Last week someone left a very shocking comment on my last published article. It was Sameer, a Palestinian male with a
message that I could not shake off my head for the rest of the day. This is what he wrote:
"This is sounds amazing... I wish I can do the same, but I can't. The problem with you travelers is that you are indifferent to other peoples lives and restrictions. You try to encourage and inspire people to travel and explore and follow your footsteps. And I know that this is a life changing experience and actually essential. But that only if you are a privileged European or American with a strong passport that lets you do all of these stuff, but not for people which their passports are so weak that they can't go anywhere without applying for visas and lots of paper work and restrictions and requirements that aren't easily met.
Reading these kind of blogs, watching road and traveling movies, reading books about it, is instead of inspiring becomes so tiresome, it feels like a knife stab in the heart knowing that you can't just because some politician decided it. I live in Palestine and I can't tell you how everyday I struggle to take away the idea of suicide out of my mind to continue my day as normal as possible, but then I meet with my friends and they are talking about how boring their lives are because they can't travel and explore and make adventures the idea comes back until next day to start the same struggle again. So I don't know if these kind of "inspirational" stories are good actually, they are rather really bad and harmful, until we live in a just world and have equality for all of it's citizens we must stop these inspirations.
This was not my first encounter with this particular topic, but it sure was the most emotionally striking one. So I decided to dedicate my next article to take a closer look to the privileges that travelling entails and to ultimately seek an answer to that question: Should we, indeed, stop writing about travelling?
Back in July, I attended and helped organising the first Nomads Gathering, up in the city of Amsterdam. During the closure, one of the organisers (Maks) walked up to the stage and gave a short speech about the privilege that we, as travellers, were enjoying just by being there, sitting and attending the event. He spoke about how travelling, which has been the greatest discovery of our lives to many of us, is strictly denied to many and a tragic, forced decision to others. When he finished talking, there were one or two seconds of silence. It's not easy to have your privileges shown to you without feeling guilty. Then, there was an applause.
Travelling for pleasure is, indeed, a privilege. Granted there are different levels within it that don't necessarily always depend on the area you're exploring - I, for instance, have it generally easier than a transsexual person of colour, but I also have it harder than a heterosexual white male. However, all these privilege differences belong to the same group of people who can freely travel to nearly anywhere around the globe without getting into much trouble. Some get more advantages than others, but we all own a passport and the possibility to go wherever we want, just because we want. We are the ones who post amazing pictures on Facebook, the ones who see the bright side of the road, the ones who, as Sameer pointed out, write inspirational articles on blogs. We are the lucky travellers, and yet, sometimes we seem to forget the responsibilities our good fortune implies just because we think our audience holds the same global social status as us.
Speaking for myself, what I seek when I write about travelling is to share what it means to me so that maybe other people with similar circumstances will give it a try and see their lives improved in some way as well. Finding out that reading one of my articles had made someone feel the way Sameer so bitterly described was a difficult hit to take and it made me consider quitting writing about this topic. But then I remembered Maks' message back in Amsterdam about responsible travelling and realised that maybe there was a more useful, logical option, an aspect of this way of life that we tend to disregard - the relevance of making an effort to understand people's struggles everywhere we go, the difference between visiting a country and helping improving its communities, the awareness of our privilege and the choice to use it as a tool to help others have it too, so that the concept of privilege will eventually disappear. Eliminating the pleasures of travelling will not help others get them, but maybe, if we become responsible travellers, active rather than passive, aware and supportive, there is a chance that we can make a difference. The question here is: how?
There is something I never really quite liked about certain travel bloggers, and that is their absolute conviction that travelling makes them "superior"
to the rest of the world in some sort of way, as if they had discovered a meaning to life that cannot be questioned. The harm in this point of view is that it sometimes eliminates
the humbleness in their writing and turns them into socially passive travellers, motivating other privileged youngsters to explore the world without stopping to think about the locals'
struggles. I do agree that nomadic travelling can be a direct and impacting way to understand human beings in a broader sense, and that it challenges the way our Western society has
always told us how life is supposed to be (study, graduate, get a job, work from 9 to 5, get married, get kids, get a house, etc.), but choosing this option does not make anyone superior,
it just gives us different responsibilities. It means you have discovered another path that your privileged life offers you and that was not as stark as the
mainstream one. And it is wonderful and necessary to talk about it - thanks to people who did, I found the courage to start travelling. Inspirational writers for privileged
audiences are still needed. But we must not forget the other side of the coin. The way I see it, maybe it's not about stopping to use the tools that we have, but changing the way we use
So maybe the answer to how can we become responsible travellers may be simpler than we thought. Let's open our eyes to what's happening to the people around us and write about it. Let's film it. Let's show it. You, who were lucky enough to be born with a voice, can choose to make more visible those problems that sometimes remain hidden by all the flashy pictures of adventurous travellers. And, no matter if you're a writer/filmmaker or not, you might as well roll up your sleeves and ask yourself how you can help make the place you're visiting better. If I shut down Revolution on the Road right now, Sameer is still not going to be able to leave his hometown. But if a privileged traveller reads this, maybe when she/he travels to difficult areas such as Palestine she/he will be more aware of this particular aspect of their suffering and will become more willing to lend a hand to its inhabitants. And us, writers, need to be humble and responsible of what we write, aware of the fact that travelling doesn't make us superior, but more privileged, and we can choose to use that privilege to help improve a little someone else's life. So maybe the question is not so much "Should we stop writing about travelling?", but rather "Should we change the way we write about travelling?"
How a three-month trip changed everything
What does "choosing" really mean?