By Andrés Muñoz
Privilege. An indicator of socioeconomic inequalities present in our society. Some people benefit while others don’t have the same opportunities or have them outright denied. These inequalities usually stem from generational and intercultural factors that, regrettably, are deeply rooted in the fabric of our society. One of these inequalities is the access to travel.
Many of us read the tales of countless travel bloggers and Instagrammers who travel around the world for a living. We watch photos of them in India, then in Australia a month later and in San Francisco a month after that. They constantly preach to their audience that a globe-trotting lifestyle is available to everyone; all you have to do is work hard for it.
And we wonder… “How do they actually do it”?
While many might be hard workers who hustle and grind their way through the world, some might come from a wealthy background where money is not an issue. Others might have a very powerful passport that doesn’t require them to request a visa wherever they may go. And others have shaped their professional lives so that it lets them travel while working.
I once met a gentleman from the Middle East whose life is a constant party. Every three weeks or so, he would travel from one place to another. His Instagram account was nothing more than parties, parties and yet more parties. Bottle service in Los Angeles, private suites in Las Vegas, and summer holidays in Europe. I still don’t know what his line of work was, he said he was a consultant, but it was crystal clear that he had the disposable income to live a life of partying and travelling across the globe.
I’ve met an American who has carefully managed his financial assets so he can go to music festivals in the summer and an Irish stockbroker who has been travelling across South America for the past six months. These individuals have been blessed with the financial means to travel a lot. Whether it comes from generational wealth or is the product of their hard work, they now have the income to do it.
At the same time, hundreds of millions of people worldwide live on less than 2 dollars a day. They can’t travel, even if they reduce prices to the limit and manage their finances exceptionally well.
Globalissues.org indicates that the poorest 40% of the world accounts for 5% of the world’s income, while the wealthiest 20% accounts for three-quarters of global income. While many of those mentioned above might have obtained their money from hard work and dedication, others haven’t even had the opportunity to attempt to reach that level of financial wealth.
(Dis)parity Among Passports
If you haven’t had to jump through the hoops that different countries throw at you so you can obtain a visa to visit them, consider yourself lucky. Countries that request visitors get a visa to enter often demand documents like bank statements, proof of employment, and other confirmation of ties to the home nation. In other words, they don’t want people sticking around.
The Henley Passport Index indicates the freedom that citizens of each country have to visit other countries in the world. The world’s most powerful passport is currently the Japanese one, granting its citizens unrestricted travel to 196 countries. Halfway along the list is East Timor, which enjoys visa-free entry to 93 countries.
Then there’s Afghanistan. Due to the geopolitical situation, the Afghan passport is at the very bottom of the ranking, with holders only being able to travel to 26 countries without applying for a visa. This systemic mechanism allows some people to freely travel while others are effectively grounded.
The Location-Independent Life
I lived in Mexico City for a year. While the pandemic allowed me to stay there, previously, I had only been able to stay there for so long because I was working for a tech company. With my finances all accessible online and having travel insurance, I could stay, living out of my backpack.
Working in tech has allowed me to move around a lot because all my work is online. Physical location is not a determining factor. Some, on the other hand, don’t have this opportunity. Bus/taxi/ambulance drivers, owners of restaurants, doctors, street vendors…don’t get to enjoy a location-independent lifestyle.
I am one of the lucky ones who gets to explore the world. I have been very fortunate and privileged to be able to go to the places I’ve been so far and to be able to plan for more globe-trotting adventures.
I pay it forward whenever I can by teaching English to my students, coaching professionals in my city in business English, and helping others expand their ability to travel. But, we can always do more.
What are ways that you can help others travel? Share them in the comments section below.