Not Everyone Who Wants to Travel Internationally Can Afford It

A small reminder.

Photo: Jonathan Khoo/Flickr

After years of constant, plodding reminder by my mother to renew my passport, I gave her an early birthday present and followed through. My passport expired sometime in 2001 and taking care of that task always felt onerous. One rainy afternoon, I finally did it, standing in line to fill out the paperwork, smiling grimly for a photo and wrangling my sister to serve as a witness to prove I was who I said I was, because the clutch of papers and the New York State ID I had didn’t sufficiently prove my existence. Everything was filed without incident and my new passport arrived about a month later. I am now ready for international travel.

When mentioning this to a few people in my life during casual conversation, I noticed a trend. Everyone seemed very, very surprised that I hadn’t left the country in well over a decade. My roommate was aghast. My ex-boyfriend seemed shocked that a person of my age hadn’t left the country since the late ’90s. My initial reaction to their surprise was to spring to my own defense. Plane tickets are expensive. Of course I wanted to go to Paris or ride a bike while very stoned in Amsterdam for a week or poke around Tulum or whatever, but who has the money? Who has the time?

The last time I left the country was for a school trip to England with my Latin class in the summer after eighth grade. I desperately wanted to attend but we couldn’t afford it; if memory serves, my grandmother paid for it and I spent a gleeful two weeks in London. When I ran out of money with a few days left in the trip, I borrowed money from my Latin teacher and endured a twenty minute phone conversation with my father’s business partner who spent his summers on the Isle of Man, where he was from. He told me I should consider becoming a Rhodes scholar and wired me 20£. I’d like to think that I spent that money on food, but probably, I blew it on a pair of jelly shoes from Marks & Spencer because I had a tenuous grip on the exchange rate and they seemed very cheap.

Prior to that excursion, I’ve been out of the country maybe three times, all trips to Taiwan to visit family. Two of those trips happened when I was a baby and the last was when I was 9 years old. In college, the one travel abroad opportunity was to stay at a castle in the Netherlands that was owned by my school. I wanted to go, but we couldn’t afford it so I stayed. Planning a vacation to somewhere other than California, where my mother and many friends lived or, more recently, New Orleans, where my best friend lives, seemed out of the question. It’s not that I don’t want to travel internationally again, but I’ve never felt like I had the time or the money to do so. So I’ve stayed put. And I’m fine.

What irked about what I understand to be casual questions from friends and loved ones about why I haven’t travelled is what I interpreted to be an underlying judgment about people who don’t travel. If you grew up with an understanding of the annual family vacation to somewhere other than your grandmother’s house a car ride away or maybe Disney World, I guess it’s easier to assume that everybody else around you would prioritize those experiences and replicate them as they got older. I suppose I’ve made the choice not to travel because I haven’t prioritized it, but really, I haven’t felt like I had the funds. It’s not like the concept of “travel” is going away; hopefully it’ll still be an option for me, but in the interim, I remind myself and others when I’m feeling spicy that it’s a privilege, not a right.

In November, my sisters and I are going to Taiwan again to see my grandmother and the passel of relatives that haven’t seen most of us since we were little kids. We’ve all saved the money for this trip and have been for some time because for the most part, none of us can really drop $1,000 on a plane ticket without thinking about it. But we’ve planned for this. We’re ready. We will eat a lot of food and fight a bunch. It will be great.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.