I’m pretty sure many of us have friends who have travelled to a couple of countries and can’t shut up about how they now have this thing called ‘Wanderlust’. Hell, I’m also pretty sure soon after, they tattooed that word on themselves just hours after their trip. Now, I know travelling is amazing. I’ve been to countries like Thailand, Singapore, Australia, England, Paris, and the Czech Republic (Prague being my favourite), but I also know how hard it was for me to travel in each of them because of my dwarfism. So, let’s start from there.
There are many reasons why travelling/backpacking isn’t accessible, but let’s begin with something I have a personal experience with; my disability. Many countries, especially Third World countries in Asia aren’t very accessible themselves. Thailand may be the hub of many tourists from all around the world, but I still struggle to get public transport that was handicapped-friendly, nor transport with people who really knew what to do with the disabled. It’s not only a struggle to get transport that wouldn’t rip you off, but it’s also a struggle to get anywhere with a wheelchair unless you have the cash to cab or hire a tour agency that caters to disabled individuals. Even countries like Czech isn’t that easy as I had to travel to places via very stuffy trams with rude people. Countries like China also scare me — which is why I have not travelled there — because there’s no Uber/Grab that I can book a cab from (or a cab app that has ‘English’ has a language option), nor is there many who speak English or know how to deal with the disabled. The only time travelling around in a foreign country was enjoyable was in countries like Singapore or England — where people knew what to do with me if I were on a wheelchair or crutches, but they weren’t cheap to be in.
Have people also not notice how much walking travelling requires and how many stairs they have to hike to get the opportunity to stare at some monument? Or how the numbers of places to perch your buttocks on is lacking in many museums or castles? And how ‘hiking in a foreign country’ is like the thing to do? You’ve got to hike to see a pretty lake, you’ve got to hike to hit this untouched private beach, you’ve got to hike to see the whole city from the top, you’ve got to hike to enjoy lush forests. Now, I’m not saying ‘fuck hiking’. I’ve attempted to hike and it was great, but I came home not being able to walk for the next 3 days — this is not even an exaggeration. And I’m not saying ‘I want there to be escalators and cement pathways built for me to enjoy pretty things’. I’m just saying that most of the best parts about travelling, especially backpacking, is to walk and hike, which is something someone with a disability struggles with. I’ve also seen people with no arms or no legs or something along those lines, do some crazy things, but here’s the thing…
Not. All. Disabilities. Are. The. Same.
I can climb stairs, I can attempt to hike, and even though it hurts like hell when I do it too much or stand too long… I can still do it, whereas I know people who can’t even do those things because they just physically can’t or they might actually break doing it. I blows my mind some people think “if this disabled person can do it, then all of them can do it! Now, let me share this video to all my disabled friends and find other disabled person to show this video to! Maybe it’ll motivate them!”. No, it does not motivate them. You’re just going to make them think they’re weak when they’re just physically incapable of doing certain things.
Travelling requires a lot of walking. Backpacking is even worse because people would walk for hours to get to one place, whereas I can’t even walk for 5 minutes before falling to the ground. How did I survive my 1 year in England? Simple. I had a bus pass, there were benches everywhere (I was in the city), and I used cabs. Travelling to Paris with my travel-crazy boyfriend (ex now) made merealised how physically taxing and financially consuming travelling actually was. He wanted to walk to places and often, and a 15-minute walk was a breeze to him whereas my legs would start shaking and buckling after I’ve pushed myself for 10. We had all these plans to see some beautiful monuments and buildings whilst walking towards a destination, but we missed some stuff because not even halfway through, I needed to take a cab as I was in so excruciating pain… which brings me to my next point.
Travelling isn’t cheap.
Everyone who ever ranted at how travelling is the only way to get cultured or to ‘find one’s self’ or all those other hippie bullshit, all had some amount of money. My ex is an avid traveller who takes a week or two off to travel to Europe a couple of times a year. He’s white. He’s English. He earns roughly the same amount I do here, but in pounds, so that’s about 5 times more than I earn. I love him to bits, but every time he goes to a new country with just a smidge of ‘foreign’ culture, he loses it and thinks that that is his next home.
If you’re from a Third World country and you travel often to any country that currency is worth a lot more than yours… your finances are above average. Take it from someone whose finances are above average. The only reason why I could travel to all those countries I mentioned above is because my family’s finances are above average. They are able to pay for my flights and accommodation, but anything else I want to buy is on me. Because of them, I can afford to take a cab to my hotel, take a cab to where I want to go, enter overpriced museums to see a tiny picture with a woman who didn’t know how to smile right, or monuments where you had to pay crazy money just to stare at some awkward political statue.
But when I travelled to Paris, I noticed how much money it cost to get into museums that people had to stand for HOURS to get into (I didn’t. I couldn’t be fucked), how much money it took to get from one place to just a couple of kilometres away, how much money it took to even eat at a ‘cheap’ place because it was still in EUROS and I only earned in MYR.
I know many who can’t afford travelling because of circumstances that denies them enough finances to even step foot on foreign soil. These are the people who are considered ‘boring’ or ‘uncultured’. They are teased for being ‘lazy’ or not ‘saving up enough’. They are constantly being lectured about how ‘amazing and mind-blowing’ travelling is and how they are ‘missing out’.
I’ve travelled. I think it’s great. But it’s not the answer to everything. It’s not some haircut you give yourself after a break-up. Flights, accommodations, food, transport, visa, renewing passports… they call cost something because someone’s got to make a living. They might not cost much to you, but they might cost a lot to many. So, check your privilege before you tell someone they’re ‘just not saving up enough’.
Talking about privilege…
If you’re white, cisgender (yes, I’m going there), male, and of privilege, you’ll have no problems going anywhere and being treated like a king. Even as a white woman, travelling safely alone around countries like India, can be almost impossible. Imagine travelling as a trans person, having to face bigotry and dangers from homophobic assholes. Imagine those from more Islamic countries trying to travel to countries like the US or the UK. My brother who has a ‘Bin’ is his name, as per all Muslim men, was pulled aside at the airport because white people think having a ‘Bin’ in your name immediately connects you to terrorists.
So, let’s stop pretending travelling is this magical soul-finding thing that can cure anything, or that wanderlust should be this trait everyone should have, or that wearing flowy dresses, with sunhats and sunglasses, and holding our partner’s hand as they take a picture of us walking ahead of us in some foreign country is this ‘need’ all of us should have. At the end of the day, travelling might not interest some people and doesn’t give them much joy anyway.
And if you gasp at the last sentence.
P.S: I do love travelling, I do urge others to do so but only if they’re capable and have an interest in it. Don’t do it just because you think it’s this magical experience that you need to starve for.