Of Course “Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel” is Bad Advice. Can We Talk about Something Else Now?

The first time I read this article, I felt terrible.

To sum it up, the author is complaining that people who travel, and talk about travel, are ignoring their inherent privilege and encouraging others to make bad financial decisions. The author calls out the attitude:

“that is all too prevalent amongst young people who do not have to worry about the foundations of their future financial security: This idea that you must travel, as some sort of moral imperative, without worrying about something as trivial as “money.”

She calls out inspirational photos, Facebook posts and (here I am guilty of inferring, blog posts):

“It’s aspirational porn, which serves the dual purpose of tantalizing the viewer with a life they cannot have, while making them feel like some sort of failure for not being able to have it.”

Youch. I read this and felt awful. Like a huckster. Like an aspirational porn peddle who makes people feel like shit because they can’t travel themselves. Which isn’t a great feeling to have about what is essentially your life’s work.

Me. Feeling like a jerk.

The second time I read it, it was because my brother sent it to me with the note, “You should write a response to this, she has literally no argument.”

Now my brother is the most no-nonsense, responsible, least fanciful guy I know. Travel is not a priority in his life, in fact he doesn’t even have a passport. We are very different obviously, but he is a smart, analytical guy, so if he thought this post was bull, I figured I’d better go have another look.

Willy’s wedding last August.

So I read the article again. What I realized was that this was a post about someone else’s insecurities, not about the validity of talking about travel on the internet.

The author is right in one sense: “don’t worry about money, just travel” is bad advice. It’s shallow, and reductive and I would never tell someone that. No respectable travel blogger I know would say that either.

Which is what it comes down to. The person Fagan mention’s in the article never says those words either. She appears to just infer them from this other girl’s actions. I mean, the internet is a big place, so I’m sure you could find someone somewhere who says that, but it’s a massive generalization about travelers.

I feel like the author’s argument is a bit of a straw man. It’s no different from the occasional comments I get that go along the lines of “gee, must be nice to have rich parents.” I don’t, but even if I did, it’s irrelevant to the basic message of this blog.There are a lot of conversations we could have about travel, money and privilege that aren’t touched on here.

Here are the things I hope to impart on Twenty-Something Travel when it comes to travel and money:

Travel Isn’t as Expensive As You Might Think

Travel is a privilege but it’s not only a privilege for the very wealthy. Many people overestimate the cost of long term travel significantly. I try to shed light on the fact that with the right strategies, travel can be way more affordable than you would first believe. That you could travel the world for an entire year on $15,000 is not something a lot of people know.

The inevitable snarky comment response to that last point is that “not everyone has 15K lying around to go travel for a year.” I mean, obviously not. Which is why I try to use this blog to show you the first hand process of how you could save a large chunk of money like that.

I think it’s important to illuminate how much travel really costs, and the many ways you can minimize that price tag and make your dreams more attainable.

It’s Okay to Make Travel a Priority in Your Life

 

There are a lot of people and cultures in the world that don’t put much value on the travel experience. When I started this blog, it was because nobody I knew was doing the stuff that I wanted to do (taking a major career break), and I wanted to provide some support and information for other people who might be contemplating the same thing.

Now I know lots of people who travel extensively, thanks to the travel blogging community. So sometimes I forget that going against what is expected of you can be a very, very scary proposition. It’s okay to have different priorities and values than the people around you.

Experiences Can Be More Valuable Than Things

Are experiences ALWAYS more valuable than things? Not necessarily, but in our materialistic culture, it’s important to remind ourselves that they can be. Because it’s startlingly easy to forget this when you are faced with the vision of a new iPhone or a really, really cute pair of shoes.

If traveling abroad is really important to you, there are many ways you can alter your life to make it a more realistic possibility. In this article, I talk about a lot of the ways that Mike and I prioritize travel and make sacrifices in other areas.

There are Ways to Travel and Be Fiscally Responsible

This is one I’d like to talk about more often, now that I have nearly a decade of post-college travel and work under my belt:

It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. The long I am involved in the travel sphere the more my eyes have opened to the multitude of ways that people are seeing the world and still managing to pay their bills.

All through my twenties I traveled extensively, yet I never missed a student loan payment, I never hit up my parents for money, and I never saw my bank balance dip into triple digits. I had some long worry-filled nights crunching numbers, and I wasn’t always able to do everything I wanted, but I always fulfilled my financial obligations before anything else.

There are so many ways to incorporate travel into your life, while still being a financially responsible member of society.

Nonetheless, It’s Important to Recognize Our Own Privilege

Now all that being said, I do think it’s ultra important for travelers to recognize their own immense privilege.  It’s important to remember that and to stay away from empty platitude like”everyone can travel.”Not everyone has the means and ability to travel extensively.

To travel abroad at all is an amazing opportunity and responsibility. I have been blessed many times over: with supportive parents, with a safety net to fall back on, with an American passport that opens nearly every door.

But you know, I’ve also worked really hard to get where I am. I’ve taken some real risks and made some real sacrifices too.  And lots of other people have managed to overcome less than perfect situations and still travel the world, like this commenter on that same article.

So, those are the conversations I want to have, not whether some navel-gazing chick on facebook posts too many inspirational quotes.

The goal, on this website at least, is not to make you feel bad if you can’t travel. It’s to inspire you if you want to travel, and to maybe help one or two people realize that something they thought was out of reach, might be easier than they believe.

What do you guys think?

30 thoughts on “Of Course “Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel” is Bad Advice. Can We Talk about Something Else Now?”

  1. I love these responses, so well thought out. I’m in the same boat. I wanted to travel, yet had numerous student loans to pay off, (after I graduated university I even took over paying the ones in my parents names that they took out for me). I traveled and worked where I went. I found a country that I could get a work visa to go to, and traveled around for the year I was there. There were many other countries I could have done the same in. I hate it when people think that my parents funded my travels, when really I worked my butt off to save money summers while in school and then be able to go somewhere. Now it’s the same in my “adult” life. I prioritise traveling over possessions, and people need to realise that if they wanted to, they could do the same.

  2. While the author does make a couple of fair points about how growing up with a certain amount of privilege enables people to travel (namely, I think, the safety net of having family members’ couches to crash on if disaster does strike/plans don’t work out), the article mostly makes a lot of assumptions about travelers’ backgrounds, and definitely puts words in the mouths of people who make traveling their lifestyle or career. The whole title of the article — “don’t worry about money, just travel” — isn’t something I’ve seen any travel blogger advocate, ever. Love your response; it’s an important clarification. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    1. Yeah I think that is what bugged me- who is actually giving this advice?

      When I was younger, and dumber, I definitely didn’t realize the barriers that many people have to traveling. Even then though, I still new you had to be in a good place financially to travel.

  3. Wow, I recently wrote a journal entry and a blog post that you basically combined into this blog post. Weird. Needless to say, I totally agree with you. In fact, I just posted a blog post about a few of the points you make called Buy Travel, Not Things.

  4. I’m so glad you wrote a response to this article! It popped up in my news feed too and it made me really uncomfortable (but I was a bit intimidated to post a comment on it because it seemed like most people on the thread were agreeing and I didn’t feel like getting eaten alive!) I get so frustrated by articles in which the overall message is “you should just accept the fact that there are some things in life you’re never going to be able to do.”

    We’re all handed a mixed bag of advantages and disadvantages, but I think learning not to identify with those disadvantages – not letting them define your entire existence – is half the battle. There are extreme cases, of course – I get that some people grow up in genuinely terrible conditions that I couldn’t even imagine – but in a lot of cases the label of “privilege” just seems like any easy way to invalidate someone else’s hard work and make an excuse for why you haven’t made similar achievements.

    I’m not saying I’m not lucky in a lot of ways to be able to travel as much as I do – I definitely am. But I also just don’t see how it’s ever helpful to look at something you want out of life and tell yourself you “can’t” have it without even giving it a shot.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. This article was going around my facebook feed so much I worried I might be the only one who took issue with it. Definitely agree that it’s not cool to tell people to just give up.

  5. I think I accept the privileged tag somewhat less than you. We’ve worked really hard over decades to make this possible, nobody handed it to us on a plate and it has zero, zilch, nada to do with my parents ( I’m a 48 year old mum and my own parents have long since disowned me for being “a gypsy”). We prioritized, a long time ago, it’s all been building to this, although we didn’t realise it at the time. Somebody called me privileged on my Facebook Page, a fellow white westerner. I could have slapped her quite happily.

    1. I mean, it’s different for everyone, but I do think that as a white american I have a lot of inherent privilege that is put into stark relief every time I travel. Travel has been significantly more attainable to me than say, some poor kid living in Laos, or someone in India who has to jump through big visa hoops every time they travel, or even people from very different backgrounds in the US who have had to struggle in ways I never have.
      But I also don’t think that negates all the hard work you or I have done to get to where we are either. A lot of times “privilege” is hurled as a way of knocking people down and negating their accomplishments, which isn’t fair either.

  6. I completely agree. It is easier and cheaper than most people think to travel long term. I am at the beginning of a year of travels at the moment and I have about $15000 to spend. I definitely think I am lucky compared to a lot of people as I was born into a middle class family, had a good education which led to a good job so I could save for travel. It really annoys me when some people say that anyone can do it because you are right, that isn’t true

  7. I agree with all you said on the financial side but the one point the author did make that I think is valid is the bit about how some travel writers (not you obviously! : )) have a holier than thou attitude about how travel is the only way to learn or be a better person or whatever. Like you mentioned with your brother– travel isn’t for everyone and it’s kind of presumptuous of some writers to suggest otherwise. I also dislike those so-called inspirational quotes about how you HAVE to see the world while you’re young– because God forbid you hit 30 and haven’t checked off a list of countries. While no doubt traveling in your twenties is fun and it’s awesome that you provide the hard resources and know how, there are other writers who seem to exist only to reinforce the myth of the ticking clock and time running out on travel once you hit 25 or 30 or whatever– ridiculous! I actually love reading blogs from those in their 60s and beyond to remind me what’s possible at any age. This might get caught in your spam but I love this piece: http://traveltalesoflife.com/2015/02/16/10-things-to-do-before-youre-95/

    1. I do agree with that. I try pretty hard to stay away from absolutes on here for that very reason. Not everyone CAN travel, not everyone SHOULD either. It’s important to recognize that everyone’s situation is different.

  8. Steph a great response that I absolutely agree with. Both my husband and I come from immigrant families who came to the US with almost nothing when we were teenagers. We both did college, got jobs, made money, managed our student loans, and made the decision to invest in travel. We traveled long term, which was a lot less expensive than living our lifestyle in Washington DC. We could have kept going, but we prefer the steady income for now, as we ponder the way to make travel a sustainable lifestyle for us. THe point is we aren’t privileged, and I would even say come from somewhat disadvantageous background, but we made travel a priority. Of course we couldn’t afford it if we were to jet off for 2-3 months in high style, but back-packing makes it a total value proposition.

  9. I know this is not a reader survey, but THIS is what I want more of!
    You have such an excellent, no-nonsens yet still very respectful way of argumenting and I really enjoy reading pieces like this! More power to you and btw I felt the exact same way when I read that article, so thanks for communicating it so well! 🙂

  10. Thanks for this even-handed response. I have seen a blogger write ‘if I can travel, anyone can travel’ and insist he literally mean it, but it’s been several years and I think people (on the internet especially) are a lot more aware of the concept of privilege than they were in, say, 2009. Inspirational graphics on pinterest and facebook are the biggest offenders at the moment – “Travel while you’re young and able. Don’t worry about the money, just make it work,” is a common one.

    I can definitely understand the frustration of having a friend who jet-sets off to wherever like it’s no big deal while you’re trying to make ends meet, but I also realize I *am* that friend at times, so I appreciate articles expressing both points of view.

  11. I love this post! My husband and I were lucky enough to find jobs abroad and we travel in our spare time. We live with very little stuff and we occasionally take small side jobs to save extra money for travel. It is possible, but it must be a priority and requires a ton of work. Obviously you can’t forget about money!

  12. I just recently wrote about something similar, in response to so many people telling us we are lucky to have the life we lead, summarily dismissing the hard work it took to make this life possible. What I admit is that we are lucky in two very important ways: 1) we, together, want the same things out of life; and 2) we were lucky to be born in a country that allows people the opportunity to work hard to live their dreams, and a country that provides us a passport that allows freedom of movement.

  13. That article left me with a nasty taste in my mouth. I am so glad you decided to respond. My husband and I did not grow up privileged, we work very hard to make good money so we can travel and “study for the sake of it.” Keep up with the aspirational porn peddling! 🙂

  14. Wow, the last part about recognizing our own privileges would have been enough of its own to answer that article ! This is a great post that put things in their own place instead of mixing everything !

  15. I travelled the world when I was younger – and lived and worked overseas, which made travel even easier. My partner and I made loads of sacrifices to travel, like living in a cheap place, working extra hours, not going out as often as our friends and spending money on nightclubs, me not spending money on hair and make-up and clothes etc … When we travelled we had a strict budget where we didn’t spend any more than we would have spent at home on food, petrol, rent etc. (It helped that he was an accountant …) We stayed at budget places, we often shopped at supermarkets and markets and still ate well, and we had the best time. You’re right, you don’t have to have a lot of money to travel (although you do have to have some to start with). I was never rich. I started with nothing and my parents would never have helped, even if they could have. I don’t have the money to travel now, as I spend it flying my kids to see me every school holidays and entertaining them when they are here. That unfortunately takes up my travel budget. I do understand the author’s resentment and concerns that travel is out of the reach of many – it personally sucks for me to have had my wings clipped – but it doesn’t mean that everyone who does is loaded and has it easy. It’s all about choices.

  16. THANK YOU! I had the same “Oh my gosh am I part of the problem?” reaction after reading that article. After thinking again and recognizing that no, trying to inspire and help people who want to travel more doesn’t automatically make you some kind of snake-oil-seller, I’ve been thinking about and writing notes about what this view reveals and what we ought to do with/ about it (with the aim of talking about it, as you have, on our travel blog). One thought I’ve had thus far: as you say, of course being able to travel is a privilege (even in cases when it’s come of hard work and sacrifice), but rather than arguing that, because it’s a privilege there’s something inherently self-indulgent and irresponsible about it, it seems the more relevant question is what we ought to DO with that privilege. How can we urge ourselves (and our readers) to be better, more mindful travelers? How can we help make tourists in to people who try to give back (in some way shape or form–even if it’s just in kindness) to the places where they are “taking” their vacations?

  17. Great comments! I can’t tell you how inspired I have been by yourself and other travel bloggers. Before Twitter, I had no idea people were doing this successfully, and so blogs like yours (which I found via Twitter) showed me that it was at least possible.

    After a few years of reading and dreaming, I’ve decided that long term travel on a travel blog budget isn’t for me… BUT, all the discussions caused me to ask the question, “I wonder if I could figure out a way to travel and have someone else pay me to, using the skills I’ve gained over the last 15 years in the tech world?”. I’m happy to report I landed such a job in April and I’ve been having a blast ever since. It might not look exactly like what you guys are doing, but it was without a doubt inspired by it. So.. thanks!

    Dan

  18. Hi Steph,

    Great article; well thought out and level-headed. While I haven’t known your work until this point, it’s great to see there are some down-to-Earth bloggers around. I’m new to the blogging world – I travel a lot for work and only started blogging 1.5 years ago. on the advice of my girlfriend, after 6 years of globe trotting. From what I have seen, there are a lot of shallow and short-sighted people out there, all trying so hard to be famous bloggers or Instagrammers so they can get sponsored and never work a proper job. I prefer to try and write commentary that might inspire someone to go somewhere, simply because I have been lucky enough to do it – and I agree it’s important to acknowledge your own privilege; for me, that’s travelling places on my company’s bankroll. And while I don’t typically go to where a lot of tourists would, I still get to see some amazing stuff, and I think that’s worth sharing with the world!

    Matt

  19. “Experiences Can Be More Valuable Than Things.” I wish more people understood that. Many turn up their noses when they hear of a family travelling once or few times a year. They can never afford it they say. But the things they buy! Buying less things and saving a bit for travelling can do wonders!

  20. The trouble is, this schpiel seems to come across as very headpoppingly disingenuous: you agree with the message given but at the same time you then, in your bullet points, effectively come across as suggesting that it’s wrong and in fact not only “can” you travel but to try and press the reader into it, and I’ve seen this again and again on these kinds of sites like a litany, with literally not one of them saying it straight up as it is and should be, fully acknowledging the implication. I would have suggested to say something to the effect of, especially as a concluding statement – “yes, it is bad advice. And I do not want this site to in any way, shape, or form be taken as a *demand* that others engage in travel, or that they are bad or lesser human beings than I for not being able to do so due to lacking the privileges I have had. Rather, my site is here to share my experiences for the enjoyment of my readers, and perhaps even to give those who cannot travel physically, at least the ability to do so vicariously. And for those who *do* have the requisite privileges, to offer ways in which they may accomplish their own travels. Thank You.”

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