Redefining travel for people who aren’t rich (most of us)

“The world is a book and those who don’t travel only read one page.” (Some of my last pics in Buenos Aires)

In my experience, most backpackers tend to be white. There’s no actual data on this but I’m sitting in a hostel in Perú and there are definitely more white people here than people of color, and I don’t think I’ve seen a black person this morning. There are several people from parts of Asia, such as Singapore, and many of the other people I’ve seen of Asian descent are actually first-generation immigrants from the US, Canada, or elsewhere. This has been the case in Argentina and Chile when I stay at hostels. Bite me.

But hey, there is a criticism about travel bloggers and the fact that social media influencers are too white. They’re easier to keep track of since they post things, we see their efforts to get a tan on Instagram, and they tend to make arguments for why traveling helps us find ourselves, why you should drop everything and travel, and their social media feeds are ripe with aphorisms about why traveling is a cure-all it for whatever ails you.

Then there are those who say you need to have several thousand dollars in savings, that you should have a steady client base if you desire to be a digital nomad (something only people from the world’s richest countries can do without so much suspicion). This is all great advice.

I had none of these things. I had to defer my loans, get on several IBR programs, even get on payment programs for my taxes because I’m a freelancer and my paltry income is taxed at almost 20%. The thing is, even in the US I’d have these problems. Women of color are paid less than white men, and even well-intentioned white feminists mention their 80 cents to the white man’s dollar. But not me, I’m going to focus on the fact that I get paid at half as much as a white man, went to college, speak 4 languages, and can’t afford to live on my own in the United States. I choose to remember that some people can’t escape poverty no matter how much they try.

I decided to be broke somewhere else and figure it out. As a first-generation Salvadoran immigrant who had to wait 22 years to become an American citizen, I knew I’d find a way and had what it took in a way that most expats can’t. I’m also aware that despite the fact I have less, so much less, than my white counterparts (many of whom stress me out consistently in ways they can never understand), I’m still far more privileged than many Central Americans who are trying to survive. I don’t just carry my heavy backpack or hopes that I’ll find enough writing, translation or other gigs to help me get to my next destination and survive: I carry our wars, I carry the way 45 criminalizes us and what that will mean if I ever decided to return to the United States or am ever denies entry into certain countries because of my skin color.

So for those of you who can’t travel because of your lack of documentation, for those for whom it wasn’t a choice because your nation is at war or going through some other horrible circumstances that are completely out of your control, I choose to redefine travel. (This post doesn’t mention many of the hurdles people of color face from a social justice perspective, but I plan to go into that in future posts.)

The problem is, I haven’t been able to find a definition. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

You don’t really need money, but if you have any debts you will have to list them and read the fine print in your contracts or promissory notes. If you have student loans you may be eligible for forbearance, deferments or reduced payments.

You don’t need to leave the country, and may not be able to for legal reasons. But you might live somewhere with interesting neighborhoods. When I was a child I remember when the Metro Red Line opened in Los Angeles. We were able to go to Hollywood on the metro. I hadn’t actually seen the walk of fame despite living next to it most of my life. My parents took me and it meant the world. I liked how dirty it was, how weird everyone was, and how stupid the tourists were. I grew up watching I Love Lucy and knew about celebrities from the 50s so I went to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and looked at the prints on the cement. My hands are the same size as Frank Sinatra’s, I learned.

If you can’t leave your country, leave your state, if you can’t leave your state, go across town on the bus. Go to a new restaurant. Travel just means going somewhere you ignore on a daily basis, and it doesn’t have to cost anything. Go to that park you see on the way to work but never visit. Smell something new. Go to a new coffee shop (I hate Starbucks with a passion and think it tastes disgusting, but if you like it, then go to the one across the street where the barista doesn’t know your go-to).

Eat something new. I know what it’s like to be broke, and if “eating something new” means buying a packet of ramen in a flavor you never considered, or adding an egg or a splash of lemon juice to your same old ramen, then that’s as good as eating in the markets in Vietnam, Mexico, or Mars.

Read something new. In Los Angeles, you just hop on the bus (yes, we have a bus), and go to some new neighborhood that sells authentic Japanese food, or you can celebrate Chinese New Year, and mourn April 24 with the Armenian community. We have a giant library at 6th and Grand, which I consider to be a writer’s temple. I don’t care if you choose poetry, prose, or Marvel Comics. Go somewhere new through the words of someone else, and that’s just as good as dropping everything to “find yourself” in the Amazon jungle or whatever. Plus, you won’t have to get a yellow fever shot or risk having the candiru fish sneak up your urethra.

Be broke somewhere else. If your situation is such that you feel you may never escape poverty, then learn how to work remotely and prepare adequately for leaving your current city or country. This is tricky because it means you’re poor enough to consider yourself “broke,” but may have some surprise opportunity, or may be able to create enough capital to leave, and it means you need to have the courage to do whatever it takes when you arrive so you won’t run out of money in your new place. This may mean volunteering at hostels, doing a workaway, being an au pair, finding a fellowship, or even hey, applying to work for your country’s embassy somewhere else. You may have a job that transfers you somewhere else or even lets you work from home so you can peruse coffee shops and delis at your leisure. Be realistic in what this could mean for you in case you decide to take the plunge.

Remember those who had no choice. The refugee crisis in the world is only growing. Horrifying circumstances kick people out of their homes every day, and though this isn’t your fault, it’s a great idea to get informed about how to solve the problem. Then, maybe the next time a former refugee or immigrant has to pack to their bags, it can be for more noble reasons. I know I was grateful the first time I left the United States, and there were no bombs to run from that day *.

*(To my mother’s credit, I don’t really remember the bombs or gunshots because we left El Salvador less than a month before I turned three. We left the United States together in 2003, so I’m actually grateful she didn’t have to run from anything then).

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#Central American caravan#Cusco#el salvador#hollywood walk of fame#Peru#redefine travel#refugee crisis#remote work#working class traveler

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