What Travel Has Taught Me About Privilege

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Last week, America voted for its newest president. I had hoped that the outcome of the elections would have turned out differently. Sadly, it was not in the cards. The days following the elections have had me thinking about a lot of things. But mainly, I am stuck on the idea of privilege in travel. In particular, I’m thinking about what that privilege means for me.

For a lot of people in the United States, the outcome of this election has no bearing on their well-being whatsoever. But for many others, it is the difference between feeling welcomed in a country you were born and raised in, and feeling completely unwanted and unappreciated. I am not trying to generalize the situation. However, it is clear that a large number of Americans feel this sentiment.

Traveler's feet

Living in a bubble

One of the things that the elections has taught me is that I’ve been living in a pretty liberal bubble here in the north-western city of Seattle. Despite being a woman and a minority in a culture that still predominantly favors the white male, I occupy a fairly privileged status in American society.

I have a well-paying job, I have a good education, and I live in a city where I am comfortable to speak my mind and pursue the things I want to pursue. What’s more, my privilege in travel has shown me that there are many places in the world where people do not have the same rights or freedoms as me.

In truth, the act of travel in itself is a privilege. For a lot of people in the world, things like money, physical fitness, mental state of mind, religious beliefs, and even sexual orientation often hinders them from going to certain places in the world. As travelers, we need to be mindful of this privilege in travel. We need to use it in a responsible way.

Women in Togo walking to the market (2006)

Lessons about privilege from my travels

At last count, I have been to 31 different countries, and each place I have visited has taught me a few things about how unfair the world can be:

In Paraguay, I learned that life can be quite difficult for a woman. The women are up early in the morning, making breakfast and feeding the animals. They tend to the fields and farms. They clean the house. In addition, they cook the meals. At the end of the day, women are the last members of the family to go to sleep.

In Indonesia, I learned that the color of your skin DOES make a difference. Grocery stores sell beauty products that lighten your skin. Commercials, television shows, and movies all revere actresses with pale skin and jet black hair as the epitome of beauty. As a child, I was often told not to spend too much time in the sun lest my skin get too dark.

And in South Africa, I learned that institutional racism can have lasting effects on a country. Even though the racist system of apartheid ended over twenty years ago, the country is still dealing with its aftermath. Many of the black African population live in poverty, and over 70% of the land in South Africa are still owned by white Africans.

Signs at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg showing white privilege
Signs from the Apartheid era in South Africa (August 2016)

With privilege in travel comes responsibility

These lessons from my travels have shown me that the world is far from being equal, and that these issues of inequality and privilege exist not only in the United States, but everywhere.

So where does that leave us as travelers?

I have come to the conclusion that with privilege comes responsibility. But what that responsibility entails is up to each of us to decide.

For me, as a mother, I am realizing that my responsibility lies in the legacy that I leave behind in this world. My children have many of the same privileges as I have, and as a parent, it is my responsibility to instill in them gratitude and humility. Ultimately, I want my children to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.

Raising my daughter to be a responsible traveler (June 2016)

Defining your responsibilities

My kids will undoubtedly grow up in a world of privilege, but I hope that our family travels will show them that inequalities exist in this world. I also hope that it inspires them to fight against those injustices, in any way that they can.

In the grand scheme of things, this is what I would want for all travelers, especially those traveling with their kids. My hope is that you will find your own way to shape and define the responsibilities that your privilege brings with it, and find a way to pass these values on to your kids.

In the end, all we can do is hope that each individual out there is doing their part to make the world a more equal and just place.

Do you feel that travel is a privilege? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

What travel has taught me about privilege | The Wandering Daughter

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3 Responses

  1. Very well said and I definitely agree with you. We are so privileged to have the freedom and means to travel the world. As Americans, we enjoy the privilege of the right to vote, something that far too many here take for granted and were willing to throw away. I wish everyone who chose not to vote could spend a little time in a country where women (or all people) don’t have that right. Maybe they would cherish it more.

  2. What a well-written post. I do feel travel is a privilege. I think it’s also a great teacher and brings about a level of awareness to the inequalities that exist here in the U.S. and around the globe. We all have our struggles but travel reminds me over and over of the birth lottery and how randomly we are all assigned nationality, ethnicity, gender, etc. It should force us all to have kindness, respect, and empathy for everyone regardless of who they are.

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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