First thing’s first – I love to travel. I have a map of the world, which I’m constantly poring over. My map is a scratch-map, with the gold foil on several EU countries giving way to bright, triumphant green. I’m often running my hands over Africa, South America, the farthest reaches of Asia. I love planning my visits to these places, determined to see them one day, when I can afford to do so.
Here’s something we don’t talk about: Travel is a privilege.
The truth of the matter is that to travel, to really see the world, you need money. Flights to Australia, or Singapore, or Malaysia, or South America, can cost thousands of pounds. Factor in accommodation costs, visas, travel insurance and spending money, and you’re looking at quite the bill. And even with the discounted STA-travel deals, and booking a trip almost a year in advance, the truth is that even those trips are out of some of our budgets.
I come from a gritty working-class background. As much as I’d love to spend thousands seeing the world, I can’t. I’ve been more or less financially independent since my late teens, and now as the oldest of six, pay my own way and help my mum and siblings out, money-wise. I grew up learning the value of money the hard way round; by earning it. No handouts here, just long shifts in crappy christmas temp jobs; days lost to customer service roles staring longingly out at the sunshine; and grim 4am alarms for saturday opening shifts in a coffee shop alongside my undergrad degree.
My ‘gap year’ wasn’t spent on a jaunt around Australia, or a road-trip through the states. I didn’t volunteer in an African country, or lounge around in 30-degrees-plus heat somewhere Far East. I worked at an M&S Food Hall, saved up money and stayed put.
I don’t resent anyone who has the money and opportunity to travel. I just want people who are lucky enough to be able to lie on the deck of a boat just off the Turkish coast, or spend a couple of weeks in NYC with their family, to understand that a lot of us don’t have the means to do the same.
I was partnered in labs once with a guy who had seemingly been EVERYWHERE. Australia? Check. Skiing in the Alps? Check. African Safari? Check. A few weeks in Singapore/Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos? Check. Trip around the States? Check. South America? Check. When I asked him how he’d afforded it all, he blinked, confused. He’d just been able to, he said. Turns out, his family is pretty loaded, and he couldn’t fathom not being able to travel because of monetary struggles.
My ‘gap year’ wasn’t spent on a jaunt around Australia, or a road-trip through the states. I didn’t volunteer in an African country, or lounge around in 30-degrees-plus heat somewhere Far East.
Being unable to afford travel for the most part hasn’t been all doom and gloom, however. I know for a fact that I never have and never will take travel for granted. My father scrimped and saved to take me and my sister to Pakistan when I was younger and I relished the three weeks spent exploring the villages in the Punjab where my parents grew up; hiking in the mountains; gazing up in awe at the landmarks in Islamabad; eating in a smoky underground restaurant in Lahore; driving haphazardly through the loud, dusty and bustling streets of Karachi to the seafront, where the Indian Ocean stretched out as far as the eye could see.
Neither can I forget the only family holiday we took, all eight of us, a couple of years before my father passed away. It was once again a scrimp-and-save affair, to Copenhagen. The eight of us were packed into two boxy little hotel rooms and lived off an unholy amount of danish butter cookies. But it was a wonderful eight days. We trekked up and down the city in true tourist fashion, visited family friends, and took a trip to the seaside village where I’d spent the my first few years.
So, yes, I have a profound appreciation for travel. More so because of the effort that goes into my ventures abroad. In my first year, I saved up money from 3 weeks’ slog at M&S over Christmas, and spent eight days on a short road-trip that took me to Brussels, Luxembourg City and Amsterdam. A lot of time was spent on megabuses, not much money was spent, and it was a whirlwind of gorgeous sights and museums, wandering solo into secondhand bookshops, making new friends in youth hostels and clumsily practising rusty French. Since then, I’ve taken trips (on a tight budget) to Prague and Paris and hope to see more of Europe before finishing up my Masters.
I also have a pretty great instinct for travelling on a budget, for the most part. Crowded hostel rooms; a checklist of all the free things to do in a city; meticulous researching into student discount abroad; EasyJet and Skyscanner deals; lots of local supermarket food and a willingness to rough it a bit have made me the traveller I am today.
So, yes, travel is a privilege. And you need some funds to indulge your wanderlust. But I’ve learnt you can leave cushy trips to the other side of the world to your older (and hopefully salaried) self. Until then, a bit of grit, a lot of determination and the ability to fall asleep anywhere helped me make a start on that map.