The privilege of travel

I’ve just read a blog post on Medium called Lifestyles of the Young, Rich, and Homeless. Go and read it now, although you may struggle to all the way through it.

In a way, it’s an interesting story although I can entirely understand the derision currently directed towards it on Twitter. 

The first half of the story can be summarised as: “I’m rich and you’re not. I made some money on the internet and went to a load a parties in crazy places. Did I mention that I’m rich?” Personally, I’ve probably got similar stories I could tell, except the part about making a ton of money, so I sort of understand where he’s coming from.

It got me thinking about couple of months that I spent learning Spanish and travelling in Guatemala, in 2012.

I had quit my job and was going to travel for a couple of months to get out of London, before finding another job. That plan all worked pretty well apart from not managing to find a job after getting back to London, but that’s a different story.

Guatemala is a fairly poor country and you could see evidence of that everywhere you looked, even amongst the relative wealth of Antigua where I spent most of my time.

I met many locals while I was there, but primarily the teachers in the schools I attended. They were all, without exception, warm and friendly people.

What really struck me though was the great financial disparity between me and the average Guatemalan.

In Antigua, I was spending USD 250 per week on 30 hours of school, accommodation and 6 days of meals. Compared to what I could get in London for that amount of money, it was a bargain.

I lead a pretty good life there, but for that $250 I was probably allowing several people to make a living and helping to support the local economy.

It made me realise that by having a reasonably well-paid office job in the Western world, it put me into the top 1-2% of earners on a global basis.

For one week I had a private language tutor who charged 100Q per day (USD13). Her husband, who was a labourer, would earn a quarter of that, on a good day. I stayed in a (very basic) hotel room that cost USD 6 per night. I had a tour guide who had moved to the US to work as a chef in a restaurant while his family stayed in Guatemala because the money was so much better than back home. I could get a shoe shine (which I have never had anywhere else in the world for 3Q or USD 0.40).

All these examples add up to a wide global disparity between the haves and the have-nots. It really showed me the difference between my Western life and life in much of the rest of the world. Many other people will have travelled to many other places and seen different but comparable things.

I feel pretty lucky to have the life that I have. I was born in a safe, rich country. I was well-educated and received good healthcare. I have had the opportunity to travel, have great experiences and learn a lot during the course of my life.

I’d like to think that I appreciate what I’ve got and how lucky I have been. Most people in the world find their life much more difficult than I’ve been privileged to find mine. I’m not sure that the author of the article linked to above quite realises how good his life is.


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