We’ve all seen them, the articles telling us that there is absolutely ‘no excuse not to travel!’ and that ‘anyone and everyone’ can pack up their bags and live their lives on the adventurous side. Maybe you use Pinterest religiously, and have an entire board dedicated to travel inspiration, fuelling you to pursue that dream of teaching English in Thailand. Perhaps you even have STA Travel saved as your homescreen, always advertising new flight deals and offers that would entice any student to head off once again.
But what if we took a moment to stop and think about it all; is it true? Can just about anyone travel? Or is there actually a very specific demographic that is even able to gain any inspiration from all these sources?
Perhaps having English as a first language is a huge bonus for us, you could probably go to any place in the world and they would be in need of English teachers, but if you don’t speak English it’s probably not so easy. This is only one of a multitude of things that a single person may be fortunate enough to already have. Issues like health, time, and the obvious big one; money, do not always allow others the same advantages. If we take money, for example, our passport might allow us entry to a number of countries that do not require a visa. Even when it is required, the cost will most probably be a lot less signifcant to a British citizen than to someone from another nationality.
In our little bubble, perhaps, we cannot see how difficult the act of travelling is for everyone else who does not have that privilege. But, as with all forms of privilege, to be aware of it is the first step to being an effective ally for social justice. Although it is becoming easier for many of us to take three months exploring the Southeast of Asia with a tour group – how easy is it for the people who actually live in those areas? Are they benefitting from our tourism, or does that money simply feed corporate tourist companies that use their lives and cultures as bait for keen, hungry travellers?
It is always incredibly important to ask these questions as travellers; when you venture to other places, inherently you enter people’s lives and cultures. To be knowledgeable about what other communities will gain in order to create an equal exchange is vital. The purpose of travelling is to open your eyes, but most importantly, your mind. So those of us who do have the privilege of travelling, do so sensitively and respectfully.
Now comes the biggest question, how? The first step is taken in recognising your privilege, but it is essential to use your knowledge to start benefitting the whole system. Begin by being wary about where your money is going and what it will be used for. Invest your money in companies that give a clear manifesto of what they use it for. Most travel companies will have a section on their website labelled something along the lines of ‘Responsible Travel’ – check it out. If they don’t have a clear outline – email and ask. There is absolutely no harm in asking; the harm is greater when we stay silent.
Details on how the lives of the local community are influenced by the tour you want to take is what to look out for. Learn to look past the vague statements with no substance, train your eye to look out for facts instead. In this way you can travel responsibly, aware of your imprint on the places you are visiting and making sure you are being an aid that contributes to helping the community, instead of being an enemy that brings it down. At the essence of it all, it is always important to recognise your privilege in being able to travel, and use it to travel responsibly. Only then can we set up the pathways that will make travel more accessible to all kinds of people, and create valuble, lasting exchanges.