Apr 052010

The wildly popular website, Stuff White People Like, has an article entitled: “Taking a Year Off.” It details the trend among rich Caucasians to flee the daily grind and jaunt around the world for a year, always thinking that they are the first to concoct such a brilliant idea.

“Give them a FAKE email address before they leave!” warns the site, or you will get nonstop annoying emails bragging about how great international beer is!

Funny and true. Indeed, there are a zillion rich White backpackers roaming this wide world, braggingly blogging about their country-to-country exploits. Silly bloggers! (Blush.)


1. Class: Why travel isn’t just for the rich.

If a wanderlusty soul follows several smart rules of budget travel, ‘Round the World voyaging is often LESS expensive than staying at home.

Some of these budget travel tips are:

  • Stick to inexpensive “Developing Countries” (ex: most of Southeast Asia and Latin America, parts of Africa, and sections of Eastern Europe).
  • Especially in more expensive countries, use free accommodation exchanges like Couchsurfing.com and friends of friends.
  • Spend some time volunteering, which can usually help cut your costs… and be wonderfully fulfilling!
  • Travel slowly, as the longer you stay somewhere, the cheaper your big costs like flights even out to be.
  • Embrace free or cheap tourism methods such as wandering, versus pricey tours.

Despite the effectiveness of these budget travel tips, I have been struck over these past eight months of travel by the infinitesimal number of American travelers on ‘Round the World trips. I believe a major reason for this lack of American long-term travelers is the faulty view in America that you have to be a freaking millionaire to travel.

Meanwhile, I’ve met traveler after traveler from Europe and Australia who saved enough money to circle the globe simply by being carpenters, grocery store clerks, firefighters, and teachers.

The snarky comment I received on my Boston.com interview asking how big my trust fund was to finance this trip was just plain ignorant. There are now dozens and dozens of articles written about how hard work, planning, and sacrifices made this trip possible, and how such actions can fund YOUR trip, too, whether or not you are not Donald Trump. “Trust fund,” my foot! You do NOT need a trust fund to travel, oh uninformed haters!

For a newly revamped page chock-full of Budget Travel secrets, click here.

2. Race: Why travel should not be seen as a “White Thing,” and in fact, why it’s already not.

There is no reason why travel SHOULD be a White thing. All of the travelers of color I’ve run into have had a perfectly lovely time on the road, and none has regretted his or her decision to voyage abroad. Bit by bit, I believe the faces in world hostels will begin to reflect the rainbow of humanity.

But second, it is vital to understand that travel is in fact NOT a White thing, even now. To say that is to discount the influential travels of such travel bloggers as Brian Peters of NoDebtWorldTravel.com, who is African-American, or Nellie Huang of WildJunket.com, who is Asian. Both of these writers are well-traveled, widely-read, and deserve not to be whitewashed under assumptions about travel and race.

Further, it is illuminating to note that most of the Latino and Black Boston Public Schools students are more well-traveled than the average White American. Why? Because they frequently go back to the Dominican Republic, or Jamaica, or other homeland to reunite with family.

Though many BPS students came from a “low income” bracket, their families are always able to scrounge up the money for the flights, because they make overseas travel to see loved ones a priority. Where there is determination to do something, there is a way! Sure, such types of travel may not be a decadent year around the world, but all forms of travel drive learning and worldliness and are wonderful.

Here is another example of “Where there’s a will to travel there’s a way” that transcends race and class. The students and staff of Youth Creating Change of Ghana are neither millionaires, nor pale-skinned. None of them has ever left Ghana, and many of them have trouble even affording a $2 U.S.D. shared bus to the next town. And yet, through the power of hard work, persistence, and networking, sixteen of them (twelve students and four staff members) are on track for a three week educational exchange to London in August!

Travel is not a White-only thing, and it never should be. Want more articles on Race and Travel? Click here!

The Moral of the Story: As witty and semi-true as Stuff White People Like is, it lays naked some extremely harmful assumptions about race and class in travel that we need to stamp out.

Spread the word: You do NOT need to be rich or White to see our wonderful world! Don’t be intimidated by people who say you do. Let’s get out there and prove those haters wrong!

Photo Note: All photos are from the lovely university town of Coimbra in central Portugal.


Tempted to click another article? Do it...

  22 Responses to “Why RTW Travel Doesn’t Need to be a Rich, White Thing”

  1. Your article is obviously well-intentioned, and some of the points you make here are the same ones I’ve told others who don’t understand how I afford my overseas trips. However, your own examples seem to be hinting that deep down you yourself consider international travel as a predominantly white privilege. I’m surprised you didn’t notice what must be a sizable number of people of color even among your fellow backpackers, not just your former students of economically disadvantaged backgrounds. I read all your articles from the first one up to now. While I enjoyed your often insightful and witty writing, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of discomfort in the dichotomy of white travelers vis-a-vis locals of color that’s prevalent in your articles. It kind of reminded me of a long bus ride in Turkey during which this Asian American befriended two other backpackers, a white American man and a British woman. Several times he referred to himself as the sole American on the bus which shocked me and embarrassed the Brit. As you mentioned somewhere in one of your articles, people do have natural tendency to gravitate toward those who have similar appearance, and I admit that’s probably why I noticed & was noticed by the many fellow travelers (as opposed to tourists) of Asian descent or from Asian nations. In general, though, encounters with the globe-trotting bunch of what we Americans would consider racial minorities have not been that uncommon in my travels. Some of them even American! I thought it was great how you sometimes used these articles to reflect on your personal biases. I hope you can go one step further and consider the possibility that those biases may be affecting your perception. You might very well have walked past me in the streets of SE Asia assuming I was a local person.

    • Excellent points, and I appreciate the time you took to write this thoughtful comment. You are absolutely right. The first half of my year of travels were spent in predominantly white tourist circles. This shifted once I moved to West Africa for three months and began teaching with a locally-run NGO. Thank you for your important reminders.

  2. Wow thanks for linking me to your article I do love your site. I actually totally agree, I spent 3 months in Oz and through volunteering/homestays I spent less than I would have if I spent the time in the UK including the flights there and back. Sooo cheap even in an expensive country.

  3. You are great! I LOVE your website! You are so inspiring! As a black woman from the U.S, living in Latin America, race is a BIG issue. I’m glad that a white person is addressing some of these issues. I often feel that when blacks address these issues on their blogs, we get the rolling eyes, like “here we go again” from whites. Just to know that other races are aware that differences and stereotypes exist is a good thing.

  4. […] Travel.Β  A theme I see throughout travel blogs is the idea that the average person can, in fact, afford to travel for a lengthy period of time.Β  With my student loan debt reaching numbers that make my brain shut down, I am the opposite of […]

  5. I’m white and, okay, rich by most of the worlds standards but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t take me a long time (many years) to save up to do this. I agree that it need not be just rich white people seeing the world.

  6. excellent article! so true about RTW voyaging being less expensive than staying at home. i read examples of that in ‘4-hour workweek’. keep inspiring us!

  7. I can’t stand the idea that you have to be rich to travel–or to take a year off. I’m a teacher and my husband is a teacher–and we own a home in the district in which I teach (this is typically not possible, as teachers in my area dont’ get paid enough to live where they work). I budgeted and saved for an entire year before taking one year off–and I’m not traveling the whole time, either. I’m only traveling when I find a great deal. That’s my version of ‘finding a way’–and there are many, MANY others (that don’t involve trust funds!)

    Ok–sorry. I think that was a minor rant. But your post struck a chord with me. I’ve had actual friends ask me ‘how are you paying for this?’ not knowing how we budget and plan and bargain-hunt. Thanks for this post!!!

  8. Agree with every point you made, Lillie! Exactly our thoughts and we keep telling people especially our Filipino friends that they too, can travel. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of how you pursue these dreams to achieve it. πŸ™‚

  9. Why can’t Boston look like this? Boston has no places that look anything like this.

  10. YES!!! So well said on so many points! I agree that, as you say ” a major reason for this lack of American long-term travelers is the faulty view in America that you have to be a freaking millionaire to travel.”
    I would also suggest that a second reason is that it’s good for U.S. domestic travel for the government to perpetuate a culture of fear where other people and places are concerned.
    Whatever the reasons, I’m grateful to you, and others in our online & broadcast travel community for helping to dispel the myths, so that others feel confident taking the leap and seeing the world for themselves.

  11. As a black woman who lives in the US, has a travel blog, did not come from a well-off family and who has traveled many places both solo and in small groups, I appreciate this post. What I will say is that I HAVE had negative experiences due to being Black abroad. Will that stop me from traveling? NO WAY!! I love to travel, and to me, that is all a part of the experience. I think we need to foster a real culture of travel within the U.S. because as our world is becoming smaller and smaller through technology having a sensitivity to cultural differences will be key. I think traveling helps instill that understanding.

    I also think being able to afford travel is also about priorities in savings. I think there are ways to save for travel if its made a priority to you. I’ve never gone into debt for many of the trips I’ve taken and I’ve saved for them even during times when my finances were not t their best. It just takes a bit more planning and maybe not the ability to do it all of the time, yet it can still be rewarding.

  12. good for you for fighting the steretope Lillie, and for not letting a couple of boston.com haters get you down! I had a great experience in Egypt with a very diverse group–economically, racially, and geographically within the US. We found that the blonde, white females got lots of negative/harassing attention, while the darker skinned among us put locals at ease, got discounts, and received many flattering compliments. travel is for people who prioritize it, no matter what they look like or how much they have. loved the piece!

    • Fascinating insight from your Egypt journey! And your last line about priorities should be framed and posted around town πŸ™‚ Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  13. I’m a white traveler, but I’m poor. But I agree that all it takes is preparation and careful planning. The rest will unfold itself. I bought my ticket in July for my trip in October this year. I saved quite a bit of money doing it that way and it’s all good. I can just focus on packing now and being on my way!
    It’s not that hard.

  14. One quote from my a wrestling coach (who got it from a college football coach) comes to mind: “Find a way”

    I am not rich by any means. Half of my family wonders where I come up with the money to go overseas when I do. All it really takes is planning, saving, ambition, and old fashioned guts to carry out that ambition. Fortunately, my mother encouraged my fascination with travel and the world. I just had to “find a way.”

    As for race, I would say that I don’t care if you’re white, black, green, brown, red, or yellow. World travel is possible. Please refer to the quote at the top……….

  15. Great post…..and some equally great follow up in the comments. Sounds to me like Lillie is just trying to take some of the weight off of travel in general and inject a bit if “you can do it” encouragement into people interested in traveling but who feel like it is too daunting endeavor, which can apply to everyone by the way.

  16. nodebtworldtravel.com said…
    I didn’t really think about the race issue when I traveled. As a matter of fact I would say being American was the thing that got the most reactions (99% of them positive, by the way).

    There was that time in Macau when these folks never saw a Black person before and wanted to take pictures of me like I was a celebrity. Hilarious!!!

    April 5, 2010 10:32 PM

    sEy said…
    Thanks for the post. I love the tips and information. Me and my friends are planning to travel as well but we though it would bankrupt our bank accounts. Now i have something useful and important to share to them.

    I also love your articles about your tour and your dedication in working as a volunteer. I would love to do it and will surely grab the opportunity when it knocks my door.

    You inspire me a lot. Thanks! I’m from the Philippines!

    April 5, 2010 11:04 PM

    Jenn said…
    Thank you for point out that you don’t have to be rich to travel. Every trip I have ever been on has been to small less developed countries, and had a great time staying in small condos and using local produce. My love the small islands because everyone there is nice and when they find out you are staying their island, they offer to show you around or if you are lucky some great spots that they don’t tell the cruise ship tourists about.

    April 5, 2010 11:38 PM

    Jenna said…
    Oh Lillie, I love reading your blog and am so glad you wrote this in response to the commments on the Boston.com article! Love, love love it! And….can’t wait until you get to SPAIN! We MUST chat when you do! It is my favorite country in the world! XO Be safe, have fun, keep writing and enjoy!

    April 5, 2010 11:42 PM

    Soultravelers3 said…
    So true! We’ve met people of every hue on our travels. We’ve been on our open ended, non-stop family world tour since 2006, traveling & living large on just 23 dollars a day per person.

    Travel does not have to be expensive..even in FIRST world countries if you travel slow, immerse deeply, live like a native, use your head. We’ve been to 4 continents, 32 countries & over 175,000 miles so far & much of it has been in so called “expensive” Europe thus far.

    Travel is not just for rich, single, young folks but can enrich people of ALL ages and kinds… including families!

    Plus… there is no better education…. that my fluent trilingual ( raised by monolinguals) & piano and violin playing ( done over the internet via webcam with teachers on another continent as we roam the globe) can attest! πŸ˜‰

    April 5, 2010 11:47 PM

    Jenna said…
    Oh Lillie, I love love love the Blog! Love the article response to the story on Boston.com! Hope you are enjoying it! Can’t wait til you get to Spain! I love that country! Keep writing, stay safe, and enjoy! XOXO

    April 5, 2010 11:48 PM

    Erica said…
    I’m mostly Hispanic (teehee) and when I was growing up my mother always told me that traveling was only for rich people. She still doesn’t understand to this day why I like to travel so much and how I do it.

    April 6, 2010 12:32 AM

    Eric said…
    sup lillie! awesome topic since when i (American of color) decided to go travel for a bit, I caught huge flack from the fam. Yes, you can travel on the cheap, cut corners and pinch pennies, but the fact remains: YOU COULD BE AT HOME WORKING & SUPPORTING YOUR PPLS. So even if you spent less money than you would have simply living at home, it’s unlikely (but not implausible) that you’d still have consistent income while on the road. While not unheard of in White culture, the expectation for many young people of color in America is to contribute to their whole family’s livelihood. Relative to other cultures, young White folks generally carry less or none of this burden, and the pressures that come with it. That’s why I have to be realistic and politely (if pessimistically) disagree- travel opportunities such as yours ARE generally a rich, White privilege.

    April 6, 2010 1:13 AM

    Anonymous said…
    Ah Portugal! πŸ™‚ P.

    April 6, 2010 2:45 AM

    Cryptic Heart said…
    I’m definitely planning on traveling when I get older. Even if it’s only for the food…I am white (very white actually; I regularly get called an albino) but I’m not rich and I just wanted to say I never realized I could travel (when i get out of High School, that is) without waiting till I had a job and more money. Thanks so much!

    April 6, 2010 3:06 AM

    Stephanie said…
    This is why I enjoy reading your blog-it makes the thought of traveling around the world seem more realistic than it did before. Ever since my first trip abroad it has been public knowledge that I want to travel more-but there are always people telling me that there’s hardly any way I’ll get to all of the places I want to unless I am a millionaire. And while I acknowledge that it could be difficult that doesn’t mean that I need to give up the dream altogether. I just need to be creative about how I go about fulfilling it!

    April 6, 2010 4:25 AM

    Tiara said…
    There’s still inequalities to address, like how people travelling from a third-world country to US or Europe can’t make their money stretch very far, or are hampered by restrictive visa rulings. (I have a Bangladesh passport; I am very familiar with this.) Also, I find a lot of travel resources rather offputting in how us third-worlders are seen as some “exotic attraction”, that we’re only here to be something the tourist looks like. It’s an interesting conundrum, but many people still don’t recognise the privilege they have in being able to even consider such a trip.

    April 6, 2010 8:27 AM

    Niles K said…
    ha. white people tourism = 21st century colonialism.

    April 6, 2010 12:08 PM

    Stephanie said…
    I think you touched on an important issue here. While I’m super psyched about my own year abroad coming up, the idea of white privilege does put me off a little bit. Although I’ve worked hard and independently to do the things I want to do, I think there are a lot of cultural and socio-economic associations that go along with being able to travel freely. There are definitely misconceptions about what it takes to travel, but I do think the problems go deeper than that.

    April 6, 2010 5:17 PM

    Michael (Shane) Tutwiler said…
    I agree with your hypothesis, but the counter-points (European & Australian mechanics, teachers, etc.) aren’t comparable to the average American in 2 ways:

    1) They often live closer to the developing countries you mentioned to begin with (primarily those in Africa and South East Asia). The people you’ve met weren’t traveling “round the world”…you were, and you ran into them somewhat closer to where they’re based.

    2) The per capita income is likely lower where they are from. Translation: taking time off of work to travel, vice partaking in and contributing to the economy, isn’t as taboo….

    Conclusion: You’re comparing apples and oranges.

    Also, since a VAST majority (read: not all, just an overwhelming majority) of European and Australian travelers are white, aren’t they just adding to that particular perception?

    April 6, 2010 7:19 PM

    PurestGreen said…
    Wonderful, wonderful post. There are also great things like WWOOF and Servas for travelling cheap and meeting wonderful people all at the same time. πŸ™‚

    April 7, 2010 10:18 PM

    Joel said…
    “I believe a major reason for this lack of American long-term travelers is the faulty view in America that you have to be a freaking millionaire to travel.”

    This is a whole other post and a great topic. I’m curious when the “American Dream” became the “American Shackle” of needing more and more stuff to keep up?

    April 9, 2010 6:52 PM

  17. so true! everyone with the desire to explore the world can easily do it without big money.it’s just a matter to adapt and be flexible but traveling on budget is not everyone cup of tea.

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