I made choices that led me to this rainbow in Scotland…
This morning, while prowling Facebook mere minutes after I opened my eyes for the first time today, I read an article entitled Let’s Stop Pretending Travel is Accessible to Everyone. Written by Sian Ferguson for the Matador Network, the article was intended to remind people of the reasons why travel is not feasible for everyone. Ferguson’s lead paragraph is one that many people have heard from their well-traveled friends:
“JUST QUIT YOUR JOB and go traveling. You have nothing to be scared of,” a friend posted on Facebook on returning from a year abroad. Another traveler friend shared a popular quote from St Augustine: “The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.”
Ferguson’s initial response to this comment is annoyance. There was a time in my life when I would wholeheartedly agree that assuming people can just pick up and travel is crazy. I was working hard to pay my bills and stay afloat and it was hard to conceive of being able to go anywhere exotic. As I’ve later found out, though, time has a way of changing things. I’ve traveled a lot more than the average American has.
Although there have been times in my life when I have been too broke to even consider traveling across town, I have been extraordinarily lucky in my life. I’ve lived abroad four times so far, mostly at government expense. Maybe I should take the hint and just stay abroad.
On the other hand, there have been times when I couldn’t conceive of being able to go anywhere. And I realize I write this as someone who comes from a place of relative privilege.
My ability to travel was hampered mainly by a lack of money and time off from a job, not because I feared for my personal safety or mental health. I am also lucky enough to be reasonably healthy and, while I would love to lose lots of weight, my size doesn’t prevent me from going places.
Ferguson makes some interesting points in her article that I had not really considered. For instance, while I can certainly see why someone who identifies as gay, lesbian, or transgendered might not feel comfortable traveling to certain areas, it’s not something I thought about before I read Ferguson’s article. While I have suffered from anxiety and depression, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt like I couldn’t travel due to my mental health. On the contrary, I was experiencing those conditions in full force during my big train trip in 1997, which I took on the way home from my Peace Corps assignment. I spent a month traveling by Eurail through eight countries, not enjoying myself as much as I should have because I was a bit mental at the time… and broke.
But what do I know about the plight of someone who struggles to earn enough money keep the lights on and the kids fed? There have been a couple of times when I’ve actually gone hungry and sat in the dark, but those times were when I was in the Peace Corps. The lights were out because they were out for everyone. I was hungry because I ran out of money, but it was only for a couple of days… and I had ways of getting food if I really needed it. I was also only feeding myself, rather than a family.
Even as I write these things, though, there was something about Ferguson’s article that kind of set me off a bit. I’m not generally a fan of people who preach and I think that article came across as a bit preachy to me. Yes, it’s nice to be aware of other people’s situations. Empathy is a good thing and more people should stop and think before they open their mouths or type on their keyboards. But I like to think that most people don’t communicate strictly to be offensive. It’s nice to have a broad perspective, but that goes both ways. Moreover, I have found that in many (but not all) cases, where there is a serious will, there really is a way. Sometimes making the choice to do what you want means making difficult choices that not everyone will appreciate or understand.
For instance, had I not married Bill, I probably would not be writing about my travels. In fact, if I were writing anything, it would probably be grant proposals or process recordings. When Bill and I met, I was planning to become a public health social worker. I meant to put down roots somewhere, probably in the southern United States, and become gainfully employed to the point at which I could finally pay all of my own bills. I can’t be sure that would have worked out for me, but I was well on the way to that goal when Bill proposed.
Having been the daughter of an Air Force retiree, I must have known on some level that being married to a guy in the military would mean frequent moves. But since my dad retired when I was really young, I didn’t actually experience that globe trotting lifestyle when I was a child. My sisters moved a lot because they were born closer to the beginning of my dad’s career. I, on the other hand, mostly grew up in one place, albeit one that is saturated with military folks. So when Bill proposed, I figured I’d still be able to do what I’d gone to graduate school to do. Reality kicked in when I realized that even if I did find work related to my training, I would constantly be moving to other places and starting over.
It was hard to accept that I pretty much went to graduate school for nothing, but that realization led to something else. I eventually decided to do what I’d always wanted to do, which is write. I have actually made money as a writer. In fact, every cent I’ve earned since I finished school has been from writing. However, if I weren’t Bill’s wife, I probably wouldn’t have the privilege of simply writing blogs for money. I would have to have a more lucrative job or move to a place where life is cheaper.
I don’t have children. Bill’s children are grown and haven’t spoken to him since 2004. I do have a mother, but she’s fiercely independent and takes care of herself. My dad died two years ago and Bill’s parents are also self-sufficient at this point. I do have dogs, but they are good travelers and get along fine when we take them to the pet resort. I realize that not everyone is in a position of having no one depend on them. I’m lucky in that respect, although I always did want to have kids and wouldn’t mind assisting family if they needed my help. But I don’t have to worry about having a child with medical problems or saving up for college tuition. If I did, I probably wouldn’t travel much because other things would take a higher priority.
So yes, I get that I’m privileged and extremely fortunate and not everyone has it as good as I do. However, I also think that most people who truly want to travel can take steps to make it happen. The choices may not be easy, but many times, they can be made if it really comes down to it. Maybe it will mean not having children or not helping family and friends in need. Maybe it will mean a change in careers. Maybe it will mean changing priorities so that financial security takes a backseat to having money to go places. Maybe it means always renting rather than buying a home.
It could even mean screwing over a supposed loved one… Bill’s ex stepson pretended to be interested in staying in touch with Bill solely so Bill would pay him child support and he could save up for a trip to China. Fortunately, we figured out what he was doing, but not before he’d stockpiled a pile of cash (that he didn’t use to pay his personal debts). He got his trip to China, but it cost him a lot more than he probably realizes. But that’s a story for my other blog. 😉
I made choices that led me to this view in Charlotte St. Amalie in the U.S. Virgin Islands.