The Lesters are an incredibly kind, generous and hard working family. For many years they’d saved for a big trip to the Mediterranean and were finally making plans to go when Lori’s dad was suddenly laid off after 15 years at the same company. The Lester’s trip was postponed indefinitely.

I’m sure Lori’s parents were disappointed, and they’d have every right to be, but rather than feel sorry for themselves they simply changed their travel plans and said, “We’ll keep working hard. We can wait.”

Their attitudes were so different from my own. For them, travel to faraway countries was a luxury. For me, international travel was a right, not a privilege. 

Since Lori told me the story about her parents, I’ve tried to look at travel with a new perspective. This has been particularly good for me to do as we’ve planned and cancelled our own Italy trip several times.

You see, Jonathan and I have dreamed about and schemed about an Italian vacation ever since I spent time there in college. When I was in Florence a group of friends invited me to travel with them to Cinque Terra. At the time I was falling in love with Jonathan and decided I didn’t want to visit the magical sea side towns until I could do so with him. We made a promise by phone that someday we’d visit Cinque Terra together, the sooner the better.

We’ve been married almost 8 years, and the Italy trip hasn’t happened. It’s not been for lack of dreaming and planning. For the last year we’ve been saving consistently for a trip. We planned to fly into London and stay with our good friends, Brent and Erica, before traveling with them to Switzerland and Cinque Terra. It was going to be amazing.

But then I found out I was pregnant, and the trip simply couldn’t happen this spring. At first I felt disappointment and anger. We saved! We planned ahead! We lined up childcare! We waited for 8 WHOLE YEARS!

And then I realized my privilege attitude was making a sneaky appearance again. Here I am only 31 years old, blessed with a healthy husband and (almost) two babies, but I’m whining because I can’t visit a country I’ve actually been to before?

People, my heart can be really ugly sometimes.

Once I tossed my bad attitude, Jonathan and I had a decision to make. Keep saving the money for a “someday” trip, or go for a shorter, domestic trip instead?

We weighed all our options and decided that more important than the destination was making memories together. I hate phrases like, “You only live once” (YOLO!) but at the same time we looked death in the face last year. While I refuse to make all our life decisions based on what ifs, I also love spending quality time with my husband.

So with our Europe saving funds we booked a long weekend trip to New Orleans. The location and timing worked better with my pregnancy, and it’s a city we’ve both longed to see. It wasn’t Italy, but it was still a more extravagant vacation than most people in our world will ever get to take. I am humbly grateful for the time away with my sweet husband. (In fact, I can’t wait to tell you more about it soon!)

After our most recent trip I am again reminded that I love traveling and I believe it’s an extravagance worth saving for. BUT, I also believe travel isn’t owed to me nor is it key to my long term happiness.

I’d love to hear about your perspective on travel. Have your views shifted as you’ve gotten older? Is it a priority? Does my spoiled attitude resonate with anyone? 

Related reading: Why I’m afraid to tell you where we’re going on vacation by Micha Boyett

photo credit: Scott Ingram Photography via photopin cc

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13 comments
DArcy Cooper
DArcy Cooper

The funny thing to me about this post is that you aren't asking yourself whether it is a privilege or not. You're debating whether you can afford it or not. The answer is you can't afford it because you traveled when young which is a big mistake that everyone makes. Not just traveling but spending when young. A person who invests 1000$ a month from 20 to 30, and then never invests again, will have more at 60 than someone that starts investing 1000$ a month at 30 and does it till 60. In other words, because you spent money travelling between 20 to 30, instead of investing, you must now invest every month for 30 years to catch up. While I have invested from 20 to 30, and so can now spend all my disposable income on traveling for the next 30 years without ever worrying about saving.

I am indeed in that position now, I could travel everyday for the rest of my life without ever needing a job. But I would never do it because of the real reason it is a privilege. It is a privilege because only 1 out of 7 on this planet can afford to travel. 4 out of 7 can not even afford a washing machine. Even if they saved up the money, most people in the world cannot go wherever they want like you. They would need visas which they only dream of getting. And once there, the difference in price would make everything unaffordable since their income barely gets them by in their own country where costs are lower.

Do you know how much oil is used for air travel alone? Almost 5 Million barrels a day. Or the ENTIRE Deep Water Horizon BP spill, EACH AND EVERY DAY. It is a privilege because travelling is a large nail in the coffin of the future of your children. 

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@DArcy Cooper Actually, I disagree. I think I made the point very clearly that travel is a privilege, but I argue that some people don't see it that way. You may want to re-read my post.


I also completely disagree that traveling is a nail in the coffin of the future of my children. I am a much less judgmental and much kinder person because my parents allowed me to see a world where people have much less than I do, and I also learned that I shouldn't judge the decisions other people make because sometimes what works for one person doesn't work for another. 


I'm happy for you that you've been so responsible and saved a lot of money! I really hope you reconsider your commitment to not travel. With the huge savings you have, you could really bless other people in places around the world through serving. 

DArcy Cooper
DArcy Cooper

@LesleyM @DArcy Cooper After re-reading your post, nowhere in your posts does it reveal that traveling is a privilege that is brought upon by the inequalities of this world. Nor do I think you actually understand that fact. I very much doubt that your travels have made you a better person because you saw a world where people have less than you have. I have never been and I have always known this fact with great disgust. In fact, it is the number one reason I have chosen to not travel to countries where it's inhabitants cannot travel to mine. Does this reality seem fair to you? How is it that even though you went but I did not, I've chosen to save every dime to change this world while you still chose to spend it on travel?

I have always planned to give all the money I save to people who have less in order to equalize the disparity in this world. There is no need for me to travel to do this. In fact it is not travelling which is going to allow to give millions away. And has allowed me to give thousands already.

Travelling is in fact a nail in the coffin of the future of your children. Despite the fact that only 1 out of 7 people have such a privilege, air travel alone represent 6% of all the oil consumed. And this percentage is rapidly growing. I don't know if you've noticed but travelling is in and cool. Air travel is rapidly becoming the number 1 threat to the environment and so is all the other damage that comes with travel.


It is one of the greatest ironies that people complain about capitalism and making money when they choose to spend all their capital on such an irresponsible, environmentally unfriendly activity which is reserved for the rich of this planet. If I were to invest in BP, people would look upon me badly. When really the only ones financing BP are them with their travel. They give BP money to operate just so they can take a selfish trip, sometimes to a land where people make 10 times less and cannot come see their land. I buy shares of BP just so I can one day redistribute the profits to others in need. And somehow I am the evil shareholder and they are the cool traveler.

It is all a great big joke. 

DArcy Cooper
DArcy Cooper

@LesleyM BTW I'm not judging you. I have my own flaws in my life that need rectifying. And even then, I'd rather change you than judge you. I just wanted to point out what I saw in your article.

I really wish people would realize the immense damage travelling creates. Realize how much capital is flowing into travel, most of it landing in the hands of oil producers. And realize that going to someone's country when they cannot travel to yours is unethical and an acceptance of one's privilege over another.

Thanks for reading my comment and replying. 

LesleyM
LesleyM moderator

@DArcy Cooper @LesleyM I appreciate your perspective. I think I just still have to disagree with some of your argument around not traveling to places where people can't travel to ours. I've been to Mexico and China several times specifically to help people in great need. One of those times was to teach English in villages where people who receive an education can then help change their entire communities. I've seen the benefits of international travel firsthand. We may just need to agree to disagree. :) 

DArcy Cooper
DArcy Cooper

@LesleyM @DArcy Cooper Well that's completely different. Unfortunately many trips to help others are in fact quite self serving. But if indeed you are going to help others and are there in an extended fashion, then for sure it can be good. I've heard of a dentist who sailed around the world offering free dental services to those who had no such service available to them. It's important to mention that your method of travel greatly affects your impact and that your actions once there do as well. I probably will travel one day with a sailboat or other green vehicles, and I intend on paying people a globally fair wage for their goods and services. Never any less than I would accept for the same service. There is such a thing as ethical travelling surely. It's just not as common.

I'm not coming from a mean hearted perspective, but I do find myself frustrated by the actions of well intentioned people. I cannot help but notice a disconnect between their beliefs and their actions. Just because you did not make money but instead received services, products, or commodities does not mean you are not responsible for the consequences of these services, products, and commodities. You are profiting in the form of consumption which is the end of the line in that equation. Things were consumed for your enjoyment., things most people will never have. Sometimes it's things you have because they do not. I am profiting off your consumption in the form of money, the end of that equation is still to be determined.

Bree
Bree

I love this post because I grew up thinking the exact same way and it's amazing how God has totally transformed my thinking about this. Don't get me wrong, we still save money and value an awesome vacation, but having been in this job and building relationships with people in other countries has taught me much about entitlement. We are one of the only countries in the world that feels "entitled" to vacations, overseas experiences and spontaneous travel. Most people never leave their country and if they do it's after years of planning and to seek out better opportunities for their family. Our thinking has also shifted to a place where we have to choose whether or not to use our vacation time on a trip for us versus a mission trip where we get the chance to give our lives and skills away. These days, more often than not, we've found that giving our lives away is way more worth our time than spoiling ourselves (though once we have kids that might change!). God has us in a really great place and we couldn't be more thankful. But that Italian villa getaway is still in the back of my mind - we'll gladly join you... someday :)

Tim
Tim

Hey, my life is all YOLO all the time whether I like it or not! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yolo_County,_California) But as for travel, I look on it as a wonderful privilege. We don't do much since we are at the putting-kids-through-college stage of our lives. Perhaps we'll return to it, who knows?

Claire
Claire

Growing up, we only ever visited my grandparents and went camping. It was fun, but we never went as a family and it never felt like travelling or like a vacation. I don't necessarily feel like it's a "right" to travel, but I do feel like it's important, especially after taking the kids to Colorado and visiting Rocky Mtn National Park and various historical locations and just enjoying our time together. Also, my granny, who is 79, so anytime she wants to go somewhere, we go! We have a trip to the Grand Canyon and Albuquerque coming next fall with my granny, that we really "shouldn't" go on, but both Aaron and I are having a really hard time saying no...how much longer will Granny want to travel, let alone in a minivan, on a multi-state road trip with her great grandchildren....

Britty
Britty

I love this post, Lesley. Growing up we never had enough money to travel to a different county, much less a different country. I've been out of the country twice, after high school, both times to Mexico. I can count the number of times I've been out of the state on one hand. Because of my lack of travel as a child, I always dreamed of leaving the country. In college I studied Arabic so I could be a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. Now here I am, married, a stay-at-home mother, and also too broke to travel. Ten years ago I would have said this would really bother me. But today, I don't feel like we are missing out on anything by not traveling far (yet). Eventually I hope we'll get the *privilege* to travel to the places we dream of. Today our priorities are on quality time - quality time on small, local weekend trips, but more importantly quality time on our day-to-day.

Lara
Lara

Lesley, I had a similar experience with a desire for a tropical vacation. So I can totally relate to the disappointment and feeling like it was a right I'd been denied. I'm grateful to have only had to wait another 5 years after the disappointment before I got the trip I'd dreamed of. And like you, I did learn to appreciate the altered trip we took instead. But I could have used the wisdom you gained from Lori's parents in the wake of my own derailed travel dreams. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip!

san
san

I think as a kid, I was spoiled that by living in the heart of Europe, I was able to go and see a lot of different countries.... Italy, Spain, France, (Ex-)Yugolslavia (now Kroatia), Belgium, The Netherlands, Tzech Republic, Canary Islands. My parents couldn't afford to take us on long-haul trips around the world, but I did see quite a bit growing up and it definitely made me want to see more. I definitely believe int the phrase "you only live once" and it will influence my decision making when I need to decide that I should or should not do something. All within reason, though. I would never go into long-term debt to take a trip, but I always think it's important to realize how fragile life is and that you have to make the best of every opportunity. I think the fact that you were able to change your travel plans (and not completely nix them) shows that you're thinking along the same lines! I definitely think traveling is a privilege (just because so many people in this world can simply not afford it), but I also think that for many people it's a necessity to their well-being :) Travel opens your heart and mind to the world.

Stacy
Stacy

I can very much relate. I love traveling & use the phrase you only live once often;) But truly for me I see traveling as a gift and in some ways a necessity. It gives me something to look forward to and keeps me sane. Now I don't believe in going into debt or anything crazy to make it happen but if you can I say go for it. It gives us a better perspective to see how others live.

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