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Why RTW Travel Doesn’t Need to be a Rich, White Thing

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.)

But the reality remains: ‘ROUND THE WORLD TRAVEL NEEDS TO STOP BEING A RICH, WHITE THING! Here’s why.

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.

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anonymous

Tuesday 12th of March 2013

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.

Lillie

Tuesday 12th of March 2013

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.

George

Monday 4th of February 2013

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.

Lillie

Tuesday 5th of February 2013

That's so impressive, given the expensive reputation of Australia!

Missi

Friday 20th of July 2012

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.

Lillie

Friday 20th of July 2012

Thanks so much!!!! It is a huge topic to explore and discuss!

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Kim

Thursday 17th of May 2012

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.

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