Owning Your Travel Privilege
Updated: Jan 3, 2019
The “travel is a privilege” topic is a very hot topic over the internet. Just with a simple Google search, you can easily come across tens of articles debating whether travel is a privilege or a right. However, one thing I notice is that the majority of these articles is written by white, middle class travelers. I have nothing against such travelers but I think the discussion of traveling as a privilege looks a little differently from the perspective of a black woman.
As a #blackwoman, I do not have the #privilege to be able to walk around without being judged, singled out, or stereotyped especially in a foreign country. Rather my thick, puffy, curly hair is patted down with some extra attention to ensure I am not carrying any weapons. Rather a TSA agent takes extra time to feel around the larger curves that comes with being a black woman. Rather, I am approached with a marriage proposal while an Indian male stares me down head to toe with lust. Rather, a Grenadian airport security agent escorts me to the back office with suspicion that I am trying to immigrate illegally into the country. These are things that probably do not happen if you are a white person traveling to most parts around the world. Rather, you are viewed as normal.
However, the lack of privilege stops there. Let’s examine other forms of privilege.
As a person who grew up with low means in the United States and now has a stable salary, there is no way to sugar coat that traveling requires money. My mom and I were only able to travel to the tri-state area by bus or train. That along with local explorations sparked my travel but it does not compare to taking a yearly vacation to the Caribbean. I was only able to take my first foreign vacation at the age of 22, a huge part to do with the lack of economic means. Pay for tuition or pay for a flight. Pay for the monthly rent or pay for a hotel for a week.
Yes, there are ways to cut down on expenses once you have a certain income of money to travel. Whether that is booking only flight glitches, staying in an airbnb or hostel, or accumulating miles on a credit card for a free trip, all of these means assume you have a certain amount of money to start with.
Going to India reminded me of the #privilegeofmoney we have in the United States. Even what is considered poor and homeless here does not compare to what many third world countries experience. Hearing about animals choking on plastic or seeing no sanitation brought our #firstworldproblems to the forefront of my mind.
Growing up with a Haitian mom, I have learned very quickly the privilege that is the #Americanpassport. To put things into perspective, an American passport gains one access to 174 countries and territories without the need of a visa (tied for third placed with the Danish, Finnish, Italian, and Spanish passports). Meanwhile, my mom’s Haitian passport only gains her access to 50 countries visa free (ranking it 86th for travel freedom). That is a HUGE difference.
Imagine having to pay an extensive visa fee and/or fill out extensive paperwork every time you want to visit a country. Here is another evidence of #firstworldrpivilege!
This is why it is a travesty that only 36% of Americans own a valid passport. Let's not even get into how many Americans have a passport but do not actually use it to its full potential.
Although one should not have the expectation that you will find someone speaking English everywhere you travel, the reality is English has become a #universallanguage. There is usually someone who speaks some English, although not fluently, in most parts of the world. According to some statistics, about 1.5 billion speakers of English globally, which is nearly 20% of the world. Wrap your head around 67 out of 195 countries have English as their official language and an additional 27 countries have it spoke officially as their secondary language. As a result, it makes it a lot easier to travel to many countries around the world.
D. Able Bodied:
I may not be the best in shape (as I have definitely struggled with my fair share of hike) but I still have the ability to walk around. I have become more aware of this privilege having experienced a popped knee and broken clavicle that has prevented me to travel short term but I do recognize there are different degrees of being #ablebodied.
After attending a panel called “Traveling While Disabled” at a Nomadness Travel Perspective, my mind opened up significantly about this topic of “disability.” First step is redefining what disability means. In the truest sense, disability means lack of choice. We often think of disability as the “other” or “lacking in some way” rather than thinking about how do we make our society accessible to all body types. That applies to travel as well.Airports, for example, often have broken wheelchairs. Everyone should be able to experience the world, including the “disabled.”. Instead, we always frame the question as “what challenges people face with disabilities” instead of “what do you get out of traveling as a person with disabilities?” or thinking about how can we ensure ALL people have the right to travel.
This is one privilege I am fully aware of: being cisgendered and heterosexual. I do not have to think twice about whether a country I am traveling to has homophobic views or if my life is in danger because of my sexuality. This is a privilege I take for granted living in the United States, more specifically in such a liberal state like New York.
Researching further into this, not knowing what to expect, I discovered only 23 countries currently allow same-sex marriages, 15 of those being European countries and 4 being South American countries. South Africa is the only African country to have granted access to same sex marriage. In Asia, no country has so far legalized same-sex marriage. Let the lack of same sex marriage legislation be a clear indicator of the HUGE privilege that being cisgendered and heterosexual comes with, especially considering in eight countries same- sex activity is punishable by death. If you want more information, check out USA Today’s article, “Where is same-sex marriage legal across the world?”
F. Race & Gender:
Why I am coupling this together is because these are the first two things someone notices about a person. In my opinion, they go hand in hand to impact a person’s everyday experience let alone travel experience. Being a black woman brings a very different experience than being a black male the same way being a white woman brings a very different experience than a white male.
Recently I attended a panel, “Traveling While Male,” which featured four black males. One traveler discussed how being African American, not having an international background to connect to, impacted his experience abroad. Some people assumed because of his lighter skin color that he was a local until he opened his mouth. Some assumed he was uneducated until he opened his mouth. As a male, another panelist explained, you are expected to be the “protector” of the group.
I find it interesting in a travel group as large as Nomadness with 17,000 members that 98% of its travelers are black females. When I am at the airport, I am always on the lookout but usually very disappointed when I do not see many underrepresented males of color. It is even more of a rarity to see Latino travelers, male or female. What is holding black males from traveling in groups or traveling period?
Why should you care?
I am writing this article because I think it is important to own our privileges. As much as we like to believe travel is a right that everyone can and should do, it is not. However, this should not stop you from traveling. Rather recognize there are different variables are that come into play and let it be greater reason why you should travel. As I came across recently, “Someone took the same situation you’re complaining about and won it.” Conquering certain variables is one thing but what are you doing for others who do not have such #travelingprivileges.