When I was younger, I wasn’t able to travel in the same way that some of my peers and classmates did.
In fact, to this day, I’ve still not stepped foot into the world of Disney. I had “no childhood” as some of my classmates would say to me. The only sense of travel and adventure that my mother could provide for my siblings and I were our annual summer vacations to her native home in Puerto Rico. And even then would she sometimes find herself struggling to pay the airline tickets for the four of us. I had recently asked her again how much she’d spend every summer on flights back to her home. When she told me it was in the thousands, I stared at her in disbelief. I never actually considered that high price, partly because of the way I travel now and partly because I didn’t think that a 3 and a half hour flight with a bunch of kids could be that expensive for her. Of course, not truly understanding was a result of my naïveté as a child and now as a hardcore budget traveler. But I know better now.
During our annual family trips, I never complained. Going to Puerto Rico every summer was a dream — another few months that I could spend time with my family and get away from the city in the muggy heat. I sincerely looked forward to those trips every year. And even though I don’t go to Puerto Rico as often anymore as I did in the past, I remember all those summers as some of the highlights of my childhood.
Now, fast forward to when I got to college.
When I turned 19, I told my parents that I had made the decision to study abroad during the fall semester of my junior year. I told them I wanted to see something else, experience something outside of the tri-state area and Puerto Rico, the only few places I had been to while growing up within the bubble that encapsulates New York City and the surrounding states. Looking back now, I am so happy and proud of myself for taking that chance and deciding to pursue my dream of heading across the Atlantic, a dream I had as far back as I could imagine. (I thank the Spice Girls for my London obsession).
The cost of going to Europe at the time was — and for the most part, still is — way more than my parents and I had anticipated. But the cost of the experience didn’t deter me. Even today, every time I decide to plan a trip and head somewhere new, I still do my best to not let something like money get the better of me. When I was accepted into the program to go abroad the spring before I was to leave, I realized that the only way I could fully afford to go was if I took out a small loan from my university, with my mother helping to pay for some of the costs of the room/board that I wasn’t already spending because I commuted to school and back. The few hundred dollars left, I wanted to fund entirely myself. And so I worked my ass off the summer before, saved up, hardly went out and paid for whatever of the rest I could. Sure, when I came back from my time in Europe, I had a bank account practically in the negatives, but I knew in my heart that my experiences were well worth/well spent and that I had to keep going. That I had to continue traveling, meeting people, and exploring as many places of the world as I could. It was during that semester away that I became the best version of myself, the person I wanted to be when I was home, and because of that, I knew that I was going to keep traveling for the rest of my life.
At 23, now I’m able to.
On my own. And you know what? It’s still hard. My parents do not give me a single penny to fund any of my travels. Yes, being able to travel is a privilege. Anyone who doesn’t own up to having that privilege doesn’t deserve to be traveling at all. But by no means whatsoever am I “rich.” Rich enough to afford lavish vacations every other weekend or every other month. Rich enough where I can leave a job to “travel the world” because I have trust-fund parents who can back me up if I run into trouble or run out of money. I am in my early twenties and have recently entered the job market. I don’t have endless amounts of money saved up, especially not after leaving college.
I’ve read countless of articles that express how people who love to travel only love it because they have the means to do so. That it is “classist” and that the obsession stems from one leading a mediocre life back home and having to compensate for that by going abroad. To make those generalizations on people who love and who are able to travel because they use the time they aren’t traveling to save and plan accordingly isn’t fair. It’s a bit disappointing and if I’m being honest, pretty insulting to read. Patronizing and belittling those who actively make their own choices to do the things they really want screams bitterness and fuels unwarranted travel envy. And that is not what travel is about.
Yes, there are extreme cases and circumstances where people are not able to travel at all.
It is important for those of us who are physically, economically and mentally capable to travel to NEVER lose sight of that. However, the opportunities and possibilities to travel for many of us is possible. Especially as college educated students who are met with opportunities to do so every single day. In fact, those of us who do travel frequently should actively go about figuring out how to make it easier and more feasible for others to do the same. Every day, I’m trying my best to do just that, especially with this platform. To spread the knowledge I’ve acquired in the five years I’ve been an active traveler. Sure, the opportunities may not be fair or equal and for the most part, are contingent on lots of factors, even one that has to do with what country your passport is issued from, but that doesn’t mean that travel isn’t at all a possibility. It just means that some of us will have to work a little harder and plan a little more strategically.
Yes, travel is a matter of privilege, but it is also a matter of prioritizing and a matter of choice. I truly believe that it is dictated by desire, ambition and the willingness to work for and at it. If you truly want to travel like I fully realized I wanted to do for the rest of my life at 19 (or maybe even before that), then you will find any and every means to make that happen. How you go about traveling once you have changed your mindset and made the decision that it will happen is then solely up to you.
Many of the bloggers, digital content creators and others we see over the Internet who are constantly “globe trotting” around the world do not always paint a realistic picture of what it means to travel.
Staying at 5-star hotels and dining at the top Michelin-rated restaurants is just not feasible for most budget travelers. And that is 100% okay. Everyone has a different travel experience, and it is very important to try and not to compare or expect your experience to mirror what someone online is showcasing to their subscribers and followers. Being able to travel does not mean either constant couch surfing or constant luxury living. Nothing is that black and white. Travel is about experiencing new things, getting out of your comfort zone and being able to do and fund your adventures in a way that is comfortable and fits you and your desires best. There’s more than one way to travel, and it may not be perfect at all times. It might and probably will be terrifying at some points, too. Yet, that is exactly the point.
It is up to you to do the research, find the scholarships, book those discount flights and to keep working hard and saving incessantly.
The distance somewhere else is not as difficult as it is opening your mind to trying out something new and then going for it. It is the wall we build in our head that prevents us from doing the things we wish to do in real life. Some people can travel one way, some other ways, and many in different ways. Some children will be able to go to Disney World. And like me, some will not. But just because I wasn’t able to meet Mickey Mouse when I were younger doesn’t mean we can neglect and blame the children who did for enjoying it. We just have to take the time and find another way, even if it means planning a trip to Florida in our 20s.
Now, I’m off to find that flight to Orlando.