This video from College Humor is hilarious. Although the stereotypes are clearly amplified for comic effect, the traits that “the rich friend” embodies in this video are ones that many people can see in at least one of their friends, especially in the age of social media where every travel moment is streamed, from the instagram of the boarding pass to the snapchat selfie on the beach. There is, however, one element of this video that troubles me: the idea that it’s the “rich friend” who gets to travel all the time.
The joke in this College Humor skit is that the rich friend’s father invented YouTube and that’s how she affords her travel habit. The three founders of YouTube have net worths of approximately 140, 300, and 355 million dollars. Things are always more convenient when they are simple. The simple fallacy behind traveling is that it’s a luxury experience reserved for wealthy people who don’t have to work. First, let’s discuss why this idea is a fallacy, and then I’ll explain why I think this fallacy is harmful. I don’t have statistical data on how much people travel in comparison to networths, but I have met dozens of long-term travelers in the time since I left on my big trip, and the same themes reoccur in each of their stories. Here are the themes:
Long term travelers are poor in commitments
Most of the people I’ve met while traveling don’t have children, mortgages, or student debt. They were able to leave their home country without abandoning anything or anyone.
Long term travelers are rich on time
They are mostly in transition periods of their lives. Many are in between school and “the real world” (myself and Erin included). Some are in between jobs and taking time to see the world before taking another 9 to 5. If they do have solid jobs, they’re usually fortunate enough to live in countries where work-life balance is respected (aka anywhere in the Western world besides the United States), or they’re self-employed, and thus have sufficient time to justify 30 hours flying to switch hemispheres twice.
Long term travelers are poor in rich countries or rich in poor countries
In Australia they eat peanut-butter toast everyday because it’s cheap, or free in many hostels. In Vietnam they eat out in restaurants for every meal because they can get lunch for two for as little as $1.87 combined.
Long term travelers buy time, not things
I have never seen a long term traveler buy bottle service in a nightclub. Normally, people who spend the most on their accommodation, meals, or shopping are people who have more money than time. Long term travelers weigh their options and realize that being thrifty will allow them to afford more time on the road.
Out of the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with travelers from Sydney to Sapa, nothing has suggested to me that you have to be wealthy to travel. Of course, travel is not free, however, for most people, with sufficient determination, it can be affordable. If you can agree with that premise, then here is why I think the money fallacy is harmful.
Why equating travel with money is harmful
I won’t get corny and quote Emerson or Thoreau, but simply put, travel is good for you. Anyone who can travel, should. And by reinforcing the attitude that people who travel are people who have money, we discourage people from trying. I won’t go so far as to say that anyone can travel. Each person’s lot in life is unique. Although, I will be so bold as to say that the world is full of people scrolling through BuzzFeed and Instagram at photos of enchanting distant places and beautiful foreign people, saying to themselves, “*sigh* I wish I could travel, but I’m not rich like my friend.” Most of these people are mistaken.
Everyone who wants to travel should do their darndest to make it happen, and then either pack their bags, or alternatively come to terms with the fact that there is something else that is keeping them homebound, not the fact that they are not fabulously wealthy.
As a small littler afterthought, let me recognize that not everyone wants to travel, but traveling is so cool and hip that some might think it would be offensive to suggest they actually don’t want to travel; better to say you can’t afford it. This is also pointless and harmful. Don’t do it.