Travel and Social Privilege


Pat from the UK writes in on the growing discussion about “Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel Around the World”.

To say the least, the concept of investing in expanding your worldview as opposed to investing in a career draws a range of perspectives. I thought it was a good comment, so I’m including it here with his permission.

This is a fascinating idea but such traveling can only exist because most other people cannot do it. For example, that airplane you use to travel is built by non-traveling factory workers who earn low incomes and have families to support. It’s flown by pilots, staffed by stewards who work full-time.

When you land, you are staying in a hotel or hostel ran and maintained by non-traveling staff. The taxis you use, the buses you use, all staffed by non-traveling people. I can go on about restaurants, etc. If the whole world decided to live like this, it would be an unsustainable way of life.


Pat raises a good issue. Most airplanes are actually made by people who are fairly well off in Seattle and Toulouse, but aside from that, it’s true that not everyone can travel like me or many of our readers. And it’s also true that not everyone in “the whole world” could travel this way, or travel at all.

There’s no doubt that I’m fairly privileged, and wherever you’re reading from, I’m assuming you are too. When it comes down to it, most poor people around the world don’t read blogs… they don’t read in English… and many of them aren’t able to read at all.

A more appropriate question, therefore, is what should the privileged do? How should we respond to the reality of inequality—should we not do something because other people lack the same freedom? I have my own answer to that, of course, but it’s not the only answer.

Clearly, it’s a luxury to be able to visit new lands, to have sufficient disposable income that we can choose to invest it in widening our horizons. This doesn’t mean that travel is bad, or that we have to apologize for it because it is not universally available.

Pancake Mountain

I started thinking about this question several years ago when I took a brief trip to the U.S. while living in Liberia. I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Chicago and was amazed at the size and quantity of the available food at the breakfast buffet the next morning. As I gazed at the overflowing stacks of enormous blueberry muffins and the gallon jugs of orange juice, I almost expected to see a sign that read “Welcome to America!”

I don’t get culture shock very often, but for a few moments that morning, I was freaked out. I thought about my friends back in Liberia, who would have been a lot more shocked than me to see the huge spread at the buffet. My Liberian friends weren’t starving, but they didn’t have four-egg omelets and custom waffle stations either. This was definitely a nicer breakfast with far more choices than any of them would have that day.

For a few moments I agonized over whether it was morally right for me to eat a stack of pancakes while conditions were much poorer where I had just come from. Then I realized, if I don’t eat the pancakes, will it make any difference back in Liberia? Nope, nothing would be different over there.

Then I realized further that the goal of eliminating poverty isn’t to take pancakes away from people at the Courtyard by Marriott but rather to create a world where anyone who wanted pancakes could have them. In the case of travel, perhaps it’s not possible for everyone in the whole world to head out the door on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean that no one else should do so either, nor does it mean that anyone has to be harmed by those who choose to leave home.

The lifestyle guilt trip logic is faulty, because you could apply it to almost anything that costs money. Should you not eat at a restaurant because other people can’t afford to? Should you not buy books because other people can’t read?

Instead of choosing a scarcity mindset (“all travel is bad” or “no one should spend money on themselves”), the goal is to enable more people to make choices of their own free will. How can we create opportunities? How can we give more than we take? This is what expanding the pie is all about, choosing to be generous and outward-focused while still pursuing our own dreams.

My view is that it’s better to think about our role in the world and what we can do to expand freedom and opportunities for others. The right kind of travel can benefit both the traveler and the people who live in the place. In some cases, a sustainable tourism industry may be the best bet for a country that lacks natural resources.

But it’s far from a settled issue. Don’t believe anyone who says that all travel is inherently evil, or that all travel is inherently good. It’s more nuanced than that.

That’s my $0.02, anyway … what do you think about travel and social privilege?


Image: Scalino

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  • Karol Gajda says:

    I’ve thought about this a lot and the best answer I’ve come up with is similar to your own conclusions: inspire more people to do great things. Every time I get an e-mail from someone that says “wow, you inspired me to do X” or “because of you I’m going on my first international trip” or “thanks to you I’ve pared down all my belongings to just 1 backpack” I know I’m on the right path. And there’s no guilt in that.

  • Gillian says:

    This is one that I have struggled with for some time. The whole ‘who am I to be doing this’, the ‘why do we travel to places that are less fortunate than ourselves’ questions. I have come to think that tourism is a form of income and that by being in a place and paying for the services I am contributing to the economy of a place. I like what you have to say Chris, thank you.

  • Asa says:

    Great post as always! I couldn’t agree more. Amazing that you’re finding the time to write good posts like this while traveling all around on your book tour. Looking forward to seeing you in Boston tonight.

  • Mike Piper says:

    As an entrepreneur myself, I’m on the same page about efforts to “expand the pie.”

    That said, I’m of the opinion that the guilt trip logic isn’t faulty, and that it should be applied to anything that costs money.

    Every dollar we spend on non-essentials could be contributed to somebody across the world who would benefit from it more. Not that that necessarily means we should never buy non-essentials. I spend money on my share of them, to be sure.

    But I think it’s worth being aware that “give this to somebody in need” is an alternative for nearly every dollar we spend.

  • Kevin M says:

    Or what if those pilots, hotel workers, waiters, etc. cut their expenses enough they only had to work part-time and could travel (or whatever they choose to do) the rest of the time. Perhaps then unemployment would not be at 10% or whatever statistic you believe it to be.

    (I freely admit not everyone could cut their consumption enough to afford to go part time, but I’m sure there are huge numbers that could.)

  • Joshua says:

    When I travel, I see new cultures and am reminded of the injustice in the world. That sometimes inspires me to try and correct that injustice in the ways that I can. It realigns my perspective. The world would better place if more people had such experiences.

  • Joe says:

    I share your insight!

    In 2008 I sold my house, my business and virtually everything I owned. Next I bought a sailboat and spent 2 years in the Sea of Cortez. It was a life altering experience.

    Now that I’m back in Canada creating my next big thing…I’m amazed every morning by the gift of turning a little knob and having clean water pour right into my cup.

    And after living in 200 sq.ft for the last couple of years, I don’t know how I ever lived in 3000 sq.ft. I can barely use the space I have now with 900.

    Traveling and spending time with other people in their country changes everything. It really helps to bring your own life into perspective.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  • Stephen says:

    The best good you can do is to be an active participant in the economy. Every dollar you spend goes towards somebody who has done something to earn it! Giving people handouts is demeaning and counterproductive. Spending your money as you want, whether someone deems it “essential” or not, ensures that entrepreneurs are successful and the people who they employ remain in jobs, and more are hired. If you really want to go above and beyond that, lend money on Kiva to entrepreneurs in the third world. But don’t support the aid industry, which exists to perpetuate itself, at an obscene cost.

  • Ilana says:

    I’ve had a tougher time with this dilemma. For one, I do believe that the overabundance of goods in America has an correlation an increasing correlation with lack of good elsewhere, because as population increases, the chances that there really IS enough for everyone on earth drastically decrease. Of course, if you ate less waffles, those waffles wouldn’t end up in Liberia. It’s not an immediate change – but if Americans took steps to alter their way of life, eventually it would make a difference (I hope/believe).

    More specifically, I’ve had increasing difficulties with my own aspirations to travel, because of flight. In doing simple, silly calculations of my energy footprint in the past, I’ve found that though I had no car, lived with 5 roommates in a small house, ate locally, etc, etc – my footprint was 3x the average American just because I have friends on the opposite coast. Because of this, I hope eventually to have location independent work so I can travel by train.

  • pam says:

    I love this, Chris, and really, it’s sort of why we started Passports with Purpose. Pancakes for all is a nice abstraction of our goals, plus,how could we spin our love for travel and our sense of the privilege we feel for getting to travel into something that increases the number of people, if only by a few, who get to have pancakes.

    Thank you for this, it’s awesome.

  • Elizabeth Potts Weinstein says:

    Here’s the big question – do I believe that if I have something, it means that someone else doesn’t have that – or do I believe in abundance? That we can all create more together?

    There’s a few answers – by my spending money I’m providing opportunity for other people on their way to their truth. By my traveling & writing then I can spread ideas to more people.

    And also, here in the privileged world – not everyone wants to travel. Not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. Etc. And even more so … not everyone is ready.

  • Preston says:

    The other similar point that I always consider is regard to the thought that “I like to travel to see how other people live”. However, if everyone was busy traveling around to see how others were “living” then no one would be doing any “living” to be seen. Make sense?

  • PXT Cody says:

    To take this a step further…
    your travel is PROVIDING the jobs for all those families that are supported by the travel industry. If no person ever spent “non-essential” dollars it would not create a utopia of prosperity, it would create a world of poverty.
    -no guilt needed

  • Brooke Thomas says:

    Thanks so much for this! I think about this stuff a lot and usually come back to the Buddhist idea of a “good birth” the idea (in Buddhism) is that if you’re born human, you lucked out because you’re capable of consciousness and therefore can use that to progress in your lifetime. For myself I take it further, and know that as a middle class white woman who was born in the US in 1974, I hit the lottery of “good births”. I don’t need to spend my days surviving war, famine, or poverty for example. So the issue becomes what are you going to do with the good birth. I feel like you have to have abundant gratitude for the luck of whatever priviledge comes your way in this lifetime, and put it to use as much as you possibly can to contribute meaningfully to the world. Feeling guilty and sitting on your hands doesn’t do a damn thing to help the world progress. Utilizing our priviledge in positive and impactful ways is our responsibility to those who can’t.

  • helen says:

    I see the problem through another lens. It is not us that we are privileged – it is them that are under-privileged (deprived).

  • Jessalyn says:

    Great post! I agree that a “scarcity mindset” doesn’t help anyone. What can help is bringing back stories of the people you’ve met and the places you’ve been, both to share the similarities and differences of other cultures and to encourage and inspire people who can do so to reach out and help fund a literacy program, hospital, microfinance organization, etc. in a part of the world that’s struggling more than their own.

  • Briana says:

    About 5 years ago I was in Thailand on my first big non-European international trip. My friend needed to see a doctor and as he helped her out he said to us (two college-age American women) “I just want to let you know how lucky you are. In my country I am very successful, I have gone to medical school and become a doctor. I make good money and I can support my family, but I could never travel like you do. I could never travel to your country because I could not afford to.” He said it without any animosity whatsoever, he just wanted us to realize the privilege we had.

    As a 21 year old student traveling on financial aid from my American University I was blown away. I have carried his comment with me ever since. You are right, Chris, it is a privilege to travel like we do and the inequality of this privilege is something I consistently struggle with. Thanks for offering your opinion on the topic so eloquently.

  • Ricki says:

    I agree that we can not solve all the world’s problems because some of us travel. I’ve read somewhere that we all have choices to make and I’ve made a choice to travel which s much more important then living in a nice house.
    I’m currently on a Blossoming Journey. I’ve traveled to 7 countries in 4 months. It’s been truly an amazing experience. Your mind expands and you are reminded about how lucky you are to be living, in my case, in the United States (even with our own issues). All the countries, and the cities within the countries, have their good and their bad. But to be able to experience both, is truly something that I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do.
    Don’t close your mind to traveling. If you want to and you are able to, then DO IT!

  • Amy Lloyd says:

    My thoughts are also with the unemployment factor and how much harder it would be for the people who make the planes – if people stop traveling and spending their money when they get to these countries – the need for planes, and jobs to make those planes, disappear.
    Problems are not ever solved by punishing ourselves, or becoming less than we have been created to be, or by not eating pancakes – we must inspire people to a new way of thinking (i.e.The Art of Non-Conformity!!!!!)
    Keep up the good work!

  • Anthony Feint says:

    I don’t feel any guilt in what I do. My view is this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. No matter what I say or do, some people will never “get” it or even want to live like this.

    Without travel we would never know how lucky we actually are.

  • Ali Dark says:

    I think about this a lot when I dream about my location-independent existence.

    Imagine a future where everything is pared down – there is no sheraton to stay at, just friendly, hospitable people everywhere with a surplus of delicious healthy food to share with you.

    I tend to worry about the future sometime, but then I think if people looked more to themselves and their own creativity and spirituality for satisfaction, we’ll find ourselves living in a very simple world of happy abundance.

    We’re creating this dream now, experiencing it while it’s still taking root in society at large. The means and ways of living and travelling will be very unpredictably differrent in the future. What’s important is the mindset of humanity in general and whether it’s in harmony with the world around us or not.

  • Darrell says:

    Questions like this have often ran through my head, and I really appreciate you taking a stance on this area. Although I connect with most of what you said, I do have some issues with the lack of responsibility that you wrote about. I truly believe that you will agree with me on this, but I would have loved to hear more about it in the article. As someone who travels and sees the injustices of others, it really is the responsibility of that person (you or I) to do something about it. That being said, there is absolutely a balance in that, because there are many many injustices in our world, and its not up to us to create campaigns like Invisible Children or ONE every time we see an injustice in the world. That being said, Chris– you have an incredible platform you speak from. What are do doing to bring awareness and relief to those injustices that you see? (this is not meant as a condemnation, I am just curious)

  • Jennifer Miller says:

    We quit our jobs, sold it all and have been on the road with our four kids for three years now. We did it because we want them to have global perspective.

    This question is one that comes up a lot and is good to continue to chew on as human beings who share a planet with people both less and more fortunate than we are.

    Quietly living life among the nomadic berber population on the edge of the Sahara, picking up coconut bread from a little Mayan lady who blesses the children every morning and watching veiled women pick olives with sheep horns stuck on their fingers causes us to ask the bigger questions. It changes how you think, and what you think. And it changes how you spend your money… or at least it’s changed how we spend ours. We spend money on the travel, but we also invest heavily in the local economies and have a face to put on the concept of “fair trade” goods and a human connection to fuel our desire to “expand the pie.” There is value in that.

  • LM says:

    One of the best ways that you can support those less fortunate than yourself (especially in other countries) is to spend your money. Traveling and spending support the economy and therefore the quality of life of those people living in that economy. In some ways (not all ways) it can be even better than a charitable contribution. When you consider the administrative costs associated I’d rather spend $20 in the country directly with a business than see a majority of my donation stay in the US to cover administration.

  • Myrtle says:

    It’s also interesting to remember the middle ground: there are plenty of people who don’t want to travel “all the time”. I might even wager that to be true of most people. Perhaps a person of the “non-traveling staff” that enables the travelers is a happy homebody with family, roots, art, community, etc. all supported by their day job. Or, perhaps not; who knows? The point being that while debates often trend to the extremes (pancakes or no pancakes, travel or servitude), life hosts far more nuanced realities. If you let the extremes govern your philosophy, you miss out on the wisdom of action, diversity, and life experience.

  • David Stern says:

    Ultimately, natural resources are limited and though over time technology is improving to allow us to get more from a given amount at the moment one person using resources means another can’t. This is most clear when we look at the impacts of travel – pollution, congestion, noise etc. Yes, the plane will probably travel and not use much less fuel if you as an individual don’t buy a ticket and not eating pancakes that have already been prepared won’t make any difference at all. But there is more power in your decisions over time and people’s decisions as a collective. This doesn’t mean that I don’t travel but I do think carefully about that travel at least. It’s a tricky balance. I don’t think one can just dismiss these concerns out of hand.

  • D Helms says:

    We lived in Asia for 5 yrs in the 90s. Whenever we came back to the US the biggest shocks were at supermarket choice (ridiculous!) and restaurant portion sizes. Our kids called the US “the land of big food.” Living in a different culture during our children’s elementary school years was a wonderful experience that gave them a very different world view from their peers in the US.

  • Steve Thomas - fungeezer says:

    This topic is huge! What do we do as privileged Americans or Canadians or any 1st world country? Do we go to a more socialistic system where everyone has equal opportunity? I used to think this was the way. The problem then is that everyone has the same chance and everyone is limited in the same way!

    Do we help others become more capitalistic? Then how to they protect themselves from the greed mongers?

    Wherever there are human beings, things will be screwed up. I suppose you could say that is a bad thing, but I think it is what makes this life and this world so much fun. It also gives us something to do when we aren’t traveling, we can try to figure out a way to fix things!

  • Stella Stopfer says:

    The only difference between you and the people who surround you considering privileges is always in the priorities you set and the knowledge you search for.

    This doesn’t apply to extreme cases, obviously. But the question that came to my mind when I thought about it is do they consider the same things as we do to be privileges? Probably not. Same as those people who build planes or work in hotels. Most of your readers follow you not only because of your great writing and inspiration, but because they want to travel the world like you do. That doesn’t mean everyone else does.

    We consider privileges as something we strive for, or things we notice we have, that others around us don’t. That’s the main difference; we all see privileges as something else.

    So we don’t go about changing the world feeling bad for what we have or by giving over the privileges we have to others who are the furthest away from them. We teach other people how we did it, we try to share the right messages…

  • Stephanie Hayes says:

    To finish, yes we are used to seeing ‘mounds’ of food everywhere. When I worked at Starbucks I was amazed at how angry people would get if we were simply out of a syrup they liked for a few hours or a day. This attitude needs to change.

  • Janice says:

    Sorry but I find the guilt trip associated with the comment naive and absurd. Traveling such as yours doesn’t exist because everyone can’t do it, but because so many can AND not incidentally, faster, better transportation and hotels and restaurants benefits whole societies not just rich westerners who are clever enough to figure out how that they can parlay traveling into a lifestyle. Lots of sailors have done the same thing. Should we feel sorry for boatbuilders too?

    Remember the aftermath of the tsunami when countries devastated by the disaster were BEGGING tourists to come?? New Orleans??

    You cannot get poor enough to help poor people thrive or sick enough to help sick people get well. You can only change things from a position of strength. Good economies (these include tourist economies) are the world’s best social program.

  • Nadia Ballas-Ruta says:

    Hi Chris,

    I spent many years traveling around the world and have loved every second. However, the time spent living in India was the most profound. We lived in a small village and running water from the faucet was not always a guarantee. The local store there had only one aisle and if an item was out, you had to wait weeks for it to be restocked.

    When we came back to America and we entered a supermarket, I cried at all the abundance and the mere fact that so many people seemed totally unaware of how lucky they were to have 16 aisles of variety. As a result, I never ever complained again about having to stand in line. The way I see it, I am blessed to have such variety.

    I think traveling is a great form of education. It widens your perspective and makes you realize that not everyone has what you have and that everyone struggles with the same fears. We all want to a roof over our heads and food to eat and people to love.

  • Kris Boesch says:

    I have totally struggled with this concept. And I still find the rationalizations convenient, because at the end of the day, I could donate the $ I use to go to a restaurant to a food bank. I could give the $ I would use for a cool pair of news shoes to add to my many or to buy many pairs of shoes for those who don’t have any. And as far as art – how do I justify owning beauty when others are in situations of preventable ugliness? And yet real deal global travel (meaning not travel to the American-like resort in said country) is somehow a different. Creating the face to face conversation with people from different backgrounds is a critical step towards having a healthy, peaceful humanity. Would I pay for peace – hell yeah. And yes, I know, we the privileged get to do the traveling, get to do the creating of the conversation. If I were not privileged, would I want the privileged to pass on some resources to improve my quality of life, or create peace through global interactions?

  • John Wilson says:

    OK – so I’ve driven through Mexico – bought gas, stayed in hotels, ate in restaurants – I’ve helped people STAY employed.
    Silly concept about traveling not being for everyone. Do they not still make vanilla and chocolate ice cream? Even though there are more flavours then I’ve seen in my life. Yet, vanilla is still the main choice amongst all the others.
    Same way with people and what they do. Farmers like to farm. Factory workers like the 9 – 5 life style – steady income, home at a certain time, etc., etc. I talked to many people before I started this journey – most would be terrified about not knowing what is going to happen the next day.
    The guy who sticks his neck out is the rare individual, not the norm. Whether it be starting a business, traveling, or hiking up a mountain top because it is a challenge, most people – 95% – will never get outside their cocoon.

  • Akshay Kapur says:

    I lean towards Mike Piper’s and Jennifer Miller’s comments.

    Every dollar you spend is a personal representation of what you support. Coffee at Starbucks is more than just a satisfying beverage because you have alternatives. You’re also supporting Starbucks, the company, for various reasons; better taste, better service, better ambiance. Whether unconscious or conscious, it’s a choice you’ve made. You could also make instant coffee, use your school’s or employer’s coffee, bring coffee from home in a thermos.

    What you value directly relates to what you spend money on. Jennifer uses it as a tool to allow her access to cultures and their local economies, which she supports further through interaction and education. Some (including me) use money to further our own ends; leisure, sport, work, etc.

    There’s no better or worse, there are only choices. Being aware that we are choosing when we’re spending brings our core values to the surface.

  • Erica Jurus says:

    We have learned so much about the reality of conditions in other parts of the world through our travels, as well as the areas that our own societies are deficient in — a more relaxed pace, friendlier people, less reliance on material things — and we bring these perspectives home with us to share with people we know. We’ve also had some wonderful conversations with local people that we’ve met on our travels, so even if they can’t travel to our country they can learn about us in person, have access to outside ideas, and hopefully have a good impression about the country we come from. I believe that this cross-dissemination of ideas and information is vital in one day achieving world peace through knowledge.

  • John Mathews says:

    I think we also forget that not everyone wants to travel around the world. People don’t have the same dreams, and some people who are working in a hotel or who are building airplanes love what they do, so they’re in the place they need to be in. I think your articles call out to people who are looking for more travel in their lives.

    But yes, there is also an incredible difference of wealth in the world, and some people are even slaves to getting water for their tribes. But I think that’s even better reason to encourage people to travel who can: so they can get a better understanding of the world, and a better appreciation for what they have. Not everyone has water coming to them from a nice clean faucet. Not everyone has a giant pancake breakfast.

  • Kevin Phillips says:

    One man’s privilege is another man’s responsibility. When I point at your privilege and fail to acknowledge the faithful fulfillment of your responsibility, I may be standing on a pile of resentment that prevents me from acknowledging my own privilege and embracing my own responsibility.

    I do not envy your gypsy lifestyle. But I do benefit from (and am grateful for) reading of your experiences. It saves me from having to travel to Liberia. I have spent time in the plastic and plywood neighborhoods of Mexico, the teeming streets Indonesia, the highlands of Irian Jaya, the burned-out “terrace homes” of Manchester, and the shacks of Appallacia with paint peeling off the walls and water dripping into buckets in the kitchen. I do not feel compelled to give up my job and travel the word.

    I like my job and I travel plenty gaining perspective everywhere I go. To whom much is given, much is required. I do my best to bless the world where I am.

  • Howlin' Hobbit says:

    I am not one of the fortunate who can travel the world. Nevertheless, I have long believed that, while I am lucky enough to live in a land of plenty, reducing my opportunities further would not improve the lot of those who haven’t the same. Further, I’m pretty sure that those folk would scoff at any idiot who’d think that simply by denying their good fortune would help the less fortunate in any way. I think that people everywhere would rather see the “expansion of the pie” that you mention.

    Having lots of opportunities isn’t the problem. Wasting them is.

  • Steph says:

    Most American children have at some point in their lives heard the phrase, “Eat your vegetables! There are starving kids in China!” My response to that was always, “So mail them my broccoli! I don’t want it.” While I realize now that that wasn’t entirely a good point, I still hold the same feelings. Doing or not doing something here doesn’t help the people there. And if we never see and experience those other ways of life firsthand, how can we ever really make a difference? Going to those places and learning, helping them with your knowledge of a better life–that accomplishes so much more than simply donating 15 cents a month to a random charity.


    I read quite a few of the comments above and it is fun and interesting to listen to the different perceptions that people have of how their own lives relate to your issue. I resonate with Joe, as I myself am in process of heading off with my partner sailing around the world during the next 12 months. We will travel for as long as funds allow and I feel very priviledged to be able to do so simply because I have “choice” and for my own development and growth. I contribute to society both in work I do here in the UK and overseas (work local, think global!), but always feel I could do more in the ‘interim times’ when my mind and actions don’t reflect things that I have experienced in poorer society first hand. Good article Chris!

  • Lisa Plemmons Harrison Caddel says:

    My comment comes from the standpoint of enjoying one’s life. I have had my share of struggling financially and may again, but at this moment, due to a variety of reasons, I’m not. Not at this time while so many others are. It is odd and yet I feel compelled to enjoy my good fortune for as long as it lasts because if I don’t, and then it’s gone, well what was the point?? I have begun to truly consider how wealthy I am to have a place to live, and indoor plumbing! I am exceedingly grateful and feel extremely wealthy to have many things that I have often taken for granted. I am not living extravagantly, in my opinion, or traveling, but I am enjoying my free time. I take a nap when I need it, read books that I enjoy, I’m learning more about acrylics and painting as much as I like in my marvelous studio that I get to enjoy at least until the end of the year. However, I am amazed at how much time I wasted fending off self imposed guilt. Thankfully I realized the art of non-conformity!

  • Ian says:

    My wife and I are quite familiar with feelings of guilt associated with travel, as our families are less well-off than us. We are not wealthy, but we’re young and unencumbered.

    Rather than ceasing travel altogether, we’ve decided to include family as much as possible when we travel. We used miles to bring my brother-in-law with us to New York last spring, and recently were able to purchase a plane ticket for my sister to visit us in California.

    On a broader scale, we’ve based entire trips around volunteer opportunities abroad. That’s our own personal response to the issue of travel and social privilege.

  • Wyman says:

    Most of the comments are my thoughts too. More pie, provide jobs for the tourism industry. Less socialism and more entrepreneurship. We have thousands out of work that could use the Internet to provide a better living than they ever can with another job.

    Micro loans are changing the lives and setting an example for other third world entrepreneurs. Let your foot print be thoughtful and big enough for others to follow.

  • EmmKay says:

    I gave this a lot of though over the past couple years when I would travel whenever and wherever I could afford. More recently, I’ve turned my attention to volunteer tourism. I still go where I want to go, but I link up with some group doing volunteer work there. This way, I fulfill my desire to see the world and other people benefit. I’m also lucky because my dayjob actually provides some paid timeoff for volunteer work each year. Next month, I will be in Haiti!

  • Robineli says:

    When I worked in special events, the question of privilege people celebrating with multi-million dollar parties came to mind many times. It seemed disgusting to waste money on fun when donating the same amount of money to feed starving people would be a better decision.
    During a week-long event in Mexico – featuring A-list musical acts, abundant buffets, decorated to the hilt with fresh flowers daily – I raised the issue with the other people working the event.
    The obvious answer, which guilt had me overlook, was “look at the sheer numbers of people employed for this event.” The musical acts, their staff and management; the resort staff and the additional workers bussed in from nearby villages; the special events staff, designers, truck drivers (who had to drive several trucks from Miami); the flower growers (In South America, Holland, and California), the wholesalers, prep staff; product vendors, manufacturers, tool makers; and etc.
    Employing others is never wasteful.

  • Devin says:

    Not sure if all travel is all good or all bad, but I think it should be mandatory. Of course when I say “travel,” I am talking about the non-Marriott kind. The kind that temporarily makes life different by experiencing culture and society not that I am used to seeing. More importantly, my experiences have, in the end, always shown that we, as humans, are more alike than different. For me, it was important to discover that I have more things in common with the average, work-a-day, family man in Malaysia (or any other country) than I do with someone with any extreme belief system about the best way to be human in my home city. I would not have been able to understand this sitting I am one of those people that has throw away a career so I can travel and promote travel. I started travel web sites about culture because I think it is the right thing for me to do. As a nation at war, I think it is necessary.

  • Alan says:

    Are we are brothers’ keeper? For the longest time and to this day we ask the question but usually the context is “are we our American brothers keeper?” or more importantly “are we our “fill in the blank religion” brothers keeper? If anyone here had been to China prior to the explosion of trade between the USA and China and today, you would have to say, it is a great thing that we spend and spend a lot. There is now a middle class. There are now people not in as much desparate poverty. Is it perfect? No. Will it ever be perfect? No. But it is far better to be an “inclusive nation” than an “exclusive nation.” If you want to live away from the world, be my guest, go live in North Korea….. No rule of law, no life, no liberty……

  • Don says:

    Chris, you are so right about not being able to drive out hunger by not eating the pancakes. I don’t believe we should take money away from people who have worked hard for it and give to those who don’t. We should strive to help those people who don’t have the advantages of education, etc. and help them to be in a position to make their own money, and become rich if those so desire.

    As Zig Ziglar says; “If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want.”

    You made a really good point.

  • kimmie says:

    Chris, I am still delighted by your thought and discussion provoking posts. I have not thought much about the perspective presented in the comment you shared. For me, other than the one of “good birth” where anyone born in the USA has an advantage over most anyone else. I don’t consider myself over-privileged. I have no wealth, I speak only one language, I have given up almost all possessions to be able to take this journey. I have a plan that is providing the cash flow needed at the moment. I am 54 and I have discovered that I now have less angst and uncertainty than when I was employed. In a few months I will take another step, and then a few months after that I will take another, eventually I will return home. As I come to each new place I hope to know a bit of it’s heart before moving on to the next. I felt more “guilt” before I left my job, I feel more alive and with more purpose now… although this is just the chrysalis stage of my transformation. It is not for everyone.

  • Amber says:

    The flaw in that argument is to assume that most or all of the people in the world would actually like to live like that (constantly traveling, and with a location-independent job). I’m sure it looks good to some poverty-stricken over-worked laborer, but would he rather have a stable job in a comfortable home? Throughout history there have been those you longed to explore and they have found a way, but most people prefer to spend time among family and in a community they are familiar with. This has nothing to do with poor/rich, because if everyone in the world had more wealth, we still would not face the everyone-is-traveling problem.

  • Gaston says:

    It’s a difficult question. I cannot help it but ask myself every time I am to spend money if there isn’t a better use for those dollars. I’m at a point in my life when I’m questioning many, many things. I try to live a simple life, trying to focus on my ‘needs’ and not my ‘wants’. Wrong? Perhaps. Hopefully I’ll grow (personally) to discover.

  • Richard says:

    “Then I realized further that the goal of eliminating poverty isn’t to take pancakes away from people at the Courtyard by Marriott but rather to create a world where anyone who wanted pancakes could have them.”

    I’m on board with you Chris, with possibly one minor exception. I would add that we need to educate everyone on healthy nutrition, and we need to fix the food industry just as badly as we need to fix the healthcare industry. Nothing wrong with having pancakes if and when you want them. But as anyone who visits the USA can see, way too many people are eating too much of the wrong things. Our education system isn’t teaching kids (or adults) about nutrition, and the food industry makes it way too cheap and way too easy to buy unhealthy food.

    That’s my $.02 worth; but it’ll cost you $.05 if you want the organic version.

  • Brooke says:

    My husband and I have had similar discussions recently. I find myself guilty whenever I complain about something legitimately bad (say, a true health issue, not just a broken fingernail 😉 ) but then, I’ll quickly follow up that my health problem is nowhere near as bad as what people face daily in the 3rd world, and along comes the personal guilt. But he reminds me that my condition is real, legitimate, and worrisome for me. Perspective.
    As some other commenters have alluded to, I also think about the Americans who spend so much on material things, food included, and if only 1% of that spending could go toward helping the less-privileged in the world… Whenever I have that thought, I know that the overspenders would never give up their 1%–it’s just not their nature. Yet sadly, of the ones I know, their spending doesn’t make them any happier.

  • Lise says:

    I think that travel will make people more conscious of the way the rest of the world lives and therefore make them more responsible when they return home. Therefore rather than bad thing because its not universally available I think ultimately it will lead to more opportunity for more people and should be encouraged.

  • Monique says:

    “To whom much is given, much is asked” is something I need to remember more when thinking about this issue.

    Also, clarifying what kind of world you want to live in is important.

    Example: Do you want to live in a world where travel is abundant, easy, and not-environmentally harmful? If so, would ceasing travel get you closer to that goal? Probably not. Better to continue to travel, and invest in organizations that work to make travel more accessible.

    This topic isn’t restricted to travel. Someone who dedicates their life to art, music, writing, philosophy, fundamental science research, etc. can do so only because they’re living in a privileged society. How do they rationalize it?

  • Stevie says:

    Right on, Chris!

    I just finished reading “Developing a Prosperous Soul” volumes 1 & 2 by Harold R. Eberle. He spent a great amount of time (over 200 pages) establishing what Chris said, backing it up with scripture. The subtitles are “How to Overcome a Poverty Mind-set” and “How to Move into God’s Financial Blessings.”

    It was a hard book for me to read, coming from the mid-western pioneer work ethic. It changed me. For the better.

  • Artesia says:


    Me being unfortunate to be citizen who needs visa if I want to visit most countries in this world. It’s not ideal if you want to travel the world. Just a week ago I have to cancel my plan to visit Bolivia, since it will take a month or two to get visa. Or to go to Argentina.

    Not that many people know about this, lots of traveller from 1st world country let say American, Canadian or English was not aware of the problem ‘we’ getting when we travel.

    So every now and then I share my stories and wish more people who has privilege to go whatever they want without visa/restriction to travel more and appreciate it.
    It is sad to think there are more people who ‘can’ travel freely but chose not to.

    Travel.. while you can

  • Jackie says:

    The fact that you are able to make such a choice isn’t the reason others are unable to; in fact, if you stayed at home, they might have even less freedoms since the contribution you made to their economy would not have happened at all.

    If you spend money on a luxury item, travel or service, is that a bad thing? Assuming the item caused no one any harm in its production, it’s the only way to ensure meaningful work continues.

    This is just the type of thinking that solidifies the million and one reasons why we shouldn’t do something. I’m frankly not so sure that a different model of sustainability would not emerge if we each had the passion and courage to live our dreams. Of course it would be a sloppy and scary transition but being true to yourself tends to have surprising results.

  • Gary Wilson says:

    I think it is instructive to examine the guilt. I know, you could spend the time that you spend introspecting making an actual difference but this time is really worthwhile.
    One of my favourite books is the book “Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming” by the Danish writer Bjørn Lomborg. Putting aside the strategies advocated in the book, what is brilliant about the book is that the author took a big picture approach to solving the problems of the world. He stepped back, took as neutral a stance as possible and then evaluated the possibilities from there.
    As far as solutions go, do something. Alcoholics anonymous have a great practice of giving back and from all that I read and hear, it really works. There is something magical about generosity, particularly generosity that has no expectations of reciprocity.

  • Monique says:

    From Howlin’ Hobbit: “Further, I’m pretty sure that those folk would scoff at any idiot who’d think that simply by denying their good fortune would help the less fortunate in any way.”

    Depends. When I hear about how the uber rich spend their money I sometimes wonder if the world would be better off if they denied themselves a bit of their good fortune. Also businesses that cater to the uber rich make me feel uncomfortable. I wouldn’t feel surprised if people less fortunate than me feel that way about how I spend my money.

    That said, what people think about each other doesn’t really matter. What matters is how much impact you’re having on the issues you care about.

  • Olly D says:

    Hi guys.

    I think some of you’ve missed the point of Pat’s comments.

    I believe what he was saying wasn’t about having more resources than others in the world, but about the practicalities that if we all took off travelling then there would be no one left to work providing the services we use when we travel.

    Ie who would check you in at the airport, maintain the plane, fly the plane, run the hotel you stay at, farm the food you eat etc etc.

    I do love your philosophy about generosity etc, but I think Pat was saying that it’s simply impossible for us ALL to take off from our regular jobs because the whole infrastructure would collapse.

    Obviously in the real world this would never happen, but it’s an interesting perspective.

  • Marilia says:

    I agree with what you said about expanding the pie. We have to use our priviledge to help the others to have the same.

    Life is about having fun while helping others to do the same. It´s not nice to have the fun alone (or among a selected group).

    Being priviledged is not anyone´s fault. Not doing anything to help others achieve the freedom to do things is what can cause some guilt. We must reflect on what we can do to help people. And take action to change things.

  • kaylen says:

    Chris, you don’t even talk about how your $$ spent on airplane travel pays the salaries of those who spend their lives working on the airplane. If no one used airplanes, no one would have a job working on airplanes. So your travel actually contributes to the fact that the nontraveling airplane employees have jobs!

    Same thing with hotels/restaurants/etc – they depend on your business! When restaurants are empty of customers, the waitstaff does not make the $$ they depend on, that they use to live on. Most waiters make the bulk of their $$ in tips – ie, the 15 or 20 percent you or I leave them after paying for our meal. Their paychecks only account for about 1/4 of their total $$ earned at that job (keep in mind, most restaurants pay waiters around $2.50 an hour – that’s right, tips are included as part of their “minimum wage” income requirement). If you don’t show up to the restaurant and eat there and pay the waiter their 15 or 20%, then the waiter loses out on that tip $$.

  • Christine says:

    May be this is all about being on a journey rather than just travelling…., a journey during which you have heaps of fun. For you this journey happens to be travelling for other people it could be a job they really love.
    There are lots of us benefitting from your journey:
    – us the readers and scanners who would like to have thought of the idea ourselves and love getting lots of exciting feedback from you
    – you spread knowledge about places and people we would have otherwise forgotten or not ever have heard about
    – the travel companies and airlines which you use because you mention their names.

    Where will your next journey take you ? Will it be travelling again?

  • Christy - Ordinary Traveler says:

    I don’t think that everyone in the world wishes to quit their jobs to travel the world, and for us to assume so is ignorant. Many people are happy with familiarity and building a 9-5 career.

    There is nothing wrong with enjoying this type of life and I agree completely with the comment you quoted in this post. I sometimes wonder why so many travel blogs focus on quitting your job and making a living traveling. I know there are a lot of people interested in doing this, but it’s not the only way and there are a larger percentage of people who want nothing of the sort.

    I believe that people can find their purpose no matter how they choose to live their lives. From what I have read here on your website, Chris, it seems you don’t try to convince people that the way you live your life is the only way.

  • Cathy Luders says:

    By virtue of purchasing anything – including travel – commerce occurs which benefits the purchaser and the seller. Therefore the pie expands. My travel purchases and pie are different than anyone else’s. When I spend my cash earned locally it expands the locale where I spend it. Without commerce the world as any of us know it would not exist. Our job is to make commerce happen better in those poor countries so that their pie expands as well.

  • Elisabeth says:

    thanks for what you wrote…it gives me the opportunity to “disagree” (again) 🙂
    you talk about those “privileges” as if everyone on Earth wanted exactly the same things as you and capitalists (west+Japan and emerging countries) do: traveling, huge buffets, huge breakfasts, luxury hotels and so on.
    turns out…it’s not the case. many people do not want to travel and huge breakfasts as the one you describe IS actually a breakfast that comes from the scarcity mindset! too much is never ENOUGH when you have the scarcity mindset. you want “it”, even when you don’t NEED “it”. that’s what the scarcity mindset is really about. and that explains the consumerism, distress and confusion in our (western) world.
    so my point is: what you call “our privileges” are not privileges at all: it is your judgment (ours) of what a privilege is.
    life on Earth allows a much wider variety of beautiful experiences and our capitalistic standards only work here: in our minds.

  • Simon says:

    Myrtle and John Mathews are right, not everyone wants to travel. Some years ago I worked in a small town here in the UK called Dudley. Dudley is on the edge of Birmingham – the UK’s ‘second city’, and is a mere 10 miles from Birmingham centre. However, I was constantly amazed at the number of people, young and old, who had never been as far as Birmingham – and more importantly didn’t want to.
    Personally I found this very difficult to understand, but the older I have become the easier I have found it to understand that people vary so much and that it’s a ruddy good thing that people do.

    I remember a teacher at school trying to explain this to us by using fish fingers as an example, and saying that if everyone loved fish fingers, and eat nothing else, there wouldn’t be any for anyone……


  • Wendy J says:

    65 messages and only 2 make passing reference to environmental/sustainability issues?
    The pie is not infinite, and can not be expanded indefinitely. There are limits on how much it can be expanded for all of us on the planet NOW, let alone for those coming after us. I am confident (and sad) my daughter will not enjoy many of the privileges I have enjoyed – and I have not enjoyed many of the privileges of my parents. Ok yes, I can travel more than my parents did, and they had an eight-track player while I can buy an iPod. So what? What about biodiversity loss? Climate change? Pollution like the Pacific garbage patch, etc.? Endocrine disrupting substances in our food? Deforestation? The list goes on.
    Until we find a different way to enjoy ‘privilege’, our expansion of the pie is at great expense.

  • Janis says:

    The most important reason to travel – to me — is to get out of one’s comfort zone, to understand the rest of the world, and to see the commonalities of people living far different lives than oneself.
    True, many people can’t afford to travel — but many don’t simply because they don’t want too, or they are afraid to travel internationally. And this means missing out on a major life-enhancing opportunity: travel enhances one’s understand of the world.

  • Magnus says:

    I think it is a great idea to quite your job and travel. It doesn’t mean you should never work again. I don’t see everyone traveling all at the same time, but rather that we can take turns and while others manage the restaurants and hostels we can travel and then we can swap :). But it could defiantly be a great break and to get a new perspective on your life and to see if you want to get back to your old job or make a career shift.

  • Bruce says:

    I’d prefer to see a world where people could live and work freely wherever they chose, then this would largely be a non-issue. However, passports and immigration are not going away. So all one can do is support opportunities for other people in other countries to make a living. There are many ways to do this independent of travel.

  • ami | 40daystochange says:

    No guilt trip.

    I’ve traveled to poorer countries (and poorer sections of relatively wealthy countries), and my travels opened my eyes to the circumstances of people all over the world and in diverse economic circumstances – and THAT exposure made me both more likely to pay attention to events outside the US (and outside my middle class comfort zone) but also made me want to do more to help people in other countries (e.g., Haiti). My travels *also* enabled me to connect with people in very different circumstances, and I’d like to think that the friendships benefitted both sides.

    I believe that the more we understand other people, the more tangible the stories about conflict, development, and disaster become, the easier it is to feel a connection to the achievements of other people and the harder it is to dismiss their suffering. Maybe more travel by more people can help the world become a more tolerant place.

  • Jason Wietholter says:

    Your point about contributing to a a place through the tourism economy is a great one and a great way to “pass along” your privilege by supporting them. Another point that seems easy to miss is that you aren’t sucking the life out of other people so that you can have this privilege. You are providing material that contains great value, value that can catapult others to the same level of privilege.

    In fact, I wouldn’t call it privilege. You have worked hard and “earned” the right to do what you want with your time and money. The fact that you give back puts you way ahead of most people.

    As another counter point to Pat’s response is: He is assuming that everyone would travel if they could. To each his own. Some people might love to travel, but others might love to build businesses or boats or buildings. Everyone traveling all at once is not sustainable, but everyone doing what they love is.

  • Donovan says:

    Travel is so important and just like you stated here Chris…it should not be created as a limitation for ourselves just because someone else is not able (YET) to do it.

    I believe, as part of the giving humanitarian culture, that we should desire to share the opportunity and resources for those who live in the scarcity mindset and lack the vision of what is possible.

    Your blog and small army is a great start! By the way, your book is awesome.

  • Kyle says:

    As many have already said, no other activity can replace the personal experience of being in a new environment and experiencing it with all your senses, and most importantly, engaging with the people there, on their own terms. I’d always had an altruistic bent, but had I not spent a few months in the rural villages in East Africa, living with the world’s poorest people, there’s no way on earth I would have ‘understood’ what this kind of poverty was like.

    I came back a different person; I am now committed for life to spreading awareness and donating and raising money. And nothing makes me happier than writing out those checks! Which, BTW, do not go to ‘aid,’ but to nonprofits that empower these people to create their own abundance. Travel and non-conformity are not for everyone, but encouraging it for those it appeals to, is a wonderful mission. And in addition to the encouragement, making people THINK is a great service!

  • Pam Munro says:

    There are many of us (older perhaps) for whom such travel IS a privilege – How many of us cn just take off for a few years & travel? Lots of us are just mking the bills, remembr. We cn’t afford to visit our relatives! Dare I call you fairly spoiled rich kids? Frankly, I wd like to go to EUROPE due to the cultural elements – & not “slum” in some deprived environmnt just because it’s cheap there! The disparity of poor vs. rich in such environments mks me downright nervous, looking for the overthow with natives with machetes! Being a fresh faced kid in such an environment with a large dgree of innocence goes a long way, I wd imagine….I do remember traveling just on the cusp of mass tourism & it was much more pleasant thn it wd be today – just fewer people & fewer tourists, for one thing…We spend our travel budget on a boat(used & a bargain) + slip (also a bargain) – and I (P.S. Few of us even in the US wd be hving a breakfast = the spread at that hotel! That is a splurge!)

  • John Bardos says:

    We are definitely lucky to be able to travel. Luck Warren Buffet said, we have already “won the ovarian lottery’ just by having the good fortune to be born in a richer country.

    I agree that we are incredibly lucky, however it also troubles me how damaging air travel is, as well as most of the other things we over consume. We are destroying the planet at an increasing rate just to gratify ourselves. How much is too much?

    One person not eating the pancakes might dent the world’s problems, just as throwing one can in the ocean won’t kill all the fish. However, I think it has to start somewhere.

  • Claire says:

    Thanks for this post Chris.

    I’ve grown up with the idea that doing what you want is not a valid life option – in the vein of ‘Work is meant to be horrible – so don’t think about what you’d WANT’ thinking. I’m trying to train my brain to think otherwise now!

    When I first came across your blog, my reaction was that very thought: Most people can’t afford to do this, so I shouldn’t! But I fought against those thoughts and your simple & generous courtesy to your readers very much helped!

  • Karen Talavera says:

    “What should the privileged do?” They should be REQUIRED to travel. With privilege comes opportunity, even responsibility. There are too many privileged who prefer to cocoon themselves in ignorant easy comfort rather than be ambassadors of growth (their own and the world’s) through travel. As Elizabeth Weinstein said, not all want to or are ready to travel, but of those who can I say they should be pushed to at least try.

    Why? “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected”. We in America forget that vast percentages of us, on a world scale, fall into the “to whom much is given category”. So we should travel not only for all obvious economic reasons others who commented here pointed out – but most of all because by traveling we break down barriers and pre-conceived notions of one another through the spread of ideas, awareness and enlightenment. Travel can change and grow hearts and minds, and I say the world needs that in spades right now.

    Bottom line: Those who can, should.

  • Trisha Carter says:

    Like many of you I see travel and especially living in countries other than your birth as building bridges between peoples. Yes we are priviledged to be able to do that but we can relate as parents, as workers, as sisters, as fellow human beings. Being somewhere else helps us to recognise the similarities between very different cultures and ethnic groups and appreciate or accept many of the differences.

    Yes there will often be things we want to help change but sometimes it is easier to do that face-to-face than from a distance.

    My concern is more about those who wouldn’t consider travelling because they are so afraid of the differences they may encounter.

    Do drink the water
    Do eat the pancakes
    …… least a small helping!

  • alisha says:

    Chris, I really appreciate your response to this valid comment. As an American living in London working in the international development (specifically climate advocacy) sector for the past four years, I’ve struggled a lot with this scarcity mentality. But in the end, I got to a point similar to you that believes I shouldn’t limit my experiences to a global lowest common denominator. Nobody wins if take on the lifestyle of somebody living in poverty. Sure, those of us with privilege need to take our responsibility seriously, but living in poverty (or poverty mindset) out of solidarity isn’t always helpful. Usually it’s not.

    For me, the biggest issue of responsibility when it comes to travel is the carbon emissions. Big pancakes may not be correlated to people in poverty, but big a carbon footprint certainly is. I know you are a socially responsible person and have most likely considered this, so I would like to know your thoughts on these negative consequences of travel.

  • Josh Bulloc says:

    I only have a little experience travelling outside of the US but I am looking at expanding social privilege through my business in areas close to home that I am familiar with. The problem I see close to home is that some people are not willing to do the work to earn more privileges.

  • Audrey Kral says:

    Yes, indeed, it is a nuanced and complex topic! Culture shock over how much food hotels serve (and waste) is a very healthy response!!!! I believe in abundance and freedom for all. I do not agree that more choice is more freedom or that more is what everyone needs. Learning to live with restraint can be a freedom (as the man who lived on a 200 sf boat related.) Everyone living a life of non-harming each other is one of my dreams for freedom (and abundance).

  • Cathy Krizik says:

    Great reading. Thanks all.

    I think it is my responsibility (and I use that word purposefully) to live the biggest, boldest, most extraordinary life I can possibly live. I am indeed privileged — born in the U.S. to middle class parents, got a good education, am endowed with skills, talents and desires unlike anyone else on the planet.

    I believe the best service I can be to the world is to enjoy (and be grateful for) my privilege. If that means travelling, then I will bring ALL of myself to my travels and that includes compassion, generosity, kindness, joy and connection.

    Hiding our light behind a bushel serves no one.

  • Harry says:

    Thank you, Chris, for taking time to respond to the limiting thought patterns held by those who deny the laws of physics and all else metaphysical. For reasons greater than I comprehend, our Universe along with everything inside including living things was not created by laws of equality. What did someone once say … the purpose of life is to have one?

  • Daisy says:

    Social privilege is part of our society. The important part is to recognize it, appreciate it, and not abuse it.

    Example: I am privileged to have read books – hundreds of books. I own a large collection of books, too. I teach in a low income school where the majority of my students can only dream of owning their own library card, much less their own books. I can’t buy books for all of them, but I can teach them to read so that when their lives improve, they can read all the books they want.

  • Libby says:

    I think there is something to be said for solidarity – forgoing the mountain of pancakes not because it makes a difference to those who don’t have pancakes, but because it makes a difference in you to step back for a moment and not indulge your every want. Of course if you didn’t travel out of solidarity with those who don’t travel you would be just like everyone else…who doesn’t travel. So maybe it has more to do with the way you travel.

    I do think that making a difference in ourselves and our own attitudes is usually more important and effective than trying to “make a difference” to others without working on ourselves.

  • Tiara the Merch Girl says:

    Firstly, privilege isn’t just about money – it’s a set of advantages that you get without necessarily earning them, and they differ based on characteristic. Chris, as a Western White middle-class male, you have a number of privilege sets – male privilege, White privilege, class privilege and so on. Some of these privileges make it tons easier for you (and many other lifestyle design/travel bloggers) to do what you do – your passport’s welcomed most places, you don’t need as many visas, you’re not as likely to be harassed on the street, you won’t be classified as an illegal immigrant, and so on.

    There’s a false dichotomy being built here – it’s not either you have tons of money to travel or you’re a poor penniless person. There’s plenty of people, like myself, in between – with relative privilege to be able to travel some places, access media sources, be educated, but not nearly enough privilege to be able to devote a year to just travelling (e.g. my B’desh passport).

  • Elizabeth says:

    Olly D had the same thought as me — that it was really just an interesting, funny way to think about the fact that to be able to travel, there needs to be someone keeping the lights on at the bus depot and giving out warm smiles at the rest stop. Those same people can take off traveling, but, hopefully, someone will cover their shifts. I don’t know if it was some big statement on resources, but I could be wrong. I’m not Pat.

  • Mark Pritchard says:

    In my opinion, the phenomenon of people traveling for leisure or pleasure is less a matter of how much disposable income they have and more about an assumption of privilege. Most middle-class Americans and Europeans have an unspoken, unexamined assumption that the world is their oyster and that their presence everywhere is appreciated, welcomed and even applauded. It’s this attitude which allows them to cavort across the world, expecting all doors to open and all barriers to fall. They feel they are somehow owed a welcome, and in the rare occasions when they are made to feel unwelcome, they’re astonished. Doesn’t that waiter/driver/clerk realize I’m here to spread my money around?? Don’t they want my money?? Or alternately: Don’t they realize I’m not like those noisy tourists, that I’m enlightened, that I understand them? And in either case: Why aren’t they grateful??

  • Amanda says:

    I grew up in New Zealand and now live in Australia and, for people in this part of the world, backpacking it is a rite of passage – either between high school and university or after Uni. We live is a physically beautiful environment but we crave the culture and history of England and Europe.
    Australia is also very dependent on backpackers coming here to work in cafes etc over the tourist season – these days travelers are an integral part of the global economy.
    I’ve been to the US on many occasions and while you guys certainly have plenty to eat there is an absurd emphasis on quantity – you need to taste a fresh tomato in Italy to realise you’re being duped on the food front. Maybe the US is not as privileged as you might imagine!

  • Nancy says:

    Hmmm, certainly a very interesting subject-traveling to other countries can be a very wonderful and enlightening experience. At some point this global awareness might feel like we are all trying to live our lives the best that we can. “Rich” or “poor.” This is probably totally subjective for every individual. Spreading your own abundance in any way possible always has some ripple effect. People create ripples by making choices in their life. Once I went to Lima and came home feeling like I could never take anything for granted again. However, I lived there as a child and don’t remember feeling like I didn’t have enough. It’s all in the perspective, that’s what privelege is.

  • Mirella says:

    I certainly don’t think that anyone should hold back from following their passions because others are less fortunate.

    Our passions are the instigators of our personal growth, or our personal evolution, and without pioneers out there seeking new ways to be and new ways to experience our existence, humanity will never move forward.

    If you look to history is it easy to find so many examples of people who by following their passion brought humanity forward in some way. By Chris travelling and writing about an alternative mode of living, I know for me personally, he inspires and opens up my creativity. This is his way of raising the possibilities and potentiality of humanity.

    Everybody, wherever they are, who wants to envision a new and different life for themselves can achieve that.

  • Dan says:

    Your example works because the pancakes are all included. But in the case of something that you are choosing to spend money on (like a pancake breakfast at a restaurant) the equation is rather different. Peter Singer points out in his book The Life You Can Save that for about $400 (conservatively) you can actually save someone’s life. So when you choose to buy, say, a very nice pair of shoes, you are choosing to do that over saving someone’s life (or restoring someone’s sight, or repairing an obstetric fistula – these are some well-costed examples). The moral implications tend to lead to a life of radical poverty if you follow it all the way so it’s uncomfortable to contemplate really.

  • Nirvana Cable says:

    Inspiring others to be free is always a good idea. The success of your book says you are doing just that.

  • Gene Jennings says:

    I love Brooke’s comment:

    “Feeling guilty and sitting on your hands doesn’t do a damn thing to help the world progress. Utilizing our privilege in positive and impactful ways is our responsibility to those who can’t.”

    Great quote from Hobbit: “Having lots of opportunities isn’t the problem. Wasting them is.”

    The majority of my travels are related to mission projects, i.e., construction, child development, teaching, and helping the poor. I love to tour and go sightseeing too, of course. But, for me, travel is the opportunity to see the world while bringing goodwill, love, and compassion to those in need. It’s also important, I think, to take others along to let them see how they can make an impact as well.

    Great post as usual, Chris!

  • Adrienne Knight says:

    Will sign up for a meetup if you ever come to the UK.

  • Khoi says:

    Travel is not bad certainly, but it doesn’t have to be the prime thing you want to do. Me for one prefer to stay home. While occasional overseas vacation is fine, I’m sure I have other priorities over traveling.

    And there are many others like me. You can’t tell such people: “you’re afraid of changes and different experiences”. That’s absurd assumption.

  • Rodrigo says:

    I live in El Salvador and I have seen that a part of our middle class lacks the basics because they chose to spend in material things.

    I have neighbors that have those expensive TVs ($1000), but they don’t have a water tank and pump ($300) in their home so they are left without water when the service isn’t working (which happens often, some places have water just for a few hours a day).

    They pay a $60 Satellite TV package to watch the Spanish Soccer League, instead of sending their kids to a better private school (In my country good private schools start at that price). Most public schools here are terrible.

    They buy from the people who sell stolen goods, and then complain their cell phones were stolen.

    They join a “church” were they have to pay 10% of their income, as if it were a social club, and then they complain they have no money for themselves… Meanwhile the church owners splurge on motorcycle collections.

  • Rodrigo says:

    If you have a first-world passport you have much more travel freedom than me with my El Salvador passport

    What should you do about it?
    Travel and enjoy it. If you chose not to travel it wouldn’t change visa paperwork for me.

  • Dani Stein says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Chris. I don’t think that one has to feel guilty for using the opportunities life gave to us. The only thing we had to feel guilty for would be to not using them or using them solely for our own benefit. There are many different ways to try to make the world a better place to live in for everybody and if a couple of us achieve this while traveling and broaden our own horizons than it is exactly that what we have to do.

  • Nicole says:

    I think you hit the nail right on the head with this, Chris.
    By spending your money on travel and whatever else you like, you are making the pie bigger and creating opportunities for the as yet have-nots to claim their own piece. Guilt comes with life – whether you’re rich or poor, everyone occupies a certain amount of space, breathes a certain amount of air, eats other life forms, in short uses up resources exclusively. It is exactly by following one’s true passion and purpose in life that the universal guilt is redeemed. Not by letting that guilt take over one’s life.

  • Travis Ball says:

    I think one point that should be made is that travel is often a form of education in addition to everything else. Many people haven’t a clue what conditions are really like in other parts of the world, and travel can be an eye-opener for people unaware of life away from home.

    One thought is that getting people to travel will help open them up to helping others at home and abroad.


  • Rob says:

    hey Chris/all,

    I sometimes have these guilt feelings as well. Mine are more about the environment..recently I read that one transatlantic flight costs as much energy (for one passenger!) as what an average Western family consumes during a year! Pretty incredible statistics..what’s your view on this and how could we compensate this?
    Should we go back to Zeppelin travel? 🙂

  • Robbie Mackay says:

    Great post.. I’ve been trying to reconcile this mismatch too lately. I really don’t have a verdict yet. As you’ve said – its just not all good or all evil.

    One of the things that struck when I was in Malaysia was the hotel staff member who had just recently returned from New Zealand. Clearly not all hotels are run by non-travelling staff.

    “if I don’t eat the pancakes, will it make any difference back in Liberia? Nope, nothing would be different over there.”
    .. that may or may not be the case. I think a good way to consider it is: if I buy this plane ticket, new gadget, whatever it is… what am I supporting?

    In some cases then the industry you’re supporting might actually benefit those live in poverty (ie Fairtrade products). In others you may be supporting their exploitation (ie. buying from companies with questionable ethical practices).

  • Rob Ward says:

    We should definitely be aware of our actions and how they impact others, but I agree that you should not do something just because others do not have the ability to do so. That would essentially mean choosing to live like the poorest of the world do. That is not necessarily wrong, but I think helping others to get out of poverty can do more than choosing to live like those in poverty.

  • Melanie says:

    If we are to consider, mobility as the ultimate privilege, the traveling is up there. Many, many, many people cannot afford to eat three meals a day, let alone travel internationally. I have been lucky to travel to 6 countries. Nothing compared to a lot of people on this site…..but I also had to work hard to get there. Unfortunately, some people’s skills and interests aren’t as income generating or marketable in this economy, so we are at the mercy of the dollar. And yes, even with a blog and social networks, being technologically savvy and to have a computer IS a privilege.

    In short, I think we should be grateful with what we CAN do. Use the energy towards guilt to build positivity. Go on trips that are meaningful, helpful and get to know the people.

    And yet there are still questions of environmentalism, globalization and mobility….it is all something to ponder.

  • Renee says:

    My husband moved to Panama about 11 years ago. I followed over six years ago. We love giving our children a global perspective on things. However, having us here in our community has changed it. Some of it has been for the positive and some for the negative.

    It is hard to grasp all of the effects travel has on the world. Many smaller nations and villages have so much to offer the world if they are opened up to sustainable or geotourism, but very little if they remain closed. These locations if they remain closed are likely to eat or destroy the natural resources available to them as they have limited alternatives.

    I like to believe that if we travel with a purpose that we can make a difference in people’s lives. So, I take it upon myself to give back to my community or the communities to which I travel in the ways that I am best able to do so. Some of my gifts are in the form of dollars and others are in the form of time. Hopefully our children will do the same.

  • Liz says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written post. Just started reading this blog and I find it clarifies and gives voice to many of my own ideas. True mindfulness about our place in the world seems like a rarity even among those who claim to be rebels in our society.

  • Sparky Firepants says:

    When we’re conscious enough to marvel at abundance, it’s impossible to be mindless consumers.

    Abundance is also in the eye of the beholder.

    Now. Where is pancake mountain again? I only need about four. And some coffee.

  • Etsuko says:

    Very interesting and stimulating discussion! I enjoyed reading the post and many many comments from others.

    Dan talked about choosing to buy something instead of saving someone for that money. I think it’s an important perspective to keep in mind. If you are aware of what your action means in overall picture, you will have more understanding and compassion for people who do things you might not support because it seem “bad” on the surface. No one can live a life that doesn’t impact anyone else in some way. Those who choose not to travel because of the air pollution caused by the airplane – do they live in a cave? Don’t they consume something that’s damaging to the environment? Don’t they drive a car? Trying to minimize the damage is great, think of a way to offset the impact is great. Choosing not to travel even if you have the desire and ability – not so sure. For one, I’m glad Chris didn’t choose that option.


  • Rocio says:

    I absolutely agree with you. We have our chances in life and we must take them. There’s no sense in rejecting doing something just because other people can’t do it. Just live your life, make it the best you can and, of course, don’t forget to be helpful, kind and generous to whoever you meet on your way. (And be careful because, as far as I know, to feel guilty is one of the fastests ways to ruin your opportunites in life!)

  • Anne Bobroff-Hajal says:

    This is a terrific post on a profoundly important topic. I think we have to be nuanced here. On the one hand, everyone in the world living the way Americans do is unsustainable for the planet. We need to live more simply and deeply, and have a few valued possessions instead of a zillion, many of which we don’t even use (I’m reminded of meeting minimalist Kimberly Gill the other night at the AONC book tour meetup in New Haven, and of my son Nicky Hajal’s recent blog posts on the Tumble Design website about getting rid of possessions.)

    And on the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily help the less fortunate for the more fortunate to give up everything. I’m able to employ people around my house who need work to live. If we and others like us didn’t have extra money beyond our own bare subsistence, they wouldn’t have a source of income. I think it’s important for everyone’s dignity to work for their living, to the extent possible, rather than living off handouts.

  • Mary Adams says:

    Another great thought-provoking post! So thought-provoking that I was inspired to take the theme and continue the riff myself. Travel is a lot of nuanced activities, but to me, it’s a way of standing in someone else’s shoes and seeing how their physical and community context have generated their philosophy and actions.

    If we all traveled more, I believe that we’d have more empathy–not sympathy–for others with completely different points-of-view than our own. There’s nothing like having different values confront you in other parts of the world to help define your own beliefs.

  • Kellie says:

    I feel absolutely privileged that I can travel, and love all the things I am learning on my way. But I don’t plan on travelling forever, nor have I always travel and while travelling I am working on the way. I may not work quite as much as someone who isn’t travelling, but I am still doing my part to make the world go around. So I think we could still all carry on, there would still be enough people to do the jobs needed decided to go travelling at some point (or many points) in their life and the world might be a better place.

    But that’s never going to happen, some people have no interest in going travelling themselves, they love listening to our stories about what we have done and what those places are like, watching the doco’s on tv from the comforts of their living room. If we stopped travelling and talking about our adventures then those people wouldn’t get a glance at other cultures and places of the world. If no one went anywhere how could we learn from/help/enjoy other place?

  • Jesse Harding says:

    Great post, Chris. I have found that occasionally I will slip into that “scarcity mindset.” I was in Thailand in third grade, visiting a Hmong village. Deep in my gut I felt this horrible sickening feeling. Guilt crept up, asking why I deserved more than these people. Walking around their village, I felt like some ignorant tourist looking at them as if they were in a zoo. But looking back, those kinds of experiences are necessary because when you are made aware of the living conditions of others then there is a better understanding of what needs fixing in this world. And that is where “expanding the pie” comes into play.
    Now I’m taking a year off and pursuing some of my dreams and goals, and all of my friends and family are longing to do what I’m doing. This is another side to this debate. There are people who have the means and the desire, but are too afraid. Just another group to think about.

  • Len says:

    That’s a great question which I often used to discuss with students. Growing up and living in the richest country in Southeast Asia kinda helps bring that home. What should we, who can afford to do stuff like this, do? Especially when folks in the countries next door sometimes live on a fifth or less or what we regularly make?

    The conclusion we generally come to is that not spending and not travelling wouldn’t make a difference. As a matter of fact we know our travel makes at least one difference: it creates jobs. It boosts neighbouring economies. They want us to visit them. The more often, the better. And they want us to spend.

    I think that when we travel we need to be aware of our own privileged nature, and, on realising it, to try not to exploit the system for all it’s worth. Sometimes there really isn’t a need to bargain stuff down to a fifth of the original price; the price difference might actually mean very little to us, but it might mean a lot to the locals.

  • Laura Cococcia says:

    Travel definitely can be considered a social privilege – but if we take the idea that the goal is expanding one’s worldview and some folks have different ways of doing that (travel being one), then we can ultimately unify, share experiences and do good. As long as we remain humble as travelers, eager to learn and share while we are there, I think we’re still doing good. But this is just one person’s perspective – loved reading everyone’s thoughts above!

  • Jaime says:

    I think travel is great, and doesn’t always need to be expensive. Just because people travel doesn’t mean that they take away from people who don’t travel. Also you can’t live your life for others completely, you have to make yourself happy and then find a way to give back. I make minimum wage, I’m sure with all the money I earn I could travel but I’d rather go to college first. I’ve traveled before and its awesome.

    Once college is over, I want to travel, I haven’t taken a vacation in 6 years. Yikes! Anyway, I don’t think people should feel bad just for traveling.

  • Laurie Franks says:

    For those of us who are privileged, how we live is all about choices: in mindset, in beliefs, in actions. Many people, making different choices, can manifest travel if that is their desire. I also know people who have no interest in traveling and just enjoy staying home.

    You’re on a great path, Chris! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • Keely says:

    Working a lot of call center jobs, line cook jobs, and similar work over the years (at 24 I’ve had 19 different jobs)… anyway, while working these I ended up interacting very closely with people who had less than great childhood experiences, and honestly I can’t say the same. I had a great childhood, I grew up in an upper middle class family, there was plenty of food, books, video games, snowboard, etc. And after a lot of daily exposure to that I found myself feeling kind of guilty about having those advantages. But in the end, I learned, and I won’t apologize for being lucky and being dealt a good starting hand. The best you can do to honor the privileges you have (whether you were born into them, or earned them over time) over others is to make sure that is to take care not to waste the opportunities our good fortunes provide us with.

  • Sander says:

    Well, travel is another way of gaining and spreading wealth. You gain and exchange experiences by going to places that are rarely visited and offer the ones that do not have the ability to speak up for themselves a voice.

    Plus, because I can and want to.

  • Entrepreneur Ideas says:

    Perhaps privileged world travelers should find a way to “pay it forward” by finding volunteer opportunities to participate in when they reach their destinations. It could be a wonderful way to soak up local cultures while also doing some good.

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