One of the things that travel has taught me is that I possess a lot of privilege in travel. Despite being a woman and a minority in a culture that still predominantly favors the white male, I occupy a fairly privileged status in American society. And in the world context, my position as an American world affords me a lot of privilege as well.
Before I traveled, I had a well-paying job. And I lived in a city where I felt comfortable to speak my mind and pursue the things I want to pursue. In general, I have a good education, and my skills are marketable enough that I can earn income. But as we’ve slow traveled around the world, witnessing my privilege in travel has allowed me to realize that there are many places in the world where people do not have the same rights or freedoms as me.
This post was updated on February 18, 2020.
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The act of travel is a privilege
In truth, the act of travel in itself is a privilege. For a lot of people in the world, things like money, physical fitness, mental state of mind, religious beliefs, and even sexual orientation often hinders them from going to certain places in the world. As travelers, we need to be mindful of this privilege in travel. We need to use it in a responsible way.
As parents and family travelers, we have the additional responsibility of passing on this mindfulness to our children. We need to ask ourselves, how can we help our children appreciate their ability to experience the world?
Lessons about privilege from my travels
At last count, I have been to 35 different countries, and each place I have visited has taught me a few things about how unfair the world can be:
In Paraguay, I learned that life can be quite difficult for a woman. The women are up early in the morning, making breakfast and feeding the animals. They tend to the fields and farms. They clean the house. In addition, they cook the meals. At the end of the day, women are the last members of the family to go to sleep.
In Indonesia, I learned that the color of your skin DOES make a difference. Grocery stores sell beauty products that lighten your skin. Commercials, television shows, and movies all revere actresses with pale skin and jet black hair as the epitome of beauty. As a child, I was often told not to spend too much time in the sun lest my skin get too dark.
And in South Africa, I learned that institutional racism can have lasting effects on a country. Even though the racist system of apartheid ended over twenty years ago, the country is still dealing with its aftermath. Many of the black African population live in poverty, and over 70% of the land in South Africa are still owned by white Africans.
With privilege in travel comes responsibility
These lessons from my travels have shown me that the world is far from being equal, and that these issues of inequality and privilege exist not only in the United States, but everywhere.
So where does that leave us as travelers?
I have come to the conclusion that with privilege comes responsibility. But what that responsibility entails is up to each of us to decide.
For me, as a mother, I am realizing that my responsibility lies in the legacy that I leave behind in this world. My children have many of the same privileges as I have, and as a parent, it is my responsibility to instill in them gratitude and humility. Ultimately, I want my children to have a greater appreciation and understanding of the world around them.
How to talk to your children about privilege in travel
It’s never too early to get your kids aware of the privileges they possess as travelers. Farzana Nayani has written a great book called Raising Multi-Cultural Kids: Tools For Nurturing Identity In A Racialized World. Even if you’re not part of a multi-cultural family, this book has great insight into talking about race and privilege with your kids.
There are ways to talk about privilege in travel with your kids without making them feel bad or glossing over aspects of privilege. You can tailor your conversations to make them age appropriate. Here are a few of my suggestions.
Age group: Toddlers and younger
The main objective for kids in this age group is to get them used to being in new and different environments. Rather than a cruise or a theme park, travel to another country or a different city. Walk through different neighborhoods. Try new cuisines. Talk to people from different backgrounds than your family.
Age group: Three to five years old
When we travel, we like playing a game with our kids called, “What’s the same? What’s different?” During the preschool years, kids are able to distinguish between things are the same and different. This ability can help kids start understanding that concepts about inequality and privilege in travel.
Age group: Six to eight years old
Once kids are able to read, a world of knowledge suddenly opens up them. When traveling, read a few books about the places you visit. Continue talking about the differences and similarities, and encourage your kids to come up with their own observations.
Age group: Nine years and older
If your kids enjoy writing, have them keep a travel journal. Encourage them to reflect on the places they visit, and how it relates to their life. Seek out opportunities for your kids to meet and interact with other local kids. Additionally, you can look for opportunities to volunteer when you travel. For teens and older kids, give them a chance to explore destinations on their own.
Defining your responsibilities when thinking about privilege in travel
My kids will undoubtedly grow up in a world of privilege, but I hope that our family travels will show them that inequalities exist in this world. I also hope that it inspires them to fight against those injustices, in any way that they can.
In the grand scheme of things, this is what I would want for all travelers, especially those traveling with their kids. My hope is that you will find your own way to shape and define the responsibilities that your privilege brings with it, and find a way to pass these values on to your kids.
In the end, all we can do is hope that each individual out there is doing their part to make the world a more equal and just place.
Do you feel that travel is a privilege? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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